Monday, December 19, 2011

Why December 25th?

Since the gospels do not offer many clues that would point to late December as the time of Jesus birth, many have asked how December 25th was chosen to celebrate the birth of Christ?

Critics of Christmas often point to pagan celebrations centered on the winter solstice as the source of December 25th as a Christian holiday, but there are no writings from secular or early Christian sources that would suggest this origin, it is merely speculation from those with little regard for the history of Christmas. This myth is so prevalent, some Christians even avoid the Christmas celebration for fear of participating in pagan rituals, but this need not be so.

The true source of the December 25 date grew from Jewish Rabbinical tradition as recorded in the Talmud as early as the 2nd century A.D. Malachi 4 predicts that Messiah's appearance would be announced by Elijah the prophet. So the annual Seder feast marking the Passover includes opening the door to check for the appearance of God's prophet to proclaim the coming of the Messiah.

Since the crucifixion of Jesus was at the time of Passover, some early church fathers thought it plausible that the Annunciation of Jesus coming by God's messenger Gabriel could serve the same purpose. So they calculated date of the Passover the year that Jesus died and came up with March 25 for the date his death. So they reasoned that the annunciation of Gabriel and the conception of Mary would be on the same date, during the time of Passover. To this day the Roman church celebrates a feast of the Annunciation on March 25. Counting forward 9 months from March 25th, they arrived at December 25th as a date to celebrate the birth of Messiah. Understand that the early church following Jewish tradition was fond of feasts and special times of worship and used those rituals to teach the theology of the church before the age of widespread literacy and ownership of bibles. So around the 3rd and 4th century you find the first celebrations of Christmas recorded as a special mass that taught the nativity of Christ.

Now although this idea of a Passover annunciation is speculative it has a certain logic and symmetry that is appealing to some people, but they are not hard conclusions that you can reach based upon scripture, and should never be expressed with certainty. But what if the Talmud is right and the annunciation really was connected to the Prophecy of Malachi and did occur at Passover? Well in a way I think there is some truth to that idea.

Malachi 4:
4 "Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, Which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, With the statutes and judgments. 5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. 6 And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse."

Now for us who know the New Testament we would connect that passage to Revelation where many believe one of the two witnesses of the Apocalypse will be a resurrected Elijah announcing the 2nd coming of Jesus and judgment day, but is there also a connection to the first coming, the incarnation of the Christ?

Malachi 4:6 should sound familiar because a part of it was quoted by the Angel Gabriel, not when he spoke to Mary but rather when he spoke to Zacharias regarding John in Luke 1: 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, 'to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,' and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

The Angel was announcing the one who would have the spirit and power of Elijah the prophet, to prepare the way for the Lord, and this prophet was John the Baptist. But in announcing John, the angel was also announcing the coming of the Lord, and this announcement very well could have been in the Hebrew Month of Nisan during Passover and that would likely be late March, meaning that the child born 9 months after the Passover annunciation was John not Jesus, and Jesus was born 6 months later in the summer time around May or June. Summer is a time where shepherds would have been living out in the fields grazing sheep in the pastures around Bethlehem. So Malachi 4:4 ties the annunciation of Messiah to Passover (remembering the Exodus) and Malachi 4:6 ties it to the conception of John the Baptist and the spirit of Elijah the prophet.

The History of the Nativity – Part 3

Luke 2

21 And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

[After 8 days Jesus was circumcised according to the Law and named according to the revelation of the angel. Now we know Mary and Joseph will need to be back in Jerusalem 40 days after the birth of Jesus to offer the sacrifice of her purification, but we don't know if they went back to Nazareth, or stayed in Bethlehem for the 40 days. Given that Bethlehem is only 6 miles away and Nazareth is 90 miles, I suspect they might have stayed around Bethlehem to avoid they extra travel, but it's hard to know for sure.]

22 Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD"), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, "A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."

[You can see from the instructions in Leviticus 12 that Mary and Joseph were still poor, when they offered the provisional sacrifice of those who could not afford a lamb. ]

Leviticus 12

6 'When the days of her purification are fulfilled, whether for a son or a daughter, she shall bring to the priest a lamb of the first year as a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove as a sin offering, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 7 Then he shall offer it before the LORD, and make atonement for her. And she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who has borne a male or a female.
8 'And if she is not able to bring a lamb, then she may bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons—one as a burnt offering and the other as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for her, and she will be clean.'"

[This is the first piece of evidence that the Wise men arrived at least 40 days after Jesus was born. So if you have a Nativity Scene at home with the wise men looking down on the manger, take them out, put them off to the side, they'll catch up later.]

Matthew 2

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him."

[Two great questions arise from this passage. How were the wise man, and why would they think a new star, plant or whatever shining in the night sky would mean a new king of the Jews had been born?

Well the Wise men or magi as some translations use will be astrologers, fortune tellers, and interpreters of dreams. Well have well-known examples of this from the stories of Daniel and the Babylonian captivity, where he was trained in the ways of the Chaldeans, to understand omens and signs, but Daniel was different from all the others because he would only seek the Lord for answers.

But as to the star, the answer comes from another Old Testament wise man by the name of Balaam. Balaam was gentile fortune teller and seer, of some reputation among the gentile kings, who had come to fear the God of Israel based on the things he had learned of God protecting Israel during their 40 years in the wilderness.

Near the end of Moses' life, Israel was camped beside the river Jordon before they had crossed into Canaan. Balak king of Moab was in a panic because Israel had already defeated two other local armies and Balak fears for his own kingdom, so he seeks out Balaam to curse Israel. Now Balaam is a prophet-for-hire but he fears Israel so he has this whole back and forth of wanting to take the job, but God warned him not to do it. But Balak keeps upping the price and Balaam decides to listen and hope that maybe God would relent and let him curse Israel so he could take Balak's money. Well after the whole episode with an angel and a talking donkey, Balaam ends up blessing Israel 3 times. But the 3rd time the Holy Spirit comes upon Balaam this gentile fortune teller and he gives this multi-part blessing which includes some prophecy.

Numbers 24:17 "I see Him, but not now;
      I behold Him, but not near; 
      A Star shall come out of Jacob; 
      A Scepter shall rise out of Israel, 
      And batter the brow of Moab, 
      And destroy all the sons of tumult.
(or sons of Seth)

[So since the time of Balaam the gentile magi have known of this prophecy. From Jordon, to Babylon to Persia any of these wise men watching the western horizon would see a new appearance in the sky over Israel and know something was up. Consulting the ancient writings they would find this passage and associate the new star with a conquering king.]

Matthew 2

3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

5 So they said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:

6 ' But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;

For out of you shall come a Ruler

Who will shepherd My people Israel.'"(Micah 5:2)

7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also."

9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.

[So the wise men get the Bethlehem clue, but they don't it need because when they leave Herod, the star reappears and leads them to the Christ child. They don't necessarily even go to Bethlehem because they are just following the star. But remember verse 7 because it shows Herod was already plotting what he would do to protect his kingdom from this new king.

So what is the Christmas star? The short answer is, I don't know. People have done whole books and DVD's on the subject saying they know for sure what the wise men saw in the sky; but all of these explanations have way too much speculation for my comfort. My guess is there could be two or three different things in play. Chinese astronomers recorded a nova in the constellation Capricorn in March-April of 5 BC. A nova has the behavior of appearing suddenly and burning brightly (sometimes flickering on and off) for one or two years, before vanishing. But it would be hard for a nova to move in such a way that it could lead you from Jerusalem to either Bethlehem or Nazareth. It could also be that an angel gave the luminous glow that appeared as a star in the distance, and the angel could also move as needed. Others say it is the Shekinah glory of God, like shepherds saw with the angels outside of Bethlehem. My best guess is they first saw the nova mentioned before, but when the left Herod they were guided by the glory of God, much like God used to guide Israel to the promised land; but no one can say for sure.]

