Monthly Archives: December 2016

God Sent Forth His Son

The key verse in Pastor Roy King’s lesson on why Christ came in last Sunday’s adult Sunday School class at Windsor Pentecostal Church was Galatians 4:4-5. In this second Christmas post I’m going to share a few thoughts from the passage.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

When the fullness of time had come. The first Christmas occurred in the “fullness of time.” The moment had come which God had ordained from the beginning and foretold by the prophets for the Redeemer to come. And the world was ready for his coming—a peace under the rule of Rome, linked by Roman roads and Greek language, and spiritually bankrupt and hungry.

God sent forth his Son. When the time came to redeem humanity, God “sent forth” His Son. Although the phrase could refer to God’s commissioning Jesus to his ministry, Paul probably had in mind Jesus’s pre-existence. At Christmas we rightly celebrate the birth of Jesus, but we should also remember that the one who was “born” was the eternal Son of God as well a baby in a manger.

Born of woman. When God sent forth His Son, he was “born of woman.” Although possible, it is unlikely that Paul was referring to Jesus’s being born of a virgin. His concern was to emphasize Jesus’s identity with us as humans rather than his difference from us in conception. Also, elsewhere in Scripture (Job 14:1; Matthew 11:11/Luke 7:28) the phrase is used to stress a person’s humanity. The Son of God became one of us in order to redeem us and to make us also sons of God.

Born under the law. God sent forth His Son not only as a man but also “under the law.” By being born of a Jewish mother, Jesus was born a Jew subject to the regulations of Mosaic law. He fulfilled its requirements in his life (“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17) and then in his death voluntarily bore the curse which others had incurred for failing to fulfil it (“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” Galatians 3:13).

To redeem those who were under the law. The purpose of the Son’s being made under the law was “to redeem those who were under the law.” Jesus achieved this purpose by fulfilling the law’s requirements in life and bearing its curse in death. By doing so, he ransomed the Jews from slavery to the law and all from being “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world” (verse 3). Whatever Paul meant by “elementary principles of the world,” being free from them involves being free from the law of Moses.

So that we might receive adoption as sons. Those whom the Son has redeemed from under the law have also received “adoption as sons.” The next two verses indicate that this sonship involves being indwelt by the Holy Spirit (“because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts”), having an intimate relationship with God (“crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”; compare verses 1-3), no longer being subject to the law (“So you are no longer a slave, but a son”) and having a heavenly inheritance (“and if a son, then an heir through God”). Wow, what a Christmas gift!

Pastor King closed his lesson with this Discipleship in Action statement:

At Christmas people have an opportunity to see how God’s perfect timing guided the events that lead to the birth of Jesus. We should rejoice in the fact that we can trust God is also at work to guide the course of our lives.

Each of us has to make a decision about how we will respond to Jesus. Do you believe in Him as Redeemer and yield you life to Him as your Ruler? If the answer is yes, then you will receive the blessings of salvation, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, and the privilege of being an heir of God.

(Thanks to Gospel Publishing House of Springfield, Missouri, publisher of the Radiant Life material which Pastor King’s lesson is part of.)

This article is adapted from one which appeared under the title “God Sent Forth His Son” in the Christmas 1999 issue of “The Hunter Family Holiday Newsletter.”

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The First Christmas Carol

Participating in our church’s annual shut-ins’ caroling earlier this week was an enjoyable experience that turned my thoughts to Christmas carols. Here I’ll share a few comments on the first Christmas carol and ask you to identify your favourite Christmas carol.

8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and 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 among those with whom he is pleased!”
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
(Luke 2:8-20, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

Although it doesn’t appear in any collection of Christmas carols that I know of, the song which the angels sang (verse 14, highlighted above) is surely the first Christmas carol. The English Standard Version divides it into two clauses, “Glory to God in the highest” and “on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” As the following chart shows, each clause refers to a blessing, the one(s) receiving the blessing, and where the blessing occurs.

