Sapphire Sky

October 26, 2018

What did Jesus say about Revenge?

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 1:46 am

abandoned ancient antique architecture

Thoughts from the Sermon on the Mount …

 

I like to watch hockey. Where else can you see people crash into each other at high speeds, regularly, repeatedly, for over an hour every night? And all for the goal to get this tiny, heavy puck into the other team’s net.

One of the tactics of the game is to antagonize the other players. Players use verbal insults, badgering, legal and illegal hits to get their opponents to focus on them instead of the game. When you get your rival angry enough to think about fighting you instead of playing their game, you have a much better chance of winning.

But the same thing happens at every game. The final period ends. The clock runs out and everyone goes home. It is just a game.

In real life, though, it is too easy to get caught up in revenge. When we are insulted, hurt, or otherwise offended, our first thought is to fight back. We need to “get even” for what they did to us.

And the conflict always escalates. You hit them once, they hit you back twice. They hit your arm, you hit their face. We see this on the road every day. One driver is too slow so another driver cuts them off. A small driving mishap can quickly turn into a deadly “road rage” incident.

We assure ourselves that we would never go as far as what we hear about in the news. We could never do the horrible deeds committed by these road warriors! But at our core, we are all like that. We all want revenge when someone hurts us. We all want to see our enemies suffer.

In His famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has been teaching about the law. He did not come to do away with the law. Instead, He has been using illustrations to show that we should hold to a much higher standard than what has been written down (see here).

Now, His final two examples are about revenge and how to treat our enemies.

These are some of Jesus’ most famous words. Even those who don’t know the Bible, who may have no interest in Jesus Christ, tend to know that He said to “love your enemies.” Even if they don’t know what it means, most people have heard the quote to “turn the other cheek.”

These are some of the easiest words to remember, but some of the hardest commands to obey. But what was Jesus saying?

Was He teaching that, like Ghandi, we should use passive resistance?

Was he teaching that we should all be easy targets for any predators that may come

Should we be pacifists? Abandon the police force?

Should we (as many people do) simply ignore what He says?

Jesus teaches that, when confronted by persecution, we need to surrender our rights and to love our enemies.

How can we do that?

(more…)

October 5, 2018

What did Jesus say about Honesty?

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 12:50 am

achievement adult agreement arms

Thoughts from the Sermon on the Mount …

 

When is it ok to lie?

Should you always be honest about everything?

We all know about little “white lies”, when a small lie seems harmless and the actual truth may not be well received.

Jesus takes time in the middle of His great sermon to talk about honesty.

Jesus has been teaching about the law in the Sermon on the Mount. He showed that God’s law is not simply a list of do’s and don’ts, it is a relationship with Him (see here). He then uses a series of examples to show that there is a much higher standard than the written law if we are to be His followers, and part of His kingdom.

He starts with the example of murder. You cannot say you are a good person, simply because you never murdered anyone. Even hatred, anger, and broken relationships leave you guilty before God (see here).

The next example is adultery. It is not just the physical act of adultery, but any lustful thought leaves you guilty before God (see here).

Jesus follows the example of adultery with the example of divorce. Marriage is holy and honorable before God. It is not to broken by unfaithfulness, nor by divorce. Simple legal proceedings do not entitle you to separate from your spouse, and any such actions leave you guilty of both your own and your spouse’s unfaithfulness (see here).

Jesus then uses the next example to warn His listeners about taking an oath. At a first glance, this is not the example that we would expect to follow. Jesus has been talking about serious issues: murder, adultery, divorce, … now oaths? How can this be as serious as the others?

But taken from another perspective, Jesus is not teaching about rituals but about our character. He is not giving new rules to govern murder but He is teaching that we must show forgiveness. He is not giving new rules to govern adultery but He is teaching that we must show purity. He is not giving new rules to govern marriage but He is teaching that we must show faithfulness.

And finally, He is not giving new rules to govern how to give oaths but He is teaching that we must show honesty.

Matthew 5:33-37
“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

(more…)

September 22, 2018

What did Jesus say about Marriage and Divorce?

Filed under: encouragement, marriage and family, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 6:04 pm

close up of tree against sky

Thoughts from the Sermon on the Mount …

 

There is a lot of talk about marriage in the church. It is a constant subject in pulpits, books, blogs, and social media. Everyone has an opinion about marriage — from philosophers, to musicians, to politicians, to movie stars.

Through all of this talk, we are bombarded with several false myths:

  • “Marriage exists to make you happy”
  • “Everyone has the right to marry whomever they want“
  • “Love is all you need”
  • “You should leave when your partner no longer makes you happy”
  • “Half of all marriages end in divorce” (this myth is refuted here)

Unfortunately, the church is often guilty of making things worse. We thunder at the evils of this world, whether it be a new celebrity scandal or the latest political attack from homosexual activists. We are quick to attack the broken world, yet we ignore the broken people that we pass by every day.

In the church, we are glad to lift up a happy, wholesome marriage, but we are too quick to shove them aside when problems arise. When a marriage starts to disintegrate into separation and divorce, we tend to fall to one of the two extremes: we either gloss over the issue, ignoring real problems, or we pronounce judgement on the victims, isolating them when they need us the most.

What does Jesus say about marriage? What does He say about divorce? How can we apply His commands in our broken world today?

(more…)

September 12, 2018

What did Jesus say about purity?

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 10:04 pm

amphibian animal close up color

Thoughts from the Sermon on the Mount …

 

Proverbs 4:23
Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.

Are you a good person?

