Sapphire Sky

January 28, 2017

The Coming King

Filed under: encouragement, theology, Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 9:48 pm

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“And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.”

Jesus spoke these words to his closest friends shortly before leaving earth (John 14:29).

Within hours, Jesus Christ would be arrested by the Jewish authorities, tried by an illegal court, and crucified like a lowly criminal.

He was the one sent by God to save His people. He was the chosen one, the “anointed one”, or as is said in Hebrew, he was the Messiah.

To the religious Jews of Jesus’ day, this was preposterous. This man could not be their Messiah. They were looking for a commanding king who would validate the true children of Abraham and lead them in victory over their Roman oppressors.

Instead, they found a country preacher. He didn’t revere their nationality. He didn’t obey their Sabbath traditions. He didn’t respect their temple hierarchy. He told them that they were wrong!

So they killed Him.

But these men knew their scriptures. They studied the law and the prophets as they looked for their Messiah king. How could they know that it was Jesus?

Almost 600 years earlier, one of their greatest prophets wrote about the Messiah. Daniel was one of the wisest men of his day. He was revered by counselors, wise men, kings, and emperors.

But Daniel was also a man of prayer. He prayed every day, even if it was against the law (see here). He prayed earnestly for his people, taking responsibility for their failures, and imploring God for forgiveness (see here).

God answered Daniel’s prayer in ways that no one else had ever seen. His answer was immediate and very specific. Daniel asked God about the seventy years when his people had been captive in Babylon. God’s answer was that there was yet another seventy times seven years for His people. God had reserved this time for the Jews to end their wickedness, pay for their sins, commission the perfect sanctuary, and to bring in the perfect kingdom.

During this seventy times seven years:

  • His people, the Jews, would return back to their native land. They would rebuild their city and the temple.

    There were (at least) four edicts by the Persian emperors, allowing the Jews to return to their homeland. The first edict would have happened shortly after Daniel’s prayer in 536 B.C., and the final culmination would have been the command to restore both the city and the temple in 444 B.C.

  • They would live in their city for 69 weeks (483 years), through times of trouble.

    The Jews returned to their homeland, but they were persecuted under both the Greek and the Roman rulers during the final four centuries B.C.

  • The Messiah, the anointed one, would come to his people at the end of the 483 years.

    Jesus came into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday in 33 A.D., exactly 483 years after the edict of 444 B.C. (see below).

  • After the 483 years, the Messiah would be executed like a criminal (see here and here).

    Jesus Christ was crucified by the Romans within a week after His entry into Jerusalem, in 33 A.D.

  • Also after the 483 years, people would destroy the city and the temple.

    The Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D.

  • A future prince will make a treaty with the Jews for seven years, and then break his promises after three and a half years. This is still in the future.

Daniel was shown 70 “weeks” (groups of seven years). 69 of these weeks have already passed, and the 70th week is still to come.

We can fall in the same trap as the religious Jews of Jesus’ day. They knew their Bible, but they only looked for what they wanted to see. God came to earth, as He promised, and they completely missed Him!

John 5:39-40
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

The prophecy of the “seventy weeks” in Daniel 9 is very popular among theologians and religious speculators. There are countless predictions, interpretations, and speculations about what everything can possibly mean. False teachers have used Daniel 9 as a means to authenticate their own beliefs, leading to such sects and cults as the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Branch Davidian.

So how are we supposed to read this prophecy and not be caught up in some twisted teaching? Can we really understand it?

The answer is actually very simple. Like all of God’s word (scripture), we need to simply read it. Set aside our own preconceptions on how a prophecy should all fit together, and trust that the words mean what they say.

Above all, have the humility to admit that you won’t have it all figured out. Even the prophets themselves did not fully understand what they were writing:

1 Peter 1:10-11
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.

See the section below for more detail about basic rules for understanding Scripture.

What is the main point of prophecy? Going back to Jesus’ words to His disciples, one of the most important points about future prophecy is to remind us that God is in control. He shows us what is happening before it takes place so that we can know that He is not surprised by these events.

 

Previous post: Do We Pray?

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December 28, 2016

Do We Pray?

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 1:09 am

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We live in a fallen, broken world that can overwhelm us. The pressures and the hurt that we see every day can often make us lose sight of our great and glorious God.

Many of us struggle to just make it through each day. Too many times, the people near us only make things worse.

Yet, through all of our struggles and our difficulties, we often forget how God tells us to respond. Indeed, this is one of the most neglected parts of our life: we need to be praying for each other!

The formal word is intercession. It is much more than simply coming to God with a list of requests. Intercession is coming to God on behalf of others. Jesus promises to be praying for us in the same way (Hebrews 7:25).

We do not pray for each other in order that their lives become better or more appealing to us. Instead, we need to be praying for each other until we understand God’s perspective toward them. In the words of Oswald Chambers, “Intercession means that we rouse ourselves up to get the mind of Christ about the one for whom we pray.”1

As we are given insight into another’s life, it is easy for us to use this insight as an opportunity to feel grateful, superior, compassionate, or simply to try to figure them out. Instead, we should take these opportunities to specifically pray for them. We need to pray that God will use these events to bring us closer to Himself, and that we may show God’s greatness.

I am challenged by the example of Daniel as he prayed for his people. Daniel records an event in his life when he saw that the time for his people’s punishment was almost over. He then records (in Daniel 9:1-19) his reaction and his prayer.

 

Daniel prepared for prayer

“Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.” (Daniel 9:3)

Daniel approached God with fasting and mourning. We say that we are serious with God, yet how often do we put aside our personal comforts in order to seriously seek Him?

 

Daniel took personal responsibility for the people’s failures

Ezekiel 14 lists Daniel as one of the most righteous men in history, yet Daniel here takes personal responsibility for all of the failures of his people. He includes himself with all of their failures and wickedness:

I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession” (Daniel 9:4)

we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.” (Daniel 9:5-6)

 

Daniel saw their failure in contrast to God’s greatness

God is faithful, but they have rebelled:

O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules.” (Daniel 9:4-5)

God warned them, but they refused to listen:

“We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.” (Daniel 9:6)

God is righteous, but they deserve public humiliation:

“To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you.” (Daniel 9:7-8)

God is mercy and forgiveness, but they have rebelled and disobeyed Him:

“To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.” (Daniel 9:9-10)

 

Daniel agreed that they are receiving the punishment they deserve

They all knew that God’s law promised severe punishment for those who disobey, yet they refused to listen:

“All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him.” (Daniel 9:11)

God is only fulfilling what He promised (in Deuteronomy 28):

He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity.” (Daniel 9:12)

 

Daniel confessed that they are still not listening, even when they are punished

Even after God punished them, they still refuse to come to God:

“As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth.” (Daniel 9:13)

 

Daniel pleads to God because of His greatness

There is nothing good from them, nor are they deserving of any favor from God. Yet because of God’s greatness, Daniel pleads for His favor and forgiveness.

Knowing God’s righteousness, Daniel asks Him to turn away His anger from Jerusalem:

O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us.“ (Daniel 9:16)

Because of God’s mercy, Daniel asks Him to show favor on His temple:

“Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate.” (Daniel 9:17)

Because of God’s great mercy, Daniel asks Him to restore His city:

“O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy.” (Daniel 9:18)

Because of God’s reputation (for the sake of His name), Daniel asks Him to hear and to forgive His people:

O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.” (Daniel 9:19)

 

How does this apply to us?

We are not in Daniel’s captive nation of Israel, yet we have all turned away from God’s perfect way. We often focus on how others have failed us, but we have all failed to obey God.

We all deserve a terrible punishment for turning away from God.  Even when God punishes us, we still refuse to listen to Him. It is only by His mercy that He has given us any favor (see Romans 5:6-8).

We need to pray for each other with this perspective. We need to seek the mind of Christ so that He would draw the others closer to Himself.

“We cannot dissociate ourselves from other Christians. We have to take our place with them, bow our heads in the presence of God, and own that we have sinned. If we could but remember this always, it would cure us of railing against the people of God who have less light than we have, or than we fancy that we have.” – H.A. Ironside6

“Are [circumstances] badgering us out of the presence of God and leaving us no time for worship? Then let us call a halt, and get into such living relationship with God that our relationship to others may be maintained on the line of intercession whereby God works His marvels.” – Oswald Chambers2

Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
James 5:13-16

 

Previous post: The Ram and The Goat

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December 9, 2016

The Ram and The Goat

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 10:18 pm

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We used to raise goats, and this passage reminded me of how difficult, stubborn, and hostile a male goat can be!

But to Daniel, the vision in chapter 8 was a terrifying preview of what was to come.

Daniel was working for the king during the declining times of the Babylonian empire when God gave him a vision of a great ram. The ram had two horns and stood on the banks of a canal, defeating anyone and anything that came against him.

Then, a large goat with a single horn between his eyes came out of the west after the ram. The goat attacked the ram, broke his horns, and trampled him.

Then the goat’s horn broke and was replaced by four smaller horns.

Then a fifth little horn grew out of the four horns. This little horn became great and dominated the Holy Land. It trampled some of the stars and considered itself to be as great as God himself. The little horn overthrew the sanctuary of God and stopped His offerings. This little horn would have power for just over three years.

The great and wise Daniel tried to understand this vision but it was beyond him. He saw the vision (8:2), he considered what he saw (8:5), and he sought to understand it (8:15). Finally, Daniel fainted when the angel Gabriel came to help him!

Gabriel woke Daniel and told him the explanation. The ram was the kings of Media and Persia. We know from history that Media and Persia form an alliance shortly after this time. In about ten years, the Median and Persian alliance would come and defeat Babylon (Daniel 5).

The goat was the king of Greece. We know from history that Alexander the Great came 200 years later, quickly conquering the Medio-Persian empire. Alexander would later die at the height of his power, leaving his great empire to four lesser leaders.

So far, this vision has been very close to what was shown in the previous vision (see here). Both visions predicted the rise of the Medio-Persian and the Greek empires, but this vision showed Daniel one of the greatest horrors that would befall his people.

A ruler would emerge from the Greek empire. He would grow his empire toward the Holy Land and dominate the Jewish people. He would kill many people and oppose God himself. He would stop the sacrifices and persecute God’s people for three years.

This prediction was fulfilled with the rule of Antiochus IV, who ruled the Seleucid empire from 175-163 B.C.3 Antiochus gave himself the title “Epiphanes”, meaning, “manifestation of God”. He was determined to force Greek culture (Hellenize) upon his Jewish subjects. This included Greek language and way of life, but also required the Jews to worship the Greek gods.

