Tag Archives: forgiveness

Revelation Study #2: “See the Glorified Jesus”

Study #2: Seeing the Glorified Jesus (Rev. 1:12-20)

(To listen to the audio message, click this link – Revelation 1:12-20. To download the audio, right click the above link, choose “save link as,” give it a name, and save it to your computer. You can then burn a CD of it. To download the written message, right click this link, Written Message, choose “save link as,” give it a name, and save it to your computer. You can then email it to a friend. Help us get the word out! Jesus is returning soon, and we need to get ready! If you are a teacher, and would like to use these notes and our Powerpoint slides to teach the Book of Revelation to your group, click this link – Slides.)

_MG_4670_HDR-1What is the most beautiful sight you have ever seen?  The Grand Canyon?  A Hawaiian sunset?  The artwork of Italy?  Dr. Magherini, head of the psychiatric hospital at Florence warns that too much beauty can overwhelm us.  She says, “Some tourists fall to the ground with heart palpitations thinking they’re having a heart attack. Others suffer from delirium or disorientation. But what they’re really having could be called a ‘brush stroke.’ Mix one tired and lonely tourist with a heavy dose of Michelangelo, throw in a fresco by Giotto and a Bernini statue or two, and presto! You have a victim of art illness.”  But she says most victims recover quickly. “All they need to return to normal is a heavy dose of the familiar and the mundane.”

That is fascinating for two reasons: 1) It shows how accustomed we are to the ordinary. 2) It gives us a glimpse of how you and I would react if we witnessed the truly glorious. After all, if people faint from seeing something as mundane as Michelangelo’s David, imagine how we’d react if we came face to face with the Risen Christ!  Revelation chapter 1 is a case in point.  John the apostle has been banished to the Isle of Patmos for preaching the Word of God, when Jesus suddenly appears to him—altogether holy, glorious, and beautiful.  How does John react?  He says in verse 17, “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead!” Why? Faced with the majesty of the All-Glorious Jesus, the only thing anyone can do is fall at His feet in worship.

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In this, our second study of the Revelation, John pulls back the veil and reveals the Lord Jesus as He really is.  No longer is He the meek and mild Savior; now He is the All-Glorious King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  As John tells us what he saw, let the majesty of Jesus fill you with awe.  Four facts stand out about Him in Revelation 1:12-20.

  1. His Position

Verse 12 begins, “Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me.  And having turned, I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands One like the Son of Man.”  Two things to notice here.  First, notice what John sees when he turns toward the voice speaking to him.  He sees seven golden lampstands.  What do they possibly represent? There is no need to wonder because Jesus explains it in verse 20, “The seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.”  That’s a fitting symbol for a church, isn’t it?  For just as a lamp is not the source of the light it gives off, but gets its flame from the oil burning inside it, so you and I have no glory of our own.  Instead, where do we get our light?  We get it from Jesus, the Light of the World who commanded His disciples, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”  So yes, Jesus is the Light of the World, but it is through the churches, His lampstands, that He makes His glory known.

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That raises the question.  What kind of light are you giving off?  Is it bright enough for others at your workplace to see?  Or what about your neighbors?  Can they see the likeness of Jesus in you?  Several years ago I met with our church’s nominating committee to consider new elders and deacons.  Someone suggested the name of one of the sharpest and most successful men in our congregation.  But right away someone nixed his nomination.  Why?  They said a friend of theirs ran a store in town and whenever this man came into his shop, he acted like a “jerk,” cursing about this or that.  The friend said, “If that’s what the people at your church are like, my family and I will never attend one of your services.”  Anyone, of course, can have a bad day.  But apparently this was a habit, reminding me that people are watching! And if we say that we are Christians, they’re expecting to see a reasonable likeness of Jesus Christ in us.

Even more important, however, is where Jesus is in relation to the lampstands.  Verse 13 says He is “in the midst of them.”  This signifies two truths about Him.  First, His presence with us—that He will never leave us nor forsake us, but is with us until the end of the age.  For even though Jesus has ascended to His throne in heaven, He is still with us in the Person of His Holy Spirit.  And not only is He with us, He’s watching us.  This is the point of Revelation 2:1, which says He “walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands.”  This is not a leisurely stroll He is describing; it is our Commander-in-Chief inspecting His troops, listening to our worship, watching the way we do business, and examining the thoughts and intents of our hearts.  Even in the heated atmosphere of a business meeting, we need to remember that Jesus is with us, watching what we say and how we say it.  So be careful what you say and do!

Second, it emphasizes His centrality.  Throughout the book of Revelation, Jesus is pictured at the center of everything.  Here He walks in the midst of the seven churches.  In chapter 4, He is the center of Heaven’s worship.  In chapter 6, He becomes the source of the world’s future judgment.  And in chapters 21 and 22, He becomes the Light and Temple of the New Jerusalem and the new heavens and the new earth where righteousness dwells.

So an appropriate question to ask is:  Is Jesus Christ the central focus of your life?  If He is, what difference will it make?  Certainly, it will lead you to spend daily time with Him in Bible study and prayer.  It will also make you more faithful in serving the church to which you belong. But most telling of all, it will affect the decisions you make as a mother, a father, a student, an employee, a neighbor, and a citizen.  Simply stated, when you realize that Jesus is present in every part of your life, it will radically transform how you think and what you do.

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Are you familiar with this illustration from Campus Crusade?  The first circle represents a person who has given Christ center place in his life.  Self has been dethroned and Christ is in charge, bringing him joy and fulfillment by putting all things in their proper order.  But there is a second possibility for the Christian, illustrated by the second circle.  Christ is in this person’s life, but He is not in control.  Self is on the throne making the decisions.  As a result, life is filled with chaos, frustration, and discouragement.  Everything is out of order. Why?  Because you and I were never designed to be the masters of our lives.

