This week’s ongoing Biblical study series will be Romans chapter 5

Grace and Faith In Christ Explained Like You’ve Never Heard It

[Romans chapter five]

real truth
Today’s study will be Romans chapter five, in which the apostle Paul goes into a lengthy explanation – fortunately for posterity’s sake if nothing else – of the death and resurrection of Christ, and how it directly applies to us all, even those who do not yet believe. With respect to the length and scope of Paul’s writing, I will skip the introduction this one time and plunge directly into this insightful passage of Scripture, beginning at verse one.

 

“Therefore since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by his Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more will we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5, verses 1-11)

 

Our faith in Christ justifies us in God’s sight because no man or woman who ever lived could ever do so on their own merits no matter how hard they tried. Our belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God is credited to us as faith by God just as Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Faith, then produces the grace of God, which empowers us and propels us to supernaturally live for Christ. One of the ways he can make us capable of this is to allow each of us to run into at least a little turbulence from time to time to keep us on our toes. Just as those in the military and law enforcement go through additional training and drills, God allows us to have challenges in our lives in order to build us up. He strengthens us by having us go through negative experiences in order to extract a positive result. “… we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have access by faith into this grace in which we now stand”. Our sinful natures – and everybody has this in one form or another – keep us separated from God. And so it is only through our reconciliation to Christ that we can have peace with God. As the verse says. “…we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character hope”. This hope that is produced by our character development is how our faith is generated. Our faith, in turn, is what justifies us before God (that and our belief in Jesus). The more developed our Godly character becomes, the closer we become with God through Christ Jesus. They are all proportional to one another.

 

God has poured out His love into our hearts by His Holy Spirit, whom He has given us… God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Like grace, which is the unmerited favor of God, God has also given us his Holy Spirit, which is the living Spirit of Christ. If someone sees a ghost, they see the apparition of a dead person. But the Holy Spirit is very much alive, vibrant, and penetrating all the way down to the very soul of every living person on the earth. This happens whether anyone believes in it or not. Their disbelief changes nothing. The Holy Spirit is present everywhere all the time, and this free gift is like God’s stamp of approval on the foreheads of all sincere and diligent worshipers and believers.

 

Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we saved from God’s wrath through Him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” When Jesus Christ achieved eternal life by raising from the dead on the morning of the third day, we all achieved eternal life with him, just as Jesus prophesied, “When I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all men unto me”. We are all justified before God by the blood that Jesus shed on the cross for everyone who has ever lived. This means that we will be shielded from the wrath of God that is directed at those who refuse to believe in Jesus and what He did at the cross of Calvary. Our belief in Jesus will give us immortality that is not achievable in our present form. And not only so, but we are happy about it beyond words! Now we know that our lives in their current form are only temporary, and so we should begin to look at life that way. It helps to put all the negative things into context relative to what Jesus did for us by his crucifixion, death and resurrection on the morning of the third day. Nothing can take that away from us, and so we gain a more positive perspective of our lives and the people and situations that lie therein. Make no mistake about it, this is very powerful stuff! And now let’s move on to the second half of today’s study, beginning at verse 12.

 

“Therefore, just as sin entered into the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned – for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was the pattern of the one to come. But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one, death reigned through that man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5, verses 12-17)

 

For if the many died by the trespass of one man”, refers to Adam. When Adam and Eve committed original sin and got themselves banished from the garden of Eden, that same original sin was passed down to all their descendants (the actual story takes place in the book of Genesis, we’ll study that another time). God’s solution for this was the sacrifice of Christ Jesus upon the cross, followed by His resurrection on the morning of the third day. “…how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came from the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” Right here is where the apostle Paul gives us the good news about Christ’s salvation served on a silver platter. If the sin of one man brought so much wrath from God, then how much more will the Son of God himself bring us his gift of salvation by his unending grace, just as it explains in the following sentence: “the judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift involved many trespasses and brought justification”. Here the “gift” is once again the salvation of Christ, pouring Himself out as an offering on God’s sacrificial altar for all of us. God did all this for us to cover up our imperfections, inadequacies and shortcomings that separate us from God. God loves us so much that He does this for all of us just to bring us closer to Him.

