Explore The Bible

Mark Rathel

Mark RathelMark Rathel is professor of theology and philosophy at The Baptist College of Florida.  Archives

2018

Assurance of the Resurrection

John 20:1-9; 1 Corinthians 15.20-28

April 1

The resurrection of Jesus is central to Christianity. John wrote the Fourth Gospel in the context of fist century religious pluralism. He highlighted seven signs performed by Jesus that signified his identity – the Word became flesh. John highlighted these signs to convince people to receive Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, the Son of God, and the only one in whom people experience eternal life (John 21:30-31). In Jewish thought, the eight in a series indicated the climax, conclusion, and the dawn of God’s new action. For example, God created in seven days; the eight day, therefore, emphasized a new beginning. The resurrection of Jesus serves as the eight and final sign (signpost) to the status of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. This climatic eighth sign means that newness characterizes the life people receive through Jesus because of His resurrection.

What is the message of the Fourth Gospel in the context of our culture that also expresses incredulity to the message of the resurrection of Jesus?

First, believers gain assurance because of followers of Jesus lacked an expectation of the resurrection of Jesus (John 20:1-2). Mary expressed her devotion to Jesus through expensive loyalty. At the threat of peril to her own life, Mary, along with other women, walked to the tomb of Jesus to complete the preparations of the body of Jesus for burial. Since Mary witnessed three crucial events, she functions as a link or connection between the truth of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

The role of Mary as witness to the resurrection gives credence for the historical resurrections of Jesus. Jews, unfortunately, often downplayed the value and role of woman as legal witnesses. All four gospels point to the role of women as first witnesses. If John and the other Gospel authors “created” the story of the resurrection, then they would not have made up the story of the women’s testimony.

Second, believers gain assurance of the resurrection as they examine the evidence for the resurrection (John 20: 3-8). Critics of the resurrection often suggest that the expectancy of the disciples created their belief in the resurrection. Despite the prophecies of the Old Testament (v. 9) and the teachings of Jesus, the disciples exhibited an incredulity about the resurrection. The evidence of the resurrection conquered the questions and doubts of the disciples. Peter and “the other disciple” (John) actively pursued the evidence available to them. The placement and neat folding of the facial cloth pointed to an explanation other than grave robbery. Lazarus came out of the grave clothed with burial cloths (John 11); yet, the resurrected Jesus had no need for burial cloths so he neatly folded the cloths. The empty tomb and the placement of the burial cloths brought John to believe without seeing the physical body of the resurrected Jesus. The Bible, however, does proclaim the importance of the appearances of Jesus as irrefutable evidence provided to skeptical disciples.

Third, because of the resurrection of Jesus, believers have assurance of their future bodily resurrection (1 Cor. 15.20-28). Paul provided assurance of a future resurrection for believers on the basis of Christ resurrection and believers union with Christ. “Firstfruits” was a religious celebration of God’s provision of the harvest (Lev. 23.9-14). Worshipers presented the “firstfruits” as a thanksgiving offering in anticipation. The worshipers offered the “firstfruits” of the harvest in anticipation of additional harvest. Christ was the “firstfruits” of the resurrection, thus, assuring additional resurrections in the future. Furthermore, believers gain assurance on the basis of the temporal nature of death. Death is like sleep in that death is restful and temporary.  (Paul did not mean that believers pass into a state of unconsciousness by means of the analogy of sleep.)

Paul gave assurance to believers through a comparison/contrast of Adam and Christ. Adan and Christ represent the beginning of two types of humanity. All people in union with Adam and his sin (“in Adam”) die now. All people in union with Christ (“in Christ”) will live in the future. Humans united with Adam and his choice of disobedience die. Humans united with Christ through faith live.

Fourth, the truth of the resurrection demands personal testimony (John 20:17-18). Every resurrection appearance of Jesus recorded in the Bible concludes with a challenge to tell others of the good news. The risen Jesus, then, expects His followers to teach the reality of the resurrection to others. While we have not seen the resurrected body of Jesus, Jesus commanded each believer to bear testimony to our encounter with the resurrected Lord. The best way to celebrate Resurrection Sunday is to proclaim the resurrection every day.