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

[So where did we get the idea that the wise men were 3 kings, and what about those gifts? Well if you remember Daniel, a wise man was always acting in the authority and in the interest of the king they served. So the gifts were not likely to be the personal wealth owned by the wise men, but the tribute of eastern kings delivered by the magi; and of course people assumed 3 kings because of the 3 different gifts.]

Isaiah 60

3 The Gentiles shall come to your light,

And kings to the brightness of your rising.

4 " Lift up your eyes all around, and see:

They all gather together, they come to you;

Your sons shall come from afar,

And your daughters shall be nursed at your side.

5 Then you shall see and become radiant,

And your heart shall swell with joy;

Because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,

The wealth of the Gentiles shall come to you.

6 The multitude of camels shall cover your land,

The dromedaries of Midian and Ephah;

All those from Sheba shall come;

They shall bring gold and incense,

And they shall proclaim the praises of the LORD.

[Just as the prophecy says, the gentiles came to the light, and brought the wealth of kings as gifts of gold and incense. But as they fulfilled prophecy in the first two gifts, they made another prediction in the 3rd. When Jesus was crucified and Joseph took his body, Nicodemus brought 100 pounds of myrrh mixed with aloes and bound his body in strips of cloth (like the swaddling clothes of his nativity) anointed him with this balm of myrrh. Our Redeemer was literally born to die, to fulfill the law and make a permanent atonement for the sins of man.]

Sunday, December 11, 2011

History of the Nativity – Part 2

Luke 1

57 Now Elizabeth's full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. 58 When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her.

59 So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. 60 His mother answered and said, "No; he shall be called John."
61 But they said to her, "There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name." 62 So they made signs to his father—what he would have him called.
63 And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, "His name is John." So they all marveled. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. 65 Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea. 66 And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, "What kind of child will this be?" And the hand of the Lord was with him.

[It was not necessary to settle upon a boy's name until the 8th day when he was to be circumcised to be dedicated to the Lord. As soon as he obeyed the Angel in naming his son John, Zacharias regained his speech. John was born to be a prophet preparing the way for the Lord.

It's telling us here the he lived out in the wild dressed like Elijah in camels hair sackcloth (2 Kings 1:8) living off the land eating locust, one of the few clean insects according to the law (Lev. 11:22), and wild honey. But people responded to his preaching for he was filled with the Spirit.

Now I want to turn your attention back to Mary. Here is a young pregnant unwed teen aged girl, who went to visit relatives for 3 months. If this happened today someone would advise her to seek an abortion, so she could return home and no one there would ever know she was pregnant. But Mary had a different answer she said "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." So she returns to Nazareth 3 months pregnant probably showing and could endure 6 months of shame and gossip as people make up their own tales of how this young woman became pregnant. Remember the angel Gabriel had called her blessed and highly favored; and some people with a man-centered theology won't understand how God's favor and blessing could cause public shame and disgrace for Mary. But her blessing would be in seeing and participating in God's plan for the salvation of Israel and the Gentiles.]

Mathew 1


18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins."

22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," (Isaiah 7:14) which is translated, "God with us." 24 Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, 25 and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.


[I brought you back to Matthew 1, to focus on Joseph and his response when Mary returns from a 3 month visit and either then or soon after Joseph finds out that Mary is pregnant. Joseph may not have all the details, but he knows that he is not the father. This is a blue collar guy a carpenter by trade, not a lot of money now nor the hope of wealth or power anytime in the future. For a guy like this his hope and dream is to Marry a good woman, raise and provide for his family, and just be loved and respected in his own home and community.


For Joseph finding his fiancée pregnant would rock his world and shatter his dreams. By right and by law he could direct all his anger and embarrassment at Mary and have her publicly condemned as an adulteress. But instead he is just and merciful and decides to privately break the marriage contract, and release Mary, so he himself could mourn this loss and hopefully start over with another woman who would be faithful to him.


But God intervenes for Mary and for Jesus; when an angel of the Lord probably Gabriel again, appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him Mary is not an adulteress but rather is the mother of the Messiah, the child of the Holy Spirit, who will save his people from their sins. So Joseph keeps the marriage, takes Mary as his wife though not yet consummating the marriage, and in doing so takes all the shame and embarrassment from Mary and her family and transfers it to himself. Letting people think that it was his fault that Mary was pregnant before their public celebration of marriage; but he accepts this in obedience to the vision and the angel's instructions. What an amazing faithful man of God.]

Luke 2

The Census

 1 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

[This is a Bible passages that drives skeptics crazy. The Bible does not say what year Jesus was born and the clues we are given make a confusing time line. Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus ruled Rome from 27 BC to 14 AD and is considered the first emperor of Rome, records show Quirinius was governor of Syria from 6-9 A.D., but Herod the Great King of Judea died in 4 B.C., and most scholars put the birth of Jesus from 5-4 B.C. So how do we make this fit when Herod who talks to the Wise men in Matthew 2, was dead before Quirinius was Governor? I see two possibilities. 1) The word "first" in verse 2 is the Greek word "protos" which also means "before". So verse 2 could mean the census has held "before Quirinius was Governor of Syria. 2) The secular records do not record who was governor of Syria 4-1 B.C., so it's possible that Quirinius either served two terms as governor, or was directed by Caesar to supervise the census in place of, or to assist some other governor possibly Varus who was governor until 4 B.C. Either is possible, I think the second is more likely. In fact a fragment of a headstone called the Lapis Tiburtinus, found in 1764 near Tivoli Italy describes an unknown person who was legate of Syria twice. The title "legate" refers to a military officer who is also a member of the Roman Senate and Quirinius was such a person. It is also important to note that the word "governing" in verse 2 is an adverb in the Greek text not a noun like the title "governor".


The second objection to the passage is the idea that everyone went to their own city, the hometown of their family to be registered. But in Rome the local authorities would execute Roman orders in a way fitting with local customs. For Israel the census was always done by tribe and family the Jews kept careful genealogies both for the priesthood and for the sake of land ownership rights, dating back to the land grants in the time of Joshua. There is even a census recorded in Egypt about this time that ordered all migrant workers back to their home towns to register. So you will still find some people objecting to this passage, but their objections are all undone by careful scholarship.]


4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. 6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.


[Here we see Joseph going to Bethlehem because he was a descendent of David. Given the hit that his reputation has taken as the result of Mary's pregnancy, Joseph is probably glad to get out of town for a while. A lot has been made of the "no room" theme but Bethlehem at this time was a small town of maybe a few hundred people. So imagine all your relatives show up at once, where will you put everyone in your house? Nazareth to Bethlehem is 90 miles; imagine ladies traveling 90 miles probably on a donkey while 9 months pregnant, then taking that last shelter available, an animal crib, maybe an open sided shed or even a partial cave; just in time to give birth.]

Glory in the Highest

8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger."
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 " Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"

[Very familiar passage here, no controversy, but 3 things to remember that will help us understand the rest of the story. 1) the shepherds living out in the fields was a practice observed from fall to spring and not something they would be likely to do in the winter. If you look at the winter months in Israel the average nightly low would be 40 degrees with 5 inches of rain for the month, not the time to be camping out. 2) Remember the visible glory of the Lord shining as that will help us later. 3) The swaddling clothes were strips of cloth and they would wrap or bind up the infant to comfort them and make them feel secure. But the clothing and the bed (a manger) were declared as a sign to the shepherds by the Angel of the Lord.]


15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, "Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us." 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him,
they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

[How do we respond when we find Jesus in our lives? The first response in verse 17 is witness, they told everyone what they had experienced. Second they worshiped, glorifying and praising God! Should our response to Jesus be any less than the shepherds?]

