Thursday, December 27, 2018

Sovereignty of God Pt 9 (Final)

According to Jim Baker, who sat with George Bush during his last day, after a phone call from W, he heard George say, “I love you.” Those were the last words of our former president. Last words are always significant.
  • Leonardo De Vinci: I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.
  • Charlie Chaplin: A priest said: May the Lord have mercy on your soul. To which he answered, Why not? It belongs to Him.
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, writer of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, turned to his wife and said, “You are wonderful,” then clutched his chest and died.
  • Michael Landon's family gathered around his bed, and his son said it was time to move on. Landon said, “You’re right. It’s time. I love you all”

What were God’s last words in the OT? Believe it or not it was the same as Michael Landon – I love you all. That last promise brought the whole story together, the event all of Heaven was crying for.

Mal 4:1-6 For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze," says the LORD of hosts, "so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing," says the LORD of hosts. Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.

Where was the “I love you all?” You’ll hear it in a minute, but first let’s talk about the fulfillment of prophecies: Someone counted 108 direct prophecies related to Jesus. The odds of someone fulfilling those 108 prophecies is impossible.

The probability of fulfilling just eight is 1:100 quadrillion. Winning the lottery is 1:14 million. Mark a silver dollar so you can identify it. Get into a jet and fly up as high as the plane will go, then roll down the window and drop the dollar somewhere over Texas. Take a blind man to the center of the state and tell him to go find that silver dollar. The chance of him finding it is 1:100 quadrillion. In other words, it is impossible.

So, what we’ll talk about today and all we’ve been talking about in this series is among the things considered by human reason to be impossible. Now, if we’re dealing with a story that is filled with impossibilities, what’s our basis for believing it’s all true?

We start with the story of Mary being visited by Gabriel: Luke 1:35-37 The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God. 

Nothing is impossible is the ultimate statement of a Sovereign God. Even when something is mathematically improbable or scientifically impossible, a sovereign God commands and it happens.
Faith only works when directed to a sovereign God. Our beliefs are stronger when based upon a sovereign God. Our understanding is clearer when we see things in light of a sovereign God. If we don’t start with a sovereign God, most of the Bible won’t work. It’s reduced to nothing more than good fiction with a few moral teachings thrown in.

So, because of the fulfillment of prophecies, this birth and the circumstances surrounding this birth are in the realm of the impossible. That means this event is something only God could pull off.
For example: Matt 1:22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL," which translated means, "GOD WITH US." Quoting Isaiah.
Now, how are you going to do that? Mary asked the same thing: Luke 1:34 Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. 

But the virgin birth was essential to the story? Why, because it was prophesied. 
  • Without the Virgin Birth, we have an illegitimate child or a child of human conception and not the only begotten Son of God.

Did we have to have Mary and Joseph?
  • Without Mary and Joseph, we have no connection to the throne of David.

Did He have to be born in Bethlehem?
  • Without Bethlehem, we have the birth in Nazareth which fulfills nothing in Scripture.

Did there have to be shepherds coming to see the baby?
  • Without shepherds coming, we have no connection to the sacrificial purpose of Jesus coming in the first place.

We’ve invested the last 8 weeks seeing what God did through nations, kings and circumstances to move the story to this point. How he used the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans. Now, what He does will be through His own people to fulfill prophecy. Remember the reason for prophecy: so that when it happens, we can go back and see God said it would happen, and thereby know that what we see is the work of God fulfilling His promises.

The last prophecy about Elijah coming first was pivotal. Elijah was to be the front runner, the herald, the courier of the news that the Messiah was on the way, the advance man.

We know that Elijah had been gone 400 years when Malachi wrote. To connect it with the birth of Jesus was another 400 years. Was God going to bring back a dead man?

Here’s what Gabriel said to John’s father, Zacharias: Luke 1:17 It is he (John) who will go as a forerunner before Him (Jesus) in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." 

Wait! Did Malachi mishear God’s voice? No, Malachi said: Mal 4:5 Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. Yea, but Gabriel is saying God is sending John.

It’s like Gabriel saying to Mary, His name will be Jesus, but to Joseph, he said, He will be called Immanuel. Which is it? Both. One is His name. The other is who He will be.

We hear things but filter what we hear through our own understanding. Which is what the proverb says we aren’t to do: don’t lean on your own understanding but trust in the Lord for direction. Here’s what I heard you say. But do you understand what I said?