Remembering the Sacrifice

1 Corinthians 11.17-29

April 8

Jesus instituted two ordinances for His church, namely, baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  An ordinance is defined as “a practice established by Jesus Christ with the command that it is to be carried out.” Baptism is an initiatory ordinance by which a believer makes public his or her faith commitment to Jesus Christ. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial community meal recalling the sacrifice of Christ.

What is the meaning of the Lord’s Supper? How do believers observe the Lord’ Supper?

First, the Lord’ Supper is celebrative worship (1 Cor. 11.17-22). Baptist theologian David Dockery wrote, “The highest form of corporate worship is the Lord’s Supper.” As churches observe the Lord’s Supper, the church gathers not as a memorial society to a dead founder of a movement; the church gathers in celebration of a Living Lord. The Lord’s Supper, therefore, is not something added to the end of the service of singing, prayers, and preaching; the Lord’s Supper is worship.

Jesus functions as the center of the Lord’s Supper. The Supper belongs to the Lord. Jesus is the host of the sacred meal. The Lord provided the elements for the Supper, namely, His blood and body. The Lord of the Supper also invites people to the His banquet table.

New Testament terminology for the memorial meal enhance the understanding of the observance as worship. While Baptists prefer the terminology “Lord’s Supper,” the terms “Eucharist” and “Communion” are biblical terms. Eucharist means “Thanksgiving”. Jesus took the bread and cup and gave thanks. Believers enrich the Lord’s Supper as they celebrate the blood and body of Jesus with thanksgiving. The term “communion” also points to the Lord’s Supper as an act of worship of the people of God. “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10.16). In the Greek New Testament, the word “communion” is koinonia or fellowship. By participation in this memorial meal, we spiritual share in the death of Christ.

The church at Corinth had perverted the fellowship associated with the body and blood of Christ into divisions and schisms.

Second, the Lord’s Supper is a remembrance of the cross (1 Cor. 11.23-26). Some denominations, like Quakers, do not observe the ordinances. Jesus commanded, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Remembrance is more than recollection. By remembrance, believers reflect backwards on the crucifixion of Jesus and bring the past event into their present experience. In other words, remembrance is an act that makes the crucifixion fresh. Remembrance mans to recall the crucifixion with vividness and power so that it affects the present. Specifically, Jesus commanded believers to remember His body and blood. Jesus voluntarily submitted His for our sanctification (Heb. 10.5-10). His blood inaugurated the new covenant of forgiveness (Heb. 9.22).

Through remembrance of the body and blood of Jesus, believers renew their commitment to Christ, commitment to the church, and commitment to the church’s mission as they “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11.26).

Third, the Lord’ Supper is an opportunity for examination (1 Cor. 11.23-26). As a pastor, individuals have said to me, “Pastor, I am not going to participate in the Lord’s Supper because I am not worthy.” In the Greek New Testament, “unworthy” is an adverb rather than adjective. The term describes observing the Supper in an “unworthy manner” rather than an “unworthy person.” The truth is not no individual is worthy of the sacrifice of Christ. The Christian Standard Bible expresses the meaning well, “…whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner” (1 Cor. 11.27). Participating in the Lord’s Supper in an “unworthy manner” occurs in the context of divisions and schisms.

  1. With Worship
  2. With Remembrance
  3. With Examination

Spiritual Gifts

Lesson Passages: 1 Corinthians 12

April 15

Donald Williams, a professor at Toccoa Falls College, analyzed some difficulties regarding spiritual gifts, “It is one of the great ironies of ecclesiology, one of the great tragedies of church history, and one of the great triumphs of Satan that a doctrine so conducive to the health and unity of the body of Christ as that of spiritual gifts should have become the occasion for an outpouring of divisiveness, fear, and polarization” (underline mine). Unfortunately, Williams words are true.