Next lesson we will look at the Wise men, the Christmas star, and I will show you why we celebrate Christmas on December 25th (hint: it's probably not what you think!).

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The History of the Nativity – Part 1

Luke 1:5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.
8 So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
13 But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, 'to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,' and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
(Malachi 4:5, 6)

[Herod the Great ruled in Judea from 37 to 4 BC. He was a client King which means he served the Roman Empire, and could be replaced by Caesar. Now some people will try and tell you they know the exact date of all this. The Bible gives us many clues but never asserts a certain date. My best estimate is that this is around the first month of the Jewish calendar "Nisan" in the year 5 BC. Nisan starts with the new moon following the vernal equinox, in the spring of each year. (Resolve with verse 26 "the sixth month")

Zacharias is a priest, and the priesthood was divided into 24 divisions with each serving in 1 week rotations. Zacharias has the honor of lighting the incense in the temple very close to the veil that separates the most Holy place holding the arc from the rest of the temple, when he is approached by an angel of God.

Zacharias and Elizabeth remind me very much of Abraham and Sarah as they are aged, and childless but very faithful to God. The Angel foretells the conception and birth of John the Baptist and even quotes from Malachi 4.]

18 And Zacharias said to the angel, "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years." 19 And the angel answered and said to him, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. 20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time."

21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. 22 But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless.

23 So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. 24 Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, 25 "Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people."

[Now you would think that having an angel appear to you in the temple of God which you are lighting incense would be sign enough for Zacharias; but he was not used to speaking with angels, so when he asked a few too many questions he was given a sign that this was from God, he was struck dumb, unable to speak, until after the birth of John.

Gabriel identifies himself by name and fulfilling his primary role as the chief of the angelic messengers. Under normal circumstances a priest would just light the incense then come out and offer a public prayer for the people, but this time Zacharias takes far too long then emerges unable to pray. When the course of his service was complete he goes home to his wife and they make a baby. Now I'm guessing he wrote all this down to explain it to his wife, because he will be mute for 9 months and the scripture does not say Gabriel spoke to Elizabeth. Nevertheless after Elizabeth conceives she stays out of the public sight for 5 months, rather than try to explain how someone her age is pregnant. To Elizabeth, God is using this child to take away her shame, as she does not yet see the plan God has for John.

So if Elizabeth conceived in Nisan in the spring of the year that would be March for us, and John would be born in November or December.]

26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!"

29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end."

34 Then Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?"

35 And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible."

38 Then Mary said, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.

[About 6 months later Gabriel visited Mary in the month of Elul which would have been August in 6 BC; announcing her conception and the coming birth of the Lord. Mary would be a teen aged girl, engaged but not yet married. I told you last year some alleged that Mary was not a virgin that the word used only meant a young maid, but that is not correct. The Greek word "parthenos" not only means she was a virgin, but that she was of age, eligible to be married. Further in verse 34 she clearly asserts her virginity, as a challenge to having a child. But Gabriel tell her that her child will be from the Holy Spirit rather than from the seed of a man.

Mary's willingness to be used in this way is remarkable because it would be shameful for her to be pregnant before her marriage. This is an act of faith much like we studied in Romans 5, where she is asked to endure trouble, and persevere for God's glory allowing this trial of faith to build character. Since Gabriel also tells Mary about the pregnancy of Elizabeth, she decides to visit her cousin Elizabeth.]

39 Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord."

[Even in the womb John was filled with the Holy Spirit, and knew when he was in the presence of the unborn Christ. Elizabeth was also filled with the Holy Spirit and seems to understand what God is doing, both by the Holy Spirit and also from the written explanation of her husband. This is a wonderful confirmation for Mary as she sees the plan of God taking shape, and the work of the Holy Spirit in Elizabeth. Pay attention to verse 45 "Blessed is she who believed", they word for believe here again means that Mary was trusting the word of the Lord as delivered by the angel Gabriel. Faith was at work even in the conception of Jesus.]

46 And Mary said:

" My soul magnifies the Lord,

47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

48 For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;

For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.

49 For He who is mighty has done great things for me,

And holy is His name.

50 And His mercy is on those who fear Him

From generation to generation.

51 He has shown strength with His arm;

He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

52 He has put down the mighty from their thrones,

And exalted the lowly.

53 He has filled the hungry with good things,

And the rich He has sent away empty.

54 He has helped His servant Israel,

In remembrance of His mercy,

55 As He spoke to our fathers,

To Abraham and to his seed forever."


56 And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.

[Mary praised God, and remained with Elizabeth until it was time for her to deliver.]

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Romans 5:1-11 – Love demonstrated, Peace received

Do you realize that without FAITH it is IMPOSSIBLE to please God (Heb. 11:6)? Moreover Romans 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."

So we have access to grace through faith, we must have faith to please God, and Paul said in Romans 1 that the justified living by faith reveals the righteousness of God. It is a valid criticism that too many evangelicals got stuck on justification. Meaning for the life of a believer there is only getting saved, and being a missionary to those who are lost. But the faith taught by the apostles has far more to do with our life and relationship to God, than simple justification.

1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

As we covered before if salvation were available through the law it would have been only for the keepers of the law, and it would be earned. Further if you could see all of the "how and why" with your eyes and if the benefits were received in your body, then faith would not be required. But this kind of salvation is not possible because all are sinners. The salvation was have available is by grace, not the law, and through faith not of works because it is spiritual it is supernatural. Righteousness comes from the unseen God and it is for His glory, not the glory of any man.

Verse 1 is the preview for this passage. By faith we are declared holy and reconciled to God. Before we were destined for wrath, but now we have escaped wrath and can be at peace with the God who saved us.

2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

This word access is used only twice elsewhere in the entire New Testament (Eph. 2:18; 3:12), and it describes an unprecedented privilege to all who trust in Christ – we have access to Almighty God!

Even the realization that we have escaped from God's wrath is incomplete. The end of the road of grace isn't just to escape judgment, but a spiritual transformation into the eternal presence of God and His full glory. This is our hope, this is our end, this is what God has predetermined for His redeemed. Paul says that this hope is so significant that is causes us to rejoice even before we fully receive it, because the outcome is certain.

3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Not only do we rejoice in hope but we glory in trouble or tribulation. To say that a "tribulation" is helpful or hopeful seems silly, but Paul writes that God is using tribulation to accomplish His purpose in us. The word "tribulation" that Paul uses here can be translated "pressure" like from a press that squeezes the juice from olives or grapes.

God wants to produce people of character who can persevere through trouble for his glory. Too many who claim to be Christians, try to stop on the edge of grace enduring as little change as possible. But that kind of redemption would glorify man rather than God. That would be God serving our purpose, not the other way around. Next time you find yourself trying to endure and persevere through a difficult time, understand that when you persevere by faith you are becoming what God wants you to be, a person of character. That is why Paul said we can even glory in tribulation.

5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

What kind of relationship do you have with God? Paul said God has reconciled us from a wrath relationship to a love relationship. God pours out His love in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit of God empowered Elijah to outrun a chariot (1 Kings 18:46), and we struggle to simply out-walk the world! Is the love and hope of the Lord visibly evident in us?

Jesus said to His disciples, "You are the light of the world – like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father" (Matthew 5:14-16 ESV).

Peter wrote in his epistle, "…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the HOPE that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15 ESV). People will only ask you about the reason for the hope that is within you if it is externally evident. A fruit-filled life will get people talking! When they see love instead of hate, joy instead of anger, peace instead of worry, patience instead of hurry, kindness and goodness instead of rudeness, faithfulness instead of doubt, gentleness instead of harshness, and self-control instead of volatility, they will ask what makes you so different (Gal. 5:22)!