Malachi heard the last thing Lord said, but Gabriel clarified what God meant prophetically.

Jesus did the same thing with the Disciples. They asked Jesus one day: Matt 17:10-13 "Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" And He answered and said, "Elijah is coming and will restore all things; but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John. 

So, with the announcement to Zacharias, God turned the key in the ignition. Everything was ready and in place for the plan to be fulfilled. The Forerunner was on the way, and all that followed would be ready as well. Like God cranking up the bus: Get in Zacharias and Elizabeth, we need to get John. Now, let’s go pick up Mary and Joseph…

What’s interesting in John’s birth story, apparently Zacharias had been praying all their marriage for a son. Elizabeth was called barren. Being barren was a disgrace in Israel. So, it was probably a lifetime prayer from Zacharias that God grant them a child.

Luke 1:13 The angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. 

But how like God to take our petition and say, “Yes, I’ll provide that, but I’m going to delay that, tweak it a bit and use it for My purposes as well. I’ll be blessing you beyond what you are asking.”
That’s what Paul said God does: Eph 3:20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 

Zacharias just wanted an heir, a son. God gave him John the Baptizer, Elijah, the forerunner of the Messiah.

How like God to step into a couple’s life and say, “I’ve got plans to accomplish something through you and for you that goes beyond what you can even dream. Hang on because I’m working in the nothing is impossible realm.”

And even a little humor gets thrown in. When Elizabeth became pregnant, she wasn’t quite as thrilled as Zacharias: Luke 1:24-25 After these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant, and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying, "This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men?When Gabriel was talking with Zacharias, it was his prayer God was answering. Elizabeth probably quit praying when it became too impossible.

But here’s prophetic fulfillment: the timing of John, the answering Zacharias’ prayers for a baby, the alignment with promise all brought the story to the exact time.

Paul said: Gal 4:4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman doesn’t mean when Mary was full-term the baby came, but when everything prophetically aligned, all the prophecies, all the people were now in place to bring the story to us.

So, what do you do with all this fulfillment God pulled off? You believe. Zacharias and Elizabeth believed. The shepherds believed. Mary and Joseph believed. In fact, the greatest thing Mary did was believe what she had been told was true. And as Elizabeth said to her: Luke 1:45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord." That’s how we become blessed people – we believe what God says.

Even when the chance of all these prophecies being fulfilled is 1:100 quadrillion, we believe because that belief is based on the promises of a sovereign God.

  1. What we believe must not be limited to what we can accept or understand.
  2. Belief is not just an affirmation we think is right, but a principle upon which we stand.
  3. We believe because we trust God to tell us the truth.
  4. And even when we may doubt or demonstrate other methods of unfaithfulness, He remains faithful.
  5. Because He is faithful, I can live confidently in the presence of impossible things.

Oh, by the way, where were God’s words: I love you all? Remember John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. It’s the theme throughout the whole story. I’m doing this because I love you all.
God loved and He gave. Now all that remains is for us to believe. But it’s not just an affirmation that we think the story is true. It is receiving what He offers because it is true.

It’s like the story has another chapter to be written – the chapter where you and I come in. What’s supposed to happen in that chapter? We become Children of God. How does that happen? John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 

Did you know God is still driving that bus? It’s the bus of fulfillment. And at some point, the bus will pull up to you and God will open that door and invite you to get on the bus. If you do, He will fulfill in your life all that this story is about.

Have you gotten on the bus, yet? If not, believe and then receive the life God offers you.

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Sovereignty of God Pt 8

We left off last week with Greece pulling out of Israel because of the Romans rising in power and the Maccabean revolt in Jerusalem. Israel was now a free country for the first time since the two captivities. They were free both religiously and politically.

Because of their restored religious freedom, the Temple was decontaminated following Antiochus Epiphanes’ Abomination of Desolation. The pig he sacrificed to Zeus on the altar of God left the Temple desecrated for 25 years.

After the Temple was re-consecrated and religious duties resumed, the religious leaders of Israel created a new religious order called the Pharisees who were charged with structuring the Mosaic Law into rules and enforcing compliance. It seems the religious leaders finally realized God would not protect the Temple if the people neglected God’s laws and expectations.

