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Restoration of Israel June 3, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 30-31.

Summary: In this passage, God instructs Jeremiah to declare this message to His people: He will bring them out of exile in Babylon and restore them to their homeland.

Moreover, He will:

  • not inflict a lasting punishment on them for their sins
  • inflict a lasting punishment on the Babylonians for the war crimes that they will commit against them
  • rebuild Jerusalem
  • heal their land
  • place a new king – from the house of David – over them
  • establish a new covenant with them
  • permanently remove their sinfulness
  • enable them to respond to these actions with praise and thanksgiving
  • never leave them nor forsake them.

Thoughts: This passage contains a brief description of the work of God the Son and God the Spirit in restoring His people to a proper relationship with Himself. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 9 of chapter 30:

It was the office and work of God to raise up Christ. We must always come to the fountain of God’s mercy if we want to enjoy the blessings of Christ. We will find in Christ whatever is necessary for our salvation.

Also, verses 33 and 34 of chapter 31 describe the work of God the Spirit in this regard. The truths that are contained in these verses should spur us to reflect on the nature of the Trinity – and rejoice in the fact that we worship God in Three Persons. Each member of the Trinity is invaluable in God’s great plan of salvation. In contrast, only God the Father plays a role in the old covenant – and that covenant was not effective in maintaining His relationship with His people. When He introduced that covenant, though, He already knew its primary purpose – to point to a new covenant that would also glorify the other (two) Persons who share His nature.

Here, we see that God’s love of His people is boundless. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 37 of chapter 31:

But God brings before us these strange and impossible things so that we may know that he will at length be reconciled to his people after having justly punished them…The prophet reassures them that God cares for them and would gather his scattered seed.

The beauty of these verses is evident, as they are replete with phrases including

‘Only if these decrees vanish from my sight…will Israel ever cease being a nation before me’

and

‘Only if the heavens above can be measured…will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done.’

The extent of God’s love of His people is amazing – especially as there is nothing in them that would merit His favor. As modern-day believers, we should ponder this point. Why has God chosen us? Why does He love us so much that He sent His own Son to die for our sins? It is difficult to even begin to formulate answers to these questions – yet we can still rejoice in His love for us and rest in His loving arms on a daily basis.

Given that this passage was written to the people of Judah, I am curious: how – and when – did they first hear it? Was it read to them before they were transported to Babylon? Or was it read to them during – or even after – their time in Babylon? How did they respond to the abundant promises in this passage? Did they interpret this passage as a long prophecy concerning a political Messiah who would restore the glory that Israel had enjoyed during the reign of David? What was their understanding of the new covenant that is described in this passage? Did they merely assume that God wanted them to recommit to the old covenant that He had established with Abraham?

Philip and the Ethiopian June 24, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 8:26-40.

Summary: In this passage, the Lord commanded Philip to go to the desert road connecting Jerusalem and Gaza; there, he met an Ethiopian eunuch who had gone to Jerusalem to worship the Lord. The eunuch had been reading from Isaiah 53:7-8 – though he could not comprehend those verses. Philip explained how those verses actually referenced the Messiah – Jesus of Nazareth. The eunuch responded to this revelation by declaring his belief that Jesus is the Son of God. After Philip baptized him:

  • the eunuch rejoiced at his salvation as he returned to Ethiopia
  • Philip preached the Gospel in the towns between Azotus and Caesarea.

Thoughts: An Ethiopian eunuch is a central figure in this passage. Calvin offers some insights regarding this eunuch in his commentary on verse 27:

Candace was not just the name of one queen. Pliny tells us that the Ethiopians called their queens Candace in the same way that the Romans called their emperors Caesar. Historians report that Ethiopia, whose capital was Meroe, was a noble and wealthy kingdom, and this is relevant to this incident because it tells us how exalted this eunuch was. Secular writers confirm Luke’s account by reporting that women used to reign there.

I certainly anticipate meeting this eunuch in the next life and learning more about him. How did he attain his high position in the kingdom of Ethiopia? How did he come to believe in the God of Israel? How did he acquire a scroll with the words of the prophet Isaiah? Was he able to share the Gospel message after his conversion? Did the Ethiopian monarch tolerate his newfound faith, or did she conduct a purge to remove him from office?