What is a spiritual gift? The Greek word translated “spiritual gift” is charisma. The Greek word for grace is “charis;” a charisma, therefore, is a grace gift. The suffix “ma” indicates results. A spiritual gift is a grace gift that produces results. Two truths apply to every believer. First, a believer neither earns nor deserves a spiritual gift. Second, a believer should expect a spiritual gift to produce results. A spiritual gift is an ability given by God to serve Him and the church that produces beneficial results.

The New Testament contains four spiritual gifts lists (1 Cor. 12:8-11; Rom. 12:3-8; Eph. 4:11-12; 1 Pet. 4:10-11). According to 1 Peter, one may categorize the gifts into two broad categories: speaking gifts and serving gifts. By adding the gifts mentioned in the gift list, one compiles a total gift list of twenty gifts.

What does Paul teach about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12?

First, God sovereignly bestows gifts upon believers (1 Cor. 12:4-7). This unit expresses seven truths. First, the passage highlights the Trinity. Father, Son, and Spirit in a concert of unison pour out the gifts. Second, the Spirit gifts the church with a rich variety of gifts. No one Scriptural list contains all the gifts; however, the spiritual gift lists place a premium on the gifts of communication of the Word of God, namely, prophecy and teaching. Third, believers exercise spiritual gifts in a variety of ministries. Two people with the same gift may exercise the gift in widely different ways. One believer with the gift of helps may use his/her gift of helps as part of the hospital ministry team; another believer with the same gift may use his/her gift of helps in meeting the needs of shut-ins. Fourth, God sovereignly bestows a variety of powers in the exercise of the gifts (v. 6). God energized Billy Graham to exercise the gift of evangelism on an international scale. Yet, the same God may energize a local church pastor with the gift of evangelism, yet few people outside his community may know him. Billy Graham and the pastor have the same gift but different empowerments. Fifth, the Spirit equips every believer with at least one spiritual gift (v. 7). No believer can claim he or she cannot serve the Triune God. Sixth, since a sovereign God bestows the gifts, the area in which a believer is gifted is a signpost to God’s will. A spiritual gift as a signpost reads, “Go this way.” Seventh, God graciously grants gifts for the one purpose of building up the Body of Christ. Gifts, then, are not for a believer’s satisfaction, selfish desires, or merely private benefit.

Second, spiritual giftedness means that believers share diversity, mutuality, and dependence (1 Cor. 12:12-31). Paul illustrated diversity, mutuality and dependence by means of the analogy of a body. Body parts have diverse functions. Paul notes that the eye has a different function than a foot, for example. Church members have diverse functions within the Body of Christ; each member, however, is important. We mutually need and depend on one another. When a body member does not function, the entire body suffers. Likewise, a believer that does not exercise his or her spiritual gift deprives the entire church.

Third, spiritual gifts provide a remedy for schisms (1 Cor. 12:25). Members should minister to each other through the area in which they are gifted. Mutual dependence and ministry rules out the possibility of schisms.

Understanding Love

1 Corinthians 13

April 22

1 Corinthians 13 is one of the best known, best loved, yet misunderstood passages in the entire Word of God. As I minister, I often quoted the passage in a marriage ceremony, although I realize the passage is not specifically about the married love of husband and wife. The context of this beautiful passage is the exercise of spiritual gifts. The Corinthian church prided itself on the exercise of spiritual gifts within the membership. 1 Corinthians 12 concludes with a mention of “a more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31), now Paul describes and depicts love as the more excellent way.

As Southern Baptists launch a Great Commission Resurgence, it is appropriate that we focus on a “more excellent way.” 1 Corinthians reveals the emptiness of spiritual gifts and ministries without love. Jesus gave unbelievers the right to judge the reality of our relationship with Him on the basis of love (John. 13:35). Without a Great Commandments Resurgence (the command to love), the Great Commission Resurgence will accomplish nothing. Let us acknowledge before God the sin “that so easily besets us” us – a competitive lust for power and control rather than the humility of spiritual love.