The Pharisees were to keep the people right with God. They started with honorable intentions, but their tactics became harsh. After searching the OT, they found everything Moses said that they could fashion into a law. At final count they came up with 613 rules they determined were necessary for someone to obey, so that person could be right with God. The problem was the means became more important than the end. By their system, it would be the achievement of works not the appropriation of faith that would earn God’s favor. Instead of blessing the people in their desire to be right with God, they placed on them a burden from which there was no release.

There were a couple of benefits from all this: It kept religious duty as a priority so they wouldn’t neglect the Temple again. It also kept alive the anticipation that the Messiah would come soon because of prophetic fulfillment through Antiochus Epiphanes.

Their religious freedom led to the extremes of the Pharisees. Their political freedom led to extremes as well. Two men from the ruling class within Israel both wanted to be King. To help make that possible, one of the men, Aristobulus, sought help from the new, rising world power, Rome. Hoping to get in good with them, but also thinking they could present the force needed to place him on the throne, Aristobulus invited Rome to come into Jerusalem.

But as promised by the prophecy of Daniel, the Romans would be the iron of the statue, the strongest, most powerful and victorious of the conquerors. Rome was under the authority of Pompey the Great, a powerful general who had risen as a military and political leader of Rome.

Instead of helping Aristobulus take the throne, Pompey would carry out his practice of engaging in war for ‘the love of power and wealth’ and of plundering royal palaces as if he had been sent, 'not to subdue the kings, but to strip them – an accusation made by the Roman Senate.

The Jewish historian, Josephus, wrote: Now the occasion of this misery which came upon Jerusalem were Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, by raising a sedition one against the other; for now we lost our liberty, and became subject to the Romans, and were deprived of that country which we had gained by our arms – a reference to the Maccabean revolt.

In 63 B.C. the Roman army, led by Pompey, took Israel captive. God’s people will now live under the rule of Rome until they are run out of their country in 70 A.D. when the Romans destroy the Temple for the final time.

Instead of crowning Aristobulus, Pompey had him imprisoned. Interesting side note: Julius Caesar who was the rising star of Rome during Pompey’s reign, freed Aristobulus to deliberately undermine Pompey and gain favor with the Jews. Out of spite, men loyal to Pompey poisoned Aristobulus before he could get out of Israel and into freedom.

Soon after the take-over, the political skies of Rome grew dark. It is common in government takeovers that men commit atrocities in the name of loyalty. Julius Caesar was on the move to become Rome’s first Emperor. He defeated Pompey at a battle in Greece causing Pompey to flee to Egypt. As Pompey stepped out of his boat on the shore, three of his own men assassinated him, removed his head from his body and presented it to Julius Caesar. It repulsed Caesar but opened the door of the Empire to him. With Pompey having been the only obstacle to the throne, Julius Caesar now declared himself Emperor in 48 B.C. But he only reigned six years. You’ll remember he died after asking Brutus if he had eaten yet. Et tu Brute?

After Caesar was assassinated, the Roman Senate appointed a triumvirate – three men to serve as a ruling committee. Shortly afterward the Senate also appointed Herod the Great as King of the Jews around 40 B.C. Herod was a loyal subject of Rome, though as a Jew he did have legitimate blood connections to the royal family line of Israel.

He refurbished the Temple that would become the Temple Jesus knew and provided much to benefit the people through building and implementing elements of Greek and Roman culture. But he ruled within Israel with a great deal of harshness and free reign, having the full support of the Roman government. His decadent lifestyle proved he had no conscious devotion toward God and all he did for the nation was political.

Now about that triumvirate, few ambitious men want to work through a committee. These three men: Mark Antony, Lepidus, and Octavius, struggled with each other to eliminate the competition. This forced Herod to choose sides for the one man he would support. Because he already had an established relationship with Mark Antony and Cleopatra, he chose Mark Antony. He chose wrong.
Lepidus died in battle. With one man down and one to go, Octavius pursued Mark Antony to Egypt. And like a chapter out of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, instead of facing Octavius’ sword and thinking Cleopatra had killed herself, Mark Antony stabbed himself with his own sword. When he found out that Cleopatra was still alive, his friends took him to Cleopatra's monument in which she was hiding. He died in her arms. She then allowed herself to be bitten by a poisonous snake and died as well. Octavius was the last man standing.

Then Herod, to make up for his mistake, changed the name of a great city he had built on the Mediterranean coast of Israel to Caesarea, in honor of Octavius who now became Caesar Augustus, or the Great Caesar.