Glory      God                                                        the highest (heaven)
peace     those with whom [God] is pleased     earth

The glory that the angels ascribed to God is honour, rather than the glory of verse 9. The glory of verse 9 is the shekinah glory, the visible manifestation of God’s presence within the universe, such as the pillar of cloud and fire which guided the Israelites in their wilderness wanderings (Exodus 13:21) and Jesus, “the Father’s one and only Son” (John 1:14). Here an angel had just announced the birth of the Saviour, and now a multitude of angels honoured God by praising Him for the salvation that He provides through that Saviour. Their action is a good example for us. As the great Reformer John Calvin put it, “As often as we hear tidings of our salvation, we must know that this is like a signal given to prompt our act of thanksgiving and God’s praises” (A Harmony of the Gospels in Calvin’s Commentaries, Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1972, volume I, page 77).

The peace that the angels ascribed to people is more than just the absence of conflict. Like shalom in the Old Testament, it also involves well-being and wholeness. The angels were referring to the salvation provided by God., After acknowledging the peace brought about by the Roman government, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus observed, “But can Caesar…give us security against love? He cannot. From sorrow? He cannot. From envy? He cannot” (The Discourses of Epictetus in Great Books of the Western World, Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952, page 188). However, because God’s salvation gives us peace with Him, it also results in the elusive inner peace that Epictetus was referring to.

Moreover, as Norval Geldenhuys points out in his commentary on Luke, “When the inner harmony is there because the human soul has peace with its Lord, peace also spontaneously comes about in mutual relations between human beings.” He continues, “It is the work of Christ to bring peace into all human relations—in man’s relation to God, to himself (his own feelings, desires, and the like), to his life’s circumstances (calamities and trials), and to his fellow-men. According as Christ is honoured and given admission to human lives, to that extent the peace on earth, which he came to bring, becomes a glorious actuality” (The Gospel of Luke in The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1951, pages 112-13).

I hope and pray that each of you will enjoy that peace during this Christmas season . Merry Christmas!

When introducing the above comments on the first Christmas carol, I said that I was going to ask you to identify your favourite Christmas carol. I’d appreciate your either doing that or, since most people have more than one favourite Christmas carol, listing your favourite Christmas carols in a comment on this post.

This article is adapted from one which appeared under the title “Peace on Earth” in the Christmas 1996 issue of “Hunter Family Holiday Newsletter.”

Paul and the Judaizers

In Philippians 3:2 Paul warned his readers, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.” He was referring to a group of Jewish Christians, called “Judaizers” by Biblical scholars, who taught that Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians had to be circumcised and obey the law of Moses to be fully saved. Paul’s challenging them in Philippians was not his first encounter with them. In this article I’ll summarize what we know of Paul’s life, highlighting his encounters with Judaizers.

Paul was born in Tarsus, a city in the Roman province of Cilicia in southeast Asia Minor, the peninsula occupied by Turkey. He was raised in either Tarsus or Jerusalem, was both Jewish and a Roman citizen, and was trained as a Pharisee. He was present at the stoning of Stephen and became a persecutor of Christians (Acts 7:58-8:3).

When Paul was on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus to arrest any Christians he found there, Jesus appeared to him and he was converted. Not only did he proclaim Jesus in the synagogues there, but also he visited Arabia. When he returned to Damascus, the Jews plotted to kill him and he returned to Jerusalem. However ones sought to kill him there too and the church took him to Caesarea and sent him to Tarsus, his hometown. For the next several years he ministered in Cilicia (see above) and Syria (the province in which Antioch–see below–was located). These events are described in Acts 9:1-31 and Galatians 1:17-24 and occurred in A.D. 33-46 (conversion 33, return to Jerusalem 36, and ministry in Antioch 45-46; all dates are approximate).

Acts 11:19-26 describes how the gospel came to Antioch in Syria, the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch, Barnabas brought Paul from Tarsus to Antioch, and Barnabas and Paul ministered in Antioch for a year (45-46). Acts 11:27-30 tells how the prophecy of a worldwide famine prompted the church in Antioch to send relief to the church in Jerusalem by the hand of Barnabas and Paul. Paul describes this visit in Galatians 2:1-10, concluding by noting that the leaders of the church in Jerusalem “gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised” (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).