Which circle represents your life?  The good news is nothing prevents you from enjoying the abundant life Jesus came to give you.  All you need to do is yield to Him the same place He enjoys throughout creation.  Will you step down from the throne of your life and give Jesus control.  My prayer is that you will do that right now in the quietness of your heart.

  1. His Appearance

Verse 13 continues, He was “clothed with a garment down to the feet, and girded about the chest with a golden band.  His head and His hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; He feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace.”

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Bible commentators disagree about the meaning of Christ’s clothing.  Some say it is a symbol of His priesthood.  Others say it pictures His kingship.  I think it is a symbol of both. Like Aaron the high priest (Exod. 28:34), Christ does wear a robe reaching all the way to the ground.  But, unlike Aaron, His waistband is made of gold, not purple or scarlet, indicating that Jesus is our royal high priest.  Therefore, as Hebrews 7:25 puts it, He is the guarantee of “a better covenant” than Aaron.  Because “He is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He ever lives to make intercession for them.”

Doesn’t that make you feel secure?  Jesus offered Himself as the complete payment for your sins, crying out from the cross, “It is finished!  Paid in full!  Nothing more need be done!”  But He also loves you so much that He is praying for you before the Father’s throne, ensuring that nothing will ever steal your salvation.  It reminds me of Jesus’ words to Peter before his temptation and fall.  “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you like wheat: but I have prayed for your, that your faith should not fail.”  If you are a disciple of Jesus, that is what He is doing for you each and every moment of your life as your royal high priest.  He is at the Father’s right hand praying for you, that your faith may not fail.

Notice also the color of Christ’s hair.  Verse 14 says, “His head and His hair were white like wool, as white as snow.”  Again scholars disagree.  Some say it is a symbol of His purity or wisdom.  Surely both are true.  But Daniel 7:9 gives the best explanation for this symbol. In describing the Messiah, it says, “His garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head was like pure wool…I watched till thrones were put in place, and the Ancient of Days was seated.” This, then, is a picture of Christ’s eternity, ruling forever and ever as our Lord and King.

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Have you recognized this about Christ?  That He is God in human flesh? Most religious people are happy to call Jesus a great teacher or a mighty prophet.  Mahatma Gandhi, the holy man of India, openly declared his admiration for Jesus and said he was glad to give Him an equal place with Buddha, Confucius, and Mohammed.  But he said, “I cannot place Jesus Christ on a solitary throne.”  Yet, that’s what Jesus demands.  He demands that we give Him the throne of our lives.  For He is more than a prophet or a teacher.  He is God incarnate, co-equal with the Father and deserving of your worship and obedience.  Jesus said in John 8:24, “If you do not believe that I AM (the Old Testament name for God), you will die in your sins.”  So bow your heart to Him today.  Remember Doubting Thomas’ reaction when He saw the Risen Christ.  He fell at His feet saying, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)  You need to do that.  You need to recognize who Jesus is and give Him the worship He deserves.

Verse 12 adds, “His eyes were like a flame of fire.”  What does this mean?  Revelation 2:23 unlocks the mystery. Something we discover as we study this book is that each description in chapter 1 is repeated in one of the letters to the churches, emphasizing an attribute of Christ they were forgetting.  So how does Jesus describe Himself to the compromising Christians in Thyatira?  Revelation 2:18-25 says, “These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire…and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.”

This is a symbol of His perfect knowledge and judgment.  Often we fool ourselves pretending that Christ doesn’t notice the little compromises we make with sin—things we read, things we watch, the ways we talk, and the ways we spend our money.  But we’re wrong! As Hebrews 4:13 reminds us, nothing escapes His notice, for “all things are naked and open unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.”  So the challenge is to hide nothing from our Savior, but to confess all our sins to Him, asking for forgiveness and the grace to begin again. Do you know the song we teach children in Sunday School? It’s true for adults as well.

O, be careful little hands what you do. O, be careful little hands what you do. For the Father up above is looking down in love. So be careful little hands what you do!

There are other verses to it as well.  “O, be careful little eyes what you see.  O, be careful little ears what you hear.  O, be careful little lips what you say.”  The point is: Someone incredibly holy is watching over us who cares about everything we do.  So, in a grown-up way, we need to ask ourselves, “How will this look to the One with eyes like a flame of fire?”

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Notice also Christ’s feet.  Verse 15 says, “His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace.” In other words, they’re red hot and ready for judgment.  That is what furnaces picture in the Bible.  They are symbols of judgment.  Remember the fiery furnace into which Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were cast?  The same is also true of feet.  The way that a conquering general demonstrated his power and victory over an enemy was by placing his foot on his neck.  Is there anything more like that mentioned about the feet of Christ in the book of Revelation? Yes!  Notice what Revelation 19:15 says the feet of Jesus will do.  First, it says He will rule the nations with a rod of iron, and then it adds, He will “tread the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.”  To sum up, then, what does Christ’s appearance to John picture for us?  His eternal power and glory as earth’s coming King.  Now notice a third fact about Him.