Antiochus returned from a humiliating defeat in Egypt in 168 B.C. and vented his frustration on the Jews, sending his troops to seize Jerusalem. The Jews were banned, under penalty of death, from offering sacrifices or performing Jewish rites. Antiochus went even further and desecrated the temple by placing an idol of Zeus in it and offering a pig on the altar. This became known to the Jews as the “Abomination of Desolation”.

But the vision also gave Daniel hope. The persecution of God’s people would only last for three years. After this period,the temple would be restored to its rightful state.

There was a faithful priest who lived during the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes. This priest, Mattathias, fled to the wilderness with his five sons and fought back against the Greek rulers. His son Judas led an uprising against the Greek rulers and was given the title, “Maccabaus”, or “the hammer”. Under Judas’ leadership, the Jews retook Jerusalem and restored the temple. The Jewish festival of Hanukkah celebrates this occasion when, on December 25, 165 B.C., the faithful Jews rededicated the newly cleansed temple. This was exactly three years after Antiochus desecrated the temple.

God also promised that this ruler would be destroyed without human hand. Historians recorded that Antiochus died suddenly of a mysterious illness (probably cancer), shortly after his defeat in Jerusalem, and the temple was restored.

But there was more to what God was telling to Daniel. Antiochus Epiphanes would be a cruel, wicked tyrant. He would kill and persecute many of the Jews, but Antiochus was only a preview of what is still to come. In terms of history, Antiochus was a petty Greek ruler, but there will come a ruler with the same evil and intrigue as Antiochus, yet with much more power. This ruler, also known as the Antichrist, will declare himself to be God and will destroy many people.  He will rise up against God and will have power for a limited time. Yet in the end, he will be destroyed by God Himself.

Warren Wiersbe’s commentary on Daniel lists the characteristics that both Antiochus and the Antichrist will share:3

  • Both begin modestly but increase in power and influence.
  • Both blaspheme God with mouths that speak great things.
  • Both persecute the Jewish people.
  • Both claim to be gods and put images in the temple.
  • Both impose their own religion on the people.
  • Both are opposed by a believing remnant that knows God.
  • Both are energized by the devil and are great deceivers.
  • Both appear to succeed marvelously and seem to be invincible.
  • Both are finally defeated by the coming of a redeemer.

 

Remember!

What does this story have to do with a reader in the 21st century? We live thousands of years after Alexander and Antiochus. It is a compelling story of history, but God has a lot more to tell us!

First, remember that God may delay his judgement, but he does not forget. This final king will rise in the latter times when “transgressors have reached their limit” (Daniel 8:23). If you are running from God, He is waiting for you to come back. But don’t exhaust His limit! If you keep running from Him, judgement is coming!

Second, remember how little we are in God’s sight! Daniel was one of the greatest and wisest men of his day, but this vision left him completely undone! He could not understand the meaning of the vision, and he fainted in the presence of the angel. Gabriel gave Daniel the final explanation, and it left him sick for days!

Finally, remember that God is in control, even through the darkest times of history. It must have been a great comfort to the Jews under Antiochus, knowing that his time would be limited. We may not have a specific prophecy for our own struggles in life, but God has not forgotten about us! God knows the end of our struggles!

 

Previous post: The History of the World

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November 6, 2016

The History of the World

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 8:30 pm

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History books intrigue me, especially the stories of kings and empires.

It is interesting to imagine yourself in another time, to try and picture life in those days.

Daniel lived in the 6th century B.C., yet he saw a view of the entire world history – especially the parts that had not happened yet!

Daniel’s first vision tells of the world empires. God had given the same message through pagan King Nebuchadnezzar over 50 years earlier (see here), but this time He sent His message directly to Daniel. While Nebuchadnezzar saw a beautiful statue composed of precious metals, Daniel saw four terrifying monsters.

The first monster was like a lion with eagles’ wings. The wings were plucked off, the monster stood up and was given the mind of a man. This was the same head of gold in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and it depicted the Babylonian empire.

The second monster was like a lopsided bear. This was the same silver arms and chest in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and it depicted the Medo-Persian empire.

The third monster was like a four-winged leopard with four heads. This was the same bronze belly and thighs of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and it depicted the Greek empire.

The fourth monster was beyond description. It had iron teeth and was “terrifying and dreadful”. This was the same iron legs and feet in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and it depicted the Roman empire.

Daniel may have recognized this series of empires from when he was a young man. If the vision ended there, it would have been an interesting lesson in future history.

But then things got weird.

The final monster had ten horns. Then an eleventh horn grew up, pushing out 3 of the older horns. This new horn had eyes and spoke. It spoke against God. The horn fought against the people of God and won. All this time the horn kept boasting great things about himself.

The scene shifted. Daniel was no longer looking at the terrifying monster with the weird horns. The little horn’s ranting and expletives faded to background noise, and Daniel was in the throne room of God the Father. Who cares about that little horn when you are in the presence of God!

“As I looked,
thrones were placed,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames;
its wheels were burning fire.
A stream of fire issued
and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.

The little horn continued to curse until the Almighty God delivered the judgment. The monster was killed and its body destroyed.

But then, one is presented to God the Father. He is from mankind, yet he is eternal. He is given a kingdom that will never end!

“I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.

Over 450 years later, a teacher rose up among the Jews. No one knew what to do with this new teacher, and he spoke like no one else. He taught that he was bringing a kingdom. He required total submission from anyone who would follow him. Above all, he had one phrase that he would use to describe himself:

“The Son of Man”

I don’t know if Jesus had a favorite verse, but this was one of the scripture references he used the most. When He talked about Himself, He would start with Daniel 7.

The world produces rulers and great men who fight against God. But the greatest of them is nothing more than a little, noisy horn.

While the little horn prattles on, the Ancient of Days sits in judgment. There will come a time when He will come and destroy the little horn.

The Son of Man – Jesus Himself – will rule a kingdom that will never end!

 

Remember!

The message of Daniel always comes back to perspective. God is not shaken by world events!

Jesus Himself will return some day and bring in a kingdom that will never end! May we look forward to that day!

Are we focused on the little horn or the throne room? While people shake their fists at God, He is sitting on his throne of fire!

 

Previous post: Politics and Bad Coworkers

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October 28, 2016

Politics and Bad Coworkers

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 10:05 pm

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Daniel chapter 6 closes the narrative of one of the most distinguished men in Old Testament scriptures. Daniel had the courage as a teen to stand up for God’s law, even when it could cost him his life (see here). Daniel had the wisdom as a young man to approach a furious king and interpret his dream, thereby saving his own life and the lives of the king’s wise men (see here). Daniel had the leadership as a middle-aged man to encourage his friends to bow only to God, regardless of the consequences (see here). Daniel had the kindness as an older man to counsel the king to turn from his pride (see here). Daniel had the boldness as an old man to rebuke a wicked king, telling him that his destruction was coming (see here).

Now, in the last chapter of his life, Daniel was once again pressed into service for the king. The new king, Darius, set up new leaders over the country with Daniel in charge. Instead of finishing his days in peace, Daniel faced the resentment and jealousy of colleagues who are angry that an outsider was promoted above them.

Don’t miss an important point in this chapter – very little of the action was by Daniel. There was no dramatic show of wisdom nor dream interpretation in Daniel 6. Daniel simply remained faithful to God through the chaos of his world.

This aspect about Daniel is what makes this passage especially encouraging. Daniel faced intrigue, politics, lies, and laws that challenged his fundamental beliefs. Yet through it all, he simply followed God. Constantly. Faithfully.

Daniel’s rivals scoured through his long history to find any “dirt” on him, yet his record was clean. They ended up resorting to a religious law which required everyone to pray only to the king for 30 days. The flattered king signed it into law, with no idea that he had just set the trap for Daniel.

Daniel responded to the anti-prayer law by going to prayer. Daniel would not allow his relationship with God to be blocked by the laws of men. This relationship was the basis for Daniel’s entire life.

Daniel’s prayer served as sufficient ammunition for his enemies, who had Daniel arrested at once. The penalty was to be eaten by hungry lions. The king himself tried to save Daniel, but the law was clear.

Note that Daniel did not speak in his own defense. He was ready to die.

The execution was carried out. Daniel was taken at sunset and put into the cave of hungry lions. The door was closed and sealed, and everyone went off to bed.

The king could not sleep that night and hurried to the cave in the morning. Daniel claimed to serve a very powerful God, but could this God save Daniel? The king was anxious to know if it was possible!

Somewhere, from inside the cave came the voice of an old man. God had sent an angel to stop the lions because Daniel was blameless. The king joyfully brought out Daniel and ordered his accusers to be executed in his place.

The passage concludes with an edict from the king. All people everywhere are to tremble in fear before the God of Daniel. He is the living God! His kingdom endures forever and he acts to save those who truly worship Him!

 

Remember!

God will save all who trust Him, although the rescue may not be as dramatic as Daniel.

God can send an angel to save us like he did for Daniel, or like he did for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (see here).

God may also save us through His providence, where He causes circumstances to come together for our rescue. This was the case of Joseph and his brothers, when God put Joseph in in Egypt during the famine (see Genesis 45:5-8). This was also Ezra’s belief when he refused the king’s protection for the return back to Jerusalem (see Ezra 8:21-23).

God may also save us through death. God’s plan is not always to rescue everyone at once; some will only be rescued when they see God face to face. This was the thought of the writer of Hebrews when he spoke of the martyrs for the faith in Hebrews 11:35-38. They are described as, “of whom the world was not worthy”.

 

Lessons from Daniel’s Example

  • Don’t compromise when it is under your control. (Daniel 1)
  • Be gracious to those over you, even in the face of hostility. (Daniel 1 and Daniel 2).
  • Take opportunities to use your gifts from God. (Daniel 2)
  • Don’t break God’s law – even when the consequences are terrible. (Daniel 3)
  • Answer with care and sensitivity. (Daniel 4)
  • Answer directly and truthfully. (Daniel 5)
  • Don’t compromise your walk with God, even under intense pressure. (Daniel 6)
  • You cannot control the attitudes are the actions of others, but you can remain faithful to the Most High God. (Daniel 1–6)
  • God is totally capable of defending himself. You don’t have to fight His battles!
  • Keep an attitude of thankfulness and prayer, regardless of the circumstances. (Daniel 6)
  • God can use you in all stages of your life. He used Daniel as a teen, a young man, in his middle age, and as an old man.
  • The Most High God transcends kings and kingdoms. He kept Daniel through all of the Babylonian kings and into the Persian empire.
  • Never lose focus on what is most important! (Daniel 1)
  • God’s law is more important than the laws of men. (Daniel 6)
  • True faith is when you commit to obeying God – even if he does not save you! (Daniel 3)

 

What Daniel teaches us about God

  • He honors those who are faithful to Him (Daniel 1)
  • He is greater than any kingdoms or empires of mankind. (Daniel 2)
  • His kingdom endures forever! (Daniel 2 and 6)
  • National disasters do not take God by surprise. (Daniel 2)
  • He sets up and takes down rulers of men. (Daniel 4 and Daniel 5)
  • All power of mankind, even the greatest of kings, is on loan from God. (Daniel 4 and Daniel 5)
  • Personal pride is abhorrent to the Most High God. (Daniel 4)
  • The Most High God holds our very breath in his hands! (Daniel 5)
  • He is to be respected and feared! (Daniel 6)
  • Nothing is impossible with God!