Jesus knew that the Christian life would be impossible to live on our own; so He gave us the help of His Holy Spirit to strengthen us, sanctify us, help us pray, help us share our faith, and to help us serve others. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in your heart and mine! We must surrender every room every part of ourselves to the Spirit's control. We must, by faith submit to His leadership in our lives and, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom. 12:2 ESV).

Love demonstrates that the Spirit of God lives in us.

6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The cross of Calvary shouts, "I love you!" to a lost world. John the beloved tells us that, "God SO LOVED the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him" (John 3:16-17 ESV).

Without strength means impotent, lacking the power to accomplish the task. We were impotent to bring about our own reconciliation to God. But Jesus died in our place, God poured out His wrath on Christ as an act of love toward ungodly, unworthy people like us. He satisfied justice in order to give us grace.

9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

We are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. This means that God, by His own will and design, provided His only Son as the atoning Sacrifice for our sin so that we might be forgiven and have a restored relationship with Him. From enemies of God to friends of God by faith in Jesus!

Now, because we have been reconciled, we also have a ministry of reconciliation to the world. There are many who are still enemies of God in their trespasses and sins. We must share the good news that if they simply wave the "white flag of surrender" they can be saved and have peace with God. Paul writes in 2 Cor. 5 18-20 "Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God" (NKJV).

God's demonstration of love brought about our reconciliation to a loving friendship with Him. None of us would have wanted to watch the crucifixion of Jesus, but we rejoice in what it accomplished. Likewise in our own lives nobody hopes for trouble; but knowing that our perseverance produces character, means that even in troubles we can rejoice. We live lives of hope, knowing that the glory that waits for us is far greater than all the pleasures we could provide for ourselves if we had lived selfish lives.

Just as God's love was demonstrated to us in Jesus, so the Holy Spirit should be demonstrated to the world by our love and good works, giving glory to God; this is our job as ambassadors of peace.

Questions to consider:

  1. Sometimes we're not thankful for something until it's gone. Imagine for a moment your life WITHOUT faith in Christ and describe what that might look like for the class.
  2. We've been reviewing that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Ephesians 2:8&9 says, "For by grace you have been saved through, and THAT not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (NKJV). We often thank God for His grace, which is an unmistakable gift; but have you ever thanked God for your faith?

In light of what Paul has taught us in chapters 1-3 regarding man's condition (unrighteous, unreasonable, unresponsive, and unrepentant), how is even our faith a GIFT from God?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Romans 4:16-25 - Transcendent Faith

In Romans 4:16-25 the apostle Paul reminds us that Abraham believed God's promises against the reasonable knowledge of the flesh. He explains that if we believe God, like Abraham, then we too will enjoy the blessedness of being made right with God; not for this life only but for all eternity!

The Jewish idolatry of the circumcision, the law, the throne of David, and the temple; is based on the idea that God's favor and blessings is all about our peace and comfort here on earth. And that is the same theological and philosophical error that people like Joel Osteen make all the time. Jesus was preaching the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Jews wanted their Kingdom on earth. God is a great idea, as long as he is giving us what we want.

How do we know the Jews got it wrong? 1 Peter 2:11 Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul. To be a stranger and a pilgrim on earth means to be a citizen of the heavenly kingdom, and a visitor of the earth. Philippians 3:20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

And that brings us to the central question "why faith"? God has paid the price for our redemption, so why does he require us to receive it through faith? The answer is simple. If the goal were the glory of mankind, living in peace and harmony here on earth, and everything we needed we could see with our eyes, then faith would not be necessary. But that is not the purpose of grace! Grace is to provide our redemption for God's glory. If our hope and our worship is focused on what we cannot see, then the spirit has overcome the flesh, and God is glorified.

16 Therefore it [righteousness] is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, 17 (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.

So "it" meaning righteousness comes from trusting what you cannot see, to receive what you cannot earn (grace). If you could earn it, it wouldn't be grace; and if you could see it, it wouldn't be faith. But if you can't earn it, and you can't see it but you still trust it; when you receive it, it glorifies God. God is glorified when the obvious limitations of the flesh are overcome by faith in the spirit that is God.

So the Jews looked at Abraham as the father of one nation according to the flesh, but God called him the father of many nations according to the spirit. Not of flesh by the law, but as descendents of the faith of Abraham, we are his spiritual children. Here we see that God also operates by faith: "calling things that are not, as though they were", because God knows what He will do.

In Chapter 3:35 it said the atonement of Christ was "to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past". God in faith had extended his own holiness as the collateral to give grace to Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and all those in the Old Testament who believed God; knowing that he would satisfy justice and pour our His wrath for their sins and ours against Jesus when He hung on the cross. And in this chapter Paul recalls that God in faith called "Abraham the father of many" when he was still the father of no one.

18 Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. 19 And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb:

What Abraham could see was that he was 99 years old, Sarah was past menopause and she wasn't even fertile back when she was young. But God said "next year you will have a son, you will call him Isaac, and my covenant will be with him" (Gen. 17). No physical way for this kid to be conceived, let alone born; but God not only names him, he signs his name to a contract. Abraham looks at the evidence and decides to trust in God.

20 He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; 21 And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. 22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.

Abraham's faith in God's promises led to his justification (being declared righteous) and the imputation (or crediting) of God's righteousness to his account! In other words, his sin debt was "paid in full"!

23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; 24 But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; 25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.

So, if we believe (like Abraham) that Jesus "was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification" then our sin debt will be paid in full; and Christ's righteousness will be imputed (credited) to our account!

Many who believe that Jesus died on the cross for their sin and rose from the dead to deliver them, do not behave like it. They say that they're forgiven yet they live in the shame of past sin, and the guilt of regret.

We must, instead, take God at His Word. If God says that we're forgiven, we're forgiven. If God declares us righteous then who are we to say that we're not? If God says that He has credited Christ's righteousness to our account, then who are we to say that we are still in debt from our sin? I'm sure there were numerous occasions in Abraham's life when he did not FEEL justified, but he had to take God at His Word and believe the promises that he had been given. God promises payment for sin to all who believe.

Abraham was a pilgrim and a stranger as he journeyed to the Promised Land because he was not home yet. We, as believers in Christ are also pilgrims and strangers in this world because our new home is heaven. We cannot see now what God has prepared for us (1 Cor. 2:9), but we should live like it's already built and we're about to pick out the drapes and the carpet.

But idolatry is all about what you can see, the symbols and statues that substitute for real faith, and focus exclusively on earthly blessings; worshiping God's stuff with no regard for the glory of the God who created it. Though we are certainly blessed in creation, we understand that the natural world is corrupt and temporary, and that those walking the path of grace are outnumbered by those headed for destruction. People have seen throughout history that godly people by virtue of discipline and self control, avoid many of the problems in the world (1 Timothy 6:10) and have wrongly concluded, that a moral life is the purpose of religion. While that may be true of some religions, it is not the focus of the Christian faith. While virtue will belong to those following Jesus, our redemption for God's glory is the real purpose of God's grace.

Tonia and I watched a strange movie called "The Tree of Life". The narrative contrasted the way of nature and the way of grace saying everyone must choose. But it also said that "No one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end". While that is true, it is only true when your focus is on the kingdom of heaven rather than the kingdom of the earth. Jesus said "In the world you will have tribulation" (John 16:33). Paul likewise visiting his mission churches in Asia Minor said "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). Abraham had trouble in the world. His brother died, his nephew was taken captive, his wife was barren, and he wondered about with no place to call home. But by faith he received a promise, not just for himself but also for us.

The same God that made all of those amazing promises to Abraham now makes them to you and me? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is our God too! Paul says in verse 23 of Romans 4, "now it was not written for his [Abraham] sake alone that it was imputed to him, BUT ALSO FOR US" (NKJV)! God has made very similar promises to us! We gain access to those promises the same way that Abraham did – BY FAITH.