This passage displays God’s providence regarding His salvation plan, as He:

  • spurred Philip to go to the desert road connecting Jerusalem and Gaza
  • enabled Philip to encounter the Ethiopian eunuch on that road
  • had already brought the eunuch to faith in Him as the God of Israel
  • had already furnished the eunuch with a written copy of the words of the prophet Isaiah
  • caused the eunuch to read from the “suffering servant” passage – referencing the Messiah
  • enabled Philip to explain that obscure passage to the eunuch
  • enabled the eunuch to believe in Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God.

After I read this passage, I wished that God would display His providence by working in the hearts and minds of unbelievers who are close to me – especially family members. While this eunuch outwardly pursued God, I find that the unbelievers who are close to me are unconcerned with deep philosophical issues, including the purpose of their existence. This is quite frustrating, and I often grow discouraged when I pray for them. Perhaps this passage should spur me to renew my 1) trust in God’s sovereignty regarding salvation and 2) commitment to the Great Commission – since my free will shapes my response to His calling.

Peter Speaks to the Onlookers April 29, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 3:11-26.

Summary: In this passage, many astonished Jews gathered around Peter, John and the beggar whom they had just healed. Peter swiftly glorified God in light of this miracle, and he used this opportunity to preach the Gospel message to them – including the fact that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. He then called them to repent of their sins and anticipate the Second Coming of Christ. To spur them in this regard, he asserted that in their cherished Old Testament, God had foretold the First Coming of Christ – and stressed the necessity of obedience to Him – through many prophets, including:

Thoughts: We see that the initial presentations of the Gospel message in the early church relied on the Old Testament; this was a sensible strategy in that Peter wanted to prove to Jews that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. One could argue that preaching the Gospel to Jews was relatively simple, as they already accepted the truth of the God of the Old Testament and His promise of the Messiah; they only needed to be convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. Yet many modern-day unbelievers who lack a Jewish background reject the truth of the God of the Old Testament. While this can be discouraging for believers as we aim to carry out the Great Commission, we can draw strength from the forthcoming anecdotes in this book – where the Gospel is successfully preached to many Gentiles.

We also see that all of the Old Testament prophets eagerly anticipated the arrival of the Messiah as the One who would redeem Israel. They likely mulled over the following questions:

  • when would the Messiah be born?
  • where would the Messiah be born?
  • what would be the (earthly) name of the Messiah?
  • how would the Messiah redeem Israel?

While these prophets had to anticipate the arrival of the Messiah, modern-day believers are blessed in that we can look back to that historical moment. Yet we join these prophets in our anticipation of His (Second) Coming; thus, we ponder the following questions:

  • when will Jesus Christ return?
  • will Jesus Christ return at the Mount of Olives?
  • when Jesus Christ returns, what will I be doing?
  • when Jesus Christ returns, will He approve of me?

While we long for the answers to these questions, we must continue to trust in God – as only He knows the hour of the Second Coming.

Peter Addresses the Crowd April 14, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 2:14-41.

Summary: In this passage, Peter addressed the Jews from the previous passage – including those who dismissed the Twelve as drunkards. In particular, he used the following Old Testament passages to prove their sobriety:

  • Joel 2:28-32, where God asserts that He will pour out the Holy Spirit on all people after the coming of the Messiah
  • Psalm 16:8-11, where God asserts that He will raise the Messiah from the dead
  • Psalm 110:1, where God asserts that the Messiah will be seated at His right hand in heaven.

Peter then asserted that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled all of these prophecies; he also stated that the other members of the Twelve concurred with him in this regard. Therefore, Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. Many of the Jews were mortified by Peter’s assertions and were befuddled as to how to respond to them; he stated that they needed to:

  • repent of their sins
  • accept the forgiveness of Jesus Christ
  • be baptized as an outward sign of this fact.

About three thousand Jews responded appropriately that day, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Thoughts: In this passage, Peter makes several salient points:

  • the Old Testament states that the Messiah will die
  • the Old Testament states that God will raise the Messiah from the dead
  • the Old Testament states that the resurrected Messiah will sit at the right hand of God in heaven
  • the historical person, Jesus of Nazareth, fulfills all of these prophecies
  • therefore, Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah.

