The Third Chapter – Romans

Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

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Paul is purposefully using a type of word play in much of this chapter that I didn’t include above.  His words are meant to shift the focus of familiar concepts and challenge thought processes about how we interact with God.  There were two things I read in preparing for this post that were helpful to me.  One was a line from The Message version of Romans 3; “Our involvement with God’s revelation doesn’t put us right with God. What it does is force us to face our complicity in everyone else’s sin.”  The second was from one of John Piper’s writings about this chapter where he referred to the Law as a track, not a ladder.  

Ladder-thinking regarding God, sin, obedience to the Law, faith and justification seems to be part of human nature.  I know my own tendency is to want a list to check items off so I can move on to the next rung.  Instead God has provided reality.  Life is filled with either/or’s, if/then’s and hide & seek’s. It’s like a track where the same laps must be repeated over and over in order to achieve the desired goal.  That is exactly why Paul’s challenge from Romans is so important today.   

• Sin hides us from God.
• The Law of self-preservation hides us from grace.
• Self-preservation hides us from obedience of the heart.
• Christ reveals the truth of the Law and obedience of the heart
• Obedience of the heart reveals faith
• Faith reveals grace
* Grace reveals justification
• Justification reveals God’s righteousness.

These realities are  a vital part of our relationship with the Sovereign God of the universe through Jesus Christ.  There is not a ladder, only a track.  Repeat laps as needed. 

The Third Chapter – Acts

Acts 3:18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. ESV

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These Third Chapters have each provided a golden thread to be woven into the fabric of daily life.  Long before there was a New Testament there was a golden thread woven into garments for ministering in the Holy Place.  “They hammered out thin sheets of gold and cut strands to be worked into the blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen—the work of skilled hands.a  Today’s golden thread is the Good News of repentance: “that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus.”   

“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?b” You are now that Holy Place!  Who could imagine the tarnish of sin could not only be blotted out through contact with Jesus, but that repentance might become the golden thread that turns daily life into your garment of ministry?  

a Exodus 39:3 NIV.
b I Cor 6:19 NLT

The Third Chapter – John

John 3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”…16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. ESV

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Nicodemus is our mirror for today.  He’s aware of Jesus.  He’s heard the stories.  He’s an inner-circle part of a well-established religious organization that desires to assure people of their position with God.  But Nicodemus realizes desire isn’t the same as reality.  He wants to make personal contact with Jesus because he sees Jesus is able to reveal the power of God in the lives of people that makes assurance more than just a possibility.  He’s curious about that.  Can you see yourself in Nicodemus’s story?  I can.

Curiosity and contact with Jesus are the essence of the assurance of being “born of the Spirit.”  God still uses them both to convert desire into possibility and then finally into reality…For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

The Third Chapter – Luke

Luke 3:10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” 15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.  ESV

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This is the question of the day: “What then shall we do?”  

That question is an admirable testament to the remnant of a holy nature within us that wants answers to guide us.  There’s another part of our nature that is frustrated by living in an upside-down world and continually having to ask “what then shall we do?” Luke gives clear answers for practical people.  “Doing” is important but God is calling us to seek our true answer “in expectation.” He is going to accomplish His plans by something much bigger than “doing” alone can accomplish.  He is going to teach us to “be.”  What we do can change the world around us because of this truth: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn…So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.”

Here is the BEST good news ever for those who choose to live “in expectation.”  You are the wheat He has gathered!   “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”a  What turns the wheat into bread?  It is pounded and ground ’til it’s fine, then it’s mixed and it’s shaped to the baker’s design…you’ll be my bread in this world.  Love, Jesus and Shirle

a Matthew 26:26

 

The Third Chapter – Mark, Part 2

3:13 And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons. 16 He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18 Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot,[b] 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. NLT

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Jesus “started a little society of his own–and a very queer society it was. There were some fishermen; there was a reformed tax-collector; there was a fanatical nationalist. They were not the kind of people whom any ambitious man would particularly want to know. They certainly were not the kind of people who would be any good to a man who was set on a career. No sensible man, they must have been thinking, would pick a crowd of friends like that. They were definitely not the kind of people a prudent man would want to get mixed up with.a 

Edification [the improvement of a person morally or intellectually].
Today’s lesson for you:

[Jesus] “called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him.” 

aWilliam Barclay on Mark 3

The Third Chapter – Mark

3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.  

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This story seems odd to me.  Why was the man with the withered hand there on the Sabbath?   Had he just gone to the synagogue because it was the expected thing to attend?  Did he know Jesus would be there?  Did he want to hear what Jesus had to say?   Did he hope for healing?  He must have known of the hostility the silent group of Pharisees had toward Jesus.  He cetrtainly knew that healing on that day would be breaking the law even before he heard Jesus say “stretch out your hand” 
– Lesson 1: It takes faith to even consider there might be answers to your questions but from that faith comes the courage it takes to be willing to reach out to Jesus when you hear him speak.