 

Previous post: The Final Party

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October 12, 2016

Good Arguments in favor of Adoption!

Filed under: adoption, encouragement, love, marriage and family, video — Anthony Biller @ 1:07 pm

October 7, 2016

The Final Party

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 6:32 pm

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Belshazzar’s Feast”, by Rembrandt (c. 1630)

What will be your final warning?

As I studied the account of the final king of Babylon, several words came to my mind. How would you describe this man?

Stubborn.

Reckless.

Careless.

Hedonist.

Self-indulgent.

Self-centered.

Self-confident.

Over-confident.

Proud.

Arrogant.

Refusing to listen.

Refusing to learn.

Sinful.

Foolish.

Stupid.

The part that scares me is how much these words also describe me.

It is easy to look down through history and criticize king Belshazzar. He was a classic fool and he paid dearly for it. He lost his kingdom, his empire, and his life.

But before we look more closely at Belshazzar’s final days, we need to be sure that we are not guilty of the same failures. At the core of it all, Belshazzar knew about God. He knew all about Him, yet he chose to reject God.

The Most High God holds our very breath in His hands, yet we do not honor Him!

“…the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.” – Daniel 5:23

The scene in Daniel 5 opens up to a great party. It has been over 30 years since Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in the previous chapter (see here). Nebuchadnezzar has died and there is a new king in Babylon. Daniel is now an old man and has retired from serving the king.

There is also a new enemy outside the city gates. The Medio-Persian army has conquered every nation in its path and has come for Babylon. The king of Babylon fought against them and completely lost. He was captured and his army was destroyed.

The king’s son and co-regent, Belshazzar, was still in control of the city. Babylon was the greatest fortress in the world, and he knew that the Medes and the Persians could never get inside. They have plenty of water and enough food to last for 20 years! They can simply wait for the Persians to leave.

At the time of Belshazzar’s party, the Medio-Persian army has been camped outside the city of Babylon for four months!

Daniel’s God had given the king a message. He told the king three times that the kingdom of Babylon would end and that it would be replaced by the Medes and the Persians. The army outside the gates would win.

God had also given the same message through other prophets. Both Isaiah and Jeremiah prophesied that Babylon would fall to the Medes (see here and here). Isaiah’s prediction was over 200 years earlier!

Belshazzar knew what God had said, but he felt safe inside his city walls. In a final act of defiance, he threw a great party. As he began to get drunk, he called for the holy vessels of this God of Jerusalem. He drank from the golden cups of the temple and offered them to his Babylonian gods.

Immediately, the fingers of a human hand appeared, writing mysterious words on the wall next to the king. It terrified the king! He called for his wise men, but they could not understand what was written.

In the midst of the confusion, the king’s mother arrived and offered good news to the king. There was a man who served his grandfather who had the “spirit of the holy gods” and could explain great mysteries. Surely this man—Daniel—could interpret this mystery to the king.

Daniel came at the king’s request. He first reminded the king of his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar. God brought Nebuchadnezzar low, making him live like an animal when he became proud (see here). Belshazzar knew all this, yet he refused to humble himself before the Most High God. He taunted the very God who holds his breath!

Therefore, God  sent this final message:

  • Mene: God has numbered the days of his kingdom and brought it to an end.
  • Tekel: Belshazzar has been weighed (evaluated) and came up short.
  • Peres: The kingdom has been taken from Belshazzar and given to the Medes and the Persians.

This was one last chance for Belshazzar to repent, yet he refused. He awarded Daniel with the honors of interpreting the writing, sent him off, and resumed his party.

The Medio-Persian army had diverted the waters of the Euphrates river. Unknown to the drunk Babylonians, they lowered the water level and waded under the river gates, into the city. They found king Belshazzar and all of the leaders of the city at the party and killed everyone.

The account in scripture puts it bluntly, “That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed.” (Daniel 5:30).

 

Remember!

  • God will judge those who refuse to obey Him. He is patient, but He will not forget.
  • Don’t refuse to listen to God! He will warn you, but one day it will be too late!
  • He is the Most High God and He holds our very lives! Give Him the honor that He deserves!

 

Previous post: How Big Do You Think You Are?

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September 25, 2016

How Big Do You Think You Are?

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 6:37 pm

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You need to have self-respect.

Take pride in your work.

Don’t have a low self-esteem!

You need to start by loving yourself.

Don’t let anyone make you feel like you are less of a person.

Look out for number one!

These are the positive messages that we hear every day. You need to take care of yourself. Be nice about it, but you need to have pride!

It is socially acceptable to be proud. It is even encouraged – so long as you’re nice about it – to have pride.

These messages are popular and many of them are well meaning. But what does God say?

All through the Holy Scriptures, God has one message about our pride. Our self-esteem. Our love for ourselves.

There is no doubt. God hates our pride.

The very first of the 10 Commandments says, “You shall have no God before me”. God alone needs to be the center of our worship. Our pride pulls God away and puts ourselves in His place.

Proverbs 6 tells of seven things that The Lord hates, with pride being first on the list.

Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 tells about how the most beautiful angel, Lucifer, was lifted up with pride. He thought he was so elevated, yet he was cast down to earth.

In the New Testament, Acts 12 tells about the wicked king Herod being especially judged by God for being proud (he was eaten by worms).

But there may not be a more vivid example of pride than King Nebuchadnezzar.

Nebuchadnezzar had it all! He had conquered all of his enemies. He was king over all of the known world. He personally led the construction of the great city of Babylon, one of the wonders of the ancient world. Now, later in his reign, he could finally rest and enjoy life.

It was at this time that Nebuchadnezzar had a terrifying dream. He saw a great tree which was tall and visible for all too see. The tree provided shelter and food for all living things. But then an angel from heaven came with an announcement. Chop down the tree and cut off its branches, but leave the stump protected. He will lose his sanity and live like an animal for seven years, until he knows that the Most High has all authority over the kingdom of men.

Anxious to know the meaning of this dream, the king called all of his advisors. Only Daniel was able to give an answer. Nebuchadnezzar is the great tree. He will soon lose his sanity, be driven from people, and will live like an animal. He will in that state for seven years until he recognizes the Most High God. Only God rules over the kingdom of men and gives the authority to whomever He wants.

Daniel followed his interpretation with advice to the king. Nebuchadnezzar needed to stop disobeying God and show justice and care for others. He needed to change his attitude and God might delay the impending disaster.

We do not know if Nebuchadnezzar showed any change of heart after this dream. Any remorse or changes in Nebuchadnezzar were only temporary. Exactly one year later, Nebuchadnezzar was on his rooftop looking at the great city of Babylon. Filled with pride over his accomplishments, he said, “Is this not my great Babylon, that I have built for myself and my own greatness?”

No sooner had the king of Babylon finished these words when there was a voice from heaven announcing the judgment from the Most High God. Nebuchadnezzar immediately lost his sanity and he was driven from the palace. The great king was reduced to living in the wild and eating grass for seven years.

Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity returned after seven years. Ha received back his mind, his kingdom, and his glory, but he learned his lesson. It was no longer all about him. From his own words,

I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,
for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”

 

Remember!

  • No matter how great we think we are, we are nothing compared to the Most High God!
  • Our pride is an offense to God. When we lift ourselves up, we are not humble before God, nor are we giving Him the proper credit and glory.
  • Every chapter in Daniel reiterates the same theme. God is the greatest. He is greater than any political, intellectual, or military power in this world. God wins!

 

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” – 1 Peter 5:5

 

Previous post: Who is the Greatest?

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September 10, 2016

Who is the Greatest?

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 11:04 am

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The account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is one of the most well-known “Bible stories“. Generations of children have heard this account told to them in Sunday School, about the three young men who refused to the bow to the king’s image.

The narrative is simple and dramatic. King Nebuchadnezzar built a massive golden image and brought all of his officials to the ceremony so that they would bow down and worship. The penalty for not obeying the king was to be burned alive in a fiery furnace.

At the king’s command, the music played and everyone bowed down. Everyone worshipped the image except for three men who refused, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These three were brought to the king where they were given an opportunity to recant, but they told the king that they will not bow down to his image.

Their refusal to bow threw the king into a rage. He ordered the furnace to be super-heated and then for the guards to throw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the flame. The furnace was so hot that it killed the guards who took them.

After carrying out the sentence, the king looked into the fire and jumped up quickly. “Did we not throw three men into the fire?”, he asked. “Then why are there four men walking in the fire, and the fourth looks like one of the gods?”

Nebuchadnezzar called the three men out of the fire and they emerged from the flames unharmed. Their clothes did not even smell like smoke! The event concludes with the king blessing the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and making a royal decree against anyone who dared to speak against this great God!

This event is a great encouragement to stand for your beliefs, even under intense pressure. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego opposed the king, even when they knew the consequences could be fatal.

But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did more than just stand up for their beliefs. They knew God’s law, and His first two commandments were to stay away from idols (Exodus 20:1-6). Their response to the king showed that they did not know what God would do. God may save them or He may let them burn to death. But regardless of the consequences, they would not dishonor God and would not worship the king’s image.

Don’t miss the statement of their belief, “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire … But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18).

These men showed courage and were honored for their faith. But the main point of this passage goes beyond the three courageous young men on the plain of Dura. It goes beyond the selfish king who thought that he could unite his empire under the state religion. The main point of this passage is that the God of heaven, the God of these exiled Jews is greater than anything made by mankind. He is greater than the king or his empire.

Nebuchadnezzar thought he could challenge God when he said in his anger, “And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”

At the end, Nebuchadnezzar saw that his power was worthless. God has power over the flames and over any nation. Nebuchadnezzar ended the scene with blessing to this God.

