ZACCHEUS – A CHARACTER SKETCH

(cf. Luke 19:1-10)

Zaccheus was really a strange name for a guy who’s a chief tax collector because in Hebrew his name meant ‘the righteous one’. He was the head of the tax collecting district of Jericho, and the religious authorities ostracized him. He made his money on the problems of other people; made them pay exorbitant taxes more than what was due. He worked for the Romans and people hated him for that. It was a very important job though. He was a very influential rich person in his own town. He was a rich man too which was quite obvious, but he really lacks something. You know, you can have all the things the world offers and still not have peace and contentment and satisfaction. I think that we really get duped sometimes into thinking if we just had what someone else had, if we just had their money, their looks, their talent, their mind, their position, you know, the truth is we can have everything the world offers and still be miserable. Jesus is going to try to bring to this man’s longing the answer to his deepest needs, and it’s not things – It’s a personal relationship.

This man was searching for something more in his life. I’m sure he heard that Jesus had called Matthew the tax collector to be one of His disciples. I’m sure he heard that Jesus ate with notorious sinners, and talked to prostitutes, and and embraced lepers. I’m sure he had heard all about Jesus and His love for people, and this man was really curious. This man really had a longing and a need. The Holy Spirit had done His work very well in this man’s life. You know the Bible speaks in John chapter 6 verse 44 and 65, that no one comes to the father unless the Holy Spirit woos them, or draws them. This man had that experience. He was searching for something more. He was looking. He was seeking.

So here is Zaccheus, the rich tax collector atop a sycamore tree just to get a glimpse of Jesus who was coming through on that street. And Jesus looked up and called him by his name, and says, “I must stay at your house today”. It was a divine appointment indeed. God had arranged it for Jesus and Zaccheus to meet eyeball-to-eyeball. You know, I think there’s more divine appointments in our life than we can imagine. I think God brings believers and non-believers together in predictable ways day after day. I hope that we as Christians can be more sensitive to these divine appointments that are in our lives every day that we often miss. Jesus recognized this, and He had to go this man’s house. Do you know that Jesus going to this notorious sinner’s house would have made Him ceremonially unclean? Jesus is doing something so radical to show His great love for all people.

During His stay at Zaccheus’ place, It doesn’t record what they talked about, but obviously knowing Jesus, He must have talked about the kingdom of God, the fruit of righteousness, the Judgment coming on unrighteous people, and the need to trust God by faith. That message found a home in the heart of Zaccheus, and he begins to respond. It is obvious that this man has responded for these reasons: He confesses his sin. He turns away from it and he makes restitution. He was so grateful to Jesus for bringing salvation to his home. He was giving half of his wealth to the poor, and would pay back four times anybody he had defrauded. This man’s life has been changed. Here is a man who has been confronted with the Person of Christ. An obvious renewal has taken place. Truly the fruit of salvation is a changed lifestyle. Yours may not change radically as this man, because this man had a backlog of problems. Jesus came to deal with those who recognize their needs. Zaccheus didn’t have any problem admitting that he had extorted people. He didn’t have any problem admitting he was a sinner. He had no problem admitting he had needs. Well, the hardest people to talk to about their need for a personal acceptance of Jesus Christ are those who are pretty good people, those who are pretty moral, those who do religious things, those who are kind to their neighbors. You see they don’t have a real sense of need. Jesus came to give help and comfort and peace, and salvation to those who recognize that they had a spiritual need. The prerequisite for salvation really is a sense of need. You don’t need a savior unless you recognize that you’re a sinner. You don’t need someone to find you unless you recognize you’re lost. You don’t need to hear the good news about Jesus until you’ve heard the bad news about you. The Son of Man has come to seek and to save the people that are lost and are in need. And certainly, Zacchaeus was one who recognized he had a need, and Jesus satisfied that need by bringing salvation to him and to his household. Later Church tradition, specifically Clement of Alexandria says, Zacchaeus became the bishop of Caesarea in Palestine.

WHAT’S WITH THE CONCEPT OF SUBMISSION

(1 Peter 2:9-3:9)

What grabs me as i study the New Testament is this recurrent theme of ‘submit’. I want you to know that i’m not drawn to the word ‘submit’, because that is diametrically opposite of everything in my cultural upbringing. Our culture has sharpened our physical appetite for self. We had been trained from the crib to do our own thing; to do it well, to compete in doing it, and to do it for material rewards. We had been trained and geared socially to strive for possessions; to look for one’s self-actualization in the abundance of what one owned. That’s the craze of young people, and that’s exactly the opposite of the Bible’s message. The Bible talks about submission and the purpose of submission: For we “have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps,” (i.e. 1 Pet. 2:21). What purpose is Peter talking about? Well, it’s got to relate back to verse 18, “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect,…”. It even goes back to verse 13 where it says, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority,” because we are aliens and strangers in this world, and this world is not our home. But the tragedy of the modern church is, we’re trying to drive down tent pegs into the soil of a foreign land, and we wonder why we’re so unhappy and all that. We’re trying to build houses on sand, and find meaning in it. It was never God’s purpose for us to focus in this world; focus in on this life, focus in on me and mine. But really it goes back earlier than this. It goes back to the call of God on Israel, when He “brought them out of Egypt on eagle’s wings”, because Israel is a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (cf. Exodus 19:6). God was well-pleased to do something to His people, so radical, so different, so other-worldly, so supernatural, so holy, that when the world sees it, it will be drawn to God. That was the purpose of Israel, but she failed miserably. Theologically, what it’s saying to us is that we (New Testament Church) are the ‘called out’, chosen, gifted, equipped people of God, and we’re using the exact same words that were used for Old Testament Israel.