Faith is transcendent. It reaches beyond natural ability and finite time, allowing us to receive what is supernatural and eternal. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), through faith all things are possible, not for our glory but for God's.

Isaiah 42:8 I am the LORD, that is My name; And My glory I will not give to another, Nor My praise to carved images. Idols are anything steal worship from God, and make us care for earth more than heaven, and the flesh more than the spirit. Faith moves our focus from the temporal things of earth, to the eternal fulfilling of God's promise.

Questions to consider:

  1. Hebrews 11:6 says, "Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a Rewarder of those who diligently seek Him". Why do you think God requires us to respond to His grace through faith?
  2. What causes our faith in God to fail?
  3. Hebrews 11:8-12 gives a summary of how Abraham walked by faith in God's promises; what does walking by faith in our everyday lives looks like?




Thursday, November 17, 2011

Romans 4:1-15 – Justified by faith

Main Theme: We are saved by grace THROUGH FAITH just like Father Abraham & King David.

The pride of the Jewish people is focused on 4 symbols of God's favor:

  • Circumcision of Abraham
  • Law of Moses
  • Throne of David
  • Temple of Solomon

1 What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." (Genesis 15:6) 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.

Last week showed that salvation is by grace. But how do we get from the wrath of God to the grace of God? Some Jews considered that if grace was extended then it was extended to the circumcised, because of God's promise to Abraham. But Paul is saying that faith is the only exit ramp from wrath to grace. Abraham was called by God in Genesis 12, at age 75. He was not circumcised until Genesis 17 at age 99. But in Genesis 15 Abraham is declared righteous by faith, while he was still uncircumcised.

We learned in our study of chapter three that "justification" means – "to declare and treat as righteous". It is essentially declaring the guilty "not guilty" and then treating them as such. So in the example of Abraham he as justified by faith, not of works.

This word "accounted" is just like imputed we studied last week. God credits you for something unearned. Paul says in verses 4&5, "Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is ACCOUNTED for righteousness" (NKJV). Just like in our lives faith comes before works.

Paul not only refers to the faith of the Hebrew's racial founder, he also refers to the faith of…

5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:

7 " Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,

And whose sins are covered;

8 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin." (Psalm 32:1-2)


Now we take the second symbol of Judaism, the throne of David. The Jews had a lot of pride in the leadership of David, his military victories. Surely some thought that because of David, Israel deserved the grace of God, maybe that they could obtain grace through David. But Paul turns that around and shows David as a recipient of grace through faith.

He quotes from Psalm 32, which was written after the public exposure of his secret sins with Bathsheba (I Sam. 11-12).

David coveted his neighbor's wife, committed adultery with her, and plotted his neighbor's murder; according to the strict letter of Mosaic Law; there was no hope for him. What animal sacrifice could cover a sin like that? This is why David cried in Psalm 51:16-17, "For you do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; you do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, and a broken and a contrite heart – these, oh God, You will not despise" (NKJV). David's desperate case cast everything on God on grace. Out of this experience, David learned two vital truths about salvation; truths that he wrote down in Psalm 32 which now help further Paul's argument. David had faith in a God of grace.


Salvation is given freely, just as David also described the blessedness of "the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works" (v.6). David discovered the true way to happiness and holiness - without works. How could he restore purity to Bathsheba and life to Uriah? How could he even restore his own lost innocence? HE COULDN'T! His case was hopeless. But then God stepped in and in sovereign grace freely cancelled David's sin and counted him righteous! Nathan said to David in 2 Sam. 12:13, "The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die" (NKJV). That was all David had, but it was enough. Salvation is given freely. Not because God would ignore the sins of people he liked, but because Jesus would pay it all.

9 Does this blessedness (of forgiveness) then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. 10 How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. 11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.

Do you have faith in your religious symbols, or works as a sign of your faith?

Circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 17:7-14). In Paul's day, many Jewish Christians maintained that salvation was impossible without circumcision (Acts 15:1-29; Gal. 2:1-14) and wanted all Gentile converts to be circumcised. Some people today think that it's impossible to be saved without administering the rites of the church (communion & baptism). Churches art and rituals to focus people on God, but these can become an idol to cover for poor theology. Know the qualities of your God, and you will not need a idol to focus on Him.

Abraham and David were both justified by faith in a gracious God, apart from any symbol.

Paul points out that there were two reasons that God gave Abraham this "righteous picture" of circumcision. It was given that, "[first] he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, and [second] the father of circumcision to those who are not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of faith which our father Abraham had WHILE STILL UNCIRCUMCISED" (vv.11b-12).

J.B. Phillips writes, "Paul has turned the Jew's boast upside down. It is not the Gentile who must come to the Jew's circumcision for salvation; it is the Jew who must come to a Gentile faith, such a faith as Abraham had long before he was circumcised."

People who depend on religious rites such as baptism, confirmation or communion are just like the first century Jews that Paul was addressing. They are still depending on their religious works to save them. They are relying on symbols and pictures for their salvation instead of the substance and propitiation of Christ's finished work on the cross. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

13 For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, 15 because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.

If not the circumcision of Abraham, or the throne of David, how about the Law of Moses? Surely the Law must be the way to grace.

"For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or of his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith"(v.13).

While many promises in the Bible are conditional, those made to Abraham and his seed were unconditional and are guaranteed by the faithfulness of God, not the faithfulness of man (Gal. 3:17-18; Rom. 4:13-18).

The rules and the requirements given to the Jews in the Mosaic Law at a later date do not affect in any way the original unconditional promise. The Mosaic Law had to do with the behavior of a redeemed people already in a covenant relationship with God, and demonstrated the holiness of God. Paul had already made it clear that Abraham's TRUE children were those who walked in Abraham's steps and exercised faith as Abraham did (v.12).

We can draw a parallel here. The practical requirements for the Christian, as found in the epistles, should be adhered to as walking by faith; but they do not add to our salvation. Works of righteousness are evidence of our faith, and meaningless without it.

The idea that Abraham was justified by faith while his children could be justified by the law, makes no sense at all. The law should drive us toward the grace of God, by making us aware of our guilt. Remember from Romans 3, "all have sinned".

So then, Paul pulls the rug out from all those who insist on "trying" for salvation. They have no righteousness that is acceptable to God. Their religious rites and rules cannot save them. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Questions to consider:

  1. Abraham was declared righteous because he exercised faith in God's promise. What are some ways that we exercise faith on a daily basis? How did you know that you needed to put your faith in God?
  2. Given God's gracious initiative in our salvation should we brag about our belief?
  3. What does imputation mean, and how does it relate to our salvation?
  4. Review the words: justification, redemption, and propitiation as a class.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Romans 3:1-8 – Righteousness in Judgment

Righteousness comes from God; this is the consistent theme of Romans. We've seen our case studies of people who in their own mind are ok, but Paul has declared they are heading for the destruction of God's wrath.

First we had the wise fools of Romans 1 who ignore God revealed in creation, and suppress the truth about God. To them, God declares their ignorance will not be excused.

Then we looked at the morally depraved, who believed the lie which Satan has told from the beginning, "be your own god".

Next we had the self-righteous hypocrites, standing on personal righteousness, while hardening their hearts against God's grace and mercy.

Last week we studied the religious posers; these are legalistic rule makers, who think they can checklist their way into God's favor. The flaw in their plan however is the weakness of the flesh, and an unchanged heart.

The apostle Paul's approach to planting churches was to begin in the synagogue when possible. "To the Jew first" was his commitment, this is what Jesus told them, and that is what they did. He was, after all, a Jew himself; and his heartbeat was to see his Hebrew brethren trust in their Messiah, Jesus Christ.

