Chronicles

History Books

By the time we get to the Old Testament Chronicles (reading through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation), we’re tired of history.

Done.

After all, the Chronicles seems to repeat what we’ve just read in Samuel and Kings. Making it more difficult, it seems, is the really slow beginning of nine chapters of genealogies. Name after name. Son after son (with an occasional daughter, wife, or mother thrown in). Familiar narratives we’ve heard before.

BORING.

Why not just skip past Chronicles?

Here’s why. The Chronicles summarize Jewish Scripture, from Adam to the Exile, telling stories about the past that provide hope for the future. There are character studies not only of David, but of obedient kings of Judah who experienced success and blessing. There are, also, stories of unfaithful leaders who faced failure and hardship. All of these stories are not just part of the past, they are for our present and future. The Chronicles are recorded so that we’ll walk with God by faith with faithfulness. If we don’t learn from others in the books of history, we are bound to repeat their failures in our own story.

Like the God’s people of old, we’re living in an era where truth has become relative. God’s Word considered antiquated. Progressive thought valued more than biblical morality. Individual feelings trump personal faith. God’s promises have been forgotten, so human philosophy and empty deceit has taken many, if not the masses, captive. Our culture worships the idols of personal happiness, individualism, materialism, sexual freedom. Meanwhile, issues of heartless racism and systemic injustice rule just as much today as back in the day. It’s an age of mass confusion, fake tolerance, stolen identity, personal choice, disregard for human life, and disheartened fate. Like the unfaithful leaders of Judah (1 Chronicles 9:1, 10:13, 12:14, 2 Chronicles 28:22-25; 33:7-9), our world has, “multiplied their unfaithful deeds, imitating all the detestable practices of the nations”(2 Chronicle 36:14).

If we don’t learn from others in the books of history, we are bound to repeat their failures in our own story.

The Chronicles, however, end on a note of encouragement from, of all people, King Cyrus of Persia. After the 70 years of exile in Babylon were completed, he directs the people of God to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple of God. The last sentence (2 Chronicles 36:23) is an incomplete one, “Whomever among you of His people may go up, and may the LORD his God be with him…”

It’s a story in search of an ending with the hope of a new (better) David, a new (better) priesthood, and a new (better) temple. The book of Hebrews points us to Jesus who is not only better – He’s the best!

The end of the story of our lives has not been written, yet. God is still with us. There is still hope for the faithful followers of Jesus. Even though it’s been almost 2,000 years, we’re still waiting for the return of our Messiah. Like the returning exiles to Jerusalem longing for a new temple, we anticipate the day when“God’s dwelling is with men and He will live with them”(Revelation 21:3). Do not be afraid or discouraged. Instead, be faithful in a world of unfaithfulness because the LORD our God is faithful.

“Give thanks to the LORD, for His faithful love endures forever” (1 Chronicles 7:3; 2 Chronicles 20:21).

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

Good Friday

What’s so good about someone being crucified on a cross?

After sixteen centuries and more during which the cross has been a sacred symbol, it’s difficult to realize the unspeakable horror and loathing which the very mention or thought of the cross provoked during the tyranny of the Roman Empire. In the first century, the word for cross, σταυρός (latin crux), was unmentionable in polite Roman society.

When the early disciples talked about the crucified Christ, every listener from Jerusalem to Illyricum (Romans 15:19) knew that Jesus had suffered a particularly cruel and shameful death, which as a rule was reserved for the most hardened criminals, incorrigible slaves, and egregious rebels against the Roman state. Cicero (Pro Rabirio Perduellionis Reo 5.16) decries the crucifixion of a Roman citizen, exclaiming, “The very word ‘cross’ should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes, and his ears.”

The story behind Jesus’ death on the cross discloses that He was rejected by the very people He came to save (Matthew 26:1-5), was deserted by His own friends (Matthew 26:47-4869-75), was strung up by the proper authorities (Matthew 27:22-26), and, apparently, was powerless to save His own skin (Matthew 27:38-44).