What does Paul teach about love in the so-called “love” chapter of the Bible?

First, Paul highlighted the necessity of love (1 Cor. 13:1-3). In these three verses, Paul mentioned in quick succession the spiritual gifts of tongues, prophecy, knowledge, faith, giving, and martyrdom. (Since martyrdom occurs in a context of a listing of spiritual gifts, many New Testament scholars conclude that the Spirit gives to some Christians the gift of martyrdom.) Paul detailed three realities of the exercise of spiritual gifts without love. First, the clear message of the gospel is not communicated. Without love, any communication of spiritual truth sounds like the unharmonious, unmelodious, worship of the pagan gong and cymbal (v. 1). Second, a loveless Christian is nothing, unusable in the kingdom of God (v. 2). Third, a loveless Christian gains no personal benefit from the exercise of a spiritual gift (v. 3). Without love, I gain nothing, I am nothing, and I do nothing. Yet, the focus of Paul is not “I” the individual. Paul wrote to the fragmented, divisive, immature Corinthian church. An unloving individual does not build up the church.

Second, Paul described the nature of love (1 Cor. 13:4-7). Paul’s description of love portrays a glorious portrait of Christ. No human being can truthfully claim this passage describes him or her. The description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 is the type of loving heart for which every Christian should strive. Paul divides the nature of love into seven positive actions and seven negative actions. All seven negative actions – envy (3.3), boastful (4.6), arrogant (4.18), rude, self-seeking, irritable, and keeping of records of wrongs  – describe the behavior of the members of the church at Corinth.

Paul portrayed the nature love by means of verbs. Love is something a believer does, as well as some matters a believer does not do. Love, then, extends beyond mere talk. All the verbs are present tense verbs that describe the on-going, habitual nature of the love virtues produced by the Spirit.

Third, Paul celebrated the permanence of love (1 Cor. 13:8-13). First, since love is an attribute of God, love will be never end. Love is eternal. Love characterized the relationship between Father and Son in eternity past (John. 17:24). In contrast, the purpose of prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will be realized in temporal affairs when the perfect comes, perhaps a reference to the second coming of Jesus. Love never ends because love provides the dynamic for faith and hope. As G. Campbell Morgan noted, “And love, the greatest of these is love, for never forget that love is at once the strength of faith and the inspiration of hope.”

God’s Comfort in Trials

2 Corinthians 1:3-14

April 29

I learned a difficult lesson early in ministry. Despite my desire to serve the Lord, at times, the response of God’s people to my ministry was less than enthusiastic. During this time, I received comfort in the fact that Paul himself experienced challenges to his integrity and ministry. The major theme of 2 Corinthians is Paul’s defense of his ministry against charges of a lack of integrity, vacillation, allowing others to intimidate him.

Paul’s relationship with the church at Corinth is difficult to reconstruct. After our present 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote a harsh letter, made a painful visit, and sent Titus and Timothy to deal with the situation. Paul did not give up on his relationship with this troubled church. The apostle continually went the extra-mile in the hopes of restored fellowship.

What principles may we derive from Paul’s life during a difficult time in his ministry to believers?

First, every believer should praise God as the source of his or her comfort (2 Cor. 1:3). Rather than his normal prayer, Paul blessed God. “Blessed” translates the Greek word eulogy – to speak well. We limit a eulogy to good words spoken about the dead; Paul spoke well of the living God. Paul praised God as the source of mercies and comfort. Comfort, the same root as paraclete in Jesus’s reference to the Holy Spirit in the Fourth Gospel, refers to God’s encouragement and strength through divine intervention in the midst of every trial we encounter.

Second, God calls every believer receives a ministry of comfort/encouragement to others (2 Cor. 1:4). Through His ministry of comfort, God purposes to equip a believer for a ministry of comfort to others. God intends that every blessing He grants to you become a resource through which you can help other people. Ask yourself the following question, “Under what difficult circumstances did God dramatically intervene in your life?” Based on your testimony, God may call you to reach out to others experiencing grief, financial challenges, or problem marriages. David Garland reminds us, “God does not comfort us to make us comfortable but to make us comforters.”

