The Sin of Taking Sides

The US presidential election of 2016 is likely to be the most consequential of our generation. The distinctive personal characteristics of both major candidates have enticed many Christians to speak out against one or the other, effectively taking sides in an increasingly acrimonious campaign. The tendency for Christians to favor one party over another goes back several decades. A pattern in our Lord’s conduct calls this practice into question, and suggests we have a higher responsibility.

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Christmas Angels

A few years ago Anita and I were reading through the Revelation together, and remarked how many angels there were. Every time we turned the page, we met another flurry of them. (There are sixty-nine references to angels in the Revelation, more than in any other book of the Bible.)

This year at Christmas, we noticed another place where they are concentrated: the Christmas story.

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Of Types and Truth

In our recent studies in Isaiah, I have seen more clearly than ever before the physical nature of God’s promises concerning his coming rule on earth during the Day of the Lord. Mount Zion will be the capital of all the earth (Isa 24:33). It will be exalted above all the mountains (2:1), though now it is overshadowed by the Mount of Olives. Gentiles will bring their tribute over the sea in ships (60:9), and will offer sacrifices on God’s altar (60:7). Springs will rise out of the hilltops (30:25), and the barren land will be rejuvenated (35:1-2).

What shall we make of these promises? Should we expect their literal fulfillment when the Lord Jesus returns? Or are they figurative descriptions of God’s blessing on the church? I recently had an insight that helps me understand some of the disagreement among Christians on this point.

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Worshiping Jesus

I was struck recently by the description of the leper in Matt 8:2-4:

Mat 8:2 And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him,

The leper is not alone. Others who “worship” Jesus of Nazareth, in Matthew’s account alone, include the wise men (2:11), the ruler whose daughter had died (9:18), his disciples in the ship (14:33), the Canaanite woman (15:25), the mother of the sons of Zebedee (20:20), the women at the tomb (28:9), and the disciples in Galilee (28:17). Commentators often suggest that this action does not necessarily imply that Jesus is God, but can simply be a sign of respect. But there’s more to the story.
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Let us pray.

The Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9-13) is one of the best known portions of the Sermon on the Mount. Many of us first learned it at our mothers’ knees, and prayed it every evening before we went to sleep. The Didache, a guide to early church practice, instructs believers to pray it three times a day. Faithful Catholics repeat it many times a day as a component of the Rosary.

In light of this widespread personal use of the prayer, I was surprised, when studying the prayer in its context, to realize that our Lord intends it first of all, not for private devotion, but for believers gathered together in corporate prayer. This insight warns us against two unhealthy tendencies in modern evangelical circles. One is a neglect to use the prayer at all. The other is an increasing neglect of gathering for corporate prayer.
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The Lord Overhears

The Scriptures often tell us that the Lord hears our prayers when we cry to him. It is humbling, but encouraging, to know that we can come at any time to our Creator, share our burdens with him, and be assured of his attention. But this week, I was struck with a much smaller set of texts that emphasize that he hears even when we are not speaking to him. We might say that he not only hears us, but he overhears us.

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How often should we pray for something?

I keep a prayer list, to help me remember the things that I should bring before the Lord, and to recognize the answers to prayer that he gives. Perhaps you have such a list, as well. A natural consequence of such a list is that we may pray repeatedly for something. But our Lord warned,

Mat 6:7 When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do

Is it wrong to ask repeatedly for something? Should we limit our prayers to, say, three instances (as Paul did for his “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Cor 12:8, and as our Lord in his agony in the Garden of Gethsemene)?

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Our Lord’s Epiphany in 2 Tim 1:9-10

I was meditating recently on this text:

2Ti 1:9 [God] hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, 10 But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel:

The word “appearing” is the Greek word “epiphany” ἐπιφανεια. It is the basis for the feast of Epiphany celebrated in January in liturgical churches to commemorate the appearance of God in our Lord’s incarnation. But is this really what epiphany means?

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Beyond Obedience

For many believers, the “gold standard” of godliness is obedience to God’s word. As a boy in a traditional church, I remember praying the act of contrition, which focuses entirely on God’s commands: “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done” (overlooking the positive commands), “and we have done those things which we ought not to have done” (overlooking the prohibitions). Either way, it was a question of doing.

Obedience is important. Our Savior said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). One objective of the Spirit’s work in our lives under the new covenant is to cause us to walk in God’s statutes, keep my judgments, and do them (Ezek 36:27). But doing is not the end of the story. Our Savior told his disciples,

Luk 17:10 So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.

Yesterday, in meditating on Mary’s response to the angel in Luke 1, I caught a glimpse of what lies beyond obedience.
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How to Escape Spiritual Bondage

We recently studied the prophecy of Isaiah, quoted by our Lord in the synagogue of Nazareth, that the Redeemer would “proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the eyes to those who are bound” (Isa 61:1; Luke 4:18). Both the details of Isaiah’s language and the New Testament history suggest that these expressions are metaphorical. Our Lord never released anyone from physical prison—not even John the Baptist from Herod’s dungeon. But he did speak of spiritual bondage (John 8:31-36), and many believers today wrestle with besetting sins that frustrate their Christian walk. Our Savior has unlocked the chains, but we sometimes have a struggle in getting untangled from them.

After our study, we discussed practical ways that we can experience the delivery from bondage that our Lord promised. Here are four suggestions, from four different brothers in the meeting. Together, they are a powerful set of tools for enjoying Christian liberty. If you’d like a mnemonic, you can think of them as the four ‘R’s: Retreat, Relate, Remember, and Replace.

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