It is Caesar Augustus we meet in Luke 2:1-3 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. – The city where the man was born. This would corroborate with records there to confirm he did indeed make the census.

Why did Augustus want a census of the whole inhabited earth or more specifically the whole Roman Empire? Generally, for tax purposes. Each person was required to pay a tax to exist within the empire. But this census, though only, perhaps, to calculate people and increase revenue, was being directed by the finger of God.

What was God doing? Micah 5:2 But as for you, Bethlehem, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity. 

The specific prophecy about where the Messiah would be born was this statement in Micah. He would come from Bethlehem.

When the Magi showed up at Herod’s palace seeking the newborn King, Matt 2:4-5 Herod gathered together all the chief priests and scribes of the people and inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: they quote the same verse from Micah.

Here’s sovereignty: you have a promise and a forced action by the government that helps bring the promise to the right location. The finger of God directing the hearts of kings toward His purpose. Now all you need is to get the main characters there.

Luke 2:4-6 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was betrothed to him, and was with child.  While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 

Mary and Joseph were living in Nazareth, but the family lineage went back to Bethlehem. Other than the census, there would have been no reason for them to have been in Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus. But thanks to Caesar Augustus, they were forced to align with God’s prophecy.

So, the pieces of the statue Nebuchadnezzar saw were not just a preview of the next nations to rule the world, they were the specific nations God would use to orchestrate His plan to so love the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever would believe in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.

We saw why we needed the Babylonians and the Persians and even the Greeks. But why did we need the Romans? Here are some things God would use to fulfill His plan that were uniquely Roman:
  • Census – a Roman organizational/taxation tool – Fulfilled prophecy of having Jesus born in Bethlehem.
  • Roman Law removed from Jewish leaders the right to execute a person. – Kept them from killing Jesus prematurely.
  • The use as the primary source of capital punishment – crucifixion – fulfilled prophecy in Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 as to how the Messiah would die.
  • Provided access to the rest of the world by Roman roads and commerce – to spread the Gospel.

The right people at the right place at the right time isn’t a coincidence. It’s providence. It is the hand of God working through people and events to orchestrate everything toward the fulfillment of His plan. How the events unfold can be as important as what they help accomplish, when what is accomplished is God’s perfect work.

  1. Everything God does is with purpose.
  2. Even things that appear to be happenstance or chance, God may very well be in the background working out His plan.
  3. When we fail to recognize the hand of God in the circumstances of our lives, we may misunderstand the faithfulness of God.
  4. When we misunderstand the faithfulness of God, we will often assume things about God that aren’t true.
  5. Only a God who loves us with an everlasting love would be willing to accomplish what is best for us.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Sovereignty of God Pt 7

As kids, we played King of the Mountain. One kid would get to the top of a hill and claim himself king. The others would try to knock him off and make themselves king in his place. A bit violent but we had a lot of fun with it.

In Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, four nations would take their turn as king of the mountain. The Babylonians ruled for approximately 70 years, during which time God used them to take His people captive and destroy the Temple. They were overtaken by the Persian Empire which served God’s purposes for 200 years. During Persian rule, God used the compassion of the Persian Kings’ to restore His people back home in Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. When their time was over, He raised up the Greeks, under Alexander the Great.

During his youth, Alexander was tutored by Aristotle until age 16. After his father’s assassination in 336 B.C., he took the throne at age 20 and inherited a strong kingdom and an experienced army. Alexander followed his father’s plan of world domination with Persia as their number one target. Two years after taking the throne, he invaded the Persian Empire and began a series of campaigns that lasted ten years until he conquered them in 324 B.C. It was now Greece’s turn to rule the world.
An obvious question is: what did Greece bring into the picture? Greece was where civilized society began. Architecture, politics, society, culture, philosophy, mathematics and language that would all shape the development of the nations of the world came from the Greeks.

For what God had planned, the world needed to move out from the tribal mentality of managing society and become a people of laws and order. Greece would play a significant role in the culture that influenced Rome and gave Christians an established method for spreading the Gospel to the rest of the world. God even knew in advance what would be the primary language of the world in the first century and had His people prepared.

But another part of the story unfolds prophetically. Daniel told us that: Dan 11:31 Forces from him [the Greeks] will arise, desecrate the sanctuary fortress [the Temple], and do away with the regular sacrifice. And they will set up the abomination of desolation. 