Third, every believer should derive comfort from the truth that our Lord suffered (2 Cor. 1:5). Some so-called preachers today proclaim a “health and wealth” gospel that claims that God wants every believer to be wealthy and healthy – a life without problems. This errant theology confuses the gospel of Christ with the American dream. Christian commitment, indeed, may increase our affliction. I know Christians passed over for promotion because of a refusal to participate in drunken office parties. Christians face persecution in many parts of the world. Remember believer that our suffering pales in comparison to the suffering of Christ.

Bible Studies For Life

Richard Elligson

Richard ElligsonRichard Elligson is associate professor of missions and chair of the theology division at The Baptist College of Florida.  Archives

2018

Special Focus

April 1, 2018

GOD IS FAITHFUL

Luke 24:1-12

 

I have little doubt that women outnumber men in our churches. And I have even less doubt that women do most of the work! When I think back over my ministry journey, I remember countless faithful women who may not have shared the spotlight, but certainly shared in service to our Lord. The ladies of Resurrection Sunday are heroes of the faith. While the disciples of Jesus essentially scattered at His arrest, the ladies remained close by. They accompanied Him through the city streets as He bore the cross. They hovered at His feet as He hung dying. Accordingly, they were the first to hear the news of Jesus’ resurrection, and the first to share it with others. The Resurrection Day drama is filled with twists and turns. But the one steady feature throughout is the faithfulness of these ladies. In Luke’s text, three features are clear.

First, there was reverence (vv. 1-5).  The previous chapter sets the stage. After His death, Jesus’ body was removed from the cross and placed in a tomb donated by Joseph of Arimathea. Luke, the historian, is careful to note the details. The women, who had been acquainted with Jesus since His Galilean ministry, followed the body to the garden and observed “how His body was placed” (Luke 23:55). They then set about preparing spices to anoint His body, an act interrupted by the Sabbath observance. The immense reverence the ladies held for their Lord is revealed throughout the story. John’s gospel reports that a large quantity of spices had already been used in Jesus’ initial preparation (John 19:38ff). But that did not stop these dear ladies from showing their devotion. The additional spices were prepared either to complete the burial, or as an added gesture of affection. Their “very early” morning trek to the garden tomb highlights even further their reverence for the Lord, even after His awful death.

Second, there was remembrance (vv. 5-8). Here, the ladies are met by the dazzling angels who pose one of the most profound questions uttered in all of Scripture: “Why seek ye the living among the dead?” Without awaiting their reply, the angels declared the good news: “He is not here but is risen.” With a bit of prodding they remembered His words. It’s notable how often Jesus told His followers to “remember.” The Lord’s Supper was instituted just prior to His death. “This do, in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). Upon their departure from the upper room, Jesus told them to “Remember the word I spoke to you” (John 15:20), then warned of coming persecution with the words, “But I have told you these things so that when their time comes you may remember I told them to you” (John 16:4). This encouragement “to remember” was somewhat lost among the disciples, who, upon hearing of the angelic encounter and explanation, dismissed it as nonsense (v. 11). Praise the Lord for faithful ladies who hear the word of the Lord and remember it.

Third, there was reporting (vv. 9-12). The miraculous events of that morning propelled the women to find the disciples and share the good news. They raced back into the city and told the “Eleven,” but shared with “the rest” as well. No doubt, any and all who had an interest in the events of that weekend heard the latest news…He is alive! Luke then took the the opportunity to name those faithful women who tracked down and informed the fearful men. The contrast in faith is again displayed, as the excitement of the women is brushed aside by the skepticism of the men. Only Peter responds (in Luke’s account); how ironic that the one who denied Him would be the one now running to Him! Yes, the risen Lord would soon appear to all the disciples. But how sad that He had to go find them! They would have done well to follow the example of those faithful ladies on that blessed morning.