 

Paul sums it all up in the following sentence. “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in the one man, Jesus Christ.” If death reigned through Adam and Eve, how much more will eternal life rule and reign through Jesus Christ our Lord! Paul is comparing the original man, Adam, to the new man who is Christ. He is contrasting original sin which Adam and Eve did commit just prior to being expelled from the Garden of Eden, to Jesus, the originator of the salvation that saves us all and grants us eternal life with him. The supreme sacrifice of Christ on the cross saved everyone from Adam and Eve on up to the present, as well as the future – everyone who ever has or ever will live on the entire earth. “For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” Paul then finished this portion of his commentary when he wrote, “For if, by the trespass of the one, death reigned through that man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” All of this paragraph can be summarized in a single word – grace. To be brief, grace is what happens to each of us when we embrace our salvation in Christ as we step aside and allow Jesus to take charge of our lives. We receive endless grace when we make Him the captain of our ship. Try this and you will see for yourself. If it works for me then it can for you too. And now let’s conclude today’s study starting at verse 18.

 

“Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was the condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man the many will be made righteous. The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign in righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5, verses 18-21)

 

The original sin of Adam and Eve condemned us all, but the blood that was shed on Calvary is what saved us all. “For just as through the disobedience of one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man the many will be made righteous.” This is the very essence of the ministry of Jesus Christ. When Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life, and that you may have it abundantly”, he wasn’t just talking about having fun and enjoying our lives, even through that does have an importance of its own. He was talking about eternal life in heaven without end, which is the ultimate payoff of the faith that we have kept in Him, just as I wrote at the beginning of this lesson. “… where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign in righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” No matter how evil the times get – and things continue to get progressively worse – God’s grace that is transmitted to us through our complete faith in Jesus acts like a protective shield all around us as we go through each day. No matter how surrounded by sin and evil we are, God’s grace will protect us from harm, and it will take that which was intended for evil against us and turn it around into good. That’s what grace does, but it only works if we practice it. So let’s be sure and practice this all week until our next lesson, where we will be moving on to chapter six. Until then, have a blessed day in the Lord.

Free book excerpt #5 from my upcoming series slated for mid-November release

Signs of the End of the Age (part 1)

(Luke chapter 21, verses 1-19)

by Minister Paul J. Bern

 

Last week when we finished chapter 20 of Luke’s gospel, our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ had just left his critics dumbfounded by his response to yet another of their ‘trick questions’. Today as we move on to chapter 21, as they are about to leave the Temple at Jerusalem Jesus makes an observation about the religious practices of that day. We find Jesus, the Twelve, and a throng of his followers moving on from this scene to one that was more private soon after. So let’s begin today’s analysis of Luke chapter 21 at verse one.

 

As he looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘I tell you the truth’, he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these other people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’ Some of the apostles were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, ‘As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on top of another; every one of them will be thrown down.’ ‘Teacher’, they asked, ‘when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?’ He replied, ‘Watch out that you are not deceived, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he’, and ‘The time is near’. Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.’ “ (Luke 21, verses 111)

 

As chapter 21 begins, we find the apostle Luke adding yet another shining example of Jesus’ contempt for the rich – those who line their pockets, their wallets and their closets full of as much cash, expensive merchandise and the very finest of everything all the time that they can! As you see from Luke’s testimony, greedy and materialistic people will never see the Kingdom of God, nor will the vast majority of them be able to enter heaven when their lives are over, although there will be at least a few exceptions. The rich tithed their 10% effortlessly. It was no strain on their budget at all. But the poor widow who put the two copper coins in the offering put in all she had. She left the worship service more justified in the sight of God than the person who put in the largest offering that day! God doesn’t honor what we possess. He honors those who give away what they have. It’s exactly the opposite of our world today. Everyone is obsessed with how much they can accumulate, but our eternity depends on the legacy we leave behind.

 

In the following verses, Jesus relates how the Temple at Jerusalem will be torn down, with not a single stone atop another. This actually occurred in 70AD, when the Roman armies conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the temple there, approximately 37-38 years after Jesus uttered those words. But Jesus’ response to the apostle’s questions about the End Times are telling: “Watch out that you are not deceived, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he’, and ‘The time is near’. Do not follow them.” We have already seen some of this in the last 150 years here in America, with the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses being two of the most prominent examples. The conflagration of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas back in the 1990’s is yet another example, and with horrific consequences. That was, in short, a sign of the impending End Times in which we are living.