In 167 B.C., Antiochus Epiphanes (a name that means: god manifested) the Greek Emperor, outlawed the practice of Jewish religion on pain of death, killing those who circumcised their sons, followed the food laws, and kept the Sabbath. He set up the abomination of desolation by sacrificing a pig to the Greek god Zeus on the altar, thus desecrating the Temple.

Why would God permit this? This was His restored house from where He said He would dwell perpetually. Again, to fulfill the prophecies. Prophecies say we’re moving forward. There’s more to come. But perhaps Israel needed another disciplinary challenge.

Back the story up just a bit. The excitement to return and the devotion that was rekindled after Cyrus made that first decree – all they had reclaimed – was now old and but a distant memory. The freshness of worship was gone. Routine had returned.

After Nehemiah had restored the walls and built the new gates to secure the city of Jerusalem, he left to return to Persia to resume service for Artaxerxes. A few years later he asked leave of the king and made his way back to Jerusalem. What he found was crushing news. In only a short time, all that he had set up to service the Temple had been neglected – the offerings, animals for sacrifice, tithes, first fruits. He said: Neh 13:11 So I reprimanded the officials and said, "Why is the house of God forsaken?" Then I gathered them together and restored them to their posts. 

He reorganized the Temple service but how long did it last this time? Move the clock ahead about 30 years. Malachi, the last prophet to write in the Old Testament, declared the Word of the Lord around 400 B.C.

Mal 1:6-14 A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?' says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name. But you say, 'How have we despised Your name?' You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, 'How have we defiled You?' In that you say, 'The table of the LORD is to be despised.' But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?" says the LORD of hosts. But now will you not entreat God's favor, that He may be gracious to us? With such an offering on your part, will He receive any of you kindly?" says the LORD of hosts. Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you," says the LORD of hosts, "nor will I accept an offering from you. But you are profaning it, in that you say, 'The table of the Lord is defiled, and as for its fruit, its food is to be despised.' You also say, 'My, how tiresome it is!' And you disdainfully sniff at it," says the LORD of hosts, "and you bring what was taken by robbery and what is lame or sick; so you bring the offering! Should I receive that from your hand?" says the LORD. But cursed be the swindler who has a male in his flock and vows it, but sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord, for I am a great King," says the LORD of hosts, "and My name is feared among the nations." 

Here we go again. We lost the nation by neglecting the powerful intentions of God – the Temple sacrifice, the worshipful heart, the singular expression of devotion. They were home again, but now, they’re back doing what they did before – perfunctory routine, stuff that didn’t matter, empty religion. Historically, it seems the only thing that got Israel’s attention was devastation. God had to act.
So, through the evil actions of a Greek Emperor, in 167 B.C., God shut down the Temple again, and left it defiled and unusable for 25 years.

But during that 25 years, you can imagine the hostilities that grew against Greece. There rose up a family within the Jewish community, the Maccabee’s, who led a successful revolt against the Greeks. To help them in that success, the Romans, who were gaining strength as a conquering nation, turned their attention to Greece. The Maccabee’s revolt along with Greece’s preoccupation with Rome led them to withdraw from Jerusalem and release any claims to the land.

With the land back in Jewish hands, they could return to their religious practices. The priests could now re-consecrate the temple that Antiochus Epiphanes had defiled. That process of re-consecrating took eight days. One vital element of restoration was to light a lamp that would burn holy oil, representing the presence of God. The lamp was to be left burning for the entire eight-day period. After 25 years without priestly service, the holy, consecrating oil left in the Temple was insufficient to last the eight days, but miraculously it did, and the temple was restored to purity. Hanukah was established to acknowledge God’s miracle of the lamp that wouldn’t go out. It is celebrated for eight days to represent the eight days the oil kept the lamp burning. (If you have any Jewish friends, you’ll know they are currently in the week of Hanukah.)

Because of the Maccabean revolt and Rome conquering the Greek Empire, Israel was now free from any outside nation ruling over them. Within that freedom, the heart of worship returned and devotion to the Temple service was restored.

But something else became important to them. Throughout the OT, God had woven the promise of the Messiah into Scripture. There are general references scattered around but you’ll find in some of the Psalms, in Isaiah and the other prophets, very specific promises. Remember Daniel made a specific promise about the appearance of the Messiah into Jerusalem 483 years after the Decree by Artaxerxes. He also mentioned the Abomination of Desolation. Then, later, he said Dan 11:35 Some of those who have insight will fall, in order to refine, purge and make them pure until the end time; because it is still to come at the appointed time. 