Session 5

April 8, 2018

OUR SHEPHERD

Psalm 23:1-6

I have always pictured David writing this psalm while reminiscing. Carried back in time, he is not Israel’s greatest king, but rather a shepherd boy, stretched out on the grass looking at the sky. He is suddenly struck by the notion that his sheep are well cared for; they have a shepherd watching over them. But what of the shepherd? Who is watching over him? And then it comes…that wonderful revelation: The Lord is my shepherd! And that same revelation is true for us as well. Psalm 100 says we are “His people; the sheep of His pasture.”

He is the Lord of provision (v. 1). David declared, “The Lord is my shepherd!”  And because the Lord is my shepherd, “I have everything that I need.” The “I shall not want” of the KJV means “There is nothing that I lack.” As the Good Shepherd (see John 10), the Lord provides all that is necessary for His flock not only to survive…but to thrive!

He is the Lord of rest (v. 2). Like the sheep in David’s charge, the Lord’s flock isn’t worried. God’s sheep are surrounded by lush green grass that provides not only the food we need, but a cool and comfortable place to rest. What country boy or girl can resist stretching out in the cool grass and watching the clouds drift by? Hebrews 4 reminds us that ultimately, Christ is our place of rest.

He is the Lord of guidance (vv. 2-3). These verses remind us that God leads His people. The still waters are tranquil and inviting. The paths of righteousness keep us moving in the right direction. His leading should never be dreaded with fear and doubt but embraced with confidence. Our Shepherd doesn’t just watch over us…He leads us.

He is the Lord of comfort (v. 4). Though the darkness of night and trouble will come, we need not fear. We have the Good Shepherd’s presence to keep us. And should we be stalked by the enemy who seeks to devour us (see 1 Peter 5:8), the Lord has whatever is necessary to ward him off and snatch us to safety. In Psalm 27, David reminds himself, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”

He is the Lord of abundance (v. 5). The Good Shepherd came to give life, and to give it in abundance (John 10:10). We poor sheep rejoice in the lush pastures and still waters. It is enough. But the Lord does so much more! There is prepared for us a feast of His goodness…right in the midst of our enemies! How abundant is His care? David says it well, “My cup is not only filled; it overflows!”

He is the Lord for this life (v. 6). That goodness and mercy should follow us through this life should come as no surprise. But is it because we are deserving of it? Or is it because such things are characteristics of the Good Shepherd that spill over on us, His precious sheep? Grace applies not only to our salvation, but to our walk with Him as well. For this reason, Peter could say, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord,” because “His divine power has given us everything required for life” (2 Peter 1:2-3).

He is the Lord for eternity (v. 6). Dr. Adrian Rogers used to say, “If there was no hope of heaven, I would still want to be a Christian and enjoy the abundant life our Lord offers here.” Amen to that! But the glorious truth is that there is a heaven. And unlike the sheep of David’s pasture, the sheep of the Lord’s pasture will enjoy all the benefits He has to offer, both now and forever.

Session 6

April 15, 2018

OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS

Jeremiah 33:3-8;14-16

Jeremiah couldn’t get a break. His own people had so fallen into idolatry that God’s patience was wearing thin. For the first several chapters of Jeremiah, the “Weeping Prophet” warned the people of coming judgment (for example, see chapters 19 and 20). The Babylonians would invade and the Babylonians would win. Needless to say, the rulers of Judah didn’t want to hear that, and in chapter 32, we find the prophet imprisoned by his own king for proclaiming the truth! But like the apostle Paul in the New Testament, God spoke to His man even while in prison. The news was not good; but even so, the Lord gave His prophet some important promises.

Promise #1: God will indeed judge His people (vv. 3-5). Many of us have memorized Jeremiah 33:3 “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.” While we marvel at that promise, we unfortunately forget the context. There are some positive things brought up later, but for now those “great and mighty things” involve God’s devastating wrath poured out on His own rebellious people! The imagery is striking: homes have been destroyed and pushed against the city walls to help fortify it. But it’s a useless gesture. Those who fight in defense of the city will fail, and the houses remaining will be filled with their corpses. God will use the Babylonians (or Chaldeans) to exercise His judgment. But make no mistake: the Lord declared it would be His wrath and His rage that brought destruction to the city because of “all their evil” (v. 5).