These points are essential components of the Christian worldview; thus, believers – and nonbelievers – should ponder them in their hearts. For example, we should consider the true meaning of the name “Jesus Christ”. Also, we should consider the fact that Peter’s salient points are interdependent; if any of them were to be falsified, then all of them would be called into question. This reminds me that I should read The Resurrection of the Son of God at some point.

In this passage, it appears that Peter serves as the spokesman for the Twelve. Now since his audience on the day of Pentecost consisted of Jews from sundry parts of the Roman and Parthian empires who spoke different languages, how did he communicate with them? Did the other members of the Twelve act as interpreters for those Jews who could not understand him – and if so, was the audience divided into linguistically homogeneous groups? What language did he use to convey these important truths to his audience?

In verses 37 and 40, we see that some of the Jews in this passage “were cut to the heart” by Peter’s message, while “he pleaded with” other skeptical Jews. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 40:

It was not easy for the Jews to leave their erroneous ways and break away from the priests whose rule they were accustomed to. So it was up to Peter to haul them out of this mire. They could not belong to Christ unless they parted company with his professed enemies. The priests and the scribes were very powerful, and under the guise of leading the church they deceived the simple.

I certainly hope to meet at least some of the Jews in this passage in the next life and learn how they initially responded to Peter’s message. Had they heard about the historical person, Jesus of Nazareth, before the day of Pentecost? If so, did Peter’s message furnish them with a new perspective on Jesus? Did they view themselves as being complicit in the execution of Jesus? Were they convinced by Peter’s arguments that Jesus had been raised from the dead?

Jesus Taken Up Into Heaven April 4, 2016

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I’ve recently started reading through the Acts of the Apostles with the aid of a commentary by John Calvin. I should note that I’ve previously read through Acts. As in my recent stroll through the book of Revelation, I hope to comprehend Acts as a whole. I also hope to be inspired to engage in the mission of the New Testament church: preach the Gospel to all nations.

I plan to blog about this experience as I read through both this book and Calvin’s commentary. Each post will correspond to a specific section in the NIV translation.

For starters, here are my thoughts on Acts 1:1-11.

Summary: In this passage, Luke begins with a concise description of his previous book. He then mentions some of the events that occurred after the resurrection of Jesus; in particular, Jesus reinforced His prior teachings to His apostles. Although they still viewed Him as their political Messiah, He asserted that He was their spiritual Messiah. In light of this great truth, He commissioned them – through the power of the Holy Spirit – to proclaim His true Person and deeds throughout the world. After this, He ascended to heaven; two angels then promised them that He would return someday.

Thoughts: As I am a history buff, I have always enjoyed reading through Acts. In particular, this book features a plethora of fascinating personalities who play critical roles in the growth of the New Testament church – in spite of fierce opposition and internal struggles. For this stroll, though, I hope to gain a greater appreciation for the work of the Holy Spirit throughout this book – especially as the same Holy Spirit works in all believers today. While God does not guarantee that we will bear the same fruit that the apostles bore in the early church, I pray that I would be inspired to match them in terms of their faithfulness. I am certainly curious as to how God will lead me in that regard during this stroll.

In verse 6, we see that the apostles still viewed Jesus as their political Messiah. Calvin offers some intriguing thoughts on this point:

Their stupidity is incredible. They had been carefully taught for three whole years, yet were as ignorant as if they had never heard a thing!

My opinion is that Calvin’s thoughts are a bit harsh. In particular, I believe that if I had been in the apostles’ position, I would have also failed to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ teaching regarding His identity as their spiritual Messiah. The disciples had been taught – from a young age – that the Old Testament predicted the arrival of a political Messiah; thus, it would have been difficult for three years of intense instruction from Jesus to overcome the biases that they had developed at a young age. While hindsight is always 20/20, in this passage it is evident that the apostles were still struggling to comprehend the wondrous sequence of events that began with Jesus’ death on the cross. It would take another miracle – Pentecost – for them to truly comprehend His teachings.