In Jesus’ day, people thought they were good because they kept the Ten Commandments. They did not worship any idols. They showed respect to God’s name. They honored the Sabbath day. They honored their parents. They did not commit murder. They did not commit adultery. They thought they were pretty good!

But Jesus showed them that they did not understand the law. They could never keep the law because they did not understand that it is all about a relationship with God (see here)!

In His first example, Jesus showed them that the law was more than just about murder. Even hatred and bitter anger will also leave you separated from God (see here).

In the next example, Jesus taught about adultery. It is not only the physical act of adultery, but also your lustful thoughts that leave you guilty before God:

Matthew 5:27-28
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

To put it into today’s terms, you are guilty before God if you have an affair with another husband or wife. But you are just as guilty when you have the longing gaze, or when you indulge your thoughts about desiring someone else. You are just as guilty as the “home wrecker” who is involved in the affair.

This warning does not matter if you are married or single. Although Jesus’ audience at that time were men, the warning is for both men and women.

This warning includes the movies and television you watch, the books you read, the music you listen to, your trips to the beach, and, of course, your time on the internet.

Do you stop your mind from wandering when it heads toward a forbidden place? What is the remedy?

(more…)

September 5, 2018

What did Jesus say about anger?

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 10:28 pm

human fist

Thoughts from the Sermon on the Mount …

 

Anger!

How many times do we deal with anger each day? We yell at other drivers on the road when they cut us off or slow us down. We may put on a casual face when insulted at work or school, but we are boiling inside.

We never know what kind of example we set. I was driving home from school one day when we were cut off by another driver. Before anyone could respond, my elementary-age daughter yelled out, “Jerk!”

But often the results of anger can be much more serious. Our words and our actions can leave a trail of devastation and broken relationships if we do not control our temper.

Anger can blindside us. I was once at a gathering when a friend had had too much to drink, and then proceeded to tell everyone that I was a liar and was always trying to insult them. How can you not get angry when you are accused without a cause?

Sometimes we can cause conflicts, even when we try to do our best. Several years ago, I started such a conflict when I confronted a close friend about a problem. He responded by not speaking to me for several months. His wife even called my family, saying that I was such a terrible person. How can you keep from getting angry when your best intentions get thrown back at you? Especially when people attack those who are close to you?

These are only minor examples of the conflicts that we often encounter through life. What do you say to those who have suffered deep hurt — even tragedy or abuse — at the hands of others?

What does Jesus say about our response? Don’t we have a right to be angry? Or are we supposed to paste on a happy face?

Jesus does talk about anger, but with an answer that is as startling today as when He first taught it!

(more…)

August 25, 2018

What did Jesus say about the Law?

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 10:11 pm
blur close up focus gavel

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Thoughts from the Sermon on the Mount …

 

Do we need to follow rules in order for God to accept us?

If not, do the rules matter at all?

Didn’t Jesus fight back against the rules and traditions of His day?

If the rules are important, which ones are most important? What happens to those who disobey?

It is popular today for people to think of Jesus as a rebel, going against the religious establishment. He is often pictured as fighting against the religious leaders and standing His ground against the ruling Romans.

Even in Jesus’ day, people expected that He was against the Law. He did not show respect for the religious leaders, nor their large set of traditions. Surely he must be trying to turn people from the Law, wasn’t he?

It is important to remember that Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount to His disciples (see here). Jesus started by showing that being a true disciple is the way to true blessings and happiness (see here). He then began to teach about the Law, and what it means to keep the rules in God’s sight.

Matthew 5:17-20
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

(more…)

August 13, 2018

The Key To Happiness

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 10:11 pm
20170524_104122

A sign from the Church of the Beatitudes, near the Sea of Galilee

Thoughts from the Sermon on the Mount …

 

The famous opening to the Declaration of Independence, written in 1776, starts with this sentence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The pursuit of Happiness.

What makes you happy?

What does it mean to be happy?

How do you define happiness?

If we honestly answer this question for ourselves, we often expect to find happiness at the end of our pursuits. The businessman expects to find it at the next promotion or closed deal. The athlete looks for it after the next win. The concerned parents look for happiness in their “successful” children. The romantics look for happiness in the man or woman of their dreams.

We find temporary happiness at the top of the mountain that we are climbing. But like the old song about the bear that went over the mountain, all we really see is another mountain. The happiness of success, of reaching your goals is temporary.

Common descriptions of a happy person today would include adjectives such as: smart, successful, wealthy, winning, powerful, proud, self-reliant, trouble-free, and able to get everything he wants.

The descriptions of a happy person in the first century would be very similar. The Greeks valued the wise and the educated. The Romans valued the powerful and the ruthless. The Jews valued the devout and the pious.

But Jesus gave a completely different view of the happy person. The happy person was not the powerful, the successful, the educated, nor the pious one. The happy person was low enough to enter God’s kingdom.

Jesus used a word for “happy” which has a much deeper meaning than the fleeting good feelings that we may have. The true happiness gives you joy and hope, even through terrible circumstances. This word is often translated as “joyful” or “blessed”.

“‘Blessed’ implied an inner satisfaction and sufficiency that did not depend on outward circumstances for happiness.” – Warren Wiersbe 5

 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The happy person is not the wealthy or the wise one, but the one who recognizes that they have nothing that they can give to God! When you come to God, you don’t start on your knees, you start by crawling on the ground! It is only when you realize that you are totally destitute that you can come to Him. Happy are those who recognize their absolute, total need for Him, for these are the ones who are in His kingdom!

