The Age of Paradoxes by Dr. Abidan Shah

THE AGE OF PARADOXES by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction: Everywhere you turn on social media, there are graduation pictures with parents and grandparents proud and excited to see their kids growing up and becoming successful. One thing that is relatively new with regards to the graduation attire are decorating the graduation caps. Here are some interesting ones that I came across: “Bye Buddy hope you find a job,” “This was nothing like high school musical,” “Did everyone see that? Because I will not be doing it again,” “Bye Mr. Anderson, I’m graduating, tardy or not,” “Thousands of years later,” “I don’t even go here,” “Last minute like everything else I did in high school,” “Ya’ll hiring?” and my favorite “I is smart.” The last one is sort of an oxymoron, a contradiction. On one hand, the student is claiming to be smart because he/she is graduating. On the other hand, the student should not be allowed to graduate since they don’t even know basic grammar. In this message on Graduation Sunday, I would like to speak on paradoxes, which are much more than just oxymorons or contradictions. I’ll explain the difference in a few moments. We are still in our series through 1 Peter and this message is directed towards our graduates, but it is for all of us. Main point: Ours is the Age of Paradoxes, much more than at any other time in history. Especially in the post 2020 world, we are smarter and dumber, united and divided, bold and fearful, and woke and wicked, all at the same time. It is vital that we adopt those paradoxes that please God and fulfill his purpose in his world. It is vital that we adapt to our new setting but still maintain our old convictions.

1 Peter 3:13 “And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good?”

Context: Keep in mind that that Peter had just quoted from Psalm 34, David’s psalm at the cave of Adullam. The previous verse, 1 Peter 3:12, said, “For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the LORD is against those who do evil.” Here David was teaching the distressed, indebted, and dissatisfied people how to be ready for the bad days when it seemed that the wicked were winning. Peter was also telling the Christians that God can see what the wicked are doing and he will protect them from any who would try to harm them for living righteously. The conjunction “and” is more of an inference “then.” What an assurance! But, listen to the very next verse – 14 “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” It appears that Peter just used a paradox – “No harm will come to you if you follow God, but when harm comes to you because you follow God, don’t be afraid.” Paradox often gets confused with contradictions. There’s a difference: Contradiction: Out of two things, one is true, and the other is false. For e.g., living death or poor rich girl. Paradox: A statement that appears contradictory on the surface but can be true on further examination. I don’t have to suggest examples. We are living in the Age of Paradoxes and the culprit is the Internet, especially social media. Don’t misunderstand: The Internet has brought tremendous benefits to our world, but it has also created the Age of Paradoxes. Here’s how:

  1. We are Smarter and Dumber at the same time.

We are living in the Information Age. People from poor and remote corners of the world can access knowledge at just the click of a button. Unfortunately, the Internet is also filled with loads of false information, especially on social media, which was the root cause of much panic and fearmongering through the 2020 crisis.

  1. We are United and Divided at the same time

The world has become smaller, faster, and easier as communications, transactions, and even shopping have been revolutionized. Social media platforms have connected us with old friends and helped us make new ones. Unfortunately, the various social media platforms that were meant to connect us have also become weapons to attack one another. It’s easy to be a “keyboard warrior” and fire off a post or a tweet against someone you disagree with. If you really don’t like someone, you can cancel and shame them out of your tribe without giving them a chance to explain themselves or apologize.

  1. We are Bold and Afraid at the same time.

Researchers claim that in some areas self-esteem is on the rise, as young and old are unafraid to post their photos and videos online, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, people are afraid of being called out online for some action or lack thereof. Concurrently, many decisions of 2020 were, and still are, made out of fear of being shamed. Also, false information has also caused a lot of fear, as mentioned in the first point.

  1. We are Woke and Wicked at the same time.

“Woke” is the catchword for awareness regarding social justice and racism, especially on social media. Now, it’s everything from LGBTQ+, women’s rights, immigrants, and everyone who is disenfranchised. With as much self-proclaimed righteousness, wickedness is still on the rise. Pornography that takes advantage of women and children is on the rise like never before. Hate and bitterness hasn’t gotten any better. We are fooling ourselves into thinking that we are better because we are “woke.”