Jesus is Coming March 22, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 22:7-21.

Summary: In this passage, God the Son declares that:

  • He is coming soon
  • those who heed His warnings in this book will be blessed, as they will be able to 1) enter the Holy City, 2) partake of the tree of life and 3) partake of the water of life
  • those who do not heed His warnings in this book will be punished, as they will be 1) excluded from the Holy City, 2) excluded from the tree of life and 3) afflicted with many plagues
  • He is the ultimate author of this book.

John also declares that he is the human author of this book. He concludes by praying that his readers would receive the unmerited favor of God as they anticipate the coming of God the Son.

Thoughts: This book demonstrates that those who refuse to worship God and hold to His testimony will be punished. Indeed, Christ promises to judge unrepentant sinners by:

  • removing a lampstand from its place
  • fighting against His opponents with the sword of His mouth
  • casting Jezebel on a bed of suffering
  • causing those who commit adultery with Jezebel to suffer intensely
  • striking down the children of Jezebel
  • coming like a thief
  • spitting them out of His mouth
  • trampling them in the great winepress of His wrath
  • causing them to experience physical anguish
  • destroying the world.

While we are conditioned to seek short-term pleasures, God repeatedly warns us that indulgence in short-term pleasures will have long-term consequences. Thus, we must continue to heed His warnings in this book and worship Him – even in the midst of difficult circumstances (e.g. persecution).

This book also demonstrates that those who worship God and hold to His testimony will be rewarded. Indeed, Christ promises to reward His true followers by granting them:

  • the right to eat from the tree of life
  • the crown of life
  • preservation from the second death
  • some of the hidden manna
  • a white stone with a new name written on it that will only be revealed to its recipient
  • authority over the nations
  • the morning star
  • white clothes
  • His acknowledgment before His Father and His angels
  • preservation from the hour of trial that will come upon the world
  • a pillar in the temple of God – with His name and the name of His city written on it
  • the right to sit with Him on His throne.

While these rewards may appear somewhat abstract as we live in this material world, God repeatedly calls us to meditate upon them and live holy lives that are worthy of them. On a personal note, I have been greatly encouraged by my stroll through this book, and I pray that I would be able to live a holy life that is worthy of these rewards – with God Himself being the greatest reward.

The Thousand Years March 5, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 20:1-6.

Summary: In this passage, John observes an angel holding a chain and the key to the Abyss. This angel binds Satan, throws him into the Abyss and seals it for a thousand years. John also observes Christian martyrs – in particular, those who refused to worship the beast out of the sea. They reign with Christ during the imprisonment of Satan in the Abyss. Indeed, they have overcome both physical and spiritual death; now, they will serve God.

Thoughts: This passage may indicate that Christian martyrs will receive greater rewards in the next life than other believers. While the concept of a heavenly hierarchy is debatable, I certainly hope that if a heavenly hierarchy exists, then martyrs would be placed above other believers. I believe that those who suffer in a special way for the name of Christ should receive a special reward, as they have consciously decided to hold to His testimony – while overcoming the persistent temptation to commit apostasy and embrace the pleasures of this world. I also believe that if a heavenly hierarchy exists, then Christians who are not martyred will not experience feelings of resentment in the next life – as they will be content with their heavenly rewards. If any readers have some thoughts on this point, feel free to share them as a comment.

The Rider on the White Horse March 5, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 19:11-21.

Summary: In this passage, John observes God the Son seated on a white horse; He leads an army – also seated on white horses. An angel then calls all birds to devour the flesh of those who oppose God the Son and His army; that army is led by the beast out of the sea and the kings of the earth. God the Son emerges triumphant; moreover, the beast out of the sea and the beast out of the earth are captured and hurled into the lake of fire. Their army is slaughtered – providing all birds with a macabre feast.

Thoughts: My impression is that many Christians view Christ as a warm, loving shepherd who holds His sheep – i.e. believers – in His arms and cares for them. This is an accurate depiction of Christ – yet it is limited in its scope. In this book, John depicts Christ as a conqueror who is willing and able to destroy His enemies. We see that He will punish those who persecute His people while engaging in idolatry and sexual immorality – especially when they refuse to repent of their sins. We see that He demands to be worshiped, as He is holy, omnipotent and righteous. Thus, as Christians, we must continue to wrestle with the complexity of Christ and His character, as that will deter us from growing complacent in a life that is replete with temptations.