 

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

The happy person is not the one who is laughing, but the one who is mourning. We have nothing to offer God, and our very nature is to rebel against Him and disobey Him. The truly happy person is the one who is brought to grief over his failure to please God, for he will be comforted. It is when you mourn over your disobedience that you can come to God for forgiveness, and He will comfort you.

 

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

The happy person is not the assertive and the proud, but the one who is humble and restrains himself. It is the one who responds with humility — even when pushed around — that is part of God’s kingdom. The meek and the humble are looked down upon in our culture, but these are the ones who will rule over the earth.

 

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

The happy person is not the one who is content, but the one who is starving for justice and an upright life. The members of God’s kingdom earnestly desire to see right done in the world. Those who need to see righteousness like this will be brought to God Himself — the true source of everything right and good in the world!

 

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

The happy person is not the one who is served, but the one who helps others who are in need. The members of God’s kingdom will show kindness to those in need, even when they are getting what they deserve. For it is those who are showing mercy who realize how much mercy God has given to us! We were the destitute, the mourning, and the humbled!

 

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

The happy person is not the one who follows after life’s pleasures, but the one who pursues God’s glory. This is the one who keeps his heart pure and set apart for God. God shows mercy to those who have come to Him in humility and grief, and he cleanses their hearts and makes them pure. These are the ones who can truly know God!

 

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

The happy person is not the winner, but the one who negotiates peace. This is the one who works through interpersonal conflicts in order to bring unity among others. But this is also the one who goes to the lost ones who have rebelled against God, and shows them that they need to repent and turn to Him. The peacemakers are the ones who work for peace between others, and peace with God. When we negotiate peace, we are representing God Himself as His sons. Not simply children of God, but sons of God, bearing His image and authority.

 

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Finally, the happy person is not the one who is free from trouble, but the one who is harassed for the sake of Jesus Christ. We identify that we are part of the kingdom of heaven when we are persecuted and harassed for His sake. We are also in great company, including all of the great prophets of old, and we will have a great reward in heaven!

This is the key to ultimate happiness. We will go through poverty, mourning, humility, and persecution, but we have the ultimate joy of knowing that we will be with Jesus Christ in His kingdom!

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. – Philippians 2:14-15

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.1 Peter 2:9

 

Previous Post: The Message of the Kingdom

(more…)

August 6, 2018

The Message of the Kingdom

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 6:19 pm
20170524_105126

The Sea of Galilee, as viewed from the surrounding hills where Jesus taught

Thoughts from the Sermon on the Mount …

Matthew’s gospel account tells how Jesus traveled throughout the region — preaching, teaching, and working miracles (see here). As His fame grew, people came to Him from across Galilee and the surrounding regions. But Jesus’ message was the same: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:17).

As the crowds began to grow, Jesus went up a mountain and began to teach His disciples:

Matthew 5:1-2
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them…

Jesus had travelled throughout the countryside, preaching that the kingdom is at hand. He now took his disciples aside and laid out what it means to be a citizen of the kingdom.

Thus begins the first of many great discourses in Matthew’s gospel account. It is also one of the longest recorded sermons in Scripture, covering three chapters in Matthew (Matthew 5-7, with parallels in Luke 6:17-49). This teaching by Jesus contains some of the most well known parts of all scripture, and some of His most beloved quotes. Because of the location where Jesus taught, it has been traditionally known as the “Sermon on the Mount”.

Many parts of the Sermon on the Mount are well known in our culture, even by those who have never read the Bible. It opens with the famous series of beatitudes, where Jesus taught about the blessings of those who follow Him, even though they are poor, hungry, and weeping. Jesus urged his followers to be salt and light to the outside world, and He set a much higher standard than was ever given in the Old Testament law.

He criticized religious hypocrisy and indifference, showing that it is meaningless to give God what is no value to you, and the danger of being religious only for the praise of other people. He showed that the treasure in heaven is much more valuable and permanent than anything you can gain here on earth. He taught how to properly judge others, being mindful of your own failures. Yet He also gave comfort for when we doubt if God is caring about us, or when we doubt if He is watching over for us. We are reminded that we are much more valuable in God’s sight than all of the intricate design of His own creation!

And finally, He warned His listeners to not only hear Him, but to also do what He says. The one who hears His words and follows them is the wise man who built his house upon a rock, but the one who ignores His teaching is the foolish man who built his house upon the sand, and everything he has will be destroyed.

The Scripture says that when Jesus was finished, all the people were astonished at the way he spoke. English translation does not put that strongly enough. They were stunned! They were flabbergasted!

Matthew 7:28-29
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

It was very common for the rabbis of Jesus’ day to stand up and give lectures. They would call upon the authority of a great rabbi from years before, who would call upon the authority of their previous rabbis. But Jesus did not quote the authority of previous teachers, he relied on His own authority. In Matthew 5, He repeats the saying, “you have heard it said … but I say …“ (Matthew 5:17-48). He was not conforming or enhancing the current Jewish system of religion. He was following the law, but making it completely different, bringing it into something new.