 

When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” As before, this is precisely what is occurring today. We have had 2 world wars, with a third threatening to break out over the Korean peninsula, and with Russia and China signing a sweeping military and economic cooperation agreement that effectively forms an alliance against North America. As I have written previously, this new pact between the 2 largest Asian countries will ultimately climax in a preemptive strike on the United States (see Ezekiel 7 & Revelation 18), the exact nature of which remains unknown. I know, I know, this is not exactly a popular thing to say or write, and there are at least a few who have questioned my patriotism over the years. But I’m a man commissioned to speak and write the truth who also happens to love his country and to care greatly about her future. So to me, I would be remiss to fail to warn my countrymen – and the rest of the world – of the dangers that lie ahead. But if we pray and ask God to forgive us for our sins and our country of its sins, and then turn away and repent of those sins, God will hear our prayers, and will forgive us and heal our land. An now let’s move on to the rest of today’s Biblical study beginning at verse 12.

 

Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation; and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines, and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.’” (Luke 21, verses 12-19)

 

So we can infer from the first 2 or 3 verses that before the time of the end – when nations and kingdoms rise up against one another and “fearful events”, a possible reference to the atomic age, as well as “great signs from heaven”, such as the total eclipse of the sun that was seen across North America earlier this year, occur – that those who are counted as believers and followers of Christ Jesus will endure considerable persecution for their faith. This is the proof many are seeking as to the timing of the ‘rapture’ of the Church (see 1st Thessalonians 4: 13-18 and chapter 5 verses 1-3), but in fact it shows that we will have to endure persecution for our faith, implying that we will all still be here for the first part of the ‘tribulation’ period, the word used in Matthew chapter 24, which parallels this account of the apostle Luke’s. Nobody knows for sure when we are going to be ‘taken up’ by Christ just prior to the last part of the 7-year (see Daniel chapter 9) ‘tribulation’ period in Scriptural prophecy. So this is proof that those who argue in favor of a “pre-tribulation” or a “mid-tribulation” as opposed to a “post tribulation” ‘rapture’ are only guessing at best, and stirring up confusion at worst, within the Body of Believers known as the Bride! This has simply got to stop! Remember what Jesus said to his apostles, “He who does not gather with me, scatters.”

 

But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them.” This quotation was not talking about the early Christians being fed to the lions in the Coliseum in Rome. Jesus was prophesying about our time, about the here and now! Our faith is going to be tested to the utmost extreme during the reign of the world dictator called the “Antichrist”, as the apostle John calls him (see 1st John 2, verses 18-27). Although a lot of people currently don’t believe this, there will be persecution and even prosecutions of Christians right here in the United States in the not-too-distant future, and Jesus knew that. But God will take what was intended for evil and turn it into an opportunity for those being prosecuted to do some good for the cause of Christ. “But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.” That’s the good news about this trying time to come from our Lord and Savior himself. None of us will need lawyers, presumably because none will be provided. This can only mean the US Constitution will be suspended at best or done away with at worst, implying martial law or its equivalent. Clearly this will be a bad situation for everyone. But if we prepare ourselves we will fulfill our missions for the Lord, and we will be rewarded accordingly.

 

You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.” Some of us will have to die for our faith, there’s no doubt about it. The way I see it, Jesus loved us all so much he gave his life for us by dying on the cross. It seems only natural – from a Christian vantage point – to be quite willing to return the favor if given the opportunity to do so. This doesn’t mean we’re all going to have to get ourselves killed to get to heaven, but it does mean we should have as much passion for serving Christ as he did for being our Savior and Kinsman Redeemer. It will cost us some friends and some will find themselves estranged from their families on account of their faith. This is similar to my own life. The family that I grew up with are all Catholics. I am a nondenominational Protestant. I was a foster kid who found Christ later in life (I was in my thirties when I gave myself to Jesus in 1992), I have had no contact with them since, and I’m OK with that. They know where I live if they want to contact me. So if you are a person who is estranged from your family for religious reasons, or if you have no family for whatever the reason, take heart! You have gotten God’s attention because it’s people like ourselves who make the best servants. Having ‘lost’ our families, we are all now part of the ‘family of God’, the largest one of all! And next week we’ll explore the 2nd half of Luke chapter 21.