He is the Most High God! (Daniel 3:26)

 

Remember!

  • God is able to rescue us from our troubles, but can we have the faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to commit to Him regardless of the consequences?
  • God is greater than any king, any power or any nation. In our modern American society, He is greater than any leaders, politicians, or laws in our land!
  • The entire message of Daniel is a reminder that God had not forgotten His people. God has not forgotten us!

 

Previous post: His Kingdom is Forever!

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August 28, 2016

His Kingdom is Forever!

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 3:36 pm

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“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
he reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him.
To you, O God of my fathers,
I give thanks and praise,
for you have given me wisdom and might,
and have now made known to me what we asked of you
for you have made known to us the king’s matter.

We look at the American political system today and it is easy to get discouraged. None of the major political candidates show any wisdom to lead a country. They all look like they are more consumed with self-serving interests than to care about the future of the country.

To be an American Christian today likely means that you will be labeled as a bigot, ignorant of science, or out of touch with reality.

The situation is much worse in other parts of the world. Russia has recently passed laws that prohibit worship in any other place but the state-sanctioned churches (see here). The World Watch List lists 41 countries in the world which have moderate to extreme persecution of Christians. Many Islamic nations have a death penalty for anyone who converts from Islam. North Korea is ranked again as the most dangerous country for a Christian, for 14 years in a row!

It is easy to become discouraged and to start to wonder. Is God really in control?

God gave a message to His people in the sixth century B.C. This was a time of the terrible crisis for the surviving Jews of that day. The northern nation, Israel, was completely destroyed a century earlier. The southern nation, Judah, had lost their independence, and were now slaves to whatever world powers would dominate them.

The king of Egypt had come in 609 B.C., killing the king and setting up his own vassal king over the country. The king of Babylon then came four years later, setting up his rule over Judah and taking captives back with him to Babylon.

The situation would only get worse. Babylon would return 17 years later to destroy Jerusalem, burn the temple, and carry away all of the inhabitants to exile. The Jewish nation would cease to exist for 70 years.

Where was God during this crisis? God gives His answer in the Book of Daniel.

God is all-wise. God is all-powerful. The great God who can change the seasons can raise and lower kingdoms.

The kingdoms of this world do not have any power over the God of the Universe!

The scene of Daniel 2 opened in the emperor’s bedroom. King Nebuchadnezzar had just awakened from a terrible dream. He was greatly disturbed by what he saw, yet he could not remember the dream!

The king urgently summoned all of his advisors and wise men, demanding that they tell him the dream and its interpretation. These wise men were very skilled in interpreting dreams, but this was new to them – never before were they asked to tell the dream itself!

They begged the king to tell them the dream but their entreaties only made the king more angry. When they failed to tell the dream, the furious king demanded that all of his wise men be executed!

The king ordered all of the wise men in Babylon to be killed. This included the Jewish slaves who had only recently graduated from their training (Daniel 1). When the executioner came for Daniel and his companions, Daniel requested time so that he could provide an answer for the king.

Daniel returned to his house and discussed the matter with his companions, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Together they asked God for mercy so that He might show them the mystery.

The prayer above was Daniel’s response when God showed him the dream and its interpretation. His praise to God declared that the God of heaven has the power over time, seasons, and over kingdoms. God had shown the deep mysteries and had given Daniel the wisdom to show the answer to the king.

Daniel requested to be brought to the king. He made it clear that no human could answer his request, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries and has shown the king what will happen in the latter days.

Daniel then told the king his dream. He dreamed of a massive image that was overwhelming in its appearance and brightness. The head of the image was made of gold, the chest and arms of silver, the middle and thighs of bronze, the legs of iron, and the feet of iron and clay mixed. A stone was then cut without any human hand and struck the image in the feet, destroying the entire image. The stone then became a great mountain and filled the earth.

Daniel then told the interpretation of the dream. The five elements of the image were five empires (kingdoms) that would rule the earth. Nebuchadnezzar himself represented Babylon, the head of gold. After him would be three other kingdoms, successfully representing the silver, the bronze and the iron. The final kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle, like the iron mixed with clay. During the days of the final kingdom, the God of heaven will destroy the kingdoms of the world and set up a kingdom himself that will never end.

In our current point of history, the kingdoms of Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Iron have all come and gone, as the empires of Babylon, Medio-Persia, Greece, and Rome have come through history. We are still waiting on the final events of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, where the kingdom of iron and clay rules the world.

But more than that, we know that there will be a day when God’s kingdom will come and destroy all of the powers of this world. He will set up his own kingdom which will never end!

 

Remember!

  • He is the only wise God (Romans 16:27). God has not made a mistake in these troublesome times. None of these world events take Him by surprise!
  • He is the all-powerful God (Revelation 1:8). He removes kings and he sets up kings. No nation or its power is greater than God!
  • All of our world powers today are only temporary, but the kingdom of the Almighty God will last forever!

 

Previous post: The Test of Character

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August 14, 2016

The Test of Character

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 8:34 pm

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It is easy to feel sorry for ourselves when problems come into our lives. We believe that nobody understands us, and we have a perfect right to indulge ourselves.

Why should I try to do the right thing when my world has collapsed around me?

Can we even reach out to others if we don’t understand them?

Should we fight back when we have been hurt? What if they have hurt us more deeply than anyone could ever know?

Where is God when my life is turned upside-down?

I have had the chance to read about a young man who experienced more horrors than I will ever understand. As a teenager, he saw his city overrun by an invading army. They pillaged the town, looted the temple of God, and took him captive. Now, away from his family in a strange land, he was emasculated, given a new name, and enrolled in the pagan seminary. The penalty for failing his seminary classes would likely mean death.

Daniel was a teen in Jerusalem when his city was captured by Babylonian forces in 605 B.C. Babylon had recently defeated both of the existing world powers (Assyria and Egypt) and had extended its empire across much of the Middle East. The king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, had taken several of the most promising youths back to Babylon with him to serve in his court.

Among a class of 50-75 teens, Daniel and his friends were given new names. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were all named after the God of Israel, but their new names reflected the Babylonian gods: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Their classes consisted of a three-year intensive training in the language, religion, and ways of Babylon’s elite. At the end of three years, they would be personally interviewed by the king himself to see if they were competent to serve him.

These circumstances would have been intense pressure for any teen, but Daniel made a commitment. Despite everything that happened, the Bible says that Daniel resolved that he would not disobey God. Literally, he “set his heart” to not defile himself. Whatever happened, Daniel would not choose any action which would cause him to break God’s law.

There were several things outside of Daniel’s control. He was a slave to the king of Babylon and his life existed at the whim of the king or his servants. Daniel could not control what happened to him, but he could control what he chose to eat and to drink. The boys were expected to feast daily at the king’s pagan banquet, but Daniel respectfully asked to abstain. Instead of the king’s food and wine, he asked to eat only vegetables and water.

Daniel’s overseer refused at first, for fear that the he would lose his life if the boys became sick. Daniel requested a test: the four of them would only eat vegetables and water for 10 days and then the overseer could compare the results. After 10 days, Daniel and his three friends were visibly healthier than the other boys. Therefore, the entire class was moved to vegetables and water for the duration of their schooling.

There were no miracles, but God’s hand was evident throughout Daniel’s schooling. God blessed Daniel’s decision and allowed the boys to be healthy after the 10-day test. At the end of their schooling, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were personally interviewed by king Nebuchadnezzar. Not only did the four young men surpass their class, but they exceeded all of the king’s existing advisors.

 

Remember!

We can learn from Daniel’s example about how to follow God, even when under pressure:

  • Daniel refused to be defined by his circumstances. Daniel had every excuse to stop obeying God, yet he set his heart to not disobey Him.
  • Daniel was not subject to peer pressure. All of his leaders and his peers ate the king’s banquet, yet Daniel and his friends refused. Out of a class of 50-75 teens, only these four refused to participate.
  • Daniel answered his opposition with tactfulness and respect. Daniel respectfully asked the steward to abstain from eating the king’s banquet. When the steward refused, he proposed a test.
  • Daniel was not consumed by situations which were out of his control. Daniel could not control his new name, his education curriculum, or his state as a eunuch in the king’s court. Instead, Daniel made sure that he was obedient to God in the areas that he could control.

“What a lesson for us-that purity of heart and faithfulness to God come before enlightenment in divine mysteries! If you attempt to reverse these things, you need not be surprised if you fall into all kinds of error.” – H.A. Ironside [8]

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March 30, 2016

How do you deal with depression?

Filed under: encouragement — Anthony Biller @ 8:42 pm

Poptarts and Silly Bands

Depression is like a huge, black pit. After it pulls you in, you can’t get out. So you spend countless nights crying yourself to sleep. You spend days in your room separating yourself from others. You feel like doing absolutely nothing ever. You’re constantly hoping things will get better, but also wondering if they ever actually will. And the worst part? When you finally start to get happy again, depression tries to pull you back in and you crash harder than before.

Why I am writing about depression? Because according to suicide.org, a teen takes his or her own life every 100 minutes. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24. Approximately 20 percent of teens experience depression before they reach adulthood, and between 10 to 15 percent suffer from symptoms at any one time.

I struggled with depression and anxiety for a few years. I…

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February 7, 2016

The Stranger on the Shore

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 5:46 pm

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He had still not recovered.

But how could anyone recover from what he went through?

Peter’s world had turned upside-down over the last three weeks.

Three weeks ago, Peter was at the top of the world. He had traveled to Jerusalem with his teacher and close friend, the greatest man he knew. He had seen his teacher heal blind men and silence his enemies. When they entered Jerusalem three weeks ago [12], the entire city burst with excitement! Peter had known that his teacher was the rightful king and surely he would set up his kingdom now (see here and here).

Peter was with his teacher on that fateful Thursday night when, over dinner, his teacher announced that there was a traitor in their midst. This was not a time for celebration nor excitement. Their teacher was going to leave them (see here).

Peter knew that he would do anything for his teacher. He would fight for him and he would die for him. His teacher had told Peter that he would run away, but Peter protested. His teacher may be smart, but he did not understand Peter’s loyalty. Peter would never leave him!

Peter remembered that night, when they left the room and walked outside the city. He could still see the large crowd that met them on that dark night, two weeks ago. The priests, their servants, and 600 soldiers were all being guided by one of Peter’s own friends (see here). 

Peter had taken up a sword to defend his teacher. He would fight to the death for him! But Peter was a fisherman, not a soldier. He only succeeded in injuring a servant and was humiliated. He watched the soldiers drag his teacher away as he skulked away in fright.