But God didn’t give up on that purpose, He sent One Israelite To fulfill the purpose of bringing the whole world to Himself. Then He began to change His people (church); changed them so radically, so differently, that all the world would see the Gospel lived out in their lives, and thereby be changed. And so the purpose of submission is a wholly changed, godly, Christlike people; to be a kingdom of priests to bring all the world to God. So the Apostle Peter urges us, “…as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation”. Our problem is, we do not see ourselves as aliens and strangers. Our problem is, we feel so ‘at home with this world. We focus on all things that would satisfy our lusts. We are molded into the shape of the society in which we were born, instead of into the family in which we were reborn. The Bible says there’s a war going on in our bodies (cf. Romans 7:24-25), and we don’t even know there’s a war going on. We just think we’re psychologically depraved, not quite educated enough, or we just had some maladies, or our genes are somehow off. True, and the Bible calls it sin. The truth of the matter is that we are really in a battle to be different. We are in a battle to be the ‘called-out’, unique kind of people whose whole world view has been changed whose focus is no longer on himself, but because of Christ, the focus is now on others – to attract them to God through the Gospel lived out in our lives.

OUR REWARDS ARE BOTH TEMPORAL AND ESCHATOLOGICAL

The Christian church is so different; different in our backgrounds, different in our emphases, and so different in our spiritual gifts. Some planted, others watered, but God gave the increase (cf. 1 Cor. 3:6). Neither the planter nor the waterer counts for much, but God is everything in keeping the plants growing. The planter and the waterer are one in aim yet each of us has his reward. Here is a difficult concept for us to talk about in the church. I think the reward here is both temporal and eschatological. What does it mean that we as Christians are going to receive a reward? I don’t want to deny the new testament emphasis on rewards. It is definitely there, but i don’t think we serve the Lord for the reward. I think the rewards are a side effect of God’s loving grace because we serve Him. We don’t do things to win God’s favor, because in Christ we already have all of God’s love. I think temporally speaking, i so enjoy being a Christian, and i receive so many personal benefits – not material things. I don’t have all the things the world says that would make a person happy, but you know in serving Jesus in the best you can with your spiritual gifts faithfully, i sure sleep good at night, and what i do have, i can enjoy and use it with a clear conscience. And there is something about knowing God in this life that gives joy to even the simple things. I think that’s part of the reward for being a Christian, that peace of mind that permeates every aspect of life; that sense of God’s in control that even circumstances can’t take away that peace from you. That’s the temporal blessings for serving God, and whether you’re a preacher, or a lawyer, or a doctor, or a plumber, or a clerk, or a secretary, or a house wife is not the point. Now the other one is the eschatological reward; Jesus said that He went to prepare a place for us and He’s coming back to get us (cf. Jn. 14:3). Paul even talks about that we have a reward, the soul-winners crown, and all those crowns, but i think the verse that means the most to me when i think of eschatological or end-time rewards is the verse that says, “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him– (i.e. 1 Cor. 2:9). I don’t think we can ever imagine what it’s going to be like when we see Him face to face, and hear those sweet words of commendation from Him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (i.e. Matt. 25:21).

THE MEAN OF THE CONTENTED LIFE

(cf. Deut. 8:11-20)

When life is good and the Lord your God has given you homes to live in, many healthy children, and a prosperous job, don’t you ever be thinking in your mind, “Look what the strength of my hands have done, look how creative I am, look what I’ve produced, boy, I am a go-getter.” Now, you remember that it’s the Lord your God that provided you these things. It is the blessing of the Lord which makes us rich (i.e. Prov. 10:22). I think we need to take a spiritual inventory every now and then, and sometimes it’s very hard to do it in the crucible of the contemporary. It’s much easier to look backwards when life was good as we were used to seeing 2 ‘footprints’, but right in the moment of crisis in our lives we see one. Suddenly life begins to take on a new perspective because we believe the Bible is the only clear self revelation of the one true God. He is with us. He is for us, and we don’t want to forget that in our abundance or in our need. We don’t want to have too much that we forget God, we don’t want to have too little that we curse Him. That’s not a half-bad thought; to have a mean in our Christian lives, that we’re going to think about Him always, and not forget who He is in our lives.

WOMEN ARE TO BE SILENT

The issue of the (married) women in the church of Corinth being told to “keep silent” during their worship service is one of a cultural issue and should not be taken as a universal principle. Paul is addressing a problem of a group of women, because of their too much excitement in their new freedom in Christ were unruly and too outspoken disrupting the worship service in their gathered fellowship. Paul is limiting women, not in public prophesying, but in criticizing other prophets’ (male prophets) messages, thereby implying an authority over them. However, some denominations pick on this issue and forbid women no matter how theologically articulate they are to take active roles in church ministry. They proof-text one verse, 1 Corinthians 14:34, “women are to be silent in the churches…”, and ignore the five verses below it where Paul says “do not forbid them to speak in tongues”. They’ve taken one verse in Paul, proof-texted it and ignored other verses in Paul, and said, “God says it, that settles it”. They never think through Paul’s flow of textual evidence; what he’s talking about, who he’s talking to, and why he’s talking. They just pulled one verse out and make it a universal principle for all people in all areas.