 

Signs of the End of the Age (part 2)

[Luke chapter 21, verses 20-38]

 

Last week when we left off at verse 19, Jesus was explaining to his apostles what would occur during the End Times, or “end of the age” as the apostle Luke puts it. Christ goes on to state that no matter how bad things get during that period, up to and including persecution for our faith on a global scale, “…not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.” I sure hope everyone will take our Lord and Savior’s advice, because if we do, the “life” Jesus spoke of is a life without end. The life we gain by following Jesus Christ and his teachings, then, is an eternal one that goes to infinity. Today as Christ continues his explanation to the Twelve, he elaborates further on the events of the End Times, and what they should expect to occur. Notice that Jesus explains the End Times to the Twelve as if they would all live to see it, although all but 2 were martyred for their devotion to Christ and his Gospel. The first was John, “the apostle who Jesus loved” as John’s gospel often calls himself, and rightfully so. The apostle John died of natural causes roughly 2 years after he finished writing the Book of Revelation around the years 89-90AD. The second was Judas, who needs no explanation. So let’s take up where we last left off starting at verse 20.

 

When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint in terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21, verses 20-28)

 

Let’s recall what our Lord and Savior said back in verse 6: “Not a single stone will be left upon another. Every one will be thrown down.” ‘This temple that everyone is so proud of and which everyone reveres will be utterly demolished’, is how Jesus’ statements would read in 21st century vernacular. As I wrote in last week’s lesson, Christ was referring to the military conquest of Jerusalem in 70AD, which was over 3 ½ decades into the future at that time. The “armies” Jesus spoke of were of the Roman Empire, which was at its peak during the time of Christ. “For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written.” This was God’s retribution to the Jewish people for their handing his Son over to the Roman authorities to be crucified. God allowed the Roman armies to overrun Jerusalem as payback for what the Jewish religious establishment did to the Son of God. The Greater and Lesser prophets of the Old Testament wrote volumes about it, just pick it up and read it for yourselves. The book of Isaiah would be a good place to start.

 

There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” The “times of the Gentiles” consisted of the time from the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in 70AD – including most of what was the Hebrew nation back then – up until 1917, which was the year of the Balfour Declaration which laid the groundwork for the reestablishment of the nation of Israel in May 1948. So for a period of 1,847 years, the ancestors of the Jewish people who handed Jesus over to be crucified – to have the Son of God executed like a criminal – were scattered across the face of the earth without a home. So we can conclude from this that “the times of the Gentiles” were fulfilled on May 14, 1948, when the nation of Israel was formally chartered by the United Nations. “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.” This statement describes our present situation with startling accuracy. We just had a total solar eclipse all across North America this past summer (2017), and many have expressed a growing concern – myself included – about rising sea levels and the other effects of climate change, with flooding of coastal areas becoming more commonplace.

 

Men will faint in terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” Something really big is going to happen, something unprecedented. This is a possible reference to what had not yet been written – what we now call Revelation chapter 6, otherwise known as “The Sixth Seal”, verses 12-16: “I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sack cloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from their place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks in the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’”

 

So men – and presumably women, children and the sick and elderly – will literally be falling out left and right in sheer terror. Some will merely faint, others will scream in horror, while others will die from heart attacks and strokes right where they are standing or sitting. The cloud of dust and debris from this global earthquake will be thick enough to blot out the sun, moon and stars. “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Notice that a whole lot of really bad stuff has to happen before our ‘redemption draws near’. So all the stuff being said on “Christian TV” and in “prosperity gospel” churches about the so-called “pretribulation Rapture” doesn’t pass the ‘smell test’ as far as I am concerned. Verses 15 and 16 prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt. Only after certain things have occurred can we be finally redeemed, and not before! On that note, let’s tackle the second half of this week’s lesson, beginning at verse 29.

 

He told them this parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.’ Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each night he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple.” (Luke 21, verses 29-38)

 

Oftentimes throughout the Four Gospels Jesus used trees as symbols for the Church – or more accurately the Bride – as well as for the times and seasons. But our Lord and Savior sometimes used the fig tree as a symbol for the future nation of Israel, whose formation was still approximately 1,885 years into the future at this particular point. “Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” From a modern perspective, this can only be interpreted as Christ telling us that once Israel rises again, the return of Jesus Christ to rule the earth for 1,000 years cannot be far away. In the following verse, Jesus gets more specific and more mysterious: “I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” The words “this generation” meant all those present with Jesus at that time. As before, he was still referring to the military conquest of Jerusalem some 37-38 years into the future. But as we now know, all but a handful of the apostles had been martyred for their preaching and their faith by the time that occurred. John and Paul were likely still alive, Judas committed suicide, but I’m fairly sure all the rest were gone by then. So, many in that generation passed away beforehand – did that make Christ a liar as some naysayers insist? The answer is an emphatic ‘no’, due to a mistake in some of the translations, not the least of which is the revered King James Bible. “Generation” meant ‘age’ or ‘era’, meaning the era of the Gentiles that Christ mentioned back in verse 24. The difference is subtle but still quite significant.