Most of his other friends had run away, but Peter and John had gathered enough courage to follow the soldiers at a distance. He followed them to the High Priest’s palace and watched his teacher’s trial from the courtyard (see here).

Peter huddled in the crowd of servants where he could see the proceedings from a distance. He would never forget being questioned by the servants, how they were certain that Peter must be a friend of that prisoner. The servants confronted Peter three times, and three times Peter denied any knowledge or association with this teacher.

Peter saw his loyalty disappear in the face of fear. He saw his teacher beaten by the Jewish authorities. He saw the Roman soldiers bind him and subject him to inhuman torture. He saw his teacher hang on Roman cross for six hours until he died alone (see here and here).

He remembered early Sunday morning, when Mary came running in with news. She had gone to the teacher’s tomb and someone had taken the body! Peter and John had raced to the tomb, observing the scene. They saw the empty grave clothes and realized why the tomb was empty – the teacher was alive! He had come back to life! (see here)

Jesus told the disciples, on several occasions, that He would die and rise again. But they had been slow to understand Him. They did not believe Him until they saw Him in person.

Peter had seen Jesus, his teacher, three times since he had come back to life. Jesus had met with him personally that Sunday (see here). That Sunday night, Peter was with many of the the other disciples when Jesus appeared in the middle of the group gathering (see here). Finally, Jesus appeared to the disciples again on the following Monday (see here).

Jesus had instructed the disciples to go to Galilee where He would meet with them (see here). Peter and the other disciples traveled back to the northern region, Peter’s home territory.

We can only guess the thoughts that were going through Peter’s mind as he made the long journey back up north. Although he was glad to see his risen Lord, it could not erase the guilt and humiliation that Peter had felt when he denied him. Jesus had told Peter that he would run away, but Peter was sure that He was wrong. The other disciples may run away, but he would never leave Him! The others did not love Him like Peter did!

But now, this was a different Peter. He was now a broken man, who could only look back at how wrong he was. He had tried and failed. Now what could he do? Now that he was back home, Peter leaned on what he knew best. He went back to fishing.

Six other disciples joined him, and together they spent the night on the lake. Their night was been a failure. After fishing all night, they did not catch a single fish.

But there, in the morning mist, they saw a stranger on the shore. He called out to them, “Have you caught any fish?” They had been fishing all night with nothing to show for it. “Put your nets on the other side of the boat”, replies the stranger. The men obeyed, if for no other reason than that they had nothing else to lose.

On the other side of the boat, they found so many fish that they could not pull the nets back in! John was the first to realize what was happening. The same thing had happened once before, and John shouted out excitedly, “It is the Lord!”

Upon this realization, Peter stopped his fishing, put on his coat, and leaped into the water! Peter swam to the shore while the others followed in the boat.

Peter found Jesus waiting for him, with a fish grilling on a charcoal fire at the shore. There were no lectures or warnings. The other disciples joined them from the boat, as Jesus gave only an invitation, “Come and have breakfast.”

Jesus looked of the other disciples, then he looked at Peter. “Do you love me more than these?” Peter had claimed earlier that that he was more devoted to Jesus than the other disciples. Now Jesus asked him if he really believed that he has a greater love that the others.

Peter’s response showed that, possibly for the first time, he was humbled. He knew that he did not have a greater love than the others. He could not promise to love Jesus fully as he should. But he did love his Lord, and he knew that Jesus knows it.

Jesus repeated the question three times. “Do you love me?” Three times, Peter replied that Jesus knew that that he loved Him. All three times, Jesus told Peter, “Since you love me, take care of my sheep.”

Jesus had one more instruction for Peter. Peter had said earlier that he was ready to die for Him. Jesus told Peter that when he is old, he will die as a martyr for God. But with this promise also came the instruction: when everything gets crazy, just keep on following me.

Keep on following me!

Don’t worry about being in control of your own life. Don’t worry about what is going to happen to the others. Just keep on following me!

 

Remember!

  • Be encouraged! This story is about Peter’s restoration. As Jesus restored Peter from his failures, so he can restore us when we fail.
  • Do we love Jesus? Before we can give anything else to Jesus, we need to give Him our love!
  • Follow Him! When life is out of our control, we keep following Him. Don’t worry about others, but only focus on Him!

Hebrews 12:1-2
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

 

 

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January 2, 2016

He is Risen!

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 1:00 am

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1 Corinthians 15:3-7
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

 

1 Corinthians 15:14-15
And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.

 

“Had the body of the Lord Jesus Christ never come forth from the tomb, it would have been silent evidence that He was either a deceiver or deceived when He declared that He was to give His life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). He would have been simply another martyr to what He believed to be the truth, or else to His own ambitions.” – H.A. Ironside [14]

Jesus Christ came to earth and lived among mankind for about 33 years. He taught people, healed the sick, and led a small group of disciples. He was arrested by His countrymen and crucified by the Romans. His friends took His lifeless body and laid Him in a new tomb.

If that was the entire story, it would make for a compelling biography. It would be the story about a good man who met a tragic ending.

But the story of Jesus Christ is so much more. He did not die as a tragic martyr on the Roman cross. He willingly, intentionally gave up His own life so that He could free mankind from the penalty of sin. When He cried, “It is finished!”, he permanently removed the barrier that separated us from God (see here and here).

But the story of Jesus Christ is even more than that! Close friends laid His lifeless body in the tomb on Friday evening, expecting never to see Him again. The Sabbath was quickly approaching, so they could not properly prepare the body for burial. They wrapped His body and covered Him with spices as was the custom, but they had to wait until after the Sabbath to complete the burial rites.

Jesus had led eleven faithful disciples, but they were now gone. Jesus had sent John to take care of His mother (see here), and the others had run away in fear. Only the faithful women stayed with Jesus through His death and burial.

As soon as the Sabbath was over (Saturday evening), these women bought and prepared the burial spices. They brought the spices to the tomb early on Sunday morning so that they could open the tomb and finish preparing the body.

Little did the women know what was happening at the very time. Jesus Himself came back to life with a new body that was no longer damaged! He slipped through his wrapped grave clothes and left the sealed tomb.

No one saw Jesus rise from the dead, but the soldiers on guard witnessed the dramatic events that followed! With a great earthquake, an angel descended from heaven and threw back the great stone.

The women would not know of these events until afterward. When they came to the tomb, the great stone was thrown back, the soldiers had run away, and the body was gone!

One of the women, Mary Magdalene, quickly left to tell the disciples. The other women stayed long enough to notice two angels sitting inside the tomb. The message of the angels was “Jesus is not here — He has risen!”

The account of the women

The women who had come early on Sunday morning to prepare the body were met with a surprise when they came to the tomb. The stone had been thrown aside and the body was gone! Mary Magdalene abruptly left the group to go report to the disciples while the other women lingered at the tomb.

The women encountered two angels at the tomb. The angels instructed them that Jesus had risen and to go tell the disciples. The women then returned to the disciples who did not believe them.

Jesus appeared to the women and greeted them after they left the disciples. They fell at His feet in worship and Jesus repeated the instructions that were given by the angels. They were to tell the brethren to go to Galilee where Jesus will meet with them.

 

The account of Mary Magdalene

Mary left the tomb, and ran to tell Peter and John that the body was gone. Unlike the other women, Mary never saw the angels, nor did she hear the news that He had risen. She believed that the body had been taken, possibly by the gardener.

Mary followed Peter and John to the tomb and waited outside while they investigated the scene. The men left while she stayed behind to grieve. She had followed the Lord Jesus since he had saved her from a life of demon possession. She followed him through His ministry in Galilee and when He went up to Jerusalem. She had stayed with Him through His six hours of agony on the cross, and she was standing near Him as He bowed His head in death.

She had followed Joseph and Nicodemus as they hastily removed His body from the cross and prepared Him for burial. She watched as they wrapped Him in linen cloths and covered His body with burial spices. She saw them lay Him in the tomb on Friday evening and she saw Joseph roll the great stone over the doorway.

Mary was one of the first women to the tomb on Sunday morning, and she may have led the other women. This was the last chance that she had to show her love to her departed Lord. She had personally seen that the body was missing and had run to tell Peter and John.

But now she was back at the tomb. Alone! There is no way to know how she handled the ordeal over the past three days, but now she gives full vent to her grief and despair. She sobs uncontrollably.

In the midst of her tears, Mary looks down into the tomb. To her surprise, there are two men (angels) in white, sitting where the body should have been. The angels ask why she was sobbing, and she tells them that they have taken the body and she does not know where.

Turning around, Mary notices that a man is standing behind her. The man asks the same question, “Why are you sobbing?” She does not recognize the man and expects that he must be the gardener. Perhaps he has removed the body? Through her tears, she blurts out, Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

The man calls her by name, “Mary”. In the instant of recognition, she knows it is Him! He is alive! She yells out “My teacher!” as she runs to Him and desperately throws her arms around Him.

But Jesus has a message for her. “Stop clutching me like I am going to disappear. I am not ready to return yet. But go, and tell the good news to the others.”

 

The account of Peter (and John)

Peter was one of Jesus’ closest companions during His life, yet he was missing during Jesus’ death. Peter had followed John into the High Priest’s courtyard, yet it was there that Peter denied ever knowing Jesus. The narrative last shows Peter as a broken man, leaving the courtyard in tears as he realized his guilt (see here).

John was with Jesus at His crucifixion, and Jesus sent John away to take care of His mother (see here).

Mary Magdalene knew exactly where to find both Peter and John on Sunday morning. She brought the news that the tomb was empty. People must have taken the body and they do not know where He is. Peter and John ran immediately to the tomb.

John ran ahead of Peter and reaching the tomb first, he looked in to see the empty grave clothes. Peter followed and went into the tomb, observing that the grave clothes were folded but empty. The head cloth was neatly folded up in a place by itself.

Jesus had told them that He would rise from the dead but they had not understood. But now, looking at the empty grave clothes, they saw and believed. They knew that He had risen!

Jesus is beginning to restore Peter. He is bringing Peter from the broken, impetuous man to become the leader of His church. First, Jesus offered forgiveness. The angel specifically told the women to announce to Peter that He had risen. We also know that Jesus personally appeared to Peter (see here and here). Peter no longer needs to carry the guilt of denying His Lord.

 

The account of the disciples

Jesus had personally met with Mary, the other women, and to Peter. The disciples continued to gather together, yet they were not convinced of His resurrection.

As the disciples were gathered, Jesus himself suddenly appeared among them, saying “Peace to you!” They were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. But Jesus showed them that He was very much alive and real. He showed them His scars from the cross. They could touch Him and He breathed on them. Finally, Jesus ate before them, showing that He was really there.