I am reminded of Gordon Fee, who in his book ‘How to read the Bible for all it’s worth’, made a point and it was a good point when he wrote, “If the Bible speaks with one voice, whether in the Old or in the New Testaments about an issue, it’s probably a universal issue, but if the Bible seems to speak with two voices, it’s probably a cultural principle. The ‘women’s issue’ is a two voice issue, and if you will read the literary unit beginning in 1 Corinthians 11 through 1 Corinthian 14 you will understand what i am talking about. I believe godly women have a very important role in church ministry, and there are areas where they are more effective than their male counterparts in so far as permeating our culture with the Gospel. And i believe Ephesians 4 does say that the gifted leadership in the church is meant to train and equip the laity to do the work of ministry; which means there is no clergy and laity dichotomy, no male and female dichotomy. All-male minister ordination is a denominational issue, not a biblical issue. Every one of us are called, gifted 24/7 ministers of Jesus Christ.

COMPLAINING – ‘IDEALIZING THE PAST, TO CRITIQUE THE PRESENT’

(cf. Exodus 16)

Did you know that ‘complaining’ is not simply a bad attitude? It’s really a grievous sin against the Person of God and His trustworthiness. Complaining may go by different names, such as murmuring, griping, whining, grumbling, beefing, belly-aching, & moaning. We all know what complaining means; we all complain one time or another. The sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. They grumbled about this, they grumbled about that, and they grumbled about everything else. They grumbled against Moses, but it was really against God. They were a slave nation for hundreds of years. They weren’t used to having things done for them, and here they are griping about their provisions. It’s interesting to me, as i read rabbinical Judaism, to know that the Jews turned this whole period of wilderness wandering into an idealistic time; they called it the honeymoon period between Yahweh and His people. Because all this time that God was with them, and provided all their needs, but during that experience they were terribly griping and complaining about everything. These people’s attitude was really something else, and they even had the nerve to say, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death”. Now, here’s the idea that God was the cause of their present misery, “why didn’t God just kill us in Egypt, instead of you (Moses) bringing us out here and dying of hunger and thirst here in the desert!”. Do you catch the kind of attitude they had? They weren’t trusting God!They had seen the Red Sea split; they had seen the Egyptian soldiers die. They had seen the 10 plagues. They had seen the hand of God in the pillar of cloud that was with them, and yet they continually griped. This thing about them eating meat and bread to the full in Egypt, and reminiscing the good old days; well they weren’t really so good. Remember they were slaves in Egypt, and no slaves could eat all they wanted. They didn’t have that much food. It’s really a pathetic case of idealizing the past to critique the present (aren’t we all guilty of this?). Did they really think Moses went to all that trouble; got drafted by God, and went to all that hassle to bring them out of slavery and kill them intentionally in the desert? Sometimes we say the dumbest things ourselves whenever we get under pressure and tired. I think complaining is typical of all fallen humanity, as it all started with Adam and Eve.

It’s very interesting about God providing manna (bread of heaven), and everything else to these stiff-necked people is really a means for God to test His people. The word ‘test’ could mean like checking a medal or a coin, or something, or it could mean test by smelling something like smelling tuna fish in the ice box to make sure it’s still good. Well the idea here is God testing His people for their well-being, to strengthen them, to encourage them – to test toward approval and not for destruction. I think the whole Bible is a series of God testing us. It starts back in Genesis 22 where God tested Abraham. We see that God tested Jesus in Matthew chapter 4. We see that God tested the early church. God tested the Apostles, and God will test you. God will test you not to destroy you, but to make you stronger, and make you trust Him more. I think that’s the ideal here about us going through ‘the wilderness experience’ of our lives. The caveat is – NEVER COMPLAIN! It is against God!

APOLLOS – A CHARACTER SKETCH

Apollos is a very interesting character in the New testament. We don’t have much about him, but we know him in his relationship to Priscilla and Aquila and the Apostle Paul. He was a very a interesting man, and it is in Acts 18:24 where we are first introduced to him. It seems that the New Testament writers had a different philosophy than we do today, and they would drop things into a context seemingly unrelated to us, and yet for themselves it’s very important to the logical sequence of their book. The account of Apollos is think is dropped in the last part of chapter 18 to prepare the readers for these disciples of John the Baptist whom Paul is going to confront in chapter 19 verse 1 and following. You see Apollos had the same theological problem as those disciples did, and so we’re introduced to this very influential, very eloquent, and very intellectual oriented Christian preacher who knew no other baptism than John’s to set the stage for these disciples of John who didn’t know about the Holy Spirit either.

Now, here is a guy who is a Jew and yet he is named after a Greek god. I don’t why his parents did that for him, but apparently that was his name. So he is a Jewish person with a name of a Greek god, and we learn that he is from Alexandria, Egypt. Alexandria was the second largest city of the Roman empire. It was known for having the largest library in the known world, and the social milieu was an intellectual kind of setting. It was the home of some great Jewish scholars like Philo who i guess was really the first to used extensively the Allegorical method of Bible interpretation as he tried to make the Old Testament conform to Platonism; and so many believed that Apollos was influenced by Philo. Others even attribute the authorship of Hebrews to him. We are not really 100% sure he grew up in that very large metropolitan city. There’s no way of telling, but what it says about him seems to imply that his background was an intellectual kind of thing. Apollos was a very eloquent preacher and intellectually oriented, in stark contrast to Paul who was not really a great preacher as some of us tend to believe. History has it that he even had some kind of a speech impediment (cf. 1 Cor. 2:1); he was not the kind of guy that you would listen to for hours and hours and keep your attention. Apparently, the Corinthian church preferred Apollos more than Paul not so much in their content as to their preaching style. There was a real tension there between Apollos and Paul in how the Christians perceived them.