  1. His Power

We immediately see a hint of this in verse 15, where John says, “And His voice was as the sound of many waters.”  I learned the meaning of this while visiting Narada Falls with my family.  Compared to Niagara Falls, Narada Falls is a baby waterfall.  But still I found as I stood in its spray, all other sounds were drowned out by the roar of its waters.  So it is with the voice of Christ.  When Jesus speaks, all other voices lose their impact.  At creation, He commanded, “Let there be light!”  And there was light.  At Bethany, He shouted, “Lazarus, come forth!”  And a dead man came hobbling out of his tomb.  But the greatest display of His power will be at His second coming.  Jesus said, “The hour is coming…when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God…and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” (John 5:25-29)

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Today our ears are assaulted by the foolish babble of arrogant men trying to impress ud with their wisdom.  But one day soon Jesus will return, and when He speaks, all other voices will be silenced in His presence.  “For,” Isaiah 11:9 says, “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”  In other words, what Jesus says will be the only topic of interest in that day.  So let me ask you.  Whose voice are you listening to today?  The voice of the political pundits and late night comedians?  Or are you faithfully studying what God says in His Word, eagerly responding to the promptings of His Holy Spirit?

Notice also how John describes Christ’s hand.  The hand of God is a symbol of His power.  Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.”   But here John also emphasizes its contents. “He had in His right hand seven stars.”  To what does this refer?  Verse 20 explains, “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches.”  What is that about?  Who are the angels of the seven churches?  The Greek word angelos simply means messenger.  It can mean a heavenly messenger if the context warrants it.  Or, as in this case, because of the context, it refers to a human messenger.  After all, what would be the purpose of writing letters to angelic beings?  For example, Revelation 2:1 says, “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write.”

So, if these are not heavenly angels, what are they?  Most Bible teachers agree that it is a reference to the pastors of the seven churches.  I like what the late J. Vernon McGee wrote: “I like to think that it refers to the local pastors. It is good to hear a pastor called an angel; sometimes we are called other things.”  If this does refer to the pastors of the churches, it should be a great encouragement to church members. Why?  Because of where they are—right in the center of Christ’s hand.  Which implies that as faulty and flawed as we are, Christ is in control of us, and when you pray for us, your prayers make a difference.

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Next John says there is a “sharp two-edged sword” coming out of Christ’s mouth. This refers to the power of God’s Word.  Ephesians 6:17 calls it “the sword of the Spirit,” our weapon for destroying Satan’s lies.  Hebrews 4:12 adds that it is “sharper than any two-edged sword.”  But the word for “sword” is different in this passage.  It refers not to the small sword used by Roman soldiers in hand-to-hand combat, but to the large two-handed sword used to decapitate the leader of a defeated army.  As such, it signifies the complete and final victory of Jesus Christ over all His enemies. This is something that will come about not by some great excruciating effort on His part, but simply, 2 Thessalonians 2:8 says, “by the breath of His mouth” and “the brightness of His coming.”  Revelation 19:15 adds, “Out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations…”

Finally, notice how John describes the face of Jesus. He says that looking into the face of the glorified Christ is like staring into the “sun shining in its strength.”  Have you ever tried that? To stare into the brightness of the sun?  How long could you do it?  It’s actually not a good idea because it can damage your eyes.  But that is what the disciples saw on the Mount of Transfiguration.  (Matt. 17:2)  Jesus was transformed before them, so that “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.”  It was so overwhelming that the disciples, like John here on the Isle of Patmos, fell on their faces in worship.  Why?  Because the face of Christ is simply the most glorious sight that human eyes can see.  Revelation 20:11 says it will be so glorious that heaven and earth will flee away from Him in terror.

But that is not His desire for us.  Instead, His desire is to comfort the Apostle John saying in verse 17: “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen.”  Maybe this is what John was looking back on when he wrote, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears is not made perfect in love.” Just as comforting is His statement, “I have the keys of Hades and Death.”  In popular culture, the devil is in charge of hell.  But Jesus corrects that misconception.  The truth is that the devil is just a creature, whereas Jesus is the Creator in control of everything that happens in His universe.  Therefore, if we belong to Him, we never need fear death or hell again.

Those of you involved in jail ministries can appreciate this.  Once that door clangs shut behind you, you want to be sure the jailer remembers you and that your name is on his list. Why? Because he is the only one with the authority to let you out.  Similarly, we who belong to Jesus Christ don’t need to fear death anymore.  Why not?  Because He holds the keys to both death and hell.  And finally, consider one more fact about Christ.

  1. His Assignment

In verse 19, John is given an assignment: “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.”  To miss what John is told here is to fail to understand everything else that is written in this book, for this is the key verse and outline for everything that follows.

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To summarize it, John was told to write about three things: (1) “The things which you have seen.” This refers to his vision of the glorified Christ in chapter 1.  (2) “The things which are.” This refers to the events of the seven churches which he will address in chapters 2 and 3.  This part of the outline will be helpful when we try to decide when Jesus is returning for His church—whether it’s before or after the Tribulation—for in chapters 2 and 3, much is said about the church on earth.  But in chapter 4, when John writes about (3) “the things which will take place after this” (the third division of the Revelation), nothing more is said about the churches on earth.  This should make us wonder.  If the church is still on earth during the Tribulation, why is there nothing more said about it until the Bride of Christ is mentioned in Revelation 19:7-10?