After returning to Antioch, Barnabas and Paul were commissioned by the church there to go on a missionary journey. Generally called Paul’s first missionary journey, it took them to Cyprus and Galatia, is described in Acts 13-14, and occurred in A.D. 46-47. On returning to Antioch they spent “no little time with the disciples.” It was during this time that the confrontation between Paul and Peter described in Galatians 2:11-14 took place and that Paul received news that false teachers were telling the Christians in Galatia that they had to be circumcised and follow the law of Moses to be fully saved. Paul reacted to the news by writing a letter to the Galatians in which he told them, “Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:2-4).

However Acts 15 records that the conflict continued. Some men came to Antioch from Jerusalem and told the church there, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved,” and were opposed by Paul and Barnabas. Finally the church appointed Paul, Barnabas, and some others to go to Jerusalem and consult the apostles and the elders about the matter. They gathered to consider the matter. After much debate Peter got up and reminded them of how God had shown his acceptance of the Gentiles gathered in the house of Cornelius by giving them the Holy Spirit, concluding, “Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” There was no further discussion and the whole assembly listened to Barnabas and Paul tell about the signs and wonders that God had done among the Gentile believers through them.

When they had finished, the leader of the Jerusalem church–James, the brother of Jesus–spoke up. After referring to what Peter had said, he demonstrated that the calling of the Gentiles had been foretold in Amos 9:11-12 and gave as his judgment that they should not trouble Gentiles who were turning to the Lord except to tell them to abstain from a few things especially disturbing to Jews because “Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.” The group agreed and decided to send two of their men, Judas Barsabbas and Silas, to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. The two men read the letter given in the next paragraph to the congregation in Antioch and then returned to Jerusalem. The conference in Jerusalem described in Acts 15 and summarized in the last two paragraphs occurred in A.D. 49.

“The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” (Acts 15:23-29)

Subsequently Paul went on two more missionary journeys, was arrested in Jerusalem, and was sent to Rome as a prisoner. Those events are described in the rest of the book of Acts. It was while he was a prisoner in Rome that he wrote the letter which we’re studying in our Life group, Philippians (sometime in A.D. 60-62). The passage with which I opened this article, Philippians 3:2, shows that despite the decision of the apostles and the elders in Jerusalem and the letter which they sent to Gentile Christians, the Judaizers were still spreading their message and that Paul still opposed it.

After being released from his imprisonment in Rome, Paul extended his ministry, possibly to Spain, and was rearrested and executed by beheading.

This article is adapted from a handout which I prepared to aid our Life group in our discussion yesterday evening of one of the questions given on Philippians 3:1-11 in The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups: “If this problem with the circumcision party had gone unchallenged, how would it have hurt the gospel?” We had a good discussion of the question and of the passage.

Three Blessings of the Cross (Philippians 3:7-11)

What do eggs, new clothes, and spring have in common? They all suggest new life. They are also all associated with Easter, and surely that is appropriate because Easter is when we commemorate Jesus’ being lifted up on the Cross, “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:15; see also vs. 16).

Recently, as I was rereading D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s exposition of Philippians, I was struck by how a short passage (Philippians 3:7-11) brings out three aspects of the new life available to us because of what Jesus did on the first Easter—justification, sanctification, and glorification.

This passage brings out Paul’s absorbing passion, not just to know about Jesus Christ, but to know Him intimately. Paul looked upon everything else in his life as of no value compared to knowing Christ, and so he was willing to give up everything else in order to know Him.

Yet, at one time, Paul’s overriding goal in life had been to destroy the Church (“concerning zeal, persecuting the church,” 3:6). Then, while he was on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus to arrest Christians there, he was encountered by the risen Jesus. The result was that he joined the ranks of those whom he’d previously persecuted and became as zealous for Christ as he had once been against Him. In the 25 or so years between then and his writing Philippians, Paul’s relationship with Christ deepened so much that he could even tell his Philippian readers, “To me to live is Christ” (1:21). Nothing else seems to have mattered to him. He even looked upon death as desirable because it would result in his departing to be with Christ—”having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better (1: 23).