Apollos knew his Old Testament, and he has been instructed in the ‘way of the Lord’ (cf. Acts 18:25). This ‘way of the Lord’ is a very interesting phrase, and it goes back in the Old Testament view of faith as a lifestyle to be lived (cf. Deut. 5:32; Ps. 27:11; Isaiah 35:8). Another way of saying that is Biblical faith is not a theology to be memorized nor is it a creed to sign your name on, it is a lifestyle of holiness to be lived. In the New Testament this thing is mentioned in the book of Acts as the first designation for the Christian faith because they weren’t called Christians till Antioch which comes later in the book of Acts. And of course we have John 14:6, where Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” that also reflects this idea that that He is the lifestyle, He is the ancient pattern for living.

It seems Apollos had two major ministries: one, toward Jews and another toward Christians. He wasn’t an evangelist, he was an apologist toward the Jewish people successfully refuting them in public, and proved by the Scriptures that Jesus was indeed the Christ (cf. Acts 18:28), and he was also a teacher to the Christians. There are many passages about Apollos, but what interests me is 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 – “What is Apollos, after all, and what is Paul? Ministers through whom you became believers, just as the Lord assigned each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth. Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters are equal, and each will receive wages in proportion to his labor. For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building”. I think there is a very important Biblical concept here that we need to deal. I used to think when i was a new believer that the greatest call was the call to be a missionary or the call to preach, but really, it came home to me later that what we do as Christians is not as significant as what we feel that has led us to do it. I think every Christian is gifted (cf. 1 Cor. 12), and every member of the church is a minister. You see if you are a Christian plumber, or a Christian doctor, or a Christian whatever, and you feel that God has called you to do that, and you do your calling in a Christian way with the people you meet, then i think that is the highest calling of God in your life. You see it’s not what we do is important, it’s why we do what we do that is crucial. Here we have Apollos and Paul – Paul is the evangelist (starter of the church), and Apollos is the apologist (defender of the faith), and the teacher of the new believers. The fact that they are different in style, and have different spiritual gifts makes no difference. Somehow together there has to be a seed planter, and there has to be a waterer, but the seed planter and the waterer are not what is important, but it’s God that gives the increase. I think it’s important we see that. I think when we make distinction between spiritual gifts we get into trouble. I personally believe that all spiritual gifts are valid today. I don’t understand how they all work, but i affirm their validity and continuance. Apollos, Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, John Mark, and all these missionaries together are doing the will of God. They are so different personality-wise, but God has made us in such a way that not one of us can do the Christian ministry alone. Paul and Apollos knew that it wasn’t competition between both of them – 2 types of personalities, 2 types of ministries; it was a blending, a balance so the church would function as it should. The emphasis is on God, we are mere instruments in the hand of God.

THE GREATEST AMNESTY PROGRAM MAN HAS EVER EXPERIENCED

(Romans 3:21-31)

John Calvin once said that there is not probably in the whole Bible a passage which encapsulates most profoundly the righteousness of God in Christ than Romans 3 verse 20 through 31. Noteworthy is the fact that Galatians and Romans are the doctrinal books of Paul. They are the systematic theologies of the New Testament, and i think Paul’s epistle to the Galatians parallels in many ways the theological progression of Romans. Although Romans is more extensive and more logical in its presentation of the truth. I think it is the very heart of what we believe about Jesus Christ, and i think it helps us see probably as clear as anywhere in the Bible the wonderful truth of who we are in Jesus Christ. The greatest need of Christians in our day, i believe is to recognize what they already are, or what they already have in Jesus Christ. Sometimes, we live in such unusual and problematical attitudes because we have not come to realize that in Him the fullness of God, the riches of God, the righteousness of God are ours because of our relationship to Him. Reading back chapter 1:16-17 gives you an amplification of this truth,and is really a summary of the whole book of Romans. Paul has been talking about the lostness of men. He starts with a terrible problem of pagan society; by the way we claim the Philippines is a Christian country, and that’s really a lie. Our society is as immoral and pagan as the society of Rome. We just like to pat ourselves in the back, and pretend to be followers of Christ. Friends, we live in a pagan society, and you will have to agree with me when you read about what’s happening around us, and realize it fits perfectly well about the rampant problems in ancient Roman society that Paul is talking about. It’s like a checklist of our society today. Paul then talked about the moral pagan, and then about the Jew, and he comes to sum it all up that all of us are in need. And Jesus has provided everything we need in who He is, and what He has done for us. It’s a marvelous passage, and let’s look at verse 21, “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known,…” – well, that’s the question all of us are asking, how is man right with God? That’s what we’re all trying to find out – how is a human being rightly related to God? Well there are many answers in our world; some think it’s through knowledge, some think it’s through their own works and efforts, some think it’s through knowing certain books or having certain special words that get them to the spirit realm. It is a central question that all mankind is asking – how can i be friends with God, right with God, how can i be saved, how can i know i’m going to heaven? All those same question, and here Paul is going to deal that central need of everyone’s life – ‘God can i know that things are right between You and me’? ‘They often don’t seem right, they often seem confused and disruptive’. ‘I’ve got sin in my life still, how can i know that things are right between God and myself’?