Promise #2: God will eventually restore His people (vv. 6-8). As devastating as God’s judgment was, it wouldn’t last forever. The God who judges His people is the same God who will restore them. Six specific claims are made about Judah’s restoration. The Lord promised to bring them (1) health and healing, instead of the death and dying the Babylonians would bring; (2) an abundance of peace and truth, in exchange for their painful warfare and years of idolatry; (3) prosperity in place of the awful destruction the invading army wrought; (4) renovation, in place of the utter ruin Jerusalem would face; (5) purification in exchange for their wicked, rebellious sin; and (6) gracious forgiveness in place of devastating judgment. Interestingly, the seventy years of Babylonian captivity finally cured God’s people of the sin of idolatry, for we don’t see it appear in their history again. But what a terrible cure it was!

Promise #3: God will ultimately redeem His people (vv. 14-16). This section nearly restates the words of Jeremiah 23:5-6, where the promise is made to the nation. The major difference here is the promise is applied to the Holy City. In either case, three points are clear. First, the prophecy is future, for “the days are coming…” How far in the future is revealed in the second point: the prophecy is Messianic. Only the Lord Jesus fits the description given.  Old Testament commentator R. K. Harrison rightly points out, “Jeremiah does not reveal as much about the coming Messiah as Isaiah does, but nevertheless provides glimpses of Christ as the Fountain of living waters (Jeremiah 2:13), the good Shepherd (Jeremiah 23:431:10), the righteous Branch (Jeremiah 23:5), the Redeemer (Jeremiah 50:34), the Lord our righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6) and David the king (Jeremiah 30:9).” Third, the emphasis is on His righteousness. The coming judgement would be ruinous…but the coming judgment was also rightly deserved. Only when the people submitted to a righteous judge would Judah be saved, and Jerusalem secure. While nothing would hold back the coming captivity, God promised His people a future restoration and an ultimate redemption, because His Messiah is our Righteousness.

Session 1

April 22, 2018

BE READY TO STAND

Esther 2:5-10, 15-17

The story of Esther is unusual. Here we have a young Jewish woman, who, through the providence of God, rose through the ranks of the palace of Persia to become the queen. While she kept her ethnicity a secret for some time, she eventually was used by God to intercede for the Jews, saving them from massacre. Notably, the name of God never appears in the book! But God’s providential care of His people—even those in exile—is clear on every page.

It’s interesting that Esther’s personality and temperament are masked in the early chapters of the book, but her humble submission to the authorities over her should not be mistaken for lack of convictions. Once again, God used her willingness to serve her people and her God to everyone’s advantage.

Esther’s Background. Esther’s family life was bitter-sweet. Verse 7 tells us that both her father and her mother had died. But she was blessed to be adopted by her cousin, Mordecai, an original product of the Babylonian exile. But some time ago, the conquering Babylonians had themselves been conquered, and Mortdecai, his family, and a host of other Jews now found themselves under Persian rule.

Esther’s Beauty. The text points out that Esther was an exceptionally attractive woman. There is no apology here, nor any inkling that Esther was arrogant about it, or used her beauty to manipulate anyone. Rather, her natural beauty gave her providential access to the king and his influence. Chapter 1 explains the fate of the previous queen, Vashti, and how the king’s system of choosing the next queen had been arranged. While holding a beauty contest for Vashti’s replacement seems pretty shallow to us, it made perfect sense to the worldly king and his worldly court of advisors.

