Delivering the Good News

"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!" (Isaiah 52:7 NIV)

In Paul's letter to the Romans he zealously declared that salvation is by faith in Christ and that the Mosaic Law upon which the Jews were so desperately dependent for salvation was null and void. He states, "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10:14-15)

Both passages evoke a notion of someone bringing good news – not just good news, but life giving, great news. In Isaiah the messenger proclaims God's promise of redemption, a return of the remnant in Babylon to His holy city, promise of peace and tranquility, and above all the sovereign rule of the Lord God to protect them. How beautiful are the feet of that messenger. Watch now, going forward into verses 8 and 9; we see the watchmen, who have heard the good tidings 'lift up their voices. . .[and] sing for joy'; and in verse 10, the promised 'salvation of our God'. (Is. 52:8-10)

To the  Romans Paul has stated that all are saved by the Calvary event – but all aren't aware of that event – and there is a cry for someone to preach the salvation message. Some messenger must go. And again, how beautiful the feet that bring that message.

There are many obstacles to the messenger's feet. A world view would ridicule the message and vilify the messenger. The evil one will place many a stumbling block in the way of the messenger, enticing him with pleasurable side paths, bright lights, and worldly treasures. Our Lord Jesus taught us from the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matt. 5:9-12)

But God provides the true bright light for the messenger – a lamp unto his feet and a light for his path – His holy Word – and a true Guide in the person of the Holy Spirit.

We, my friends, are called to be the messenger today. Just as the people of Jerusalem were watching and waiting for the message of God's return with his remnant and just as Paul exhorts us to take the message to those 'have not believed' because 'they have not heard', there are those who are waiting for a message; a message of salvation, of love, and peace, and joy; that they too can join us in rejoicing in God's favor. They are waiting for us. Waiting for you.

I once heard in a sermon that there is someone in your realm of influence that will never hear about Christ unless you tell them. When I first heard that statement I was a little skeptical – thought it a little far fetched. "Really? I am their only source for the word of God?" But upon deeper reflection I thought – "What if?" Do I dare deny such a premise?

And then there was this from an atheistic comedian; "Who do you hate so much that you would keep secret from them your message of salvation?" Do you really hate your next door neighbor that much? Do you really hate your co-workers that much? Obviously the list could go on and on. A favorite worship song says "They will know we are Christians by our love".

On that last night in the Upper Room, Jesus told His apostles, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35 emphasis added)

So in conclusion we might declare that the beautiful feet of the  messenger will be recognized by our love for another.

"Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? And I said, "Here I am, Send me!" He said, "Go and tell this people…" (Isaiah 6:8-9a)

"Let it be so. Or in Hebrew, "Amen".

Higher Thoughts, Higher Ways – Part II

In our previous issue we examined God’s purity relative to mankind’s, as we are infected with a sinful and rebellious nature. As we contemplate on Isaiah 55:8-9 again this week let’s delve into the abundance of God.

There is a webpage which illustrates the size of our ‘big blue marble’ in comparison to other planets in our solar system, and then on to our sun and other stars. The URL is http://www.rense.com/general72/size.htm. This illustration should help to demonstrate our less than significant footprint on the universe. It may also help us begin to grasp the greatness of our Creator.

Now if I may, let me use this size comparative illustration to bespeak of God’s abundance. “Abundance of what”, you may ask. I think first of the abundance of His grace. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

In his epistle to the Romans, Paul expounds on this premise of ‘higher grace’. (Rom. 5:12-21) The point is made that whatever was done by sin, and through sin, was outdone by the grace of God. If it was possible for death to get such a foothold through one act of selfishness so as to reign on earth, it must be equally possible for eternal life to reign through the matchless act of self-denial which shines from the cross. If death came to all men through the trespass of one sinner, grace must come to them more abundantly through the gift of righteousness by Christ Jesus. It was never tit for tat. The icon, the symbol of our salvation was never the balancing scales, but the cross.