 

The account of Thomas

Thomas was absent on the Sunday evening when Jesus met with the disciples. Thomas was skeptical when he heard that Jesus was alive. He insisted that he could not believe that Jesus had risen until he saw and touched Jesus himself.

Eight days later, Thomas had his chance to see Jesus in person. Thomas was with disciples as they were gathered together again. Jesus personally joined them and invited Thomas to touch the scars in his hands and side. Thomas no longer doubted, but cried out, “My Lord and My God!”

“Doubt says, ‘I cannot believe’. Unbelief says, ‘I will not believe’”. – Warren Wiersbe [5]

 

John’s Conclusion

These experiences are only a few of the many people who were impacted by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We do not have many details about the resurrection itself, but we have a lot of detail about those who were affected by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

John concludes with a summary, not only of the resurrection itself but of His entire book:

John 20:30-31

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

“What a difference it made when the full realization of His resurrection took hold of them! For Mary Magdalene it meant moving from tears to joy (John 20:1-18), for the ten disciples it meant going from fear to courage (John 20:19-23), and for Thomas it meant moving from doubt to assurance (John 20:24-31). With Mary, the emphasis is on love; with the ten, the emphasis is on hope; and with Thomas, the emphasis is on faith.” – Warren Wiersbe [5]

 

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December 13, 2015

It is Finished!

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 1:07 pm

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(Photo from preceptaustin)

 

In his book, Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan tells of a man who was attached to a heavy burden. The man could not remove this burden and it grew heavier as his life wore on. Every time he disobeyed God, whether it be a wrong deed or a bad thought, made his burden heavier.

Then the man was brought to the cross. As he came to the cross, his burden fell off and rolled away, never to be seen again.

The story in an analogy of our lives. Every bad thought, every wrong action, builds for us a burden that we cannot bear. Our sins will consume us. Yet Jesus himself took all of our burdens at the cross. He took the guilt of all of our sins during three hours of darkness.

Jesus was arrested by his own countrymen and given to the Romans to be killed. The man who had no sin was subjected to unbearable shame, torture, and disgrace. He was then sentenced to die like a criminal between two robbers.

During the first three hours of his execution, Jesus forgave the soldiers who were dividing up his belongings. He forgave the robber next to him and promised him that he will be with Him in Paradise. He cared for His earthly family and left his mother in the care of his faithful disciple.

At noon, the sky became dark for three hours. No words were recorded during this time and Jesus was left in silence. But this was the bitterness of the cross. God the Father, who could not look on sin, turned away from his own son. There on the cross, Jesus took the penalty for all of our sins. All the sins of the past, all the sins of the present, and all the sins of the future.

The burden of sin was taken away.

Then, in the darkness, a cry broke the silence. It is the voice of Jesus crying out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” This was a direct quote, in the original Hebrew, from the ancient Psalm of the Messiah (Psalm 22:1). Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The people only paid attention to the first words, “Eli, Eli”, thinking that Jesus was calling out for Elijah. They believed the legend that Elijah would come down and rescue a righteous man. Therefore they believed that Jesus must be crying out for Elijah to come and help Him.

But His voice called out again, softer this time. His parched voice called out to the soldiers, “I am thirsty!” Jesus had one more thing to say and he needed all His voice to say it.

The soldiers took a sponge and dipped it into the sour wine that they had nearby. Putting the sponge at the end of a branch, they raised it to His lips so that he could drink it.

Summoning up all of His strength for his last words, Jesus shouted out, “It is finished!” It is done. The task is completed. The debt has been paid in full!

Then, with his last breath, Jesus said, “Father, if your hands I commit my spirit”. The scripture only says that he breathed his last.

Jesus Christ, the only perfect man who ever lived, now was dead.

But with his death, the burden was removed. Everything that we did against God has been paid for. We are no longer guilty.

The temple curtain was torn in half at the death of Jesus Christ. No longer are we separated from God. No longer do we need a priest to speak to God in our behalf. The curtain that separated the people from God has now been removed with the death of his son.

There was an earthquake at the death of Jesus and people came alive out of their tombs.  The same soldiers that put Jesus on the cross and divided up His clothes were terrified by the sight. Their centurion spoke for them all, echoing the sign over Jesus’ head, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

All that Jesus said and did on earth was concluded with the final statement, “It is finished!“

“In this word, ‘It is finished!’, will I comfort myself.  I am forced to confess that all my finishing of the will of God is imperfect, piecemeal work, while yet the law urges on me that no so much as one tittle of it must remain unaccomplished.  Christ is the end of the law.  What it requires, Christ has performed.” – Martin Luther

 

Colossians 2:13-15
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Oh, to see the dawn
Of the darkest day:
Christ on the road to Calvary.
Tried by sinful men,
Torn and beaten, then
Nailed to a cross of wood.

This, the pow’r of the cross:
Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath—
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Oh, to see the pain
Written on Your face,
Bearing the awesome weight of sin.
Ev’ry bitter thought,
Ev’ry evil deed
Crowning Your bloodstained brow.  

Now the daylight flees;
Now the ground beneath
Quakes as its Maker bows His head.
Curtain torn in two,
Dead are raised to life;
“Finished!” the vict’ry cry.

Oh, to see my name
Written in the wounds,
For through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death;
Life is mine to live,
Won through Your selfless love.

This, the pow’r of the cross:
Son of God—slain for us.
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross.

– Keith Getty and Stuart Townend

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November 29, 2015

The First Three Hours

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 8:58 pm

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In the first century A.D., The Roman empire stretched across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. This was a time of peace, called the Pax Romana, where the Roman government was able to manage all of the various languages and cultures under its single rule.

However, the thought of revolution terrified the Roman government. Rome needed to control a massive empire with a much smaller force. Any revolts in the Roman provinces could cause a disaster. The Roman governors in various provinces must keep the peace at all costs!

Rome’s most effective way to keep peace in the provinces was through fear and intimidation. Any man who was caught trying to revolt against Rome would be made an example. He would be subjected to one of the most cruel, lingering, and public executions ever devised by mankind: the crucifixion [5].

Crucifixion was invented by the Assyrians and the Persians as a way to execute a condemned criminal away from their “mother earth” [6]. However, the Romans had taken and perfected the crucifixion into a hideous instrument of torture and death.

According to Josephus, more than a thousand people were crucified by Rome on 33 A.D. [9]. By that year, the Romans had also crucified more than 3,000 men in Palestine alone [10].

The crucifixion was intended to be cruel [5]. The shame and the horror that were dealt on the victim were more than we can even imagine. The victim was first scourged, being beaten so severely that his back was cut open, exposing raw flesh (see here). The victim himself would carry the wooden crossbeam through the city to the place of execution. At the place of execution, the soldiers would remove the victim’s clothes, then drive large nails through the victim’s wrists, nailing him to the crossbeam [7]. Soldiers would then lift the crossbeam onto a permanent post (about 6 feet tall). Finally, another large spike would be driven through the victim’s feet and into the post.

The crucifixion was so painful that the word “excruciating” came from this experience. The crucifixion was so shameful that proper folk would not use this word in public [6].

“There is one difference between a guillotine and a cross: the guillotine was designed to be merciful; the cross was designed to be hideously cruel.” – Doug Bookman [5]

The crucifixion was intended to be lingering. A person cannot properly breathe when suspended by his arms, but the Romans placed a wooden seat, or “sedulum” on the cross. This allowed the victim to push himself up to breathe, but it also prolonged the agony for up to a week [6]. The victims would finally die from shock, blood loss, exposure, predators, or suffocation. The soldiers could hasten the victim’s death by breaking his legs, thereby forcing the victim to quickly suffocate to death.

The crucifixion was also public. The Romans would place the crucified victims on a low hill outside the city gates, where people would commonly pass. Everyone who passed by and looked at the dying victims on the crosses would be afraid to go against the power of Rome.

Finally, the crucifixion was a guaranteed death. The attending Roman soldiers needed to personally guarantee that the victim was dead before he was removed from the cross. If there was any life left in the victim after he was removed from the cross, every one of the attending soldiers would be put on crosses.

When Jesus humbled Himself and came to earth, he chose this death, the death by crucifixion, in order to pay for the sin of all mankind!

Philippians 2:5-8
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

“Christ was on the point of making atonement for sin, therefore sin must be revealed in all its enormity.” – A. W. Pink [8]

It was customary for four Roman soldiers to be assigned to a prisoner that was sentenced to crucifixion. We have no reason to believe that it was any different for Jesus’ crucifixion. The four soldiers would tie the prisoner’s arms to the crossbeam and lead him through the city streets to the place of execution. They would carry a sign containing the list of the prisoner’s crimes for all to see.

The sign for Jesus had only one statement, written in three languages, “The King of the Jews”. This so infuriated the Jewish leaders that the immediately petitioned Pontius Pilate to have this sign changed. Pilate refused.

Pilate surely intended for his sign to show that “This is the best of the Jews, and he is no match for Rome!”, or “This is the best of the Jews, and they want to kill him!”. Little did Pilate know that this sign would be the first written notice of who Jesus truly was.

At some point along the way, Jesus was unable to carry the crossbeam at the pace for the Romans. The soldiers pressed a passing traveler, Simon of Cyrene, into carrying the crossbeam for Jesus.

They led Jesus from Herod’s palace to the north of the city, the “place of the skull”, or Golgotha. Once they reached Golgotha, they stripped Him of His clothes and nailed His wrists to the crossbeam. They then placed the crossbeam on the post and completed the crucifixion by nailing his feet to the cross.

It was 9:00 a.m.

The four soldiers divided up Jesus’ personal belongings among themselves. One took His turban, another His outer cloak, another His belt, and the last one took His shoes. Jesus had a seamless inner tunic which could not be divided so they gambled for it. Little did these pagan Roman soldiers know that they helped to fulfil a thousand-year-old prophecy about the Messiah:

Psalm 22:18:
They divide my garments among them,
   and for my clothing they cast lots.

Jesus was silent during this time but now He spoke. Looking at the Roman soldiers dividing up His clothing, he said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”. He did not just say it once, but repeatedly. For every roll of the “dice”, as they fought over His clothes, Jesus repeated, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”.

Jesus was now the public spectacle. He was soon taunted by all of the people who passed by. The travelers taunted Him, believing that He was going to destroy the temple. The Jewish leaders made a special trip from the temple to counter Pilate’s sign, and now followed the travelers in their own taunts of Jesus on the cross. The Roman soldiers, on duty for the crucifixion, also joined in the same taunts at Him.