But as you read the book of Acts, and the letters Paul wrote he was always frustrated at the hardness of heart he found in many Jews. So in each city they would have some Jewish converts, and then they would have some hardened opposition to the gospel. When it reached that point Paul would turn to the Gentiles, where the gospel has less resistance. And there is a lesson for us in Paul's methodology; sometimes we expend so much energy on the people we want to see saved, but we cannot be the Holy Spirit, nor can we believe for other people. There comes a time when we have to step back and see where God is working, submit our will to His and join in the work that God is already doing. This week we will look at hardened hearts, and a hardened resistance to the righteousness of God. Here Paul will answer the objections of the defense lawyers, people who say God has no right to judge.

1 What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? 2 Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God.

"What advantage then has the Jew?" In other words, "If all you say is true, Paul, then what difference does it make that we are Jews; if we stand condemned with the rest of the world?"

Paul answers this objection without negating the truth of what he had just established in chapter two. He says, "Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God". Paul essentially says, "Even though the Hebrew birth and the Hebrew Bible do not save you, they certainly have revealed salvation to you". The Jew had the privilege of holding in his hands and hiding in his heart the revealed promises concerning Jesus Christ!

The entire Old Testament was about the coming of Israel's Messiah! Over three hundred Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Micah 5:2 told them where He would be born (fulfilled in Matt. 2:1-5). 700 years before Jesus walked into Jerusalem the prophet Isaiah recorded how the Messiah would be born (Isaiah 7), what He would be called (Isaiah 9), and detailed how He would die (Isaiah 53). In Psalm 22 one can read the description of the crucifixion of Jesus. It tells of the piercing of His hands and feet, the gambling for His clothes, and even records the very words that Jesus would say on the cross. This one Psalm contains 33 direct prophecies that were fulfilled at Christ's death; even though it was written a thousand years before Christ's birth. Isaiah said that the Messiah would be crucified between two thieves (Isaiah 53:9-12). Zechariah said that He would be betrayed for exactly thirty pieces of silver (Zech. 11:12). Yet the very advantage that the Jew had (the oracles of God) was the very thing that condemned him; because he did not believe in the Messiah when He came. John records in his gospel, "He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him" (John 1:11 NKJV). Objection #1 - overruled. The Jew is indeed privileged, but privilege cannot replace a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

3 For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? 4 Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written:

" That You may be justified in Your words,

And may overcome when You [are] judge[d]." (Psalm 51:4)

{Psalm 51

1 Have mercy upon me, O God,

According to Your lovingkindness;

According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,

Blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

And cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I acknowledge my transgressions,

And my sin is always before me.

4 Against You, You only, have I sinned,

And done this evil in Your sight—

That You may be found just when You speak,

And blameless when You judge. }

"For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?"
The objector is essentially saying here, "O.k., we admit that we have received God's Word about the Messiah; but not all of us have believed it. So, will the unbelief of some cancel out the faithfulness of God?" Paul answers, "Certainly not!" God faithfulness to Israel is without question, but he has always kept His promises with a those who are willing to repent and live by faith. God keeps His promises in spite of humanities failure.

To illustrate this truth Paul quotes from King David's prayer of repentance in Psalm 51:4,
"Against You, You only, I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge."

Truth is truth whether it is believed or not. Man's failure does not equal God's unfaithfulness. Objection #2 - overruled, "Let God be true, but every man a liar".

5 But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust who inflicts wrath? (I speak as a man.) 6 Certainly not! For then how will God judge the world?

"But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust who inflicts wrath?"

In other words, because God made these moral demands knowing humanity would fail, does that make His wrath unjustified? After all we were doomed to failure from the beginning.
The apostle Paul again answers, "Certainly not! For then how will God judge the world?"

As Paul will explain later on in his epistle, the giving of the Law did not suddenly make mankind guilty of wrong. God didn't arbitrarily paint a target somewhere other than where we had already shot the arrow and then call it a miss. The target has always been present. God's totally righteous character is - and always has been - the standard. The Law simply illuminates and magnifies the target, leaving mankind with even less an excuse for missing it. In Adam, Satan showed that man was corruptible; but in Jesus, God demonstrated that man is redeemable.

The Lord did not give the law to humanity in order to justify His wrath. On the contrary, He established clear lines between right and wrong as a means of grace, to confront us with our offenses. The giving of the Law was a first step in His plan to redeem us. Objection #3 - overruled, the Law was meant by God to guide us to grace; not keep us from it.

7 For if the truth of God has increased through my lie to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? 8 And why not say, "Let us do evil that good may come"?—as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just.

The Jew continues objecting to Paul's reasoning to the point of using twisted logic. He says, "For if the truth of God has increased through my lie to His glory, why am I also still judged a sinner? And why not say, 'Let us do evil that good may come?'"

Remember the jealousy of Joseph's brothers, how they plotted to kill him, then they sold him into slavery. He ends up in Jail completely forgotten except by God. God raises him up, makes him a ruler in Egypt then brings his family back to him, so he can save them from the famine. When his brothers realize Joseph is alive and in charge, they think Joseph will use his authority for revenge against them (as they deserved), but Joseph has a different answer. "But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive." (Genesis 50:20) God can use the acts of evil men to accomplish His purpose, but the hearts of those men are still evil, and will be judged when they stand before God.

I have actually heard this argument first hand from skeptics who say "if God is really sovereign, and will accomplish His purpose, then how can sinners be guilty"?

Critics of the apostle Paul were accusing him of spreading just such a doctrine. They misconstrued the gospel of grace by saying, "This man Paul says, 'It doesn't matter what you do because God's grace will cover all your sin.'" While this statement is essentially true (God's grace does cover all of our sins) it does not take into account the indwelling Spirit of God that impels us to "walk in newness of life". Paul will address this twisted logic and perversion of grace later on in chapter 6 where he says, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? CERTAINLY NOT! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" Objection #4 - overruled, sin does not glorify God or magnify grace at all, rather is it God's response to sin that is marvelous.

In Romans 2:17-29 the apostle Paul revealed that a Hebrew birth and a Hebrew Bible do not equal a righteous standing before God; and in Romans 3:1-8 he anticipates and overrules any objections they might put forth. In every case: the heathen, the hypocrite, and the Hebrew have all rejected God's revelation and God's instruction. Instead of the Creator they worship creation, instead of the Lord they submit to the Law. All fall short of God's glory; all are guilty before God; and as a result, all will be justly judged and condemned. God's righteousness is revealed in the faith of the redeemed, and in His judgment of the rebellious.

Questions to consider:

Why do you think Paul was so committed to reaching the Jewish people with the gospel?

How can growing up in a "Christian environment" be detrimental to someone experiencing genuine salvation?

What are some common objections people have with the phrase, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23)?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Romans 2:17-29 - Religious Posers


First we had the wise fools of Romans 1 who ignore God revealed in creation, and suppress the truth about God. To them, God declares their ignorance will not be excused.

Then we looked at the morally depraved, who believed the lie which Satan has told from the beginning, "be your own god".

Next we had the self-righteous hypocrites, standing on personal righteousness, while hardening their hearts against God's grace and mercy.

Each of these groups is rushing headlong into a future of God's wrath. This week they are joined by religious posers, who pretend to show the way to God by force of religious practice, instead of repentance.

Religion, for many people, is all pain and no gain. The religious will try to attain a level of goodness that would be acceptable to God. This is the most common religious idea, that God will balance the scales, and we just have to do more good than bad. But God has said "My Spirit shall not strive (or abide) with man forever, for he is indeed flesh" (Genesis 6:3). Since the fall of mankind spirit and flesh have been in conflict. Without the spiritual rebirth of salvation, the flesh has no chance of pleasing God.

Being a Christian, however, is not just being religious. Being a Christian is about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. A true believer in Christ recognizes that no amount of religious effort will bring him any closer to God. He recognizes that the best efforts in the flesh, even his righteousness are "as filthy rags" before a most holy God. In fact, he wouldn't trust the best 5 minutes of his life to gain him entrance into heaven! Only God's grace can do that. God's grace provides salvation that cannot be earned, favor that is not deserved, and kindness that cannot be repaid.