There is no comparing our forgiveness and God’s. We may not measure His by our own. We say we forgive if – if the trespasser were more contrite, if the trespass weren’t so blatant, so willful. Or we will forgive – but we won’t forget. Our forgiveness isn’t prompt, and we often remain unloving, though possible civil in our relationships with the offender.

Now, as we ponder these flaws in our own mercies, is it any wonder we cannot realize the completeness of God’s forgiveness, nor the full meaning of His assurance that He will remember our sins no more? As the prodigal plodded homeward he expects only a stinted pardon and a servant’s ration. But the father runs to him, embraces him, kisses him, clothes him with the finest, and seats him at his table with the most royal provision. That is the difference between man’s notion of forgiveness and God’s

We must abandon our standards of grace, whether of your own forgiveness or that of others; they are of no help here. Our fathometer is useless, our estimates fall short. We look again at the planetary comparison – and find that even that comparison is wanting, inadequate.

When God forgives, He ceases to remember; He blots out our iniquities as a cloud; “as far as the East is from the West…” He does not just treat us as pardoned criminals, but takes us to His heart as beloved sons, heirs to His throne. (See Psalm 103:1-13)

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived. . .” (1 Cor. 2:9)


Sharing the Word

Can a person be saved – be forgiven all his/her sin, and claim a home in heaven if they’ve never heard the Gospel? Are there whole peoples, living in isolation from the rest of the world, who are doomed by not having access to the message of Christ?

“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can they preach unless they are sent?” Romans 10:14-15 NIV

At first glance we might think Paul has contradicted himself from what he first proclaimed in chapter one where he wrote, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Rom. 1:18-21 NIV emphasis added)

Is there a contradiction? Is Paul saying that mankind is without excuse for not knowing God when, ‘…what may be known about God. . .His eternal power and divine nature are clearly seen’, and yet saying they must have the Word preached to them to believe? Paul went further in 10:17 to say, “…faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” In studying this apparent controversy I found many commentators have not addressed the issue.

I think there can be no doubt that God is saying (through Paul) that the path to salvation is pointed out in scripture. That message can come through praise and worship music, from the pulpit, from participating in a Bible study group, or through personal study of the Word.

The indictment, beginning with 1:18, introduces this epistle to the Roman churches, which were comprised of both Jews and Gentiles. The text is unforgiving in its accusations against the godlessness and wickedness of men. God is saying “you knew better and yet you indulged yourselves in sin. He then spells out their iniquities so that there is no ambiguity, nothing debatable. The indictment continues with the “No one is righteous” passages of 3:10-20, culminating in verse 3:23; “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The author of Hebrews was somewhat more direct. “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire.” (Hebrews 10:26-29 NIV)

The message of Romans 1:18ff is not one of righteousness for the ignorant but an indictment of those who know, and they had to know. His eternal power was (and is) clearly evident in nature and His divine nature is manifest in our consciousness of good versus evil. We see the wonder of His works all around us and we are aware of His just and honorable model by that internal alarm that goes off when we consider some sinful act.

How God deals with those who’ve never been exposed to Jesus and the salvation message of Calvary I will have to imagine is the same or similar to His saving grace imputed to all those saints who preceded Christ. As His saving grace is eternal (timeless) I think He not only extended that righteousness by faith to Abraham, and those who followed him, but also to all those who would remain ignorant of Christ.

Thus the more imperative is the ‘Great Commission’.

Well Done

I, uh, hardly recognize myself. I know who I am – I’ve seen that same image stare back at me from the mirror a thousand times. No other image ever took its place – certainly not what I’m seeing now. Oh yes, there was a time I could not stand to lock eyes with the mirror image. Any real appraisal would cause me to look away – to turn head in shame; but God had been at work on me through His Holy Spirit, and thus, over the years, I’d made some peace with that image.