This is the world in which our post-2020 graduates are entering! Add to all these paradoxes, the political chaos of 2020 and 2021, the terrible violence and destruction of our major cities, the toxic cancel culture and censorship on social media, and the increasing attack on our Constitution and our values? As a result, we are now trillions of dollars in debts, divided as a people across racial, religious, and political lines, and facing an uncertain future. Things are no different across the globe – due to the shutdowns, people are struggling like never before, ISIS is back, Israel is under attack, and so much more. If our post-2020 graduates are to survive this Age of Paradoxes, they will have to seek a new set of paradoxes. They will have to learn to live the paradoxical life that Peter described in these verses. Listen again to 1 Peter 3 again – 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. And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” On one hand, we have to live knowing that no harm will come to us if we live for God. On the other hand, we will have to accept the possibility that harm will come if we live for God. Nonetheless, we shouldn’t be afraid. Peter was now quoting from Isaiah 8:12. This was the promise God had given to Isaiah the prophet when Judah had turned to Assyria for help instead of turning to God. In time, the southern kingdom was also gone forever. It took going into exile for them to learn what it means by literally “Their fear do not fear.” Initially, it was, “don’t fear what they fear,” and then it became, “don’t fear what they threaten you with.” In other words, “nothing will harm you, but if harm comes, don’t fear.” Even though the people of the southern kingdom failed to follow this paradox, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego lived by this paradox in Babylon. They had to adapt to their new setting but still maintain their convictions:

  1. They complied but resisted every step of the way.

The complied when they were given Babylonian names, but they resisted when it came to eating unclean food. Daniel 1:8 “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank.” At the end of the 10 days, Daniel and the other three were 10 times in better shape than the others. You will also have to learn to comply and resist. I know that seems so contrary to our thinking, but, as a minority, if you don’t, you will lose your identity. In 2020, many of us only complied when we should have also resisted. In the post-2020 age, people will flock around those who can make sense out of the chaos, display a sense of discernment, and know when to comply and resist.

  1. They looked to the past but lived in the present.

A plan was hatched to trap Daniel. Everyone in the land was to pray to King Darius for the next 30 days. If not, the offender shall be cast into the den of lions, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians. What was Daniel’s response? Daniel 6:10 Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days.” We quickly focus on prayer, but did you notice the direction of his prayer? Daniel did not forget where he came from. There has been an attempt for quite some time to rewrite our past as a nation and a people. I won’t say that everything in our nation’s past has been perfect, but let’s never forget the Judeo-Christian foundation of our nation. You will have to go back and rediscover how we came about as a people. What did our founding fathers believe? Why did they think the way they did? Having said that, we are not to live in nostalgia. We are to live in the present.

  1. They worked as if it depended on them but prayed as if it depended on God.

Daniel 2     48 Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts; and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon. 49 Also Daniel petitioned the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego over the affairs of the province of Babylon; but Daniel sat in the gate of the king. Can you imagine the workload of these 4 young men! Can you imagine the burden of the entire Babylonian Empire on their shoulders!

Nowadays, people don’t want to work. I was at a restaurant the other day. They had a hiring sign as well as a table setup with flyers and applications. So, I talked to the person, and she said, “People come by and apply and then they are back on the unemployment list. They rather collect free money than work.” How long can we do that? As someone once said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

Nonetheless, repeatedly, it is claimed that Daniel prayed every step of the way. Daniel 9      20 “Now while I was speaking, praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God for the holy mountain of my God, 21 yes, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, reached me about the time of the evening offering.” Many are collapsing in our world right now. Prayer will help you resist temptation, maintain your integrity, and refocus your life. Daniel prayed even though he was thrown in the lion’s den.

  1. Ultimately, they were aware of the hopelessness but remained hopeful for the future.

Daniel 9      16 “O Lord, according to all Your righteousness, I pray, let Your anger and Your fury be turned away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people are a reproach to all those around us. 17 Now therefore, our God, hear the prayer of Your servant, and his supplications, and for the Lord’s sake cause Your face to shine on Your sanctuary, which is desolate. 18 O my God, incline Your ear and hear; open Your eyes and see our desolations, and the city which is called by Your name; for we do not present our supplications before You because of our righteous deeds, but because of Your great mercies. 19 O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and act! Do not delay for Your own sake, my God, for Your city and Your people are called by Your name.”