It is the religious person that is probably the hardest to reach with the gospel. While there is no one too bad for Jesus Christ to save, there are millions WHO THINK they are too good to need saving. The religious man thinks that his possession of religious truths and his practice of religious tasks make Him righteous before God. However, the apostle Paul points out in this passage that while both are privileges neither pays the price for man's sin.

17 Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, 18 and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, 19 and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law.

The Jew had two advantages when it came to the truth: 1) a Hebrew birth, and 2) a Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament). From childhood the Jew was taught in Synagogue of: his special heritage, to revere and keep the Sabbath, his need of a sacrifice for sin, and the fact that he was to live separated from the world. This special access to God's truth was an incredible advantage in a world where most men were pagans steeped in superstition and idolatry.

This special access to truth often led to pride and deep scorn and resentment over the spiritual ignorance of others. The Jew often looked with disgust at his Gentile neighbors; even calling them dogs because of their spiritual ignorance.

It is an awesome privilege to be raised with such access to spiritual truth. To have been born into a family where the things of God are common knowledge and where the Bible is a well-read book. It reminds me of Jesus' statement, "For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required" (Luke 12:48 NKJV). We'll talk more about this later.

21 You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? 22 You who say, "Do not commit adultery," do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? 24 For "the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you," as it is written.

In verses 21 through 24 Paul begins to cross examine the Jew in order to point out the condemnation that accompanies a mere "head-knowledge" divorced from a life of obedience to God. A religious experience which is "all talk" and "no walk" will not pass the test on the Day of God's Judgment.

This is especially true when the one who teaches has not applied that which is being taught. It is the height of spiritual insincerity to teach others without learning the lesson for yourself. Paul pointedly tells the privileged Jew, "You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself" (Romans 2:21 NKJV)? Spiritual insincerity often leads to spiritual insensitivity. How many times have we heard of preachers and teachers who thunder away at sin from the pulpit only to have their personal failures find them out. Paul points out in these verses that ethnically, morally, and spiritually the Jew was guilty of the very behaviors they were scolding others for. They were preaching the high and holy standard of the law while they themselves were violating it.

Remember when Abraham lied to Pharaoh about Sarah being his wife while they were in Egypt (Gen. 12:10-20)? Led to believe that Sarah was Abraham's sister, the Pharaoh took her into his harem. All of a sudden, Pharaoh and his household were the recipients of all kinds of plagues from God; and it was revealed that Sarah was actually Abraham's wife. Imagine Abraham's shame when a pagan Pharaoh scolded him for telling a lie when he supposedly served the God of truth. Nothing will turn strangers away from truth like the misbehavior of a professing believer. One hypocrite makes a hundred unbelievers. When David sinned against the Lord with Bathsheba, Nathan said, "By this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme" (2 Samuel 12:14 NKJV).

So then, while access to religious truths increases one's accountability it does not make one more acceptable to God. It doesn't really impress unbelievers either, because they can easily detect a person that says one thing but does another. As Paul just reminded the hypocrite is verse 13, "for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified" (NKJV).

25 For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26 Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? 27 And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law?

Paul writes in verse 25, "For circumcision is indeed profitable IF YOU KEEP THE LAW; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become un-circumcision" (Romans 2:25 NKJV). In other words, a rite or religious task is meaningless UNLESS it is an outward expression of an inward experience. No outward ceremonial act can have any value if it is not related in some way to a dynamic, personal, scriptural experience. Remember circumcision was supposed to be a sign of the covenant to follow God your whole life.

Well then, here's the problem for the Jew (and for all of us really), for circumcision to be of any practical value, the Jew must keep the law of God – something humanly impossible. To break the law at any point is to render the ritual null and void. For if we keep the law sometimes, and break the law at others are we not still law breakers? No one in prison today has broken every law, yet we hold each person responsible for every law. If men do this imagine the stricter judgment of a God who sees everything.

To further make his point, Paul turns the tables on the Jew and explains, "Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his un-circumcision be counted as circumcision?
And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law" (Romans 2:26-27 NKJV)?

OUCH! Paul essentially says that a man devoid of rituals may be more righteous than a man devoted to them, and a man devoted to rituals may be more responsible in the sight of God than a man devoid of them. You see the value of a religious task is limited by the condition of a person's heart. A mere ceremony does not make a person right with God.

Paul's point can be illustrated by looking at the Hebrew Bar mitzvah ceremony. When a Jewish boy reaches his thirteenth birthday, he is believed to have attained the age of responsibility and religious duty. But performing this religious ceremony does not make a man out of a boy. There is far more to manhood than that. Being baptized with water or circumcised in the flesh does not make a person right with God. These religious tasks were designed to be outward expressions of an inward reality.

28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.

Paul was not presenting a new idea here. The truth that mere religious tasks did not make a man a Jew was as old as the law and the prophets. Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 10:16, "Therefore circumcise the foreskin OF YOUR HEART, and be stiff-necked no longer" (NKJV). In Ezekiel 44:9, the prophet wrote, "Thus says the Lord GOD: 'No foreigner, uncircumcised IN HEART or uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter My sanctuary, including any foreigner who is among the children of Israel'". (NKJV)

God always judges a man by his heart – a lesson that even godly Samuel had to learn. When he was sent by God to Jesse's house to anoint the next King of Israel he was very impressed with Eliab; the tall and handsome eldest son. But we read in 1 Samuel 16:7, "the LORD said to Samuel, 'Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, BUT THE LORD LOOKS AT THE HEART'" (NKJV). It was not until David walked into the room (whom Saul and Goliath later mocked as a "mere youth") that God said to Samuel, "Arise, anoint him, for this is the one" (1 Sam. 16:12 NKJV). The kingly qualities of David were inward, not outward.

So, then, Paul indicts the Hebrew by taking him to task on his religious tasks. External tasks are no substitute for internal trust. Religious ceremony does not equal real Christianity.

While Paul's purpose in this passage was pointed to the Jew, we should be prompted to examine ourselves in light of the following privileges that we enjoy as believers. Jesus shared these same ideas with the Pharisees, but I would apply them to any form of religious legalism; Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu. Each religious tradition contains posers who pretend to be closer to God by virtue of their religious works. But this is impossible, since righteousness comes from God.

Things to consider:

1. Do you call yourself a Christian because you've repented of your sin and placed your trust in Christ's finished work on the cross for your salvation; or do you say that you're a Christian because you were: born in a "Christian nation", raised in a Christian home, attend a Christian church and live a "moral" life?

2. The fact that we have access to our own copy of God's inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word is an awesome privilege! How can we demonstrate that is true?

3. How does our life reflect the idea that our standing with God, is determined by Christ's righteousness and now our own?

4. How can we avoid the trap of religious imperialism, believing we hold a position of privilege above other recipients of God's grace?

5. How does staying humble and trusting only in the righteousness of Christ help fulfill the great commission?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Romans 2 - Judgment for the Self-Righteous

Romans 2:1-16

As we study Romans keep in mind the theme is that righteousness comes from God. In these early chapters we are seeing different examples of people who failed to understand that concept.

First we had the wise fools of Romans 1 who ignore God revealed in creation, and suppress the truth about God. To them, God declares their ignorance will not be excused.

Last week we looked at the morally depraved, who believed the lie which Satan has told from the beginning, "be your own god", decide for yourself what is good and evil. These sinners God has given over to their own wicked desires, to destroy themselves with corrupt behavior. This is called the wrath of abandonment.