Theologians have debated over how we should apply the Sermon on the Mount in our day. It does not contain instructions for how to have eternal life, and at a quick glance, it appears to be all about our works. Much of the sermon is directed toward our attitudes and our actions. The Sermon on the Mount is not how to gain entrance into God’s kingdom, it is how His citizens should live, now that we are in His kingdom. There are some important things to remember about the Sermon on the Mount:

First, Jesus was speaking to his disciples, who have already repented and trusted in Him. The disciples were already following Him, but needed instructions for how to live as citizens of His kingdom. Therefore, it would be wrong to view the Sermon on the Mount as the entrance requirements for how to get into God’s kingdom. This would also contradict other Scripture, which clearly states that we are saved by grace, not by good works (Romans 4:5, Titus 3:4-7, Ephesians 2:8-9). We do not follow God’s law to become His children, we follow God’s law because we are His children!

Also, instead of discarding the Old Testament law, Jesus raised its expectations up to a higher level. It is popular today to believe that Jesus came to put aside any type of law keeping. But Jesus did not come to take away the law of Moses, He came to fulfill the law. In this sermon, Jesus showed that the letter of the law is not nearly as important as the spirit of the law. You may pride yourself on never committing murder or adultery, but you are just as guilty if you harbor hatred or lustful thoughts.

“This sermon is not a ‘constitution’ for the kingdom God will one day establish on earth. The Sermon on the Mount applies to life today and describes the kind of godly character we should have as believers in this world.” – Warren Wiersbe 2

 

Previous post: What is the Kingdom of Heaven?

(more…)

July 6, 2018

The Ministry of the King

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 12:56 pm

Thoughts from Matthew 4

20170524_094529

Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilee

What does it mean to be like Jesus?

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

How can we be imitators of Jesus Christ?

Matthew 4 tells the beginning of Jesus Christ‘s ministry on earth. He had been waiting for 30 years, until he learned that John was baptizing in the Jordan River. He then came to be baptized, launching His three and a half year ministry (see here). In a dramatic showing, the Holy Spirit descended on him after His baptism and God the Father audibly accepted Jesus as His son.

Jesus was then taken immediately by the Holy Spirit after His baptism. He was brought to the wilderness where, after an extended fast, He was severely tempted by the devil (see here). Jesus started his ministry with a challenge from the enemy.

Now, almost a year has passed. John’s Gospel accounts tells us about this year that followed the temptation, when Jesus had stayed in the south country of Judea, gathering disciples (see John 1-4) . It was there that He met Andrew, Peter, John, Phillip, and the Nathanael (see here). It was also during this time that He threw out the corrupt businessmen from the temple (see here), and shortly afterward had a lengthy discussion with one of the top teachers of Israel, Nicodemus (see here).

Jesus also had taken a brief visit to Galilee during that year. John’s gospel account tells of how He came up to Cana for a wedding feast, and where he performed His first miracle (see here). It was also during this visit to Galilee that Jesus relocated his family from his hometown of Nazareth to the town of Capernaum, by the sea of Galilee (John 2:12).

It was about a year since Jesus‘ baptism when John the Baptist was arrested by Herod Antipas. John had been preaching in the North (Galilee) while Jesus was was in the South (Judea, John 3:22-24). Yet, when Jesus heard the news that John was arrested he knew that the time has come for him to head north. The opposition was mounting against Him and the time was growing short.

Jesus’ message was the same as John – repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The king was here, and He was getting ready to set up his kingdom. It was now time to prepare yourself for the kingdom, starting with getting right with God!

He also gathered followers as he went through Galilee. He had already known Peter, Andrew, James, and John from His time in Judea, but he now called them to leave their professions and follow him, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”. When they heard Him, they left their fishing and immediately followed Him.

Many pastors have preached on this passage, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men“. It is a well-known quote from the gospels and it is often applied toward missions or evangelism. I have heard one popular pastor use this passage as a launching point to explain why we need to strategize and determine how to reach the world with the gospel. This is a good sentiment and is true to Scripture. However, that is not what Jesus is saying here. He gave a command and the promise. The promise is that Jesus will do the making. He will make us into fishers of men. It is not a job that we take on upon ourselves.

What is our job? Our job is to follow Him. That was Jesus’ command to Peter, to the other disciples, and therefore to all of us who believe in Him. We are to follow Him! The last scene in the four gospels is when Jesus appeared again, to Peter, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had risen from the dead and had come to restore and commission His broken disciples. His final message to Peter was the same as at the beginning, “Follow me!“ (See here).

What does it mean to follow Jesus Christ? Just like the disciples of old, we spend our time with Him, and hang out with Him. Jesus Christ consumes our thoughts and our focus. He becomes our role model.

We cannot imitate Jesus’ every action on earth, so that cannot be what it means to follow him. We cannot heal the sick like Jesus did. We cannot raise the dead. We better not say that we are God, and I trust that we will never have the opportunity to be crucified!

But this passage in Matthew shows us how we are to follow Jesus Christ. Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit as he went to his temptation (Luke 4:1). Luke again highlights the fact that Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee (Luke 4:14). This is the key to Jesus‘ ministry, and this is how we are to follow him. We need to rely on the Holy Spirit in the same way that Jesus did. He is to direct our every move, so that we work through His power.

It is through the Holy Spirit that Jesus began His ministry in Galilee:

 

He was a light in the darkness

John was in prison but the need was as great as ever. This land of Galilee was historically dark because the people of that region had turned away from God, and were terribly abused by conquering nations. Isaiah predicted that “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:1-2). The persecuted, wicked people of Galilee would have the first light of the Messiah — He would bring them truth and life.

Isaiah lived over 700 years before Jesus Christ. But the people was just as dark in the time of Jesus. The people were consumed by their self-seeking ways and needed to turn back to God.