Now, we need to define a few terms, because we must to realize that our modern terminology does not necessarily match up with Biblical words. I want to know what Paul meant when he said the word, ‘right standing’ or ‘righteousness’. It’s real important that we see how the New Testament authors use the words, and not how we define them. ‘Righteousness’ is an Old Testament word as far as its etymology, and it goes way back in the Old Testament where God is called ‘Righteous’ or ‘Just’ or ‘Right’. All those Hebrew terms have the same root as do the Greek terms in the Old Testament. If you want to describe the nature of God, it was described as a ‘standard’. Now, they didn’t have ruler or straightedge in that day, they had river reeds that were somewhat straight, and they used those reeds to measure the straightness of things. Every Hebrew word for sin means a ‘deviation’ from the standard, missing the mark, falling short, being crooked, being perverse. The ‘Standard’ is God Himself, that’s why it’s so hard for us to read those passages that say, “You must be holy, as your Father in heaven is holy”. We say, ‘how can i do that’? Honestly we say, ‘i can’t do that’. I’ve tried to do that, but there is no perfection in me. How then can we be perfect? Well, this whole passage right here is dealing with how we can be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. How we can be straight as He is straight, or put it another way, how we can be like Him. How is man like God? How is man right with God? That’s the question that Paul is asking, and it’s such an important question. Now he says that the answer to this has been clearly, once and for all manifested, it’s been brought to light. Paul says, ‘I have the answer to that question, and it’s totally apart from the Law’. What does that mean? Paul is using the word ‘Law’ in a sense that Gentiles understand; well the church had realized the Christianity began with Judaism, and if there were some commandments given to the Jewish nation, and if they performed them, they would be right with God. And i want to say to you right up front, that i believe that if a man can keep the Old Testament Law from birth till death he can be right with God. But if you fail in one way, one time, that door is closed forever. It simply is impossible for any one to obey the whole Law, and Paul says that that way of being right with God has been effectively closed for all men because no one has lived up to the glory, or image, or perfection, or approval of God. So if that way is closed, the way of the Law, that way of right standing, what then is its purpose? Friends, i believe the Law was never meant to make man right with God. the purpose of the Law was always to show man his need. The Sermon on the Mount has the same purpose in the New Testament as the Ten Commandments has in the Old Testament. Its purpose was to show us our inadequacy to do the will of God; to be like God. Galatians 3:23-25 tell us the ‘Law’ was a tutor or a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. I do believe that the Sermon on the Mount and Ten Commandments still have a place in man’s life. I believe the Ten Commandments are God’s will for man in society, though they’re not the way for them to be saved. I believe the Sermon on the Mount is still God’s guidelines for man in society, though we will never meet the standards and fully live up to that wonderful Sermon. But we’re still meant to walk that road, emulate that pattern, though it is not the way of us being saved. It is God’s will for our life but it’s not connected with the Law. Notice as it says, “to which the Law and the Prophets testify.” – if you look back at chapter 1 verse 2, notice what it says there that this not something new. This is an Old Testament theme that Paul is developing when it says there “which long ago He promised to the prophets in the Holy Scripture. There’s nothing new about the ministry of Jesus. It’s just that the Old Testament incipient form that had been made full and complete in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Now, by the way, the word ‘Law and the Prophets’, that’s the Hebrew way of referring to the Scriptures. they have a three-fold division: The Law of Moses – that would be Genesis through Deuteronomy; the Prophets – this includes First and Second Kings, 2nd Chronicles, the major Prophets, the minor Prophets; the Writings – that would be the wisdom literature, Daniel and those kind of things. This was a way that was prophesied earlier in the Old Testament, and there’s nothing new here.