One other fact I must point out, though it is not found in chapter 1.  While there is only one revelation in this book—the Revelation of Jesus Christ—there are actually two prophecies.  Revelation 1:19 records the first prophecy, which is a chronological account of the Church Age, the Tribulation that follows, and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. An outline looks like this:

Prophecy #1—Revelation 1:19

  1. The Things Which You Have Seen—Revelation 1
  2. The Introduction to the Revelation—1:1-11
  3. The Vision of the Glorified Christ—1:12-20
  4. The Things Which Are—Revelation 2 to 3
  5. The Letter to the Church in Ephesus—2:1-7
  6. The Letter to the Church in Smyrna—2:8-11
  7. The Letter to the Church in Pergamum—2:12-17
  8. The Letter to the Church in Thyatira—2:18-29
  9. The Letter to the Church in Sardis—3:1-6
  10. The Letter to the Church in Philadelphia—3:7-13
  11. The Letter to the Church in Laodicea—3:14-22
  12. The Things Which Will Take Place After This—Revelation 4 to 11
  13. The Worship of the Church in Heaven—4:1-11
  14. The Seal Judgments—5:1—7:14
  15. The Trumpet Judgments—8:1—11:14
  16. The Return of Christ and the Hallelujah Chorus—11:15-19

But jumping ahead to Revelation 10, we find the second prophecy of this book.  John is told to eat the “little book” that lies in the angel’s hand.  This is all that remains of the seven-sealed scroll that Christ has opened.  When he eats it, he is told, “You must prophesy again concerning many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings.”  This is a characteristic of Jewish writing.  Having given a chronological outline of the last days, John is now told to go back and fill in the details.  In other words, chapters 12 through 22 is a topical study giving us details about characters and events like the Beast and False Prophets, the Bowl Judgments, the Battle of Armageddon, the Return of Christ, the Thousand-Year Kingdom, the Judgment of Satan, and the New Jerusalem. Here is an outline:

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Prophecy #2—Revelation 10:11

  1. War in Heaven Between Lucifer and Michael’s Angels—12:1-17
  2. The Beast and the False Prophet—13:1-18
  3. The Lamb and the 144,000 on Mount Zion—14:1-20
  4. The Bowl Judgments—15:1—16:21
  5. The Judgment of Religious and Political Babylon—17:1—18:24
  6. The Return of Christ to Earth—19:1-21
  7. Thousand-Year Kingdom of Christ and Great White Throne Judgment—20:1-15
  8. The Advent of the New Earth and the New Jerusalem—21:1—22:21

It happened one spring day just prior to the Civil War.  A young man stopped by Wrothy Taylor’s farm looking for work.  The farmer knew nothing about him except his name was Jim and he claimed to be a hard worker.  So he gave him a job milking cows, cutting fire wood, and doing other odd jobs.  Jim ate in the kitchen, slept in the hayloft, and as summer passed, found himself falling in love with the farmer’s daughter. So he summoned up the courage and asked him, “Mr. Taylor, may I marry your daughter?”  “No,” was his reply.  “You have no name, no money, no prospects for the future.”  And he roughly sent him away.  Thirty-five years later, the farmer decided to build a new barn.  So he tore down the old hayloft where Jim had slept.  And there wouldn’t you know it, the farmer found that Jim had carved his full name on one of the rafters—“James A. Garfield”—who went on to become the 20th president of the United States.

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We tend to overlook the meek and humble, regardless of what might lie beneath the surface. That is especially true of the One many of us worship today.  For 20 centuries, mankind has seen Him as the ever-patient Lamb of God, slain for sinners.  But that perception is about to change.  Jesus is coming soon, and when He does, we will see Him in all His glory.  What will be our reaction?  We will fall on their faces in worship, confessing that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.  But it will be too late for salvation then.  Today is the day of salvation!  So if you have not yet given Him center place in your life, do so today.  It will bless you both for time and all of eternity!

(The next study? The letters to the churches in Ephesus and Smyrna.)

In our last study, I mentioned a common misconception many Christians have about the Virgin Birth. They think it was by being born of a Virgin that Jesus was kept from inheriting our sinful human nature.  If you haven’t read that lesson, please take a few moments to do so.  You can find it just below this one.  Now, in this short study, I want to explain the first reason Jesus had to be Virgin Born.

Reason #1: To Fulfill Old Testament Prophecy

According to the Population Reference Bureau, the number of people born since the beginning of time is approximately 108 billion.  But God promised that one (and just one!) of those babies would become the Savior of the world.  Scholars call it the proto-evangel—the first preaching of the good news by God Himself.  When did He make this declaration?  From the very moment of man’s fall into sin! Wasn’t that gracious of God?  To turn man’s most evil deed into a promise of forgiveness and salvation! Speaking to the serpent (possessed by the devil) who had deceived Eve and led both her and Adam to sin, the Lord God said:

“Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” Genesis 3:14-15 ESV

OXYGEN Volume 09Two facts are obvious.  A human Savior would crush the work of Satan while suffering in the process.  But the second fact is equally gracious.  Though it was the woman who first opened the door to the devil, it would be through the seed of the woman that mankind would one day be saved.  Notice! No mention of the man’s seed is made. This is the first hint in Scripture of the Savior’s Virgin Birth.

But that raises a question:  With so many people having been born into the world, how would we who need a Savior recognize Him if He came? Even if the estimate of the Population Reference Bureau is inflated, it is clear that billions of souls have been born into this world.  For example, today we are told that there are over 7 billion people living on earth.  And you can be sure the same serpent who deceived Eve would love to deceive us into believing in the wrong one.

To make it clear who the Savior is, God came up with a foolproof plan. He chose a man named Abraham and his family (called the Hebrews or Jews), gave them His moral law, entrusted His promises to them in a sacred book called the Bible, and after hundreds of years of using them to prepare the world for His coming, He sent us His Son, the long-awaited Savior through the womb of a Jewish virgin by the name of Mary.  Over 60 major prophecies were fulfilled at the first coming of Jesus, many of which were beyond His control. For example, Genesis 12:1-3, 2 Samuel 7:12-13, and Micah 5:2 said He would be a descendant of Abraham and David and be born in Bethlehem, a little town 6.2 miles south of Jerusalem.