We also need to be a light to the darkness. Matthew says that Jesus went out preaching the good news about the kingdom. Our message about the kingdom may be different from Jesus (we are not the king, nor are we preaching the message of an imminent physical kingdom), but we need to be a light in darkness, bringing the good news about Jesus Christ to those who do not know Him.

 

He called others to follow Him

Jesus called his disciples to come and follow Him. He promised that He would make them fishers of men.

We need to call others to Jesus, but we also need to remember that we are fishers of men. The first four disciples — Andrew, Peter, James, and John — all lived different lives and had radically different ministries, yet God uses each of them to being people to Him.

We need to follow Him. He does the transforming.

“Jesus never commanded the disciples to catch fish. He commanded them to follow him and He would make them fishermen.” – Stephen Davey 6

 

He taught, preached, and healed

Jesus went throughout the land of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, preaching the message of the kingdom, and healing many. His fame became so great that people from the surrounding areas all came to see Him. Even the people from Judea, whom He had left to return to Galilee, followed Him north!

We will not have a ministry like Jesus, but this example shows what can happen when we are led by the Holy Spirit. God will more than fill up what we leave behind!

 

As a final thought, it would be good to remember what happened to the first four fishers of men. Jesus had called each of them, and promised that He would use them.

Andrew is the most noted for bringing others to meet Jesus. He first brought his brother Peter to see Him (John 1:40-41, see here). Andrew was the one to bring the boy to Jesus when He fed the 5,000 (John 6:8-9, see here), and the Greeks went through Andrew when they wanted to see Jesus in Jerusalem (John 12:20-22, see here). Church tradition holds that Andrew traveled north to preach the gospel in what is now eastern Europe and Russia.

Peter was typical example that we think of when we hear of the term, “fisher of men”. We see him leading the church in Acts, and preaching to thousands (Acts 2:38-41). Jesus predicted that Peter would die a martyr’s death and tradition says that he was crucified upside-down by the Romans.

James was always known in the gospels as accompanying his brother John, through the good and the bad. James was the first Apostle to be killed, being murdered by Herod Agrippa I in Acts 12:1-2.

John was the disciple who lived the longest. He referred to himself in the fourth gospel as “The disciples whom Jesus loved” (e.g. John 13:23). His only claim to fame was that Jesus chose to love him. John was the writer of five books of the New Testament, including the fourth gospel and the final book of the Bible, Revelation.

These were four disciples with for different lives and four different ministries. Jesus does not tell us how we will become fishers of men, he only says that we are to follow him.

Follow him!

 

Previous post:  The Temptation of the King

(more…)

June 26, 2018

The Temptation of the King

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 6:14 pm
20170527_103402.jpg

The Judean Desert, as seen from Masada

Thoughts from Matthew 4

 

Wouldn’t it be great if we could stop doing things wrong? If our lives were perfect and we never disobeyed God?

Unfortunately, it does not take long to find out that that is not the case.

Even when we belong to God, we still doubt Him and try to get what we want without Him.

We still challenge God, asking Him to meet our agenda, as if we are more important than the God of the universe!

We still look for shortcuts to meet our needs, ignoring God’s plan.

Life is a never-ending battle with temptation. And sadly, we often lose.

The Bible opens with Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, falling to temptation. They disobeyed God’s law, and the entire world descended into chaos (see here).

David, the greatest king over Israel, is well known for his fall into temptation. It only took a short walk on the roof with his wandering eyes, and we next find out that he was guilty of adultery, murder, and lies to cover up his actions (see here).

But there are also notable victories over temptation. Joseph chose to run away naked when his master’s wife tried to seduce him (see here). Daniel was taken away from his home, yet he chose to follow God and not get caught up in the idol worship of his peers (see here).

But by far, the greatest example of victory over temptation was Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus had just finished an incredible start to His ministry. He was baptized by John the Baptist, the greatest prophet in history! The Holy Spirit came visibly down upon Him, and God the Father Himself spoke from heaven to announce the Son of God!

But then the Holy Spirit took him immediately into the desert. Jesus was there for 40 days with the burning sun and the barren rocks, and with absolutely no food to eat. But He was not alone. Satan dogged His every step, trying to get Him to turn away from God.

The Bible shows Satan’s strategy for tempting people to turn away from God. They are small in number and very predictable, but extremely effective:

1 John 2:15-17
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life —is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

Satan’s three ways to tempt us are:

  • The desires of the flesh — what makes us feel better?
  • The desires of the eyes — what looks good to us?
  • The pride of life — what gives us importance?

There in the desert, he used all three of these weapons against Jesus Christ.

First, he challenged Jesus personally. Jesus had not eaten for 40 days and was very hungry and physically weak. But He was the Son of God — why not do a miracle to feed Himself? This temptation was akin to the desires of the flesh — suggesting that Jesus answer His own needs for hunger.

Eating bread is an innocent activity, but the message from Satan was much more insidious. He was saying to Jesus, “Since you are the Son of God, you should be able to take care of yourself now. You no longer need to rely on the Father, and you can feed yourself!”

Jesus responded by quoting scripture back to Satan. Deuteronomy 8:3 says that, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” We need to depend on God, not only for our food, but for our very existence!

Satan’s next attack was at Jesus’ role as the Messiah, the King of the Jews. He took Jesus to the rooftop of the temple overlooking the steep valley below. Satan himself then quoted scripture (Psalm 91:11-12), showing that God would never let the Son of God get injured. Instead, Jesus would descend safely down to the worshippers below, and be hailed as their king. This temptation was akin to the pride of life — Satan was attempting to get Jesus to turn away from God and seek glory on His own.