Following Christ’s resurrection, Peter served as faithful follower of the Lord proclaiming,

“You know the events that took place throughout Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the Devil, because God was with Him. We ourselves are witnesses of everything He did in both the Judean country and in Jerusalem, yet they killed Him by hanging Him on a tree. God raised up this man on the third day and permitted Him to be seen.” Acts 10:37–40

The beginning of Christianity was cradled in what looks like disastrous defeat, and the unspeakable stigma of the cross exposed “Christians” to woeful contempt.  In fact, the word, “Christian” is found only three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28, 1 Peter 4:16) and when it is used, it’s a label formed by people who were not followers of Jesus to designate those who were. It’s a manufactured term with a derogatory slant, meant to be a dig.

Similar to Peter, Paul did not refer to Jesus’ death on the cross with embarrassment or skip over the awkward facts:

“I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)

“Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written: Everyone who is hung on a tree is cursed.” (Galatians 3:13)

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved.” 1 Corinthians 1:18

The cross of Jesus was central to Paul’s preaching because the resurrection disclosed Christ’s suffering and death as the way of life for His believing followers in the world. Paul taught the early church that followers of the crucified Lord must also share the suffering of the cross:

“The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, also heirs—heirs of God and coheirs with Christ—seeing that we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:16-17)

“My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead.” (Philippians 3:10)

As followers of Jesus today, we want to share in the celebration of the cross, we would just rather avoid it’s suffering and shame. The message of the cross, however, is about trusting God’s will in submission and sacrifice (Matthew 27:36-46) rather than fighting for control or positioning for comfort. The message of the cross is an antidote to our self-glorification and self-satisfaction. The message of the cross is hope for the tired and weary, rest for the rejected refugee, grace for the humbled, and mercy for the broken sinner.

The Gospel of Christ crucified transforms the cross from a symbol of Roman terror and political domination into a symbol of God’s love and power. The cross shows that the power of God’s love is greater than human love of power. The cross reveals the love of God at its best and the sin of man at its worst. Isaac Watts said it well, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” 

The death of Jesus on a cross on that Friday long ago was good for us.

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

God’s Unshakable Hope

hopeMost of the time, our meaning of hope is not much more than wishful thinking. We say things like,  “I hope we have a White Christmas.” “I hope the Texas Rangers win the World Series.” “I hope the Dallas Cowboys can win at least one meaningful game someday.” “I hope I got an “A” on my semester exam.” In more serious matters we say, “I hope our national leaders can agree on a budget.” We say things like “I hope I get a new job.” “I hope my child or grandchild will recover.” We have wishful thinking for lots of things. What are you hoping for?

We sometimes think of hope like Jiminy Cricket, “when you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are, anything your heart desires, will come to you.” In our world, hope is nothing more than a wish for something good to happen.

Often times, however, the realities of life and death and evil in this world dash our hopes and dreams. As Fantine cries out in, Les Misérables,

Fantine

Fantine from Les Misérables

But the tigers come at night,
With their voices soft as thunder,
As they tear your hope apart,
And they turn your dream to shame.

I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living,
So different now from what it seemed.
Now life has killed the dream
I dreamed…

Of course, as people, we need to have hope—it what keeps us going. Present hurts and future uncertainties create the constant need for hope. Worldwide poverty, hunger, disease, fiscal cliffs, family conflicts, global terrorism, mass murders, and pervasive evil creates a longing for something better. Historically, people have looked to the future with a mixture of longing and fear. Today, many of us are fearful of the coming year. Countless people have concluded that there is no reasonable basis for hope—therefore, “to hope” is to live with an illusion. This viewpoint is partially correct; Scripture tells us that those who do not have God in their lives do not have hope (Eph. 2:12; 1 Thess. 4:13).

Biblical hope is so much more than wishful dreams of human desires – Biblical hope is an expected result based on God’s divine character and promises. More specifically, biblical hope is the confident expectation of what God has done for us in the past that guarantees our participation in what God will do in the future. The heart of Christian hope is that God, and God alone, is our unshakable rock that cannot be moved. As our Rock, He is the only One who provides ultimate security.

The psalmist David says “I am at rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him. He alone is my Rock and my Salvation, my Stronghold; I will never be shaken” (Psalm 62:2).