But the clearest identifier and the most amazing prophecy is the one found in Isaiah 7:14, written 700 years before the birth of Christ.  In a time of war when the survival of the royal line of David was in question, God promised King Ahaz, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”

This is a prophecy which has been continually attacked by critics of the Bible.  They argue that the Hebrew word for “virgin” (almah) can mean young woman instead of virgin.  But this is quickly corrected if you consult the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible made 200 years before the birth of Christ. For the Greek word chosen by the Hebrew scholars to translate almah is parthenos which is only used to describe a virgin, that is, a young woman who has never had sexual relations with a man.

But what seals the deal and ends all argument is the fulfillment of this prophecy described by the Apostle Matthew.  Four times in five verses, he assures us that Mary was a virgin, that no man was involved in the birth of Jesus, but that He was conceived by a miracle of the Holy Spirit.  I have underlined the key phrases.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.  But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”  Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.”  And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.” Matthew 1:18-25

Luke’s account adds further support. He says it was to a “virgin” named Mary that Gabriel appeared and revealed that she would give birth to the Savior.  But Mary was confused, giving further proof of her virginity.  She humbly asked the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”  The angel explained, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” Luke 1:26-35

Why, then, is the Virgin Birth important?  It proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the one and only Savior of the world is Jesus born, as the Bible promised, to a virgin named Mary two thousand years ago in the little town of Bethlehem.

Of course, deceivers abound.  Did you know, for example, that Jesus’ life both began with a lie and ended with a lie?  In order to explain away the miraculous birth of Jesus, His religious enemies spread the rumor that He was illegitimate, that Mary was impregnated by a Roman soldier passing through the village of Nazareth.  We see a hint of this in John 8:41 where His enemies scoff, “We were not born of fornication.” I have underlined the word “we,” which is an emphatic pronoun in the Greek language by which they compare themselves with Jesus.  In other words, they are saying, “We weren’t born of fornication like you were!”

What was the lie told following His resurrection?  Matthew 28:11-15 records it. In order to keep the people from believing in Jesus, the chief priests and elders bribed the Roman soldiers who guarded His tomb to say that His disciples came by night and stole His body while they slept.  How implausible!  Roman soldiers risking the death penalty by sleeping on guard duty?  And twelve cowardly disciples able to overpower a squad of seasoned soldiers?

But people believe what they want to believe.  If you are willing to accept the Virgin Birth of Christ, there is more than enough evidence to rely on.  But if you have made up your mind that you do not want to believe, the devil will be glad to plant enough doubts in your mind that you will find it difficult if not impossible to believe. Don’t let him do that to you!  After all, what is left to those who reject the Virgin Birth of Jesus?  Nothing! No forgiveness of sins and no assurance of salvation!  For if Jesus is not Messiah, no one is.  Only He has the credentials to be Savior of the world.  The Apostle Paul offers this assurance in Galatians 4:4.

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

Reread the passages I have cited and be fully assured.  Jesus is the one and only Savior to whom you can turn this very moment to forgive your sins, to comfort your heart, and to answer your prayers.  Bible prophecy assures us of it.  That is the first reason the Virgin Birth matters.  In our next study we’ll take a look at a second and even more important reason.

Marriage: “When the Honeymoon Ends”

 

Picture1Cheryl was still a teenager—19 years old. I was 21 and not yet wise to the ways of the world. So I didn’t make a reservation for that sunny August weekend. We departed Tacoma at 11:00 a.m., fully expecting to find a vacancy in one of those coastal towns like Seaside, Canon Beach, Pacific City, Oceanside, Garibaldi, Rockaway Beach, Lincoln City. But there were no vacancies anywhere on the Oregon Coast. So with the sky turning dark, we headed inland where, an hour and a half later, at 8:00 o’clock that night, I finally escorted my beautiful new bride into the Best Western Inn of McMinnville, 45 miles from the Oregon Coast.

That was Day 1 of our honeymoon. Day 2 I made reservations, so we wouldn’t have to hunt for hotel rooms the rest of the week. Then on Day 3 my bride took ill. But on Day 5, she felt a little better. So we decided to dine out at a fancy restaurant. Food poisoning, so miserable we didn’t budge from our hotel room the whole next day. But Day 7 inevitably came, and still suffering flu-like symptoms, it was time to head home, back to work, only to have my ‘69 Mustang overheat on the highway, turning a 6-hour trip into a 10-hour nightmare. And so our parents wanted to know, as we limped in the door, “Did you have a good time on your honeymoon?”

And some of us did have a good time, and others of us didn’t. But the hard reality is: Sooner or later the honeymoon comes to an end for all of us, and what will we do then to successfully manage all the changes and challenges that come to us in marriage. One major challenge is the differences we soon discover in our marriage partners. The truth is: Opposites do attract, which means anytime a man and a woman say, “I do,” there are going to be major adjustments ahead of them. In our case, we not only discovered differences in gender and personality, but also differences in communication and taste and humor and upbringing and habits of housekeeping and spending and when to go to bed at night. All of which makes life very interesting the first few months of marriage.

Marriage is difficult. The good news is that as difficult as the adjustments may be, marriage is still in way better shape than the media lets on. Consider just a few statistics. According to one survey by the Gallup organization, on average, 13,500 Americans get married every day, 175 of them age 65 or older. 92 percent say they’ve only had one sexual partner since they took their vows. 87 percent add that they’d marry the same person, if they had it to do all over again. 80 percent say that even if they were sure their spouse wouldn’t find out, they’d never cheat on them. And 75 percent add that their marriage partner is their best friend and that in their case they consider “divorce is very unlikely.” And yet, marriage isn’t not without its difficulties, is it? As someone has said, “Marriage teaches you loyalty, forbearance, self-restraint, and a whole lot of other great qualities you wouldn’t need if you stayed single.”