Jesus had defeated Satan in the first temptation by totally trusting in God. This time, Satan used His trust in God to try and get Him to force a miracle.

Jesus responded again with a quote from Deuteronomy, this time Deuteronomy 6:16, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”. We trust totally on God for our needs as we do His will. But we are testing God when we create a crisis of our own design and then demand that God get us out.

Satan was not easily overcome. He next took Jesus to a high mountain for a final challenge. Showing Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world, he offered them to Him. All Jesus needed to do was to bow down to Satan — once! This temptation was akin to the desires of the eyes — he was trying to tempt Jesus by what looked good to Him.

Satan offered Jesus a shortcut to glory. No longer would He need the three-plus years of ministry, concluded by the suffering on the cross. He could have the worship of the entire world immediately!

This is also the boldest of Satan’s temptations. He no longer couched his suggestions with “since your are the Son of God…” Now, he directly insisted that Jesus bow down to him.

Jesus’ response to Satan was decisive and direct. He quoted Deuteronomy 6:10, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”It was wrong for Jesus to try and shortcut God’s plans, but it was especially wrong to ever bow down to Satan!

Jesus also finally commands Satan to leave him, “Be gone, Satan! ” Satan then left Jesus for a more opportune time.

Jesus was attacked in every way by Satan’s temptations, but he emerged victorious! Jesus never disobeyed God, and when challenged, he always answered His challenges with God’s word.

What can Jesus’ example teach us about temptation?

 

Expect temptation to come!

Temptation is a part of our life when we belong to Jesus Christ. The closer we get to Him, the more Satan will attempt to pull us back.

But we need to anticipate the temptations, knowing that we can win. Defend yourself when you are weak, and be ready to answer back when temptation comes.

1 Corinthians 10:13
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

 

Answer temptation with God’s Word!

Jesus relied totally on God’s word when confronted by Satan. Immerse yourself in God’s word, keeping Him on your mind and heart for when the tempter comes.

Psalms 119:11
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.

 

Resist the devil!

Jesus sent away Satan after the attack. We have the same promise that he will flee from us when we resist him. Note, however, that it is not enough to simply stand up against the devil. We need to first submit to God. We need to let God fill the place in our life that was formerly taken over by the devil.

James 4:7
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

 

Pray!

Jesus went through the same temptations as us, so He understands when we are tempted. We need to make it a habit to first come to God when temptation comes. Stay close to Him and ask Him for the grace and the strength to get through it.

Hebrews 4:14-16
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

 

Previous post: The Initiation of the King

(more…)

May 25, 2018

The Herald of the King

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 12:38 am

Thoughts from Matthew 3 …

I remember many of my children’s books that I had when I was younger.  There were colorful Bible Story books, showing scenes and characters from popular events.

But there was one character that I always loved to see. They always pictured him in a faraway place, holding a long staff and wearing strange clothes. He had to be the strangest man that could ever think of:

He lived in the desert!

He dressed in camel hair (my picture books always showed him wearing some strange, hairy toga)!

He always had a big beard (in all my picture books)!

HE ATE BUGS!!

My Bible Story books showed people coming from far and wide to hear him. They would go into the desert to listen to this strange man preach. He would then lead them into the Jordan River where he would baptize them.

As I grew older, I saw many movies which dramatized the life of this man in the desert. He was no longer just a picture in a book, but a live person walking through my TV screen. It seemed like all the movies depicted this person, John the Baptist, as a very angry man. He was always shouting at people, trying if he could to scare them into repentance.

As we look at the Bible says, the picture of John the Baptist emerges as a very important man. Jesus would later describe John as the greatest man who ever lived (Matthew 11:11)!

Jesus Christ, the King of the Jews, was about to arrive. John’s message had the following parts:

First, the king is coming! The long-awaited Messiah was about to be here! He would come and set up His kingdom on earth as the prophets foretold.

Second, the people were not ready. They needed to repent!

Finally, if their repentance was true, then they needed to come into the Jordan River with John. They would put their heads under the water and demonstrate to the world that they were now ready for the kingdom.

What does it mean to repent? It is much more than simply being sorry for disobeying God. Repentance involves both the knowledge and the sorrow that you have violated the law of a Holy God. It then involves a conscious act to turn away from your disobedience and to turn to God.

“Repentance means that the natural man takes God’s side against himself.” – H.A. Ironside 6

This was John’s message, but he had opposition. The religious leaders came to see why he was upsetting the status quo. John compared them to deadly snakes and urged them to flee from the fires of God’s judgement.

These religious leaders were caught up in their own imaginations about what it meant to be right with God. They believed that they were safe from God’s judgement because of their family relations — they were descendants of Abraham! They also believed that God would look favorably on them because they worked so hard to keep the law. But John said that all of these things — the family connections, their own good deeds — they all were worthless to God. They needed to come back to Him.

There was no longer any time for middle ground. You need to either repent and join the king, or be swept away in God’s wrath.

The people were impressed by John, but he always deflected their praise (see also here). He was not the king, he was simply the announcer for the king. When the king comes, John did not consider himself worthy to wash his feet!

 

Remember!

Most of us have head of John the Baptist before this. The story of his life may not give you any new information. However, don’t forget some of the things that God is showing us through his life:

  • If you have not turned to God, then the time is now! Repent and join Him! You may not have another chance!
  • If you already belong to God but are not obeying Him, then you too need to repent. Don’t let this day go by before you get right with God!
  • Don’t stop at the inward steps of repentance, but show it in your life. If you really have turned from your disobedience and turned to God, then there will be real, tangible changes in your life.
  • Don’t let your pride or preconceptions stand in the way of getting right with God. Very few of the religious leaders believed John because they thought they knew better.