In this passage, we see that birds are called to feast on the dead bodies of those who oppose Christ and refuse to worship Him. I have not witnessed vultures feasting on carcasses in the wild – though I have observed this macabre act on several nature programs. I wonder if anyone who opposed Christ when this letter was written – i.e. those who worshiped the Roman emperor – read it. If so, did the threat of vultures gorging themselves on their flesh compel them to repent of their sins? Did they dismiss this threat and continue to venerate the Roman emperor? I hope to meet at least some of them in the next life, as that would show that they had taken these threats to heart and repented of their sins. I certainly hope to avoid a fate where vultures gorge themselves on my flesh.

Hallelujah! February 28, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 19:1-10.

Summary: In this passage, John hears a great multitude in heaven:

  • praising God – as He has punished the great prostitute for her sins and avenged all martyred believers
  • proclaiming the marriage between God the Son and His pure church.

The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures join this doxology. An angel then proclaims that all who participate in the marriage between God the Son and His pure church are blessed. John is overcome by these words and actually prepares to worship this angel; the angel stops him, though, and re-directs his worship to God Himself.

Thoughts: Strolling through this book has compelled me to ponder the challenges that modern-day believers in First World countries face. In particular, I think that our situation is analogous to that of the Israelites during:

  • the times of the judges – especially after God delivered them from their enemies and granted them a respite from their tyranny
  • the reign of Solomon – after David had thoroughly subdued their enemies; at that time, the nation was prosperous, and Solomon was able to build a magnificent temple for God.

In those instances, Israel inevitably succumbed to idolatry and drifted away from God. Thus, I think it is important for modern-day believers in First World countries to consider:

  • Do we worship any idols?
  • What can cause us to drift away from God?

I believe that the answers to these questions will vary – to some extent – among believers. Yet we are bound by our shared calling to worship God in spirit and truth. Hopefully we can spur each other on in this regard, especially as we anticipate the return of the Lord.

The Woman on the Beast February 23, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 17.

Summary: In this passage, one of the angels who has dispensed the wrath of God shows John the great prostitute; she sits on a beast, and she displays her finery. It is noted that she causes the world to commit adultery with her; moreover, she has caused the death of many believers. Initially, John fails to divine the meaning of the beast; thus, the angel tells him that the beast – and his heads and horns – represent ruling authorities who reign over all unbelievers. The beast will attempt to defeat God the Son – and His followers – yet he will fail. The angel also asserts that the beast – and his heads and horns – will attack and destroy the great prostitute – according to the will of God.

Thoughts: Spiritual adultery is a major theme in this passage, and this spurred me to ponder the spiritual purity of modern-day believers. In particular, I believe that the spiritual purity of a modern-day believer is related to their time management skills:

  • Do we allow technology to master us – or do we master technology? Do we mainly use our smartphones for mobile gaming – or do we use them to inform, inspire, connect and equip?
  • What are our hobbies? Are they particularly time-consuming? Can our hobbies advance God’s kingdom?
  • Do we allow our careers to master us – or do we master our careers? Since we typically spend a sizable chunk of each weekday at work, are we honoring God during that time block?

The path to maintaining spiritual purity was clear to John’s original readers – they simply had to avoid worshiping the Roman emperor; of course, they could lose their lives in the process. While the path to maintaining spiritual purity may be less clear to modern-day believers, I hope that my thoughts can be useful in this regard. I should also note that I struggle with time management, and I have a lot of room for improvement.

Verse 14 is a timely reminder of God’s sovereignty – even over the most powerful forces – as “he is Lord of lords and King of kings.” Modern-day believers are still being persecuted by powerful entities such as the Chinese government and Islamic State. Yet this verse reminds us that regardless of their worldly power, our invisible God is their Ruler. Moreover, He is the Ruler of all spiritual forces – including Satan himself. This reality should spur us on as we demonstrate the fact that we are counted among “his called, chosen and faithful followers.”