In that prayer, you can sense both Daniel’s hopelessness in the present and his hopefulness for the future. Our best days as a nation and as a people are ahead of us. It will require repentance. It will require redemption through Jesus Christ. It will require you to live the life of paradoxes apart from the Internet and dedicated to Jesus Christ.

Post-2020 graduates, as you approach the new age of paradoxes, you will have to craft an identity that is distinct from your social media persona.

Ultimately, it comes down to the great paradox Jesus Christ. Hebrews 13:8 “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Do you know him? If you do, he will be with you no matter what age comes or goes.

Misstep by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

Introduction:  Have you ever been startled? I was one time when I was working late night security and the big AC unit came on behind the gym and scared me to death. When people are deathly afraid, they stop thinking. I have seen ladies climb on top of dining tables to get away from a tiny mouse! In our series through 1 Peter, we have been going through a miniseries called ONE MIND where Peter is reminding the believers to be united and not give in to fear. Main point: Healthy fear keeps us in step, but unhealthy fear causes us to misstep. When we are faced with the unfamiliar, it can drive us to isolation and even temporarily block our ability to reason. In such moments, we need those who will breathe godly courage back into our lives.

1 Peter 3:10 “For ‘he who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit.’”

Context: In exhorting the persecuted Christians in Asia Minor to be of one mind and not turn against each other, Peter quoted from Psalm 34. As we have done throughout this series through 1 Peter, every time Peter quoted from the Old Testament, we went to that passage in the Old Testament and spend some time studying it. We’re going to do the same thing here. We’re going to spend some time in Psalm 34. This psalm begins with a short title that says, “A Psalm of David when he pretended madness before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he departed.” At one time, scholars doubted these titles, but more and more now think that they are original. So, what is the context of Psalm 34? To understand the context of Psalm 34, we have to go to 1 Samuel 21    12 “Now David took these words to heart, and was very much afraid of Achish the king of Gath. 13 So he changed his behavior before them, pretended madness in their hands, scratched on the doors of the gate, and let his saliva fall down on his beard.” What an unflattering picture of the giant killer, the anointed king, the man after God’s own heart, and the sweet psalmist of Israel! What would cause someone like David to act like this? Short answer, FEAR. To understand the long answer, we have to dig a little deeper, starting in chapters 17 through 20. In just 4 chapters, David had gone from being the most loved man in Israel to being the most wanted man in Israel:

  • Chapter 17 – David killed Goliath with a slingshot and saved the armies of Saul. Instantly, he was a hero in Israel; but this was no big deal for him since he had already killed a lion and a bear and rescued a lamb of his flock from its mouth.
  • Chapter 18 – David gained the favor of Saul who wouldn’t let him go back home. In fact, Jonathan, Saul’s son, and David became best friends. In time, David even began to lead the armies for Saul against the Philistines with great success, and the saying was, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” Unfortunately, Saul began to eye David with envy. He even tried to have him married off to his daughter so he could control him. Sadly, God had left Saul, but he was with David. Saul knew that and he even tried to kill David with a spear.
  • Chapter 19 – Jonathan tried to convince his father that David was loyal to him, which helped for a little while but not for long.
  • Chapter 20 – Saul was once again after killing David. At first, Jonathan didn’t believe David, but he realized very quickly that it was true when his father even tried to kill him. This is where that incident took place where Jonathan and David made a covenant with each other in the field. It says in 1 Samuel 20:42 “Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, since we have both sworn in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘May the LORD be between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants, forever.’ ” So he arose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city.
  • For the first time, David must have felt truly isolated. So, he went to the man of God. 1 Samuel 21:1 “Now David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest.” Keep in mind that he was the great grandson of Eli the high priest. And Ahimelech was afraid when he met David, and said to him, ‘Why are you alone, and no one is with you?’” The word for afraid in Hebrew is “charad,” which means to be terrified or trembling. Of course, he must have heard about the feud between Saul and David, but more is going on here. In 1 Samuel 2, God had pronounced a curse on the house of Eli because he would not discipline his sons, Hophni and Phinehas. 31 “Behold, the days are coming that I will cut off your arm and the arm of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house. 32 And you will see an enemy in My dwelling place, despite all the good which God does for Israel. And there shall not be an old man in your house forever.” David must have looked like the grim reaper to Ahimelech.