2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

 

Previous post: Friends and Enemies of the King

(more…)

May 13, 2018

Friends and Enemies of the King

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 12:58 am

Thoughts from Matthew 2…

Matthew’s second chapter continues his account of the promised King.

 

Who was this king? Who is this person that Matthew was writing about?

Matthew’s first chapter told of the heritage and birth of the new king. He has the heritage and the rights of the great dynasty of Israel, going back to King David himself. His birth was a miracle, born to a poor unmarried woman and her betrothed husband.

But why should we care? Why should our modern world care about an ancient Jewish king?

Because He is much more than that. He is not simply some distant story. He was God Himself, come to mankind!

Matthew’s account is clear: He was born to a human mother among a human family. He was very much human (see here).

But His father was God (see here, here, and here). Therefore he was also very much God.

And He came for a purpose. Matthew stated His purpose in his first chapter, “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). He will save His people from their sins. He was the promised one that the Jews had been waiting for, their Messiah!

But Matthew then showed that Jesus did not only come for the Jews. He was born to a Jewish family, but some of His first attendants were outsiders, or Gentiles.

Jesus was still a young child — probably only a few months old — when He was visited by dignitaries from far away. These visitors, or Magi, had learned of the new king and come to worship Him.

Even at the start, Jesus’ own people didn’t care for Him (see here). The religious leaders knew exactly where He would be. They even gave directions for the Magi but they never came.

The king over the Jews saw Him as a threat. King Herod knew that this was the long-awaited Messiah, and he tried to kill him. At first he tried to use deception to find the baby. When that failed, he resorted to massacre. He sent his soldiers to murder all the young boys in Bethlehem!

But it was these outsiders, the ones who should have never cared, who came to worship Jesus the Messiah. The Magi used their own resources to travel a long and dangerous road, carrying priceless gifts, unsure of the final destination.

God had given them a glimpse of His glory, in the form of a bright light, in their home country of Babylon. That vision caused them to come to Jerusalem, seeking the new king of the Jews. They were then directed to the nearby village of Bethlehem, where they again encountered God’s light. They found the new king and worshipped Him, giving their gifts.

Remember!

Most of us have heard about the “wise men” as part of the Christmas story. It can seem distant, exotic, and very removed from our present lives. But we should take time to remember some of the lessons from these wise men (or Magi):

  • The Magi knew very little about God, but they followed what they knew. They didn’t know His location but they came gladly to worship!

  • You don’t need a Jewish heritage to worship Jesus Christ. You only need to follow Him.

  • God does not look for those who are especially powerful, religious or smart. The educated priests ignored Jesus Christ and the powerful king wanted to kill Him!

  • God will protect His own! He directed Joseph to take Jesus and Mary away to Egypt when Herod wanted to kill him, and then back to Israel when it was safe to return.

Previous post: The Birth of the King

(more…)

May 2, 2018

The Birth of the King

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 1:03 pm

If you were to tell the story of a great king, what would you tell about his beginning?

Most stories have the king born amidst splendor, with the great people of his day. Others may tell a great “rags to riches” story, how the great king emerged from such a humble start.

But for the King of Kings, the truth is greater than any fiction that we could imagine! Jesus Christ Himself came to earth, born of a poor village girl, in the middle of a terrible scandal.

His mother, Mary, became pregnant out of wedlock. She had had no relations with a man — there was no human father. The baby was a miracle from God Himself.

Mary was away for several months, visiting her cousin Elizabeth. She returned to her conservative, religious small town of Nazareth, showing that she was obviously pregnant. Nobody believed her.

Her own husband didn’t believe her. She was betrothed to Joseph, anticipating the great celebration where they would fulfill the ceremony and become man and wife. But all Joseph could see was that his wife was unfaithful to him. He cared enough for Mary to not make a public scene, but he could never marry her after what she had done. He opted for a quiet divorce.

This was the beginning of the life of the King of Kings. Born to a scandalized mother and a heartbroken father.

But Matthew’s account is not about Mary, nor is it really about Joseph. This was about the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit created the embryo in Mary’s womb. He also sent an angel to direct Joseph. There were things that Joseph needed to know about the child, and things Joseph needed to do.

Joseph needed to complete the marriage. Mary was not unfaithful and she was his wife.

The child was the work of the Holy Spirit. God was directly intervening with mankind, and the result was the baby who was growing in Mary’s womb.

Joseph was to name the child Jesus, meaning, “Jehovah is Savior”.

This baby has a special purpose. He will save his people from their sins. He will be the long awaited Messiah!

Matthew shared the beginning of the life of Jesus Christ on earth, showing a sharp contrast between what the world sees as opposed to but God sees.

The world saw Mary as an adulteress, who had a baby without a husband. God saw her as a pure woman who was willing to follow and obey Him regardless of the cost (see here).

The world saw Joseph as a poor carpenter who was either complicit or the cause of Mary’s adultery. God saw him as a man willing to follow Him in protecting and caring for the young Messiah.

The world saw Jesus as an illegitimate child. God knew that he was a miracle of the Holy Spirit, and the One who would be the Saviour of the world.

The apostle Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians that the wisdom of God is seen as foolish to the world, yet the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God. It is so easy to see ourselves and others as what the world sees us. We need to look at people the way God sees them.