Mt. Arbel overlooking the Sea of Galilee in Israel

Mt. Arbel overlooking the Sea of Galilee in Israel

Rather than looking to other people or leaders or technology or government for encouragement and security, David looks to God alone for these needs. He did this because he had discovered that God Himself was responsible for his deliverance. And the prophet Isaiah, “Trust in the Lord forever, because in Yah, the Lord, is an everlasting rock!” (Isaiah 26:4). In this world of insecurities, we have a God who is our security, our confidence, our Rock – even when life seems to have killed the dream we have dreamed (Deut. 32:4, 15, 18; Psalm 14:6, 18:2, 61:3; 73:28; 91:9).  As Pastor Tony Evans says, “sometimes God lets you hit rock bottom so that you will know that He is the Rock at the bottom.”

We have an unshakable hope because of Christ’s birth. A significant aspect of OT hope was Israel’s expectation of a Messiah, that is, an anointed ruler from David’s line. This expectation grew out of the promise that God would establish the throne of David forever (2 Sam. 7:14). The Messiah would be God’s agent to restore Israel’s glory and rule the world in peace and righteousness. For the most part, however, David’s successors were disappointments. The direction of the nation was away from the ideal. So, God’s people looked to the future for a Son of David who would fulfill the divine promise. That’s why the angelic proclamation to lowly shepherds gave them such great hope: “Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.” (Luke 2:11) Jesus was the Hope of Israel, the Hope of the nations.

We have an unshakable hope because of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Christ is the object and ground of our hope because He is the Messiah who has brought salvation by His life, death, and resurrection. Jesus frequently reminded His disciples, “This is what is written: The Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day.” (Luke 24:46).

At the heart of our hope, the core of our confident expectation, is the resurrection of Jesus. Paul wrote that it was “God who raises the dead” in whom “we have placed our hope” (2 Cor. 1:9–10). Furthermore, “we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of everyone” (1 Tim. 4:10). Paul is certain that Christian hope points to the future, “If we have hope in Christ only for this life, we are the most miserable people in the world” (1 Cor. 15:19).

Empty TombBut our hope is for more than just this life – we have a living Hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead:  “Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3)

The significance of Christ’s resurrection is not only that it points to His victory over death, but it also extends that victory to those who are His: “Christ was raised first; then when Christ comes back, all his people will be raised” (1 Cor. 15:23).

We have an unshakable hope because of Christ’s return. While the New Testament affirms the sufficiency of Christ’s redemptive work in the past, it also looks forward to His return in the future to complete God’s purpose. Indeed, the major emphasis on hope centers on the second coming of Christ. The “blessed hope” of the church is nothing less than “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

We have an unshakable hope in Christ Himself. As believers in Christ, the Bible tells us that He is “our hope” (1 Tim. 1:1), and identified as “Christ in you – the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Jesus is the hope living in us, He is the Rock in whom we trust (1 Pet. 2:4–7). “We have this hope—like a sure and firm anchor of the soul” (Heb. 6:19). And yet, the Apostle Paul says, about the hope we have in God: “hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? (Rom 8:24) Our Living Hope – confident expectation in God – comes only by faith in Him (Hebrews 11:1).

Given the assurance of hope in Christ, we can live today with confidence and face tomorrow with courage. We can also meet trials, and even nightmares, triumphantly because we know “that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope” (Rom. 5:3–4). Such perseverance is not passive resignation; it is the confident endurance in the face of opposition. God’s unshakable hope amounts to a qualitative difference from ordinary, wishful thinking.

Bilbo Bagins from the Hobbit

Bilbo Bagins from the Hobbit

One of my favorite tales is JRR Tolkien’s, The Hobbit. And although many wince at the violence and despicable creatures depicted, in many ways the story of Middle Earth is a story about how to live with hope in the face of overwhelming darkness and impending doom. As one who is too often tempted to despair, I need to drink deeply the true lessons of hope this story teaches that reflect Scripture’s hope. Our living hope springs from God Himself rather than our own narrow interests of living self-centered lives of pleasure and comfort. God uses ordinary people to accomplish extra-ordinary things as we put our hope in His unshakable promises and presence.

What are you hoping for? Regardless of your dreams, I pray that you will cling to the unshakable hope of God Himself through His promises and presence.

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.