But Jesus was not alone. He was crucified between two robbers, who also joined in the chorus of taunts against Him. Even the men condemned to die threw the same abuse at Him!

One of the robbers stopped his taunting and looked at the sign above Jesus. He knew that Jesus was innocent and he read the sign saying that He is the king of the Jews. He looked at the sign and believed.

He then stopped the other robber from his taunting, “Do you not fear God? We deserve our punishment but this man has done nothing wrong!” Then, turning to Jesus, he said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus replied to the robber with His second statement from the cross, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” The robber who repented would be with Jesus that day!

There was one final scene during the first three hours on the cross. A small group of faithful women were standing near the cross, including Mary, Jesus’ mother. Jesus’ third statement from the cross was to give his mother to the care of the disciple John.

It was three hours since Jesus was nailed to the cross at Golgotha. In the eyes of the world around Him, He was simply a Roman prisoner who was executed that day. He showed no power, nor did He defend Himself against the crowds of people who abused Him.

But in the midst of the agony and the shame, He made three very personal statements:

  • Forgiveness for the ignorant men who caused His pain
  • A way to heaven for the wicked man who believed in Him
  • Care for the faithful ones who stood with Him

May we learn to love and appreciate the sacrifice that our Lord Jesus Christ made on our behalf. He gave Himself so that we may live.

May we thank Him as we identify with the different groups of people around the cross, that we would ask for forgiveness and be faithful to Him.

May we let Him be our example as we endure suffering in our world. He committed Himself to the all-knowing God (1 Peter 2:23-25).

On a gray April morning as a chilling wind blew
A thousand dark promises were about to come true
As Satan stood trembling, knowing now he had lost
As the Lamb took his first step on the way to the cross

They mocked his true calling and laughed at His fate
So glad to see the Gentle One consumed by their hate
Unaware of the wind and the darkening sky
So blind to the fact that it was God limping by

The poor women weeping at what seemed a great loss
Trembling in fear there at the foot of the cross
Tormented by memories that came like a flood
Unaware that their pardon
Must be bought with His blood

This must be the Lamb
The fulfillment of all God had spoken
This must be the Lamb
Not a single bone will be broken
Like a sheep to the slaughter
So silently still
This must be the Lamb

– Michael Card

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November 7, 2015

Before the High Priest

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 9:56 pm

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It was Thursday night before the Passover. At some time after midnight, Judas had led the temple guards and the Roman soldiers up the slopes of the Mount of Olives to where they found Jesus. There it was that the entire crowd fell down when this Rabbi called upon the name of God. There it was that one of His disciples charged into the crowd with a sword, severing a servant’s ear. There it was that Jesus healed the man’s ear and made His disciples leave (see here).

The soldiers bound Jesus and took Him back to the high priest’s palace in the city of Jerusalem. There, at the palace, were two of the most powerful men in Judea. Annas was the former high priest who had been deposed by the Romans. But Annas still directed the religious leadership in Jerusalem and he had placed in his own son-in-law, Caiaphas, in the position of high priest (see here).

Annas and Caiaphas had been trying for several months to capture Jesus and now they had him! They had successfully hired one of Jesus’ own disciples to turn Him in. They desperately wanted to kill him, and now all they needed to do was convene a trial so that He could be executed.

As Jesus was being brought into the palace, they hurriedly gathered the ruling council (the Sanhedrin) so that they could get a guilty verdict. It was imperative that they finish this trial and execution before morning. The crowds had shouted His praises when He entered Jerusalem (see here) and they may not like to see their prophet on trial. No one wanted a riot.

Everything about this trial was illegal. It was done hastily, without proper witnesses, without a defense, at night, and the only evidence they could find was a forced confession (see here).

Jesus’ eleven disciples had all scattered at his arrest. Two of these disciples, Peter and John, had apparently gathered enough courage to follow Jesus to the high priest’s palace. John knew the high priest, so he was able to gain entrance to the courtyard for both himself and Peter. There, from this courtyard, Peter could watch the events of Jesus’s trial unfold.

Jesus was first brought to Annas while Caiaphas gathered the Sanhedrin. Annas began to question Jesus, looking for an admission of guilt. Jesus simply answered that he had done nothing in secret. He was telling Annas that if he had charges against him, he needed to bring forth witnesses. The priest’s attendant struck Jesus (literally, punched him in the face) for his response, but even that did not cause Jesus to react in anger. Annas could find nothing incriminating against Jesus, so he sent Him to Caiaphas.

Meanwhile, Peter was in the courtyard, looking for a place to warm himself in the cold night air. The guards and servants huddled around a small fire. Peter may have been reflecting on the night’s events. He had single-handedly attacked a Roman cohort of 600 men, failing miserably! Now his master was being arrested and tried by wicked men, and all he could do was watch!

Just then, the voice of a servant girl broke through to Peter’s thoughts. “You’re not one of them, are you?”, she asked. This was not the place to make a scene; it would accomplish nothing. Why couldn’t she just leave him alone?

We can only guess at what Peter was thinking, but we know his reaction. He quickly snapped to the servant girl, “I am not!”

Meanwhile, the trial of Jesus moved to the next stage. Annas could not find any charges against Him, and he was brought before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin had hastily gathered in the night so that they could form an indictment against this man. They needed two reliable witnesses to charge Him with a crime, but they could not even hire witnesses who would agree! The closest that they could come was when two witnesses claimed that Jesus had said that He would destroy their great temple. But even these witnesses were inconsistent and unreliable.

Jesus kept silent throughout this entire trial. There was no value to speaking in this mock trial, but Jesus also knew the prophecy:

Isaiah 53:7
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
   yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
   and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
   so he opened not his mouth.

Finally, Caiaphas spoke out in frustration. The morning was coming soon and they still did not have any charges against this man. Caiaphas demanded with an oath that Jesus answer them. “Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?”

Jesus replied, “I am, and I will come back and judge you with the authority of God himself!” Jesus had answered them very directly. He was the Messiah, the king of the Jews. But he also was God. He made it absolutely clear that the only charge against Him was blasphemy. They wanted to kill Him because He said that He was God!

The high priest tore his robes in the feigned horror. “What further witnesses do we need! You have heard it yourselves!” The council replied, “He deserves death!”

Then the members of the high council themselves descended on Jesus, beating Him, spitting on Him, and ridiculing Him. The ones who accused Him of blasphemy now blasphemed His holy name!

The Sanhedrin could not execute a man. They needed to bring Him to the Romans with their charges. But they had conducted this trial in the middle of the night, and they knew that the Romans would never agree to such a mockery of justice. They needed to wait until the morning light in order to give some legitimacy to their affairs before they could bring Him to the Romans.

Therefore, they put Jesus in holding (probably a dungeon or a cellar) until the first light of morning.

Meanwhile, Peter escaped the crowd from the courtyard and had moved to the entranceway of the high priest’s palace. He took little notice of the rooster crowing as he approached the entrance. Peter’s solitude was not to last long. Another servant girl identified him, “You’re not one of his disciples, are you?” Peter answered the crowd with an oath, “ I swear I do not know the man!”

Peter made his way back to the courtyard. An hour passed before Peter was identified for a third time. This time, it was one of the relatives of the servant of the high priest, the very man whom Peter had removed from his ear earlier that night.

The accusations were much stronger and much more specific this time. The servant’s relative remembered him on the Mount of Olives. They all noticed his speech, that he spoke with a Galilean accent. Surely he must be one of Jesus’ disciples!

Peter responded in terror. The account says that he pronounced a curse on himself lest he lie, and swore (affirm with an oath) that he did not know the man!

At the same time that this is happening, dawn is just beginning to break. The Sanhedrin have sent to bring Jesus back from the dungeon so they can finish the trial. As they led Jesus through the courtyard, Peter was in the middle of his oaths, shouting that he did not know the man! Just then the rooster crows, announcing the dawn.

Jesus simply looked at Peter. Peter was crushed! Possibly for the first time that night, Peter realized how far he has fallen. The account simply says that Peter went out and wept bitterly.

Now that dawn is coming, the Sanhedrin brought Jesus back to ask Him again if He was the Messiah. He did not answer them until they asked if He is the Messiah and the Son of God. It is not enough for them to accuse Jesus of simply being the Messiah. He is not going to trial as a usurper, but it must be clear that they are charging Him as a blasphemer. He said that He was God, and that is why they want to kill Him! [1]

 

Remember!

  • The lesson from Peter – we often prepare for the big battles yet fall for the small things. We are ready to fight Roman soldiers but fall when questioned by a servant girl!
  • Peter recognized his failure and repented. What makes a disciple is how we we repent when we fail!
  • Jesus left us an example of how to respond when we suffer unjustly. Peter himself said later in his life:

For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
1 Peter 2:19-24

 

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October 15, 2015

The Kiss

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 10:57 pm

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It is the night before Passover.

Jesus had spent the last few hours in agonizing prayer (see here). He was consumed with horror and despair as he considered what he was about to face.

Slowly and painfully, He came to terms with the Father’s will. “Not my will, but yours be done”.

Meanwhile, the disciples slept.

As Jesus woke the sleepy disciples, the lanterns and torches were visible through the trees. Nearly a thousand men were converging on their small garden!

The Chief Priests and their servants were there. They had wanted to kill Jesus Christ ever since he had raised Lazarus from the dead (see here).

The Temple Guard was there. This group of men was responsible for maintaining order in the temple. They were especially busy during Passover time. These guards were not allowed to use lethal force, but were nevertheless armed with clubs.

There were six hundred highly trained Roman soldiers. These men were fully armed and stood ready to put down any kind of revolt.

Finally, they were led by one man. Jesus’ close friend, who had followed him for over three years, now led the enemy to this very spot!

Judas!

Judas walks up to Jesus, throws his arms around Him, and kisses Him. Repeatedly.

But this is no kiss of love or affection. Judas holds on to Jesus until the soldiers come to arrest him. Jesus responds to Judas, “Would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss? Do what you came to do.”

The time in the garden was terror for Jesus, but now he is calm. He confronts the crowd, asking, “Whom do you seek?” They answer Him, “Jesus of Nazareth”, to which he replies, “I AM”.

He calls upon the name of God and the entire crowd falls to the ground!

But Jesus does not fight nor does he run away. They pick themselves up and Jesus repeats the question. They reply again that they are looking for Him, and he commands them to let his disciples go.

Peter is far from calm. In a rush of bravado, he charges into the crowd swinging a sword. He tries to act like a Roman soldier, crashing his sword down on the head of the High Priest, but misses terribly. Instead, he cuts off the ear of the priest’s servant.