Now in verse 22 notice as it says, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe…” – now, there’s the Gospel in a nutshell. Man is right with God through faith in Jesus. I think we have misdefined faith so badly. We have not defined faith as far as its Hebrew and Greek background using the Bible. Faith primarily is not something we do. Faith primarily is a trust in the trustworthiness of God. It is the object that we do, not a work that we do. Faith is the hand that receives the gift of God in Jesus Christ. “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile,” – now here’s the truth that all of us have a need; all of us are lost. All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There is a universal offer for salvation. That universal offer meets the universal need, but not everybody is saved because everybody has to exercise faith in Jesus Christ. I believe everybody is potentially saved. I believe Jesus died for everybody but we must exercise faith to make Jesus’ wonderful gift to us applicable to our lives. So here we have the truth that faith is the distinction that makes lost men from saved men; not Jesus loving them, not Jesus dying for them but man’s response to God’s offer. Christ is the dividing line between the lost and the saved, that’s what we have here. Notice if you would in verse 23, “for all have sinned…” – this is aorist tense, meaning once and for all. I believe that is talking about the Fall; that all of us have fallen in Adam. Look at this, and everybody “falls short of the glory of God,” – this is a present tense which means not only are we lost because of our connection with Adam, but each one of us existentially chooses to go our own way. Each one of us exercises the propensity toward evil. Each one of us participates int he Sin of Adam by rebelling against God on an individual basis. We’re going to stand before God for our own sins because we’re all responsible. All of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. What does the word ‘glory’ mean? Some think it means the idea of the image of God in man; God’s approval of man; our future heavenly glory. I’m not sure what the word glory really means, but it communicates to me that i haven’t reached the level of what God wanted for my life. I haven’t made the potential that was possible; that i’ve fallen short of God’s expectations. And i think all of us realize that as a truth on our own life; that it says everybody may have a right standing with God. I believe in predestination as taught in Ephesians chapter 1 verses 4 and 11 that God chose me before the foundation of the world, but i do not believe that God chose some and didn’t choose others. Because i hear passages like Ezekiel 33:11 where God said “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live”. You might want to see 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2nd Peter 3:9 to realize that God loves all men. I submit to you this book says anybody can have right standing with God. There’s nobody too sinful, too ugly, too wicked, too far that God didn’t love and sent His Son to die for. Anybody, everybody may have right standing with God as a free gift. Friends, you don’t have to earn or deserve it. You don’t have to do anything except receive it. It’s a free gift of God. Think about that, salvation or being right with God is not something you can do, it’s only something you can receive. Now once you know Him, there’s a whole broad road of righteousness to walk in, but before you know Him, all you can do is say ‘yes’. There’s nothing anybody can do for God’s offer except say ‘yes’. What a wonderful message for mankind. If i had to feel like i was worthy or deserve God’s love, i would feel lost because i had tried to meet God’s standard, and have been physically, mentally, spiritually to walk as i thought. I’m glad it’s a free gift, i can jump, shout, sing, rejoice , and then try to do the best i can yielding my life to Jesus Christ day by day as a free man. The bells of heaven are ringing over the free gift that God has done for sinful man in Jesus Christ. It’s truly amazing, while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Sometimes as Christians we dare think God must have chosen us because we’re great just like the rest of the world. I’m sorry you’re in for the biggest mistake of your life; greatness is not in you, greatness is in the free gift of God that transforms normal people and totally changes their lives. Then there’s three terms here from different areas of the ancient world to describe what God has done in Christ; three of them: the word ‘right standing’ is a legal term to describe a man’s relationship to the Law which we usually translate as ‘justified by faith’. It doesn’t mean we’re not guilty of sin, it means that we have participated in the greatest amnesty program the world has ever dreamed about. It is not that we’re not in need of punishment; Somebody has paid the price for us. Amnesty has been given free to anybody who will receive – the price paid by Someone else. The second word is ‘ransom’, this is a word from the slave market; it means to buy someone back from slavery, or buy back a prisoner of war. It’s that near relative (Go-el) that comes and helps a relative out of a place where the relative could not help himself. It’s the idea that God has done something for you that you could never have done for yourself. He has paid the price of all. You’re being set free and He gives that to you as a free gift, and all He asks you to do is accept it – ransom. And then the third one is a little more difficult – “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood to be received by faith.” – Other translations have ‘propitiation’ or ‘expiation’ for the word ‘atonement’. Now this word is a word that’s used in the Septuagint Greek translation of the Old Testament as the name for the ‘mercy seat’ on top of the ark of the Covenant. You can see it in Hebrews 9:4, it’s that golden lid on top of that ark where the wings of the cherubim meet in the middle and that’s where the symbol of the presence of God dwells among His people. And once a year on the Day of Atonement, the high priest brings the blood of bulls and goats, and sprinkles it three times on that mercy seat. The symbol there is, that God that dwells above the wings of those cherubim when He looks at the nation of Israel, instead of seeing their sins, the blood has formed a barrier, and God in a mysterious way when He sees that blood, He doesn’t see their sins. That’s exactly what Jesus Christ has done for us. It looked like a defeat, it looked like a shame, but it really was the sprinkling of that precious life before God. By means of Jesus’s blood — His sacrificial death, God’s holy wrath against sin was appeased. Somehow, in Jesus Christ, the wrath, the disappointment of God for what we should have been is met in the love and undeserved grace of God. And somehow when Jesus was lifted up for all men to see, those two things came together. And now they’re one, and that one is whosoever will may come. Look what it says, “He did this to demonstrate his righteousness (justice),” – what does that mean? Well in Genesis chapter 2:17, the Bible says and records that God said to Adam ‘do not eat the fruit of that tree, but the day you eat of the fruit of that tree, Adam, you will die’. You know the story – Eve ate, Adam ate. They did not physically die maybe, but their relationship with God was disrupted and that resulted ultimately in physical death, and if it wasn’t taken care of, ultimately it resulted in eternal death or spiritual death which the Bible calls the second death. God said, “The soul that sins shall surely die. That is the Word of God. It will not pass away; that there is the Justice of God that says if you sin, you’re going to pay the price for it. You’re going to die in the pits that you made for yourself. Now, somehow God’s Word has to be verified; Someone die die, Someone did pay the price, but God help us, it was not us sinners, it was Jesus who never sinned who paid the price of God’s justice of Genesis 2:17. And the Old Testament was the example of unblemished young animals having to die, but that ultimate sacrifice was seen in Jesus the Christ giving His life once and for all – the act of one sinless for the act of one sinful. Now notice if you will as it says, , “…because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” – you might want see Acts 14:16 and Romans 5:13 which deal with that same theology. Now in verse 26, “He did it to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” – i submit to you when Jesus said “I’m the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no man comes to the Father but by Me” (John 14:6); He was telling us something when Paul says, “there’s one mediator between God and man, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Tim. 2:5), He was telling something, that there is only One Name under heaven whereby you must be saved, He was telling that He is the only Way to the Father. He is the only Way to God, there is no other. If that is an untrue statement, then the Bible is an untrue book. There’s one Door, one Key, one Way and that’s Jesus of Nazareth, a carpenter killed by the Romans for treason. But in reality He was God! Hallelujah! He was the full Incarnate deity. He was the pre-existent Creator of the universe who came in the form of a carpenter. Now, if that’s untrue, the whole Bible is a lie and everything He did is insignificant! But if that’s true, then there’s all the reason to be exuberant in joy and gladness! It’s going to be a glorious and wonderful trip to eternity, but it’s going to be connected with Him and Him alone.