It’s not hard to connect this prophecy to the Maccabees story. It was a long and bloody, guerrilla warfare revolt. Many died. But it made the promise of Messiah real and caused the religious leaders to anticipate He would come soon. For the Jews the end time was when the Messiah would come and take over and rule. We believe the same thing, but that coming would be the second coming. Though we’re about 140 years out from Jesus coming, the anticipation began here.

A farmer was discussing buying a new mule. “So does he take commands well?” The salesman picked up a 2x4 and whacked the mule between the ears. He mule shook his head. Then the salesman gave a command and the mule responded. The farmer asked why he whacked him with the 2x4 before he gave him his command. The salesman said: “He’ll do whatever you ask as long as you get his attention first.”

Apparently, God got Israel’s attention. This time the religious leaders recognized the consequence of neglecting Him. So, to help keep their attention sharp, a new religious order was established. This was when the Pharisees of our New Testament enter the picture. They were appointed to be monitors of the practices of the people as well as monitors of what they believed God was wanting. They were to maintain faithfulness in anticipation of the Messiah’s coming.

However, one of the many problems they created was overshooting God’s intentions. You can take a good thing too far and it becomes a not-so-good thing or even a bad thing.

At first the Pharisees motives were honorable: make sure we don’t disappoint God again. But years later, instead of maintaining the faith that made that possible, they replaced faith with works. They made as their objective keeping rules and regulations God never intended.

Remember Peter said: Acts 15:10 Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 
They expanded the 10 Commandments to 613. Living to keep commands, they lost the simplicity of loving the Lord their God with all their heart and with all their soul and with all their might. 
What was the upside of the Pharisees? They kept the Temple service in place until Jesus came. The downside: they lost the love that that service demanded. You see the conflict that created when even Jesus, God with us, didn’t measure up to their standard.

  1. It is difficult to see God at work in bad things.
  2. To think He could use evil to accomplish His purpose or move His plan along doesn’t sit well.
  3. Stepping back and looking at the big picture we can gain understanding why He would do so.
  4.  Seeing Him take what is meant for evil and ultimately using it for good causes praise.So don’t pre-judge Him while He is in the process of completing that good.

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Sovereignty of God Pt 6

Sailors in the north Atlantic have frequently observed icebergs traveling in one direction while the winds were blowing in the opposite direction. The icebergs were moving against the force of the winds, but how? The explanation: icebergs, with over 90% of their bulk underwater, are moved by ocean currents not wind. No matter which way the winds blow, the current will decide what direction the iceberg moves.

When God is moving His plan along, He creates a current to direct circumstances and people to where He wants them. Opposition can blow in from any source, but God, controlling the current, will decide what direction everything will move. Even when opposition intentionally tries to interfere with what He is doing.

Satan never stops trying to thwart the purposes of God. He throws in opposing forces and circumstances to mess up where he thinks things are going. However, Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the worldSatan cannot stop the activity of a Sovereign God.

Jesus said, on the foundation upon which I build My church – who I am, – even the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. Isa 54:17 "No weapon that is formed against you will prosper," declares the LORD. Or, as Job said: Job 42:2 I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.

That is the privilege of being sovereign. You set the plan and You make the plan work.

Remember Nebuchadnezzar’s statue: Dan 2:38-40 You are the head of gold. After you there will arise another kingdom inferior to you, then another third kingdom of bronze, which will rule over all the earth. Then there will be a fourth kingdom as strong as iron; inasmuch as iron crushes and shatters all things, so, like iron that breaks in pieces, it will crush and break all these in pieces. 

God was working these four nations into His plan. He gave Daniel the prophecy that told what He was doing. He laid out details in advance, so when it happened, we’d know it was Him at work. At this point in our history study, we’re in the Persian section of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue and in the Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah portions of our Bibles.

Cyrus was the one who decreed that the Jews could go home and rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. From the commissioning side of that decree, everything was in order. But from the application side, opposition rose up to stop them. Some of the remnant of the people who remained behind and never went into captivity had established themselves in Jerusalem and didn’t want these expatriates coming back to interfere with their lives.

During this time, the Jews are taking one step forward, two back, three steps forward and one back. They’re making progress but very slowly.