The other forms of wrath we listed last week:

  1. Eternal wrath – separation from God and the torment of Hell
  2. Apocalyptic wrath – the judgments poured out against mankind in the day of the Lord
  3. Cataclysmic wrath – like Noah's flood or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
  4. Consequential wrath – natural results of sin (the law of sowing and reaping)
  5. Wrath of abandonment – when God withdraws from the rebellious soul

This week Paul turns his attention to the self righteous. These are Hypocrites who judge others not for how they might offend God, but for how others offend their own standard of right and wrong. These are "respectable sinners" who are seen as good people within their own circle of like-minded companions. Even though they look good on the outside they are judged because of the sin they harbor in their hearts.

1 Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. 2 But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things.

The Hypocrite feels that other men's sins are worse than his own. He compares himself with the alcoholic, the drug addict, the hooker, the homosexual, the murderer and the child molester; then prides himself in his church membership, "morality", and respectability. The comparison is, of course, very flattering to him. This common mistake is exposed by a very simple truth; he is judging himself by the wrong standard.

When God grades man He does not use a curve; with Mother Theresa at the top of the scale and Hitler at the bottom. If that were the case, most of us would land comfortably in the middle of the pack or perhaps maybe even a little ahead. In fact, if you were to take a survey among your friends, you would probably uncover this "bell curve" belief in their conversation. "Well, I may not be perfect, but I'm no child molester!" "I may not be Billy Graham, but I'm better than Jeffry Dahmer!" The truth of the matter is that men will not be judged by the standards they choose; they will be judged by God's. His holy standard is the law; as explained and amplified by the Lord Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus not only explained the law in His teaching, but He also amplified it with His famous words, "but I say unto you." Following are a few examples:

Matthew 5:21-22 (NKJV)

21 "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire".

Matthew 5:27-28 (NKJV)
27 "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.'
28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart".

Matthew 5:33-35 (NKJV)
33 "Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.' 34 But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne;
35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King".

Matthew 5:43-44 (NKJV)
43 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you."

[To the self-righteous who say "I have not killed" God says "what about the anger in your heart?". To the self-righteous who says "I have not committed adultery" God says "what about the lust in your heart?". We judge the oath-breaker, God will judge the oath-taker. We try to love our neighbor, but who has loved their enemy? Jesus did; He loved us while we were still enemies of God.]

If people are going to measure themselves by somebody else, then they must measure themselves alongside Christ; when they do that, all grounds for hypocrisy and smugness will be swept away. Jesus was the only One on planet earth who completely fulfilled God's law with a perfectly sinless life. He is the standard; from which we fall dismally short.

We are experts at self justification. David had to hear about his own sin with Bathsheba, by Nathan's story about a sheep, before he repented. (2 Sam. 12:5-6).

At that moment, Nathan exposed the king's hypocrisy by declaring, "Thou, art the man!"

Paul says to the Hypocrite, "for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things" Romans 2:1 NKJV).

The word "hypocrite" comes from a word that means "to act a part as if on stage". The Hypocrite is an actor. He puts on a show for the benefit of others, but he cannot fool God; as Paul declares, "But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things" (Romans 2:2 NKJV).

3 And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?

Everyone who commits a crime thinks they will get away with it, but Paul says "Really….You think you can actually behave this way and escape God's notice"?

In another Scriptural example of hypocrisy we remember the older brother in the parable of The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:29-30). He was so angry that his repentant younger brother had been received back fully forgiven into his family that he refused to have any part in the celebration that followed. When the father came out to urge him to join them, the older brother made a speech that was oozing with self-righteousness. He said, "Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him" (Luke 15:29-30 NKJV).

Notice the "I", "me", and "my" in that speech. Notice also how he refused to be identified as the prodigal's brother – "this son of yours". Notice also how he had the far country in his own deceitful, hypocritical heart all the time. He wanted to "make merry" too! He wanted to sow his wild oats as well! The only difference between the two boys was that the younger brother had more courage and was no hypocrite. The younger son was guilty of the sins of the flesh, but the older brother was guilty of pride, stubbornness, bitterness, and hypocrisy – the sins of the spirit. He was just as much a rebel against his father as the younger brother, and much harder to win.

Another story, told by the Lord Himself, exposes man's hypocrisy with unmistakable clarity. In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus tells us of two men – a tax collector and a Pharisee – going down to pray. The tax collector, conscience of his deep depravation, beat his chest and cried out to God in desperation. But the Pharisee, proceeded to tell God what an exemplary man he was. He said, "God, I thank You that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.
I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess" (Luke 18:11-12 NKJV). And what did Jesus say about this smug and prideful Pharisee? He said that only the tax collector's prayer was heard by God that day, "for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 18:14 NKJV).

4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?

Sometimes we mistake God's delay for a "hall pass" to continue in sin. In reality God's "forbearance and longsuffering" is our opportunity to repent!

Because God doesn't exact immediate judgment, we imagine that He never will. What's even worse is that we persuade ourselves that God has nothing to avenge; so that when wars and famines and personal tragedies do come we throw up our hands and say "why me Lord"?

5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who "will render to each one according to his deeds":

I've talked to some who challenge the New Testament view of judgment and Hell saying they Old Testament did have the same ideas.

"For You render to each one according to his work." (Psalm 62:12)

"And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?" (Proverbs 24:12)

Now compare this to Revelation 20.

"And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before the throne, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hell delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works." (Rev. 20:12-13)

The hypocrite faces certain judgment. "But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath ". This refusal to repent, is the fire under the pressure-cooker of God's wrath getting hotter and hotter until it one day explodes in final judgment; when we are judged for our works who's righteousness do you want to stand on; Christ's or your own?

7 eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; 8 but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, 9 tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; 10 but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

Taken out of context it looks like this passage teaches that salvation is by works; that salvation can be earned by patiently doing good. But such an interpretation is foreign to the entirety of Scripture. So, we must remember that this passage deals with God's basis of judgment. In the Bible judgment is according to our works; SALVATION IS BY FAITH. Remember Chapter 1 taught that the righteousness of God is revealed when those who are justified by faith, live by faith. Good works are the evidence of faith; not the source of salvation. I have to think believing Jew's like always being mentioned firs t as recipients of salvation; but verse 9 says that will also be first in line for "tribulation and anguish", for all those who refuse to repent.

11 For there is no partiality with God. 12 For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law

Those who have the law have much more light than those without it. The possession of an open Bible on your lap increases your opportunity to know God's will. But light is light regardless of how dim or bright it might happen to be.
If a person were lost in a dark forest at night, the least glimmer of light would attract him; and if he desired deliverance from the darkness, he would move toward that light. However, if he had some guilt to hide, he would not respond to the light, except to hide or run from it, regardless of its dimness or brightness. Judgment awaits all who reject the light; but for those who have had a greater advantage, there is even a greater guilt.

13 (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; 14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them)

The law which the Gentiles had was not in code but in conscience. Remember we discussed in chapter 1 that having a moral conscience is a part of being created in the "Image of God". God's general laws have been written into the innate consciousness of the soul. Conscience is God's watchdog in the soul; but it can be silenced and even seared. In fact, it is quite possible to obtain the approval of conscience on a wrong act. Conscience must be educated and monitored by the Word of God. The more conscience is ignored, the more it is desensitized and eventually silenced in one's life.

16 in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.

The secrets of men! What a fearful day that will be when God begins to call to light the hidden works of darkness! It is this fear that originally lead me to salvation in my youth.

The problem with self-righteousness is that true righteousness comes from God and thus is only valid for His purpose not our own. The same is true for conviction; God uses it to bring us to redemption, not to make one man feel superior to another. Hypocrites do not escape because God sees what is in our hearts!

Questions for discussion:

1. What group of people did Jesus rebuke more than any other during His time on earth; and why?

2. How are we so often like the Pharisees in Jesus day?

3. Is there hope for the "Hypocrite"? What should a person, who is relying on his own righteousness, do to get right with God and avoid the coming wrath?