 

Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.” In modern vernacular this simply means, ‘Do not allow yourself to become distracted by anything. Distraction can be deadly. Distraction in the End Times will be lethal’. According to my Merriam-Webster dictionary, ‘dissipation’ means drinking or doing drugs to excess just to have something that’s fun to do. Excessive partying, drugging and binge drinking, which leads to addiction, is sinful for this very reason. Those weighed down with “the anxieties of life” should rely on their faith in Christ instead of substance abuse to get them through life’s trying times, and there are plenty of those to go around. “Be always on the watch, and pray you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” Jesus could return at any time, nobody knows for sure. As he said in Matthew 24, verse 36, “No one knows that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Watch and pray daily, everyone. Because the ‘coming of the Lord’ can just as accurately be portrayed as the end of one’s life, and nobody knows when that is either, including myself. That’s something for everyone to pray about daily over the next week, and next time we’ll move on to chapter 22.

 

Free book excerpt from this fall’s release of a new set of titles by Rev. Paul J. Bern

Coming this October from Author & Web Minister Paul J. Bern — “The Social Gospel Series”, which is an extensive and very detailed series of Biblical studies Volumes 1 and 2. This week’s excerpt is part 2 of Luke’s gospel chapter 3, taken from volume 1 of the series titled “The Apostle Luke”. Volume 2 consists of the writings of the apostle Paul, and these two will be released together as a set. Work on volume 3, the writings of the apostle John, will begin in early 2020.

DCIM\100MEDIA

John the Baptist and the Baptism of Jesus

[Luke chapter 3, verses 15-37]

This week we will be studying the 2nd half of chapter 3 of the apostle Luke’s gospel, which will include a minor detour into the gospel of Matthew. I am adding this to today’s Biblical teaching because I think it’s necessary in order to better understand why John the Baptist became the last Old Testament prophet and the very first martyr for Christ in the New Testament all at once. I will explain more about this as we go along, so hang in there while we enter into the remainder of Luke chapter three. We’ll begin at verse 15.

The people were all waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, ‘I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire’. And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.” (Luke 3: 15-18)

The phrase “the Christ” is a Greek word for “messiah”, which translates into Hebrew as ‘salvation’ (the Hebrew pronunciation is “Yeshua”). I find it noteworthy that John could have told the people he was the Messiah and could have profited greatly. Yet he chose not to do so. It apparently made a deep impression with those who came to see him and be baptized by him, and that positive indication of his character and integrity reverberates throughout Christianity to this day. But then John mentions two different baptisms, which is explained in the gospel of John chapter 3, where Jesus was responding to Nicodemus, and I quote: “…’I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’ ‘How can a man be born again when he is old?’, Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely a man cannot enter his mother’s womb a second time to be born!’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth ,no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of the water and of the spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.’” (John 3: 3-6)

Further down in this same chapter, Jesus clarifies what he was trying to explain to Nicodemus, who held a high-ranking position as a religious leader of that day. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in God’s one and only Son.” (John 3: 17-18) I see no way this passage of Scripture could be misunderstood! If you truly and sincerely believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, you will be saved, or more explicitly your soul will be redeemed, when your physical or temporal life is over. Anyone who refuses to believe, or who places their faith in something other than Jesus Christ for their soul’s salvation, will be condemned at the end of their physical or temporal lives. Period, end of story, and there will be no exceptions! So, everyone who reads this has been warned! Belief in Jesus, combined with the practicing of our faith, is very serious business!

In the same way John warned all the people, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” John was talking about the conversation I mentioned between Jesus and Nicodemus, who was a Jewish rabbi. The only thing is, that conversation had not yet taken place. Talk about being spot-on with prophecy! This is one way we can tell that John the Baptist was an authentic prophet. There was nothing phony about him! John baptized with water, but Jesus baptized with fire on the day of Pentecost, which is not mentioned in the Bible until much later in Acts chapter two. John prophesied this more than 3 decades before the fact!

But what did he mean by “the thongs of his sandals”? Someone reading the Bible from beginning to end would not have that question answered until that individual gets to the story of the Last Supper, where Jesus washed the feet of his apostles as an act of humility, and to set a good example for all generations to come. Back then people wore sandals because there were no shoes like we have today. That technology had not been invented yet as far as I know. So people’s feet got really dirty, and foot washing was a sign of being welcoming and accommodating for visitors. This was work that was usually done by slaves, a clear indication of John’s awareness that Jesus, the one to follow him in prophecy, was the true Messiah. It is also further evidence of John’s humility and of his reverence for his cousin, Jesus Christ.