You’d think a decree would settle everything, but for the Temple to be built, Darius had to affirm what Cyrus had decreed. To keep the Jews alive so they could even go to Jerusalem, Esther had to appeal to Ahasuerus. For the walls of Jerusalem to be built, Artaxerxes, the son of Ahasuerus had to make a final declaration to have them built. So, from the first decree by Cyrus in 538 B.C. to the completion in 443 B.C. took over 90 years. But was finally done.

Even delays cannot invalidate the promises and plans of God. All the opposition did was to help place things into God’s time schedule.

How involved were these Persian kings? God used their compassionate spirit to permit Israel to return to their land, rebuild their lives, restore Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. But that wasn’t their only focus during their reign. What they ordered regarding Jerusalem and the Temple was only one item on their agenda one day. Not a lifetime obsession with restoring the Jews.

In the 80s the most popular TV show was Dallas. No one will forget the famous question that ended season two: Who shot J.R.?  Sue Ellen, Cliff Barnes? TV shows use cliff hangers to hold your interest until the next season begins. Someone gets shot, or there’s a big explosion, or some great mystery is announced. Some characters simply get killed off. But of course, it’s all imaginary.

In real life, real people face real challenges. Things happen to them that moves the story along and sets up the following chapters.

In 465 BC Ahasuerus, Xerxes, King of Persia, husband of Esther, was killed by members of his own court. The conspiracy was carried out by two of his confidential advisers. The Crown Prince was named Darius after his grandfather. Darius was the son of Ahasuerus and Vashti. Before Darius could take the throne, his brother Artaxerxes was deceived by the same two men who killed their father. They told him it was Darius who had done it. Why would Artaxerxes believe that? It could be from a lingering grudge against his father that Darius may have carried toward his dad. Seems Ahasuerus had intimate relations with Darius’ new wife soon after they were married. Artaxerxes, being the faithful son, with enough motives to drive him forward, invited his brother to his house and had him killed.

Wait! God can work through men like that? How horrific! Stop and think about what Habakkuk said about the Babylonians. Yet, God worked through them. It was Artaxerxes, the man responsible for his brother’s death, that God used to date the arrival of the Messiah into Jerusalem 490 years down the road.

There are two crucial decrees in reference to Jerusalem. To rebuild the Temple and to restore the city.
The Book of Ezra begins with the story of the first group that left to rebuild the Temple as soon as Cyrus told the people they were free to return to Jerusalem in 538 B.C. But Ezra is writing this years later. At the time of his writing, Artaxerxes was King of Persia. Ezra tells us the decree of Artaxerxes to complete the restoration of Jerusalem was made in the 7th year of his reign which would have been 458 B.C.

Here’s where the story gets gooder.

Dan 9:24-26 Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come [the Romans in 70 A.D.] will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. 

Seven weeks and 62 weeks, in prophetic mathematics, equals 483 years. Add 483 to 458 B.C. (the year Artaxerxes made his declaration) and you have the Messiah arriving in Jerusalem approximately in 27 or 28 A.D. (The Jewish calendar was 360 days per year, so add in the extra days and you pick up 2-3 additional years.) Which happens to be the earliest date possible for Jesus’ entrance on Palm Sunday, the week before the crucifixion.

God used Artaxerxes to issue the command Daniel said would trigger the timing of the arrival of the Messiah into Jerusalem.

Imagine that! Through death and family tragedy, mistaken murderous revenge, Artaxerxes became king and he is the one who makes the official decree to complete the restoration of Jerusalem.

Remember Prov 21:1 The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes. For God’s own timing, Artaxerxes was the king whose heart God directed toward His own specific purpose. He was the one in position at the right time to make this crucial decree.

But God wasn’t finished setting the stage for the ultimate moment of history. Next week, we’ll see what happens when the Greeks and Romans take their turns at King of the Mountain.

  1. Opposition, regardless of how fierce or from what direction it comes, cannot stop the current of God’s purpose.
  2. Even what is meant for evil, God can use for good.
  3. When we lose that perspective, we will try to fight the wrong enemies.
  4. The right enemies may be the implements of Satan and his demonic forces to try and thwart God’s intentions, or they can be our own minds twisting our thoughts to believe God isn’t enough for what we face.
  5. As a Child of God, He has promised He will get us Home, the journey to which may be bumpy at times, but the destination is secured.