The former image was dark and ugly, with all the shades of lust, and selfishness, and depravity. The more recent one still had dark shadows, and while maybe not as ugly, it had never attained much beauty either. I could still see shades of deceit, and pride, and impatience. I could always see a hint of hypocrisy in those eyes – I was not as loving as the Holy Spirit taught me to be, not as compassionate and tolerant with my neighbors, not as generous with the gifts my Father had provided, and never as humble and contrite as I should have been. I was still too prideful. But more and more often there was light in those eyes – a beautiful light that I knew wasn’t my own, but a light that I cherished, a light I sought after and wanted more of.

But what is this I see now? Where did this new and perfect body come from? Where did I get these beautiful white robes? And Who is this that has my hand in His as I approach the throne of God?

Why am I not afraid to face Him – I should be – I should be terrified, but I’m not. I cannot even remember my former image. The image of me that I see now is the one God first intended – His image – His perfect and Holy Image.

How?

How did I get from that image of shadows to this perfect image of God?

The One who has led me to the throne speaks. “Father, this is my child whom I present now cleansed of all sin and iniquity; cleansed by My blood. He is pure and holy as I am Holy.”

And the Lord God said to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come and share your Master’s happiness.”

The Patience of Our Lord

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20 ESV)

Whenever this verse comes to mind I sense a renewed exhilaration of my faith in our Lord Jesus, a new promise of His faithfulness, a new reinvigorating spirit within me. How wonderful it is to know that the King of kings stands at your door and knocks.

The whole picture here is of our Lord seeking us out.  He did not wait for us to go searching for Him. This visual is particularly profound when we see it in the context of the letter to the Church at Laodicea of which I have written before (The Lukewarm Christian). Jesus had admonished the  church for their reliance on things of this world – treasures on earth. He had admonished them for their ‘lukewarm’ faith in Him, saying He is inclined to spit them out of His mouth – the Greek here more precisely renders ‘vomit’. I cannot imagine being so reviled by our God as to have Him want to vomit me from His mouth.

Some years ago I read or heard a view on this verse that I found troubling. The writer/speaker – I don’t remember which – didn’t subscribe to conventional opinion that allows us to adopt this verse to modern day convention. His thought was that it compared Jesus to some itinerant door-to-door salesman pleading to fill a compulsory quota of souls. He felt that the image demeaned our Lord and gave the one on the other side of the door the imputus for his own salvation. He subscribed to the view that this verse applied only to the church at Laodicea.

But Jesus said, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door…”. He did not say if someone from the Laodicean church hears His voice – He said anyone!

Equally profound we find His promise of grace with this statement. The church has been found deficient in its faith in Him – so much so that He has been of a mind to vomit their taste from His Holy mouth. Yet even as Paul wrote to the Romans, “but God showed His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). No matter that we are lukewarm in our faith, setting aside our addictions to things seen, rather than those unseen, overlooking our wretchedness, blindness, and nakedness –  He will still stand at our door and knock!

And the promise doesn’t end with His coming in the door. . .no, as we read further Jesus promises even more. “To him who overcomes (conquers in ESV), I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame (conquered) and sat down with My Father on His throne.” (Rev. 3:20-21) This overcoming – conquering is our victory over evil. Do you see the parallel here? Our Lord Jesus, the Savior of mankind, our King the Christ, is allowing that our victory over evil is comparative to His own victory over sin. How can you not feel invigorated. Jesus has promised us the same Power that lifted Him from the grave as we trust in Him.

The invitation is to open the door of our heart, with no restriction nor reservation. He is saying to any and all that He is patient with us, He is waiting for us. Although John’s gospel teaches us that no one comes to Jesus until the Father calls them, (John 6:44, 6:65), it is still our responsibility to answer the door. He will not open the door. But He does wait for us. Waiting to bless us , comfort us, and to give us His peace and joy. God has assured us of how anxious He is to bless us (2 Chron. 16:9)

If you are unsure of your relationship with the Lord Jesus may I challenge you to open that door to your heart and receive Him. You will be forever changed, renewed, and regenerated.

May the Lord God abundantly bless you and yours, and may you be a blessing to others around you.