Notice then as it continues in verse 27 through 31, really just talk about the arrogance of the Jewish race. We may not have arrogant Jews in our church today, but we’ve got enough self-righteous Christians that fill up the attitude. “Where, then, is (human) boasting? You know, we always tell God what a great deal He got when He got us; that He’s so lucky for choosing me, that i’m a wonderful person, i’m a spiritual giant. Friends, it’s true, we always tell how good we are, how wonderful we are, and how much we deserve God’s love. But where is human boasting gone when you recognize who you are, and who He is, and you fall on your knees, and begin to cry in your own sins, friends when that happens, then you’re closer to Jesus than you’ve ever been in your life. Paul once said, “Don’t think more of yourself than you ought” (Rom. 12:3). Friends, Jesus loves people, and you happen to be included, but you’re not that hot of a prize. Where then is human boasting? Gone, and is completely shut out! On what principle? On that of doing something? No! But on the principle of faith; for we hold that a man is brought into right standing with God by faith. That observance of the Law has no connection with it; or is He the God of the Jews alone, or is He the God of the heathen people too? Of course, He is the God of the heathen people too! There is only One God who will consider the Jews in right standing with Himself only on condition of their faith; and the heathen people on the same condition. Does our salvation through faith make null and void the Law? Not at all! We confirm it. The Law wasn’t the problem; the law was good, the Law was appropriate, the Law was righteous, the Law was holy. There’s just one problem – we couldn’t keep, we couldn’t do what it told us to do. The Law is not the problem, we are the problem. We’re always trying to tell God how wonderful we are, and God’s trying to tell us how wonderful Jesus His Son is!

UNTO HIM WHO IS ABLE

(cf. Jude 24-25)

Aren’t you glad to know that God is willing to work with us in the midst of our failures and problems? Against the backdrop of man’s failure, and man’s inability, and man’s rebellion comes the truth that sets our feet on the rock of the Gospel of grace. And the God who called us out of darkness into light, “unto Him who is continually able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory and Majesty Dominion authority before all time and now and forevermore, amen!”

If you look at your reference Bible where this little phrase, “unto Him who is able” is used, there are other prayers in the Bible that start with this little phrase which emphasizes first of all, that we don’t worship a God made with human hands; a God that’s blind, and dumb, and incapable of locomotion. We don’t worship a God that we just bowed down to but nothing really happens. In our lives we worship a God who is present, and capable, and powerful. The Creator beside which there is no other, and He is the God that is able to perform on our behalf and accomplishes with His own will anything He desires in His universe; the God who is continually active in our lives and in our world to accomplish His purpose. Paul in his letter to the Romans prayed a similar prayer, “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen” (cf. Rom. 16:25-27). Ephesians 3:20-21 is one more prayer that Paul comes to pray unto “…Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen”. That’s the kind of God we’re talking about. A God who can establish us in the Gospel. A God who can do exceedingly abundantly in our lives. This same God is the God, who in the midst of our record of falling, in the midst of our record of sin, in the midst of our record of rebellion can establish His church, His people on a foundation that no one can move.

O, if we could just understand who we are in Jesus Christ. if we could ever see the picture of the spiritual truth and vitality of our salvation, totally apart from our own merit and our own works, fully and completely established in the finished work of Jesus Christ, we’d be able to stand a lot better. Because when you know who you are in Him, and you know that no one can pluck you out of His hand, you’d able to stand strong in the face of anything that comes your way – yes, even death. Hallelujah!

MAN’S DEPRAVITY AGAINST THE BACKDROP OF GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS

(Romans 3:1-20)

It would seem from Romans chapter two that a Jew having the covenant of circumcision was no better off than a Gentile because it is only in Chapter 9 verses 4 and 5 that Paul would enumerate all the Jewish advantages. In our day, of course, it is an advantage to be born of Christian parents, to be able to attend church, to be baptized, and to read the Bible, but really, none of these can save us. Here at the start of chapter three, Paul continues to present his argument as he says, “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?” – we would expect him to say, “None at all”. But he doesn’t, he says, “Much in every way!” – the Jews have an advantage, although he says all men are guilty, and all men must come to Christ. He never says that God is not going to use the Jews in a special way. You can’t read Romans 9 through 11 without realizing God has a special plan in place for the nation of Israel even in the ‘eschaton’. “…what value is there in circumcision (for the Jews)? Well they are great from every point of view. In the first place, “…the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God.” – this is a reference to the Old testament passages in Deut. 4:8; and Ps 147:19. They had the self-revelation of the only One True God, and how He worked in their lives and dealt with them. Notice as it says in verse 3, “What if some were unfaithful?…” – the word here is ‘apisteo’ meaning ‘to betray a trust’, “…Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness?” You ought to see 2 Timothy 2:13 where it emphasizes the fact although man is unfaithful, God will never prove false to His character of faithfulness. The word ‘faith’ in the Old Testament especially in Habakkuk 2:4 which will be so prominent in chapter 4 is basically the truth that ‘the just shall live by faithfulness’. I think it’s so important that you understand this crucial Biblical in light of the Bible’s definition, not your definition. When we speak of faith, we speak of our trusting in the trustworthiness of God, or loyalty to His supreme loyalty. We must remember that faith is not an act; it is a response that is already engendered by God, and i think that’s very important.