Finally, we should never go to Matthew’s gospel account without being challenged to renew our appreciation for Jesus Christ. He is the King of Kings; He is the long awaited Messiah to the Jews; He is the one who will save the world from the curse of sin!

Previous post: The History of the King

(more…)

April 25, 2018

The History of the King

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 11:16 pm

The New Testament opens with a message for the Jewish people. It is a message that they will not accept, given by one of the most hated people.

The Romans in the first century relied upon a hierarchy of publicani, or tax gatherers, in order to collect taxes for the empire. Local merchants would pay for the privilege to collect from their countrymen. These local tax gatherers would often add on a large percentage of taxes for themselves, thus becoming both very wealthy and very hated by the local people.

The tax gatherers were considered the worst of society. They were often used in the gospels to illustrate bad people, with the synonymous term, “tax gatherers and sinners” (e.g. Matthew 9:11, Mark 2:16).

Matthew (also known as Levi) was such a tax gatherer who left his business to follow Jesus (see the passages here).  Matthew turned from his old life to become one of Jesus’ twelve apostles (see here).

Matthew’s message to the Jewish people is that Jesus is the Messiah. He is the long-awaited king who has come to save His people (see here).

Matthew’s gospel account begins by showing that Jesus deserves the title of king. Jesus is the descendent of David and heir to the throne over all Israel.

The first part of Matthew’s gospel account traces Jesus’ family tree back to Abraham. This family tree dates back for 2,000 years and includes many heroes of Old Testament history, including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, and many of the kings of Judah. This list includes some of the greatest men to have ever lived.

This list included some very evil men. Rehoboam was the foolish king who divided his father’s kingdom. Manasseh was so wicked and violent that God promised to remove the kingdom because of him. Jeconiah was cursed to never have a descendent to sit on the throne of Israel (see Jeremiah 22:30).

This list included scandals. Judah fathered Perez because his daughter-in-law disguised herself as a prostitute. David took Bathsheba as wife after adultery and murder. Jehoshaphat married his son Jehoram to the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, setting up two generations of family murder and intrigue.

This list included foreigners and women. Rahab was the Canaanite prostitute who rescued the Israelite spies and turned to follow their God. Ruth was the Moabite widow who chose to remain faithful to her destitute mother-in-law.

The list ends with Joseph, who would be the legal guardian of Jesus the Messiah.

What is the point of this history lesson? Is it simply a chance to reflect on history, with perhaps a chance to walk down memory lane?

Of the many lessons that we can gather from this passage, remember the following:

 

God can use broken people!

The family history of Jesus Christ is full of fallible humans. Even among the great figures in history:

  • Abraham lied and tried to build his family through a slave girl
  • Isaac was partial to one son over the other
  • Jacob was a liar and a deceiver
  • David was an adulterer and a murderer
  • Solomon was a polygamist
  • Asa would not trust God
  • Jehoshaphat befriended the evil kings of Israel
  • Uzziah tried to become a priest
  • Hezekiah bargained with God for his life
  • Josiah had three wicked sons

If God was able to use broken people in past, He is just as able to use you and me, despite our failures.

 

God’s plan is not broken by evil people!

The bloodline of Jesus Christ was never broken!

  • Even when Jehoram was murdering his brothers and Athaliah was murdering her grandchildren, God’s plan never failed.

  • Even when Manasseh was searching Jerusalem so that he could murder anyone who was faithful to God, His plan never failed.

  • Even when the Babylonian army was burning the temple and taking the people into exile, God’s plan was never broken.

If God’s plan never failed through the worst of ancient history, He is fully able to keep his plans today, despite anyone who rises to oppose Him.

 

Jesus is king!

Jesus is the king, not only over ancient Israel, but over the world today. He has all authority over heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18).

Jesus still has just as much authority today as He did 2,000 years ago. We can know that, through all of our uncertainties, He is still king!

 

Previous post: Who is Jesus?

(more…)

April 18, 2018

Who is Jesus?

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 5:50 pm

I encountered this question almost four years ago, as I was starting out on a study on the Gospel of John. I have recently started to study the Gospel of Matthew and hope to use this blog as a way to share my discoveries from Matthew’s gospel account.

Matthew’s objective is different from John, and he is writing to show that Jesus is the King. Although Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience, he also shows that the kingdom of Jesus Christ includes all people.

Sapphire Sky

Who is Jesus?

There may be no one in history with more written about than this man.  Authors have been busy for almost 2,000 years writing pages and volumes that reflect their thoughts of Jesus Christ.

Like the people who lived 2000 years ago, everybody today seems to have an opinion.   He is often called a great teacher, a miracle worker, a martyr. Some say that he was God.

The more I hear from people, the more I see that most people are trying to reinterpret the life of Jesus Christ into a person that they would like to see based on their own wants and needs. Lonely people want a friend. Hurting people want a miracle worker. Liberals like the one who opposed the religious and political establishment. Conservatives like the one who promised to uphold the law. Everybody likes the message of love, although few agree on what it means. The list goes…

View original post 254 more words

January 28, 2017

The Coming King

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

img_1350

“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?

(more…)

December 28, 2016

Do We Pray?

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

file-dec-26-10-57-24-pm

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

(more…)

December 9, 2016

The Ram and The Goat

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

billy-goat-1698303_1920

 

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

(more…)

November 6, 2016

The History of the World

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

citadel-hill-2973_1920

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

(more…)

October 28, 2016

Politics and Bad Coworkers

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

africa-21787_1920

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

(more…)

Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.