Picture2The truth is that marriage is a refining process that forces you to become a better person than you were before. If you doubt that, look with me for a moment at 1 Corinthians chapter 7, where the Apostle Paul gives his take on marriage. He begins by saying in verse 25: “Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord.” In other words, whether or not it’s better to get married or remain single isn’t something the Lord Jesus talked about in His teaching ministry. So, in the verses that follow, Paul goes on to say, “Given all the persecution the early church is going through, it’s probably wiser to remain single than to get married.” And yet, he goes on say in verse 28, “If you do marry, you have not sinned.” And of course, down through the ages, that’s what most believers have chosen to do, because as the Lord Himself said in the Garden, “It is not good for man to be alone.” And yet, don’t miss what Paul adds at the end of verse 28. He warns, “But those who do marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you.”

All of which is to say, if you’re having trouble in your marriage today, don’t let it catch you by surprise. That’s normal and to be expected, because marriage is difficult. And yet, no matter what you’re going through, God has an answer for it. That’s my message in a nutshell this morning. Marriage is difficult, but God gives grace to help in time of need. To underscore that truth, what I want to describe, first of all, are two major sources of trouble we’re likely to face in marriage. Then I want to come back and offer God’s solution for those problems. First of all, then, let me ask the question—

I. What are the major sources of trouble in marriage?

And of course, there are many issues we could raise at this point: pressures associated with finances and debt, differences of opinion about childraising, expectations laid on us by in-laws, and stresses we suffer because both of us work and lead such busy lives. And most of these issues we’re going to deal with in our classes on Sunday morning or our small groups during the week. But that’s not what I want to focus on this morning. What I want to zero in on today are two basic, but wide-ranging sources of trouble in any marriage, the first of which is found right here in 1 Corinthians 7:32, if you’d like to look at it with me for a few moments. Let’s call it for lack of a better term—

a.  The problem of neglected needs.

Notice how Paul begins. He begins by comparing the priorities of married believers with unmarried believers, and he says this: “I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband.”

Paul makes a distinction between married believers and unmarried believers, doesn’t he? And if you’re single, he says, you can pretty much do whatever you please whenever you please to do it, as long as it’s also pleasing to the Lord. You can work 40 or 50 hours a week, spend another 20 or 30 hours in ministry, get up early, stay up late, entertain people in your home seven nights a week, and give all your extra time and money to help people in need. But he adds, the moment you say, “I do,” you no longer have that freedom. Oh, you’re still expected to please the Lord, but you’re no longer free to do it whenever or however you want, because now you have a new priority. Now you have a husband or wife, which means the first question you must ask before you do anything is: “How will this impact the needs of my mate? Will it help her or hurt her? How will Cheryl feel about it?” And of course, Cheryl has to ask the same questions about me.

I’ll never forget the moment this hit home for me. We were still on our honeymoon. Cheryl was in our hotel room, taking her first round of medication and hoping to get some relief from what she was suffering. I, on the hand, was taking a walk on the beach, looking up at the sky and asking, “Lord, what did I get myself into?”

Make no mistake! I loved my wife. It’s just that it hadn’t really sunk in until that moment, that it was no longer about me. Now there was another precious human being trusting me to look out for her needs for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live, which sounded like a long time at that moment.

And because we all have different personalities and come from different background, I don’t want to generalize and say: “Here’s the top 10 list of our needs as husbands or wives,” because all of us are different. I might say that one very clear that need that Paul spells out in verse 3 of this chapter is—Is it OK to talk about sex in church?—because that’s what he does in verse 3. He says: “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again, so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” So that’s one need we all have as married people, and we’d better not neglect it in our partner’s life or we’re going to expose one another to all sorts of temptation that God never intended for us to handle. And there are many other needs we have as well—

One need I quickly discovered in my wife was the need for me to be more responsible in the way I handled money. Cheryl will tell you that when we first met, I was making pretty good money for a 20-year old kid in his second year of college. I was a journeyman with the Retail Clerks union, taking home $200 a week with all the benefits: medical, dental, vision, and 3 weeks of vacation a year. So on Thursday afternoon, when I’d go to cash my paycheck and then pick Cheryl up from work, I would generally have about $200 cash in my wallet, which was a fair amount of money at that time. And Cheryl never really said anything, but I knew it bothered her, because there wasn’t a lot of money to go around in the home she grew up in, and it took a long time for her to earn $200.

So the moment we said, “I do,” I knew things would have to change. I was going to have to grow up in the way I managed money. Otherwise I was going to expose her to all sorts of anxiety she didn’t need to deal with. And why would I want to do that to someone I love?

 

Paradise LodgeSo let me ask you. Have you recognized and are you working hard to satisfy the needs of your partner? Some of us are “Toys R Us” kids, and we don’t want to grow up. But Paul wrote, “When I became a man, I put away the childish things. I put away the toys.” And I suspect that some of us need to do the same. We need to come to grips with the fact that it’s no longer just about us. God has given us a precious husband or wife, made in His image with real needs just like our own, and if we fail to meet those needs, there’s going to be trouble in marriage. There’s the problem of neglected needs, and if we fail to deal with that, it’s going to lead to an even greater problem—

b.  The problem of hardened hearts.

That’s what happens when we let little things build up in our marriages without addressing them—little things like unmet needs and unresolved hurts. The heart of our husband or wife, which was once so soft and warm toward us, grows hard from bitterness, hurt, and resentment, communication turns cold and cautious, and love begins to die. But you say, “My offenses are so slight and insignificant! Just a little neglect from time to time: clothes left lying on the bedroom floor, being late for dinner and not calling, a forgotten birthday or anniversary. Is that enough to kill the love between us?” And the answer is: Of course not. Not at first. But what about after 50 or 500 times? That’s how a hedge of bitterness grows up between us. It isn’t always about the big offenses. More often it’s about the 10,000 little hurts that chip away at our love and convince our partners that someone or something else is more important to us than they are.