Healing may have happened in a miraculous moment but the destruction of Jesus required a plan, and thankfully for us, even evil plans require time.  The Pharisees chose to leave the synagogue determined to use their spiritual power along with the political power of the Herodians to destroy Jesus…but God had a different plan so Jesus could continue his ministry
– Lesson 2: God can,and will, even use evil men and the time they spend planning destruction.   Jesus has the power of God that redeems men and their misspent time.  Through Jesus, evil will be overcome with good that accomplishes God’s plan for a future and a hope for us.

The Third Chapter – Matthew

I followed a familiar pattern as I was looking for the next blog post study for myself; look at resources, look at what I’ve already written in the past and repeatedly pray “show me.”  I get a lot of extra reading done in this process and at some point something clicks and I realize I’m ready to begin the next chapter.  I’ve spent much time reading and pondering the first two chapters of each New Testament book in the past [The Firsts and Second Chance] so The Third Chapter seems like both an answer to my prayer and a logical choice.  

Matthew 3:1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” 4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 

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The wilderness is not the setting you’d expect the advancement of a Kingdom to happen.  A baptist living a very humble life in the middle of nowhere is not who you’d expect to be part of the fulfillment of an ancient promise.  The confession of sin and sacrifice was familiar but there are some unusual things that make this baptism of repentance the direct path to God.  

Only that path can establish the multitude of nations that God promised Abraham.  Only that direct path can open the heavens “to fulfill all righteousness.”  Only that path can provide another baptism mightier than water, and more powerful than devout sacrifices alone can.  Only Jesus, through His Holy Spirit, can build a Kingdom of promised purity and true repentance within the hearts of the children of God.  Only Jesus!

Matthew 3:16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Identity

In conclusion be strong—not in yourselves but in the Lord, in the power of his boundless resource. Put on God’s complete armour so that you can successfully resist all the devil’s methods of attack. For our fight is not against any physical enemy: it is against organisations and powers that are spiritual. We are up against the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil. Therefore you must wear the whole armour of God that you may be able to resist evil in its day of power, and that even when you have fought to a standstill you may still stand your ground.  Eph 6:10-13 [Phillips]

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Remember playing dress up when you were a child?  You were trying on a new identity with old clothes imagining what your future might look like.  That was only pretend and mostly those old clothes didn’t fit quite right.  Now God has given us something better than imagination for our destiny.  His custom fit spiritual body armor is what protects us from the flaws of our own imperfection and enables us to look our best as we learn to live His identity as our destiny.

• truth as your belt
• righteousness your breastplate
• the Gospel of peace firmly on your feet
• salvation as your helmet
• the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God
• faith as your shield
Eph 6:14-18 [Phillips] 

“Therefore you must wear the whole armour of God that you may be able to resist evil in its day of power, and that even when you have fought to a standstill you may still stand your ground.”

Submission💕

NIV Eph 5:21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”c  32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
c Gen 2:24

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This part of Ephesians 5 is a challenge because it’s familiar.  Countless, is how I’d describe the number of times I’ve read or heard these verses and familiarity tends to become like unconscious editing.  So, here’s what we already know about submission:
– Wives: submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.
– Husbands: just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.  

It’s so easy to massage that truth about submission into something related to behavior that soothes our conscience instead of letting it change our relationship to each other and to the church we love “out of reverence for Christ.”  I know about that personally.  I also know there is a reality check that challenges me to look at how I am living that truth.  

As a wife can you honestly look at your relationship to the Lord and integrate that into your relationship to your husband?  Or from the other side of the issue, does your relationship to your husband look like your relationship to Jesus?  No one else can write the rules of what your submission should look like but your honest answers to those two questions is the essence of true submission that makes reverence for Christ visible to the world.  How’re you doing?

Now husbands, here’s your first question: How does your relationship to your wife give evidence of your love for the church?  Or from the other side of that issue does what happens in your personal relationship to your wife bring honor to the church?  No one else can guess your answers but their honesty is what makes it possible to honor your bride as well as the Bride of Christ, the church.  How’re you doing?

See the Light!

EPH 5:13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” ESV

These words about Christ and light reminded me of John 8:12 “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  I assumed Paul was echoing John but a chronological  timeline of the Bible showed Paul was martyred before John was even written.  What first seemed like an echo became instead Paul’s faithful voice of personal experience pleading for all to wake up and see the light!

Paul wrote these words about the same Lord who’d confronted him with blinding light on that long ago road to Damascus: “Christ will shine on you.” He knew their reality can make light visible even to conflicted hearts.  There’s no amount of human intellect that can explain the process that changes ambivalence toward God into living faith.  There’s no amount of good preaching that can convince a heart to respond to Christ.  There’s no amount of scientific proof that can prove salvation has occurred, or explain how an in-dwelling Holy Spirit can be an actual reality.  That, by definition, is the mystery of Faith.  Faith is not an echo of anyone else’s intellect or truth. “It becomes visible” only when individual hearts are exposed by the Light himself and the “light of life” becomes personal experience.

The notable JB Phillips New Testamenta says “For light is capable of “showing up” everything for what it really is. It is even possible (after all, it happened to you!) for light to turn the thing it shines upon into light also. Thus God speaks through the scriptures: Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

aJB Phillips: English clergyman who studied classical Greek at Cambridge University and personally translated the New Testament into modern language.