Instead of being the hero, Peter gets yelled at by Jesus, “Stop it!”. Peter would be the guilty one if he killed someone that night.

Peter’s action was also futile. Jesus could call on an army of angels if he wanted, but this arrest is necessary. The Old Testament scriptures predicted this event must happen.

“Why did Peter fail so miserably? For one thing, he had argued with the Lord when Jesus warned him that he would deny his Master that very night. Peter had slept when he should have been praying, and he talked when he should have been listening.” – Warren Wiersbe [3]

Even during His arrest, Jesus shows compassion to his enemies. He touches the injured servant and heals his ear.

Jesus had commanded the officers to let his disciples go, and now they all run away. Jesus is left alone, but the Father is with Him (John 16:32).

The soldiers seize Him and take Him away.

 

Remember!

Prayer is critical! Jesus struggled through prayer, yet was able to meet his attackers with calmness and compassion. Peter slept through prayer, responded with foolish bravado, and then ran away in terror.

God is not hidden, even through the worst of times! The disciples were overwhelmed, but God was still in total control. Trust in God’s sovereignty.

Don’t fight for God! Don’t be like Peter, and run off on foolish bravado when we should be still.

Friends may fail, but God is always with you! Judas betrayed the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter failed Him. All of the other disciples deserted Him. But the Father was with Him!

 

Previous post: The Garden

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October 10, 2015

The Garden

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 10:12 pm

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The garden.

Gethsemane.

There were moments in the life of Jesus Christ when he suffered greatly, but this was total agony!

Here, in the garden, is the greatest struggle that Jesus will face. He will endure hardship, torture, and death at the hands of men on the way to the cross. But there was no struggle as he went to his death. The great struggle for Jesus Christ was here in the garden, in Gethsemane.

At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus said, “my food is to do my Father’s will” (see here). But now the horror of the cross draws near and it terrifies Him! It is not the physical pain that Jesus Christ fears, but the separation from His Father. He, the one who knew no sin, will take upon himself the guilt of all the sins of the world!

Jesus contemplated his upcoming death on Tuesday. The thought about what he was going to suffer horrified him, but Jesus refused on Tuesday to ask the Father to save him (see here).

But now it is Thursday night. The horror is so intense that Jesus struggles in anguish. He drops to his knees. He falls to the ground. He picks himself up, only to fall again. His blood vessels burst, and the blood mixes with sweat. God the Father sends an angel to comfort Him and keep Him alive.

Jesus refused to pray for deliverance on Tuesday, but now He asks for it three times! “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me!” He cries out to the father was a plea of a child, “Abba, father!” That is to say, “Daddy help me!”

You may have seen the popular pictures of Jesus in the garden. In the pictures, Jesus is gently kneeling next to a large boulder with a serene look on his face. A ray of light illuminates Jesus and the ground around Him. Jesus looks sorrowfully and wistfully at the sleeping disciples in the background. In some pictures, he even has a halo on his head.

The true picture of Jesus Christ in the garden is anything but placid and serene. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is subjected to more suffering and conflict in that garden than we will ever understand. His struggle is filled with stumbling and falling, with loud wailing and tears, and sweat that was mixed with blood!

Hebrews 5:7
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.

Gone is the eloquent prayer that he prayed as he left Jerusalem (see here). Matthew and Mark show that Jesus was filled with dread as he approached the garden. He left eight of his disciples and continued deeper into the garden with Peter, James, and John. He leaves those three and continues on alone.

He commanded his disciples to “watch and pray”. If there was a time when He needed companions, it was now. But as He goes on alone, the weariness and the sorrow of the day have taken their toll on the disciples. They fall asleep. Jesus is alone.

After struggling in prayer for an hour, Jesus returns to his sleeping disciples. He wakes them up and rebukes Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me for one hour?” He then warns the disciples to be alert and pray so that they do not enter into temptation. He knows that they want to follow him, but they do not know their own weakness. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak”.

Jesus returns to His struggle in prayer, only to come back to find the disciples sleeping again. Leaving again, He returns for a third time into the garden to pray. His prayer is now complete and the struggle has ended. He returns to the sleeping disciples.

The time for sleep has come to an end. The time for prayer has ended. The enemy is at hand.

“But in that night the fierce wind of hell was allowed to sweep unbroken over the Saviour, and even to expend its fury upon those that stood behind in His Shelter.” – Alfred Edersheim [5]

“He disarmed Death by burying his shaft in His own Heart.” – Alfred Edersheim [5]

“The whole of the tremendous debt was put upon his shoulders;
the whole weight of the sins of all his people was placed upon him.
Once he seemed to stagger under it: ‘Father, if it be possible.’
But again he stood upright: ‘Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.’
The whole of the punishment of his people was distilled into one cup;
no mortal lip might give it so much as a solitary sip.
When he put it to his own lips, it was so bitter,
he well nigh spurned it—’Let this cup pass from me.’
But his love for his people was so strong, that he took the cup in both his hands, and
At one tremendous draught of love He drank damnation dry, for all his people.
He drank it all, he endured all, he suffered all;
so that now for ever there are no flames of hell for them, no racks of torment;
they have no eternal woes;
Christ hath suffered all they ought to have suffered, and they must, they shall go free.”
– C. H. Spurgeon [9]

 

Previous post: The Lord’s Prayer

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October 1, 2015

The Lord’s Prayer

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 11:18 pm

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We know that Jesus spent a lot of time in prayer to the Father.

He spent all night in prayer before choosing the 12 apostles (see here).

As his popularity grew, he would withdraw to desolate places to pray (see here).

He spent at least nine hours in prayer before coming down to rescue the struggling disciples on the Sea of Galilee (see here and here).

We know that Jesus spent a lot of time in prayer, but we have only brief excerpts of his words. John 17 has the longest recorded prayer from Jesus Christ, and it shows His heart as he comes to the Father on behalf of his disciples.

What does Jesus Christ pray for?

 

He prays for his glory

First, he prays for his glory. As the cross is rapidly approaching, Jesus is comforted by the fact that the cross will bring glory to Him and to God the Father (see here). He also looks past the cross to when He will return to the Father. Jesus Christ has been the focus of total glory and honor since before the world began. He now looks ahead to his return to glory with the Father.

It is all about God’s glory. Jesus is about to endure the agony and the separation of the cross, yet he looks forward to the glory that will come through it. With this in view, Jesus says, “It is time. Let it come.”

1 Peter 3:18,22
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, … who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

Colossians 3:1
​If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

 

He shows a new relationship with God

Jesus showed the world a different relationship with God. Faithful Jews throughout the Old Testament knew of God as someone to be revered and worshipped, but Jesus introduced something new. Never before in history had anyone addressed God as “Father”.

We need to revere and worship God, yet we can also know Him closely. We can have a close relationship with Him so that we ourselves can call him Father.

There is a special significance to the name of God. In the Jewish culture, the name of a person meant much more than simply a way to identify him. A person’s name expressed the nature and character of that person. A man’s name was his essence. [5]

Romans 8:14-15
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

 

He prays for His own – “Father, keep them”

Jesus prays for His own. These are the eleven disciples who are standing with him. Jesus recalls the following about them:

  • The Father gave them to him out of the world
  • They believed the words of God
  • They obeyed God
  • They know that Jesus Christ was sent by God the Father
  • They know that Jesus Christ was empowered by God the Father
  • Jesus taught them the Father’s character (his name)

God the Father had given these eleven disciples to Jesus Christ. But His own are much more than these eleven. This prayer and these promises are for all who have believed in Him. We became part of His own when we believed in Jesus Christ.

Jesus asks the Father to preserve us. He does not ask on behalf of the world that is rebelling against God, but he asks to preserve the believers who live in this world.

Remember again who is preserving us. We are being preserved based on the character and nature of the Holy God. Jesus kept every one of his disciples when he was on earth, and now he has committed us to the Father.

None of Jesus’ disciples were lost except for Judas, who never had believed in Him (see also here).

He left us this promise that the Father will keep us. We will not be lost. Through this promise we can have complete joy, even in severe trouble (see also here).

“But He says…I’m leaving. I’m leaving and the glory display of My presence and their surrounding that presence will change and they will remain. O Father, keep them.” – John MacArthur [5]

John 10:27-29
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

Romans 8:38-39
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

He prays for His own – “Father, set them apart”

Believers in Jesus Christ are left in a world that is hostile to God and hates any who represent Him. Jesus does not pray for us to be taken out of this world, but that God would protect us through this world. His prayer is to protect us from the devil.

Jesus prays that God would sanctify us in this world. Literally, the word “sanctify” means to “set apart”. The truth of God’s word sets us apart from this world. We are in this world, but we are set apart to be used for God’s special purpose.

Ephesians 1:3-4
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

2 Thessalonians 2:13-14
But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

He prays for His own – “that they be one”

Jesus prays for all believers, that we be one. We have different cultures and different gifts, but we have a common Father. We are kept and set apart by the same God. We have the same hope, that we will be reunited with Jesus Christ.

Jesus prays three times that “they be one even as we are one”. Our unity is patterned after the unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We are united because we have the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.

We are given close fellowship with the Holy God. As we have this close fellowship with God, we will be united with the other believers in Jesus Christ who share this same fellowship with God.

One of the results of our unity is that we show Jesus to the world. We show the world that Jesus is from God and that we have the love of God.

In the second century, Tertullian wrote that even the heathen exclaimed with admiration, “Behold how these Christians love one another.” [9]

1 Corinthians 12:12-13
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

Ephesians 4:4-6
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

 

He prays for His own – “that they be with me”

Jesus prays that we would be with Him. When we are with Jesus, we will see his glory. As Jesus promised earlier (see here), He will come back for us. We will be with him for eternity.

2 Corinthians 5:6-8
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

 

Remember!

Jesus brought these requests to the Father before he finished his time on earth. These are not goals for us to achieve, but requests to God on our behalf. We know that all prayers by Jesus Christ are answered (John 11:42), so we can be sure that these have been done!

We know that the Lord Jesus Christ has returned to Heaven and is seated on the right hand of God the Father.

We know that we have a new relationship with God – he is now our father!

We know that the Father will keep us — nothing will separate us from him!

We know that the Father has set us apart — we are separate from this world and holy to Him!

We know that we are one in Jesus Christ — we all are one body!

We know that when we leave this mortal body, we will be with Jesus Christ!

Jesus did not pray for our action. All action in this prayer is by God the Father.

This prayer is not for what we will do. This prayer is for who we are!

 

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