Esther’s Favor. While the text reminds us of Esther’s outer beauty, there is equal emphasis on her inner beauty. Verse 9 indicates that Esther’s warm and pleasant personality won the favor of Hagai, the one in charge of preparing the ladies who were seeking the king’s approval. This friendship proved helpful to God’s process, and Esther was given special treatment. Again, there is no indication of manipulation or self-promotion. The gifts that God gave to Esther and her gentle humility at displaying them were providentially used by God, ultimately for the good of others. The fact that Esther was consistent in her manner and unchanging in her personality is evidenced by her quiet submission to both her cousin Mordecai (v. 10) and her advisor Hagai (v. 15a). As a result, “Esther won approval in the sight of everyone who saw her” (v. 15b).

Esther’s Future. Who could have possibly guessed the adventure that lay ahead for this young and beautiful Jewess? The process by which the next queen was chosen is certainly distasteful to us, but was apparently the custom of that culture at that time. Like King Solomon long before, the king was afforded a multitude of wives, and one must remember that all the young women taken to him in this text became a part of his household. Nevertheless, the qualities of Esther won over the heart of pagan King Ahasuerus, for “The king loved Esther more than all the other women. She won more favor and approval from him than did any of the other young women” (v. 17).  When he placed the royal crown on her head, she became the queen.

Thus, the story of Esther begins. God in His providence, made her beautiful on the outside and kept her beautiful on the inside. But this was no selfish display of God’s personal favor, for Esther would ultimately be used to save her people—God’s people—from certain destruction.

Session 2

April 29, 2018

STAND WITH CONVICTION

Esther 2:21-3:6

Somewhere in my ministerial training, I was taught that beliefs are those ideals that you are willing to live for, while convictions are those ideals that you are willing to die for. The story of Esther demonstrates what happens when someone of conviction stands his ground.

In this week’s lesson, the story shifts from the beauty of Queen Esther to the character of her cousin Mordecai who raised her. As a member of the king’s court, Mordecai was “at the king’s gate,” where he was easily accessible to those for whom he worked. It is here that his character is displayed.

Character is displayed in loyalty to those we serve (2:21-23). We don’t yet know much about the relationship between Mordecai and the king, but it’s an interesting dynamic. Mordecai is a faithful Jew. Ahasuerus is a pagan king, but he is still the king. That alone makes him worthy of respect (see Rom. 13:1-7). And now that Esther is a part of the royal family, Mordecai has even more reason to keep an eye on things. The details of the conspiracy against the king by two of his attendants is unclear but is likely related to the departure and replacement of Queen Vashti. As guards at the door of the royal bedroom, these two men held an esteemed position and had certainly earned the king’s trust. While history tells us that King Ahasuerus was ultimately killed in a similar plot some years later, on this occasion he was saved by the swift intervention of Mordecai the Jew. In this case, God’s providence is seen in putting Mordecai in the right place at the right time; in the placement of Esther in the King’s favor; and in providing the opportunity to inform Queen Esther of the plot. But further, while Mordecai received no reward for his loyalty at the time, the entire incident was recorded in the daily court records with King Ahasuerus present. This record would prove valuable as the story unfolds (see chapter 6). While God’s hand is clearly guiding these events, we must remember that Mordecai’s loyalty to the king is pivotal.

Character is displayed in faithfulness to the God we worship (3:1-6). There’s a difference between showing honor to someone and worshipping someone. Apparently, Haman was unaware of that fact. His rise to prominence by the hand of King Ahasuerus went beyond the honor due to his position and played to his unfettered arrogance. The terms “bowing down” and “paying homage” do not in themselves mean worship. In fact, the Bible contains many instances of believers bowing in honor before men of prominence. But something in this scenario so offended Mordecai that this normally compliant Jew refused to participate, even though the king himself had ordered it (v. 2). While Haman would view this as Mordecai’s pride (likely for being a Jew; see v. 4), just the opposite is true. Mordecai was loyal to the king—and no doubt respectful to Haman, as the king’s appointee. But he also understood the First Commandment: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. Do not have other gods besides Me. Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. You must not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…” (Ex. 20:1-5). The extent of Haman’s fury (v. 5) demonstrates his emotional instability: he loves himself supremely and he hates the Jews intensely.

It also demonstrates the differences between these two men. One is willing to kill a nation for love of self. One is willing to die for love of God.

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