Illustration: After my dad converted from Islam to Christianity, he went to a mainline church in his hometown and asked them to baptize him. They knew who he was. His father was the police commissioner. They asked him if it was because of a girl. When he gave his testimony, they refused to baptize him because of fear.

What was the impact on David? 1 Samuel 21:2 So David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has ordered me on some business, and said to me, ‘Do not let anyone know anything about the business on which I send you, or what I have commanded you.’ Important principle: When you are around someone who is full of fear, unless you are strong, it will jump on you.

Let me talk about fear for a moment. What is fear? Researchers are still unsure. Suomi and Harlow – Is it an emotional state? Is it a motivational force? Can it be perceived as a stimulus? Kahoe notes that it often gets confused with anger, anxiety, and phobia, but there is a difference: “Anger incites attack against a threatening object, fear incites withdrawal. Fear relates to an identifiable object or event; anxiety is interpreted as free-floating apprehension and probably incorporates other emotions with fear. Normal fear addresses a realistic danger, phobia a relatively persistent and irrational fear.”

Some research done on rhesus monkeys has helped us understand how fear works. By the way, I don’t believe that we are descended from monkeys. I believe that we are designed by the same creator. We can see some patterns regarding how fear works. Suomi and Harlow concluded that fear is both inherited and acquired. A certain amount of fear is actually good and healthy and it bonds us to our loved ones and “enhances an existing social relationship.” On the other hand, “too much exposure to fear stimuli too often can have undesirable consequences.”

What happens when someone has intense fear? It can sabotage his/her perception, thinking, and motor processes (From Kahoe). When a person is in a state of fear, they want to comprehend and escape at the same time. Their adrenalin starts rushing. Sometimes, overprediction can lead to phobias and panic attacks. In the short run, this can help you adapt to your surroundings, but, in the long run, it can lead to dysfunctions.

While David was talking to the priest and getting some bread from him, he noticed from the corner of his eye that one of Saul’s henchman was there, an Edomite named Doeg. Now things began to spiral downwards for him. 8 And David said to Ahimelech, “Is there not here on hand a spear or a sword? For I have brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king’s business required haste.” 9 So the priest said, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah, there it is, wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you will take that, take it. For there is no other except that one here.” And David said, “There is none like it; give it to me.” 10 Then David arose and fled that day from before Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath. Now, he took the Enemy’s weapon and made the foolish choice to head to the Enemy’s territory. 11 And the servants of Achish said to him, “Is this not David the king of the land? Did they not sing of him to one another in dances, saying: ‘Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands’?” 12 Now David took these words to heart, and was very much afraid of Achish the king of Gath. This was where he began to act like he had lost his mind. His performance was so convincing that Achish said to his servants – 14 “…Look, you see the man is insane. Why have you brought him to me? 15 Have I need of madmen, that you have brought this fellow to play the madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?”

That’s how the Enemy works. When we allow him to infiltrate our mind, he turns the very words that once brought courage to us to bring fear into our lives. He humiliates us in the presence of all and makes us a laughing stock.

Application: Have you been infected by fear? Is the Enemy having a heyday with you?

What did David do? Like the Prodigal Son, he came to himself. 1 Samuel 22      1 “David therefore departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. So when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him. 2 And everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him. So he became captain over them. And there were about four hundred men with him.” These were giant killers. One killed 300 at one time with a spear. Three of them crossed behind enemy line and brought water for David from Bethlehem. One killed a lion in a pit on a snowy day. The wrong companions had to go so the right companions could come to David.

How is this connected to 1 Peter? Peter wanted the believers in Asia Minor to be of one mind with each other. Together, they would be a mighty army for God.

Isaiah 41:10 “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” 1 John 4     18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love Him because He first loved us.

Application: How do you handle fear? Who are you surrounded by? Are you saved?

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?