“’His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire’. And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.” A winnowing fork is similar to a pitch fork except it’s shaped a little different, and it was used for wheat rather than for straw, although it may have been used for both. ‘Chaff’, of course, is the byproduct of wheat processing as we would call it today. John describes the chaff being burned up with ‘unquenchable fire’, which is a metaphor for those who are condemned like Jesus mentioned in John chapter three. “And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.” John exhorted and encouraged those he baptized to live their lives as those who were being saved by the Messiah, like a good coach, while warning them of the consequences if they did not. Bearing that in mind, let’s move on to the second part of today’s lesson.

But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodius, his brother’ wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He had John locked up in prison. When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, or so it was thought, of Joseph….” (Luke 3: 19-37)

What was the apostle Luke referring to here? As I explained back in chapter one, Herod the tetrarch was the ruler of what was then called Judea, which is in the general area of Israel’s West Bank territory today. Herod has an affair with Herodius, his sister-in-law, as it is documented further in Matthew’s gospel chapter 14, verses 1 through 12, and I quote: “At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, ‘This is John the baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’ Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodius, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: ‘It is not lawful for you to have her’. Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered him a prophet. On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodius danced for them and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give him whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, ‘Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist’. The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that his request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.”

As you can see by reading in between the lines, this was a really sick and despicable bunch of people who were in charge of ruling Judea. When king Herod heard about Jesus, he thought people were seeing John the Baptist, and that he had risen from the dead. Why did Herod think this? He had a guilty conscience because he had John beheaded. Like any good prophet, John had pointed out the evil that Herod was engaged in, which was his affair with his sister-in-law. This ultimately cost John his life. One night while John was languishing in prison, king Herod had a birthday party. I can only speculate on how much everyone had had to drink, but you can be sure it was quite a bit, and Herodius’ teenage daughter evidently had helped herself to no small portion of the wine. At some point she apparently performed the equivalent of a table dance for the king, except the king soon found out there was a very high price tag that went along with her dance that Herod apparently loved so much.

As you read, when Herod told Herodius’ daughter to name whatever gift she wanted for the lewd dance she had performed for king Herod, the price was the head of John the Baptist on a platter. As you have similarly seen, this was a really twisted group of people. The prophet John gets his head cut off, and the severed head is delivered to Herodius’ daughter, who gives it to her mother (“mommy, here’s the severed human head you wanted”). So there is the background for this story within a story in Scripture, and this is how John became a martyr for Christ. I also say that there is a time coming, which for some has already arrived, when some of us may have to pay the ultimate price for our own faith. But don’t be discouraged, because that ultimate price is immediately followed by the ultimate payoff for that investment, which is eternal life with Jesus our Lord and Savior. The true scope of that payoff is so great as to be beyond our wildest dreams or our most elaborate imagination!

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” There is no avoiding the symbolism here! The water baptism and Spirit baptism of Jesus occurred all at once. This can happen with new believers too, I have met a few of them, although this was not my own experience. My experience was that there was a 16 year gap between my water baptism and my Holy Spirit baptism. I can truthfully say here that I don’t know why this was what it was, but God works in different ways with all who believe so that he can achieve his perfection through those who become one with him in Spirit!

From here onward, Luke chapter 3 devotes itself to tracing the genealogy of Jesus from his earthly father Joseph (“He was the son, or so it was thought, of Joseph….”) all the way back to Adam, and so back to God. Since this is rather lengthy, let me just ask the reader to give these last 13 verses of Luke chapter 3 a quick read on your own time for the sake of brevity. Along the way, certain people are mentioned who are prominent in the Old Testament (or the Law of Moses if you’re Jewish), such as the fact that Jesus claims King David, his son Solomon, and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob from before that, all the way back to God the Father, as his direct ancestors. The point Luke is making here is that Jesus is unquestionably and without a doubt the Son of God. This is an indisputable fact that the Bible proves right here, right now. And we can all take heart in that fact, that our worship of Jesus Christ as the Son of God will never be in vain. On that note, I think we’ve reached a comfortable place to close, and next week we’ll move on to chapter four.

“The Social Gospel Series Volumes 1 and 2”, by Rev. Paul J. Bern will be on sale this October on my website at https://www.authorrevpauljbern.com