The first of the Easter blessings, justification, is referred to these words, “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” Justification is God’s act of declaring a person righteous in His sight. Although before his conversion to the Christian faith Paul had been, “touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (3:6), apparently he hadn’t experienced peace when he was relying upon obedience to the Mosaic law to be considered righteous by God (see Romans 7:8-11). But now that he was relying upon “the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ” and “in his blood” (3:22,25)—His sacrificial death on the Cross—he enjoyed “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1) and, as he took his problems to God, an inner peace, “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

The second Easter blessing, sanctification, is suggested by the phrase “the power of his resurrection.” Sanctification involves separation from sin and dedication to service to God. Although the Christian has peace with God, he or she still has to struggle with sin (see Romans 7:13-25). Thus he must “continue to work out [his/her] salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12, NIV). However, the believer has help, “for it is God which worketh in [him/her] both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (2:13). This help is given by “the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead” (Romans 8:11), whom Jesus promised His disciples that after His resurrection and ascension He would ask His Father to send to live with and be in them (see John 14:16-17; 16:7). Thus Christians are enabled to “walk in newness of life” just as “Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father” (Romans 6:4).

The next phrase in verse 10, “the fellowship of his sufferings,” is not only connected to “the power of his resurrection” by “and” but also shares the same definite article in the Greek. This suggests that it might refer to another aspect of to the same experience as “the power of his resurrection” refers to, which I’ve suggested is sanctification, rather than to a different experience. Many commentators think that it does and point to Romans 6:1-11 in support of the identification. For example, Gerald F Hawthorne claims that “just as knowing Christ in the power of his resurrection is an inward experience that can be expressed in terms of being resurrected with Christ (cf. Rom 6:4), so knowing Christ in the fellowship of his sufferings is equally an inward experience that can be described in terms of having died with Christ (cf. Rom 6:8)” (Philippians in Word Biblical Commentary, Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1983, page 144).

Personally, I think that by “the fellowship of his sufferings” Paul was referring to external suffering. Strange as it may seem to us, Paul actually viewed suffering for Jesus Christ as a blessing. “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29), an idea that likely originated in his knowing that Jesus had told His disciples, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all matter of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). According to this interpretation of “the fellowship of his sufferings,” the phrase that follows it, “being made conformable unto his death,” refers to Paul’s even being willing to die for Christ, a willingness that he had graphically expressed earlier in the letter, “Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all” (Philippians 2:17).

The third Easter blessing, glorification, is referred to in these words, “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” Glorification refers to the time when Christians will be raised to heavenly glory. I’ve already mentioned that Paul’s desire to know Jesus Christ caused him to look forward to death, when he would go to be with Christ. However, when he wrote this verse, Paul may have been thinking of another aspect of his future death and resurrection, one indicated by something that he says a little further on in the letter, “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (3:20-21). Paul looked forward to his becoming wholly like Christ in heaven, the glory of which “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with” (Romans 8:18).

Thus, in Philippians 3:7-11 Paul referred to at least three blessings that he enjoyed or looked forward to because of what Jesus did on the first Easter—justification, sanctification, and glorification. But what Jesus did on the first Easter, He did for everybody, not just for Paul. Therefore, these are blessings that all of us can enjoy now or look forward to enjoying in the future. The only thing that a person has to do to experience them is to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus on the basis of what He did for us on that first Easter and then to let God bestow upon him/her the blessings that He wants to give everybody because of what His Son did on that first Easter.

This article originally appeared under the title “Easter Blessings” in the Easter 1997 issue of “Hunter Family Holiday Newsletter” and the April 1999 issue of “Good Tidings” (the monthly magazine of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador). Biblical quotations in it are from the KJV unless otherwise specified.