The Servant by Dr. Abidan Shah

THE SERVANT by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction: How many of you remember your mom telling you, “You can get your own drink. I’m not your servant”? How many moms have told that to your kids? How many husbands have heard their wives say that? We despise the idea of having to serve anybody. In today’s message, we’re going to learn that the “SERVANT” was one of the prophetic titles of Jesus. Main point: In a world of sin and death, Jesus became God’s Servant for us. He did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many. So also, as our world is in chaos and confusion, God’s way is always one of service and sacrifice. While people of the world are jockeying for power or trying to survive, choose the way of the Servant.

Isaiah 52:13 “Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high.”

Context: As you know, we are in our miniseries through Isaiah 53 titled ATONEMENT. The reason we chose Isaiah 53 is because Peter chose Isaiah 53 to give his readers an example to on how to suffer. Keep in mind that the main series is through 1 Peter. The reason I wanted us to go deeper in Isaiah 53 is because it is much more than just a model or a pattern for suffering. It is the very bedrock of our salvation. Here we find the precious truth of the vicarious suffering of Jesus for the penalty of our sin. Remember: God is holy and we are sinful. Sin deserves God’s judgment. We are under his wrath. Jesus took God’s punishment of sin upon himself. All we have to do is trust him as our Savior and King.

Application: Have you ever accepted Jesus as your Savior and King?

Once again, Isaiah 52:13 “Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently…” Keep in mind that Isaiah was speaking prophetically to the people of Judah who were in exile in Babylon.Remember the 3-part breakdown that I gave you of the book of Isaiah: Chapters 1-39; Chapters 40-55; and Chapters 56-66. The first section deals with events in Isaiah’s lifetime (739-701 BC). The second section deals with events about a hundred years after Isaiah (605-539 BC) until the coming of Jesus. Finally, the third section deals with events from 539 BC-the future restoration of Israel that is still to come. This prophecy falls under the second section, the period 100 years after Isaiah, when Judah was taken into captivity to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. To understand the meaning of the prophecy in Isaiah 53, we need to have some understanding of the historical situation at that time. If you remember, the Northern Kingdom of Israel had been dispersed by the Assyrians under Shalmaneser in 722BC, never to return again. Their demise had given a sense of entitlement to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. It was a confirmation to them of God’s promises to King David and of Zion/Jerusalem as God’s chosen city. King Hezekiah, the king of Judah, was overall a good king. He was not pro-Assyria and he listened to Isaiah. It was unusual in those days for kings to listen to God’s prophets. When he was sick and near death, God even healed Hezekiah through Isaiah. But, he had to chastise Hezekiah when he turned to Egypt for help and even tried to build an alliance with Babylon. In fact, after he got better, Merodach-Baladan (king of Babylon) sent an envoy to visit him and Hezekiah showed them everything in his house. Nonetheless, when Hezekiah defied Assyria and Sennacherib came against Judah, they remained intact. Jerusalem continued as a city. Once again, it was a confirmation that God’s hand was upon them.

Unfortunately, Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh was anything but godly. He was a wicked king who did “abominable” things before God (see 2 Kings 21) – he built altars for Baal, worshipped stars, built altars in the temple, made his son pass through fire, practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft, and consulted spiritists and mediums. 2 Kings 21:9 “…Manasseh seduced them to do more evil than the nations whom the LORD had destroyed before the children of Israel.” He ruled for 55 years! By the way, he was also the wicked king who had Isaiah sawed to death by a wooden saw in 681 BC. What was God’s reaction to all this? 10   And the LORD spoke by His servants the prophets, saying, 11 “Because Manasseh king of Judah has done these abominations (he has acted more wickedly than all the Amorites who were before him, and has also made Judah sin with his idols), 12 therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel: “Behold, I am bringing such calamity upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whoever hears of it, both his ears will tingle. 13 And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria and the plummet of the house of Ahab; I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. 14 So I will forsake the remnant of My inheritance and deliver them into the hand of their enemies; and they shall become victims of plunder to all their enemies, 15 because they have done evil in My sight, and have provoked Me to anger since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day.’ ”