Jesus talked about this in His ministry, you may remember. The religious teachers come to Him in Matthew chapter 19, hoping to trick Him into saying something wrong. So they ask Him in verse 3, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce His wife for any and every reason?” That’s how bad things had become by the time Jesus came to earth. Jewish men were interpreting the Bible to say that they could divorce their wives for any fault they found in them, as long as they followed the proper legal procedure and gave them a certificate of divorce. Sound anything like the no-fault divorce state we live in today? So Jesus corrects them and says, “That was never God’s design for marriage. God’s design has always been one man for one woman for life.” But they continue to press Him, and in verse 7 they ask: “Then why did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” So Jesus answers in verse 8: “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts, but from the beginning it was not so.”

Let’s think about that phrase for a moment—“the hardness of your hearts.” That phrase comes from two little words—kardia meaning heart and skleros from which we get our word arteriosclerosis, which means “a hardening of the arteries.” And I’m no biologist, but heart disease does run in my family. My father died 5 years ago from a heart attack caused by a hardening of the arteries leading to his heart, and my mother died two years ago from a stroke caused by a hardening of the arteries leading to her brain—both the result of tiny pieces of plaque building up in their arteries over the years and blocking the flow of blood. In this case, of course, Jesus isn’t talking about our hearts in a physical sense. He’s speaking relationally and emotionally, warning us that if we let little things build up in our marriages without resolving them, it’s going to lead to a hardening of hearts, the flow of love will be blocked, and our marriages will eventually die. So what’s the solution to these two great sources of trouble in marriage? Let me suggest 3 steps that will help—

II. How do we prevent heartache in our marriages?

The first of which will come as no surprise to anyone. We need to—

a.  Practice open and loving communication

There are two sides to this, of course. First of all, it means, if we want our husband or wife to understand and satisfy our needs, then we’re going to have to open our mouths and tell them what those needs are. It’s embarrassing to admit, but intimacy has always been difficult for me, so much so that when we were first married, if Cheryl failed to meet my needs, you know how my mind would work? I’d say, “This is your fault! You ought to know what I need! After all, you have the Holy Spirit. He’ll guide you, if you ask Him!” Of course, what I should’ve asked myself was: Is that how I think when I fail to meet Cheryl’s needs? Do I say to myself, “Oh, I should have known that! This is my fault! After all, I have the Holy Spirit to guide me!” No. Instead, what we’re apt to say is, “What do I look like—a mind reader! If you need something, you gotta tell me. Otherwise I’ll never know!” And that’s true, isn’t it? The way God plans for intimacy to draw us together is by daring to share the deepest needs of our hearts. Otherwise, the other person will never know, because that’s not the way God made us. Instead, Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:15 that we need to learn to “speak the truth in love.”

HairUp2But there’s also a second side to this, isn’t there? And that’s learning to listen to the one we love, and not just to their words, but as Les Parrott puts it, we need to listen with a third ear to that emotional river flowing beneath their words. “Pan for gold,” he says. “Pan for that little emotion and hand it back to your spouse, saying: ‘Is this how you feel?’” When you do that, he says, it opens up your spouse’s spirit and helps them to begin trusting you in ways they’ve never trusted anyone before.

Some of you may remember the prayer of St. Francis: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love, where there is injury, pardon, where there is discord, harmony, where there is doubt, faith…Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love, for it is in giving that we receive, in pardoning that we are pardoned, and in dying that we’re born to eternal life.” I think that’s a good prayer for marriage: To seek not so much to be understood as to understand the one we love. So how are you doing in this area? If you say, “Not so well at the moment,” then let me ask you: Why not? What is it that’s getting in your way?—DVD Clip #2—We need to take the time and make the effort to communicate openly and lovingly with one another. And step #2—

 b.  Practice forgiveness and grace.

Ruth Graham, the wife of Billy Graham, describes a good marriage like this: “A good marriage is the union of two forgivers.” Or as a Jamaican proverb puts it, “Before you marry, keep two eyes open. After you marry, keep one eye shut.” And I think that’s good advice. After all, isn’t that what the Bible says? Later in Ephesians 4:31, Paul commands us: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ forgave you.”

On her golden wedding anniversary, a bride of 50 years described what this meant in her marriage. Asked by a few of her guests the secret to her long and happy marriage, she explained: “On my wedding day, I decided to choose ten of my husband’s faults which, for the sake of our marriage, I would overlook.” One of the guests asked her to name some of his faults. “To tell you the truth,” she said, “I never did get around to listing them. Whenever my husband did something that made me mad, I would say to myself, ‘Lucky for him, that’s one of the ten.’”

I suspect that’s why our marriage has also lasted a long time too—40 years at this point. It’s because I married such a forgiving person! I just wish I’d learned a lot sooner to forgive the little things she does to hurt or annoy me, because I’ve not always been a very gracious or forgiving person. But I’m learning. I’m learning from my wife that one of the most important things we can do for our marriage is to communicate openly and lovingly with one another and to forgive each other when we fail. And finally, step #3—

 c.  Pray with and for one another daily.

Do you still have this card in your Bible? If you’ve been with us the last few weeks, you’ll remember we passed these cards out as a way of encouraging one another not only to pray for our study of marriage, but as a reminder to pray with one another at least 6 minutes a week for the next 6 weeks, because for some of us, this is one of the most difficult things we do, and you can be sure that the enemy will do everything in his power to stop us. The truth of the matter is, no one—not even your spouse—can meet all the needs of your heart. Only Jesus can do that. That’s why one of the most important things you can do to encourage one another and strengthen your marriage, especially at those times when our human resources fail, is to spend time together in prayer, telling God what you need. Solomon writes, “A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” And in Christian marriage, that third strand is God, who not only meets our needs when we call upon Him, but binds our hearts together in love.