Now verse 4, “Not at all!” – King James has it, “God forbid!”, Paul is struck by his own question. Let me show you a few places where Paul uses this expression so well. You might want to look down in verse 6 of this chapter, chapter 11 verse 1; Galatians 2:17 and 3:21 where he says “God forbid”, what he just said is so unbelievably untrue, it shocks him. “Let God be true, (present middle imperative), and every human being a liar. As it is written:” – he’s going to quote Psalms 51:4 and Psalms 116:11. I like this whole passage here because it sounds so paradoxical, as all of God’s unconditional promises are conditional on man’s response. I know it sounds paradoxical but i think it’s Biblically true. Now in verse 5, “But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us?” – up until verse 8, Paul anticipates an objector, as in a diatribe, who would wrongfully theorize on his teachings so as to think that if our wrongdoings highlight God’s righteousness, or if our sin makes God look good, how can God judge us? Well, Paul says that’s just the dumbest argument he has ever heard, and in the following verses goes on to tell why he thinks that’s so dumb. People who think otherwise deserve condemnation, for their true focus is not on glorifying God but on giving free rein to their sinful desires. “What shall we conclude then? Do we (Jews) have any advantage?” – the basic summary of this is: All humanity is in spiritual need of the grace of God. “Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written:” – here is a long series of Old Testament citations (cf. Psalm 14:1–3; 53:1–3; Ecc. 7:20; Ps. 5:9; Ps. 140:3; Ps. 10:7; Isa. 59:7, 8; Ps. 36:1) that just jump through the Psalms mostly, and it deals with different part of the body that show the sinfulness of man. I believe in total depravity, not in the sense that man is as bad as he can be, but that every aspect of man’s nature has been affected by the fall. “There is no one righteous,…” – now the word righteous here means the ‘standard’ the ‘straightedge’ – God Himself. Notice the second phrase of verse 11, “…there is no one who seeks God,” – no one is searching for God. God always takes the initiative (John 6:44 and 65). Verses 12 through 18 describe man’s depravity in his rebellion against God. Man has become worthless like milk that has turned sour; “their throats have become open graves”, as if their breath smells like dead corpses. Their tongues love treachery. Their lips , their mouths, their feet, their minds, their eyes are all totally corrupt.

Verse 19, “Now we know that whatever the law (Mosaic Law because of the definite article) says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.” – verses 19-20 brings us to a close of the first three chapters of Romans, where chapter 1:18 through 3:20 is really the theme of the Gospel, which is all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; all men in need of right standing with God. And then chapter 4 describes to us what that ‘right standing’ is all about. It’s going to be ‘Justification by faith’ going back to Abraham. Now notice in verse 20, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight…” – you might want to see Galatians 2:16 and Galatians 3:11. “…by the works of the law;… – there’s the key; Paul is saying, ‘look, even when we have the standard, we can’t keep it”. The standard was given for a purpose. What purpose? To show us our sinfulness. Notice the last phrase, “…through the law we become conscious of our sin.” – you ought to read Galatians 3:22 through 25. You see, the law was meant to be the boundary line that man could not keep. But man didn’t know he couldn’t keep until he kept transgressing the boundaries. Even from the best motive, he kept transgressing the boundaries. We have died to sin in Romans 6, but we keep living in it in Romans 7. And so the law was meant to be a ‘tutor’; to bring us to the place where recognize our great need. And that’s where the Gospel comes in – you cannot preach the Gospel without Romans chapters 1 through 3. We don’t need to preah Jesus as Savior until men know they’re in need of a savior. We must show them the blackness of the human heart before the beauty of the undeserved and unmerited grace of God captures their hearts. Friends, the beauty of Calvary is only seen against the blackness of human sin and rebellion against the Creator. That’s exactly what we’re talking about here, and it’s not that there are some good people somewhere that don’t need to be saved. Paul is saying, everybody needs to be saved; the disgusting immoral pagans, the very moral pagans, the self-righteous Jews, everyone needs to be saved. Friend, i don’t know who you are, idon’t know how good you are, or how many rules you keep, but i want to tell you this: YOU NEED TO BE SAVED! And you would be saved not by your own effort, but by the undeserved, unmerited grace of God that sent Jesus Christ to die for our sins, and three days later came out of the tomb, and whosoever will trust Him by faith will by accepted by God as His child. The book of Romans holds together as a detailed argument, precept upon precept, but the first one that must established is the fact that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The second one that must be established is that, man cannot be right with God through the law. There’s only one way to God. Jesus said it in this manner, “I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no man comes to the Father but by Me” (John 14:6). Paul puts it this way, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). The hardest people to talk to about this is good peole, moral people, religious people. The Jews were so religious but they needed to be saved just like Nicodemus. I don’t know who you are, but you need to be saved. And you can be saved right now through Christ our Lord. Amen!