Just when you would think all hell would break loose, another king came to the throne named Josiah (after Amon). He was the total opposite of Manasseh! Sometimes, God delays his judgment to give us more time to repent and come to him. 2 Peter 3     7 “But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. 8 But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” Josiah began repairing the temple. In the process, God’s Word was found. 2 Kings 22      11 Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, that he tore his clothes. 12Then the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Achbor the son of Michaiah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah a servant of the king, saying, 13 “Go, inquire of the LORD for me, for the people and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the LORD that is aroused against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” He tore down all the altars that Manasseh had set up, executed the prophets to the false gods, and cleansed the land. 2 Kings 23     25 Now before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses; nor after him did any arise like him. Unfortunately, the people had a false sense of confidence that they were going to be okay. But, listen to 2 Kings 23     26 “Nevertheless the LORD did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath, with which His anger was aroused against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him. 27 And the LORD said, “I will also remove Judah from My sight, as I have removed Israel, and will cast off this city Jerusalem which I have chosen, and the house of which I said, ‘My name shall be there.’”

Then, it happened, by 605BC, Babylon was in power. In 597BC, Nebuchadnezzar came against Jerusalem. He besieged the city, replaced the king, and warned them to keep sending in the taxes. He appointed King Zedekiah to the throne. Zedekiah tried to get the help of the Egyptians against the Babylonians. He even asked Jeremiah to pray for God to deliver Judah. Jeremiah 21     9 “He who remains in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but he who goes out and defects to the Chaldeans who besiege you, he shall live, and his life shall be as a prize to him. 10 For I have set My face against this city for adversity and not for good,” says the LORD. “It shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.” Zedekiah didn’t like the answer. So he turned to other prophets. Jeremiah even came before the king with a yoke around his neck as a visual. He even warned those already in exile in Babylon to make themselves at home. This was not over. As prophesied, Nebuchadnezzar returned in 587BC, destroyed Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, destroyed the walls, and drove the people of Judah out of their homes. Zedekiah was captured and his sons were killed before his eyes. His eyes were gauged out and he was dragged away to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar forced the exiles to march 700 miles across the hot desert to a land they had never seen. They were now “servants” in a foreign land. Gone are the days of confidence in God’s promises to David and to his chosen city Zion/Jerusalem.

What do you think is the state of mind of these people in exile? Everything is in chaos. Susan Langer (“Philosophy in a New Key,” Prof at Columbia, New York University) said, “Man can adapt himself somehow to anything his imagination can cope with; but he cannot deal with Chaos. Because his characteristic function and highest asset is conception, his greatest fright is to meet what he cannot construe, the ‘uncanny,’ as it is popularly called.” How do you think they were handling all this? Their glory days were over. Maybe, some were reminiscing. Others were becoming Babylonians. Their whole thought was how to shed the life of servitude. Will God bring us back? Is our God bigger than Marduk, Nergal, and Tiamat? Was it time to switch over? We don’t want to be servants anymore.

God had sent his answer through Isaiah over a 100 years earlier. God had already given his new way. Isaiah 43.     18 “Do not remember the former things, Nor consider the things of old. 19 Behold, I will do a new thing, Now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness And rivers in the desert.” In this way, David was not the Anointed One but Cyrus (a king who was yet to be born). The qualifications of leadership had changed. It’s not pedigree or power but humility, obedience, and righteousness. With that in mind, let’s read the section we began with – Isaiah 52:13 “Behold, My Servant (Pay attention. You are servants and hate it. I am sending someone who is also a Servant. Don’t despise your predicament. It could be God’s way of speaking to you and using you. The description of “the Servant” had already begun in Isaiah 42.) shall deal prudently; (Not just wise things but right things. The word is “sakal.”) He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high.” (they describe God – Isaiah 6:1; 33:10; 57:15)

14 Just as many were astonished at you, so His visage was marred more than any man, And His form more than the sons of men; (their faces were disfigured in the exile. He would be worse.) 15 so shall He sprinkle many nations. (the idea is of sprinkling to make atonement or even expiation = to purify. We may think that in exile God may double down on his hatred for nations. To the contrary, God is reigniting his plan to reach the world! The people in exile thought that they had lost their identity. Instead, God was spreading them for his greater purpose to win the world). Kings shall shut their mouths at Him; (Pilate was not a king but he represented one. He was just the beginning.) for what had not been told them they shall see, and what they had not heard they shall consider.

Invitation: Do you know the Servant? Are you trusting in him? Are you saved? Are you a servant?

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?

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?

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?

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