So, if you haven’t yet made this commitment, or you’ve made it, but you haven’t yet followed through on it, determine right now that even if you get nothing else done this day or week, you’ll do this. You’ll communicate with one another more openly and lovingly, you’ll forgive one another’s failures, and that you’ll take time to pray with and for one another every day.

 

Tacoma 1995And again, I confess that that hasn’t always been the pattern of our marriage. In fact, if I had to graph the history of our marriage, it would probably look something like this: 3 years of constant fighting so bad we would have thrown in the towe, if we hadn’t made an unconditional commitment to one another in name of Christ. Talk about irreconcilable differences, we had ‘em all! And yet, we hung in there, and for the next 22 years, it was hot and cold: raising children and facing challenges together, but not always liking each other as much as we should. But the last 15 years has been all joy in spite of Cheryl’s battle against cervical cancer and my recent diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease.

Somewhere around year 25, I finally got my act together, started making Cheryl more important than anything else in my life, forgiving and asking forgiveness when necessary, and sharing more openly and lovingly with her in conversation and prayer. Marriage hasn’t been easy for us, but it has been completely worthwhile. And I pray that you too will soon experience a breakthrough in your marriage and begin to enjoy all that God intended it to be. I finish with this testimony from Tom Anderson, a writer for Guideposts magazine—

“I made a vow to myself on the drive down to the vacation beach cottage. For two weeks, I would be a loving husband—totally loving. No ifs, ands, or buts. The idea came to me as I listened to a speaker on my car stereo. He quoted a verse about husbands being considerate toward their wives, and then he went on to say that love is an act of the will, that “a person can choose to love.” I had to admit that I’d been a selfish husband—that our love had been dulled by my insensitivity. In petty ways, really: chiding Evelyn for her tardiness, insisting on the TV program I wanted to watch, throwing out day-old newspapers I knew Evelyn still wanted to read. Well, for two weeks all that would change.”

“And it did. Right from the moment I kissed Evelyn at the door and said, “That new sweater looks great on you!” “Oh, Tom, you noticed,” she said, surprised and pleased, and maybe a little perplexed. After the drive, I wanted to sit and read. Evelyn suggested a walk on the beach. I started to refuse, but then I thought, ‘She’s been alone with the kids all week, and now she wants to be alone with me.’ We walked on the beach while the children flew their kites. And so it went—two weeks of not calling the Wall Street investment firm where I’m a director, a visit to the shell museum, though I usually hate museums (but I enjoyed it), holding my tongue when Evelyn made us late for a dinner date. That’s how the whole vacation passed—relaxed and happy.”

“One thing did go wrong with my experiment, however. Evelyn and I still laugh about it. On our last night at the beach, preparing for bed, Evelyn stared at me with the saddest expression. ‘What’s the matter?’ I asked her. ‘Tom,’ she said, voice filled with distress, ‘do you know something I don’t?’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Well, that checkup I had a few weeks ago. Did the doctor tell you something about me? Tom, you’ve been so good to me. Am I dying?’ It took a moment for it to sink in. Then I burst out laughing. ‘No, honey,’ I said, wrapping my arms around her. ‘You’re not dying. I’m just starting to live.'”September 2010

Pray with me. Heavenly Father, we’re thankful for the gift of marriage and sorry for what we’ve made it at times. Help us to begin again this morning—meeting the needs of the one we love, forgiving and asking forgiveness when necessary, and communicating with both you and one another in a more open and loving way. We ask for Jesus’ sake. Amen

Download the message by clicking – “When the Honeymoon Ends”

 

“Sunday Psalms” Episode 7 by Heidi Schwarz Sadler

Sunday Psalms: Episode 7 by Heidi Sadler (Inspired by Psalm 107)

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Sunday Psalms: Fictional Narratives Inspired by the Psalms, Proverbs, & Other Biblical Works

On the date of my sentencing, there was no denying my guilt. I knew it, and the judge knew it. And although I was worthy of the punishment, I still fought to avoid incarceration.

When I was arrested, I violently thrashed against the guards. With venom lurking in their hearts, they threw me to the ground and took great pleasure in chaining me to the wall.

For the first several days, I wailed like a helpless child. Through the cell bars, I cried out for mercy, only to find myself bitterly disappointed.

In time, I grew to accept this existence. Day after day, year after year, grief over my life sentence resulted in a numbing existence. The stone walls of the prison cell had become my familiar companions.

One winter morning, as I struggled to remember what it was like to be free, I awoke to an unfamiliar sound. I opened my eyes to see a man with kind eyes singing to himself as he unlocked my cell door. In one swift move, he swung open the door, and entering, he bent down to release the chains that held me captive.

Without a word, he helped me to stand on wobbly legs and gestured that I was free to go. Confused, I asked, “What’s happened?”

The man smiled and said, “I’ve followed your case for some time. Today, I made arrangements, and now you are free to go.”

“I’m guilty,” I informed him, and he nodded that he was aware of this.

While being released was good news to my tired soul, I couldn’t help but ask him, “Why now? Why today, when I’ve been in here all this time?”

With a nudge, he guided me out of the cell and simply answered, “Until you’ve experienced captivity, you can’t appreciate real freedom.”

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To read more of Heidi’s inspirational writing, including the “Sunday Psalms,” click on this link to her website,  “Letters to Friends, – or on this link to the website of Heidi and Ben Sadler’s worship ministry, Chasing Ebenezer. We endorse them wholeheartedly and without reservation. They are the best!