The Gospel Illustrated in a Letter!

September 29, 2011 by  
Filed under Message of the Month

Philemon 1-25

A little boy was in the Christmas play of his church. His only part was to say, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”  He didn’t understand his sentence because of two words in it, so after the rehearsal, he asked his mother what “glad tidings” meant.  She answered, “It means `good news'”.  The night of the play, the church was packed with people, and the little boy experienced such stage fright that when his time came, he forgot his line, but his mother’s explanation came to him and he shouted out excitedly, “Boy, have I got good news for you and everybody should hear it!” 

The gospel is good news for sinners and equally and eternally good news for saints. Good news that believers need to go on announcing, first to themselves and then to unbelievers. Contrary to what many Christian’s have concluded, the gospel doesn’t just ignite the Christian life; it’s the fuel that keeps Christians going every day and in every way. Once God rescues sinners, his plan isn’t to steer them beyond the gospel but to move them more deeply into it. After all, the only antidote to sin is the gospel—and since Christians remain sinners even after they’re converted, the gospel must be the medicine a Christian takes every day. Since we never leave off sinning, we can never leave the gospel. 

 The gospel of the kingdom is the announcement of the King’s messengers of a message that is God-authored, Christ-centered, kingdom-based, cross-shaped, and resurrection-empowered. When the message is received and believed it not only converts persons, but changes societies, rewrites laws, and molds nations.

 Gospel = Euaggelion – The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: “Euaggelion was commonly used in the Greco-Roman culture as “a technical term for “news of victory.”

 William Tyndale, Christian martyr in the 1500’s said… ”Euaggelion (which we call gospel) is a Greek word, and signifies good, merry, glad, and joyful tidings, that makes a man’s heart glad, and makes him sing, dance, and leap for joy.” 

If this is the biblical meaning of gospel, then why do so many professing Christians live as “Bad News Believers? Why do they live gloom-filled instead of gospel filled? Why do they live so uncertain of their acceptance before God, unconvinced of the victory of Christ, undecided about the power of the Good News to make believers eternally happy, beginning right now, and uncommitted in regard to sparing no expense or effort so that everyone can hear the good news? 

The main reason is that far too many believers have a truncated view of the gospel, tending to see it only as a door that they walk through to become a Christian. As a consequence, they see the gospel as being only for unbelievers. Once you become a Believer, you don’t need it anymore except to share with people who are still outside the door. What you need to hear instead are the challenges and how-to’s of discipleship for Christian growth. To embrace this view is to forget that Christian growth isn’t steeping out from the gospel, but rather stepping out with, in, and by the gospel. 

The gospel story is well illustrated by the book of Philemon. This book is the shortest of all Paul’s letters and is actually a personal note to a spiritual son named Philemon, who is a wealthy citizen of Colossae. This letter is a heart-warming appeal on behalf of a runaway slave whom Paul had led to Christ. The urging of full forgiveness, the exhortation to exercise grace, the willingness to pay the cost for redemption and the goal of reconciliation all portray the marvelous gospel story of Jesus! Let’s unfold the story by first considering that: 

I. The Gospel Begets a Family of Brothers Under the Blood! 

Scene One of our drama opens in v. 19. Philemon owes Paul a debt. It is his own conversion—a transformation which precedes that of Onesimus. Philemon had heard the gospel from Paul and had received the Holy Spirit through the apostle’s word—possibly at Colossae. Thus Paul is Philemon’s spiritual father and brother under the blood of Christ. 

As we examine the vocabulary of the epistle, we begin to notice that the drama of the gospel story is supported by the language of relationship. The terms “brother” and “sister” occur five times; “beloved,” a term of Christian affection, occurs five times; cf. “fellow worker,” “my very own heart.” These terms of horizontal relationship are touchingly spread through the apostle’s appeal. Onesimus is Paul’s “child”; Onesimus, while Philemon’s “slave,” has become by God’s grace, Paul’s “brother.” Onesimus is a “debtor” to Paul, even as Philemon is a “debtor” to the apostle. “Fellow prisoner,” “fellow soldier” of the “old man,” the elder statesman of the gospel. This wonderfully personal epistle is full of expression of loving and tender relationship. 

Notice that the first three verses of the letter to Philemon include the names of five persons: Paul, Timothy, Philemon, Apphia, Archippus. Then drop down the page to the last three verses (vv. 23-25) and observe how they conclude with the names of five persons: Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke. Now observe also that the pattern of verses 1-3 is five names plus the phrase “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is precisely mirrored in verses 23-25: five names plus the phrase “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” The greeting or salutation of the epistle ends with the Lord Jesus Christ. The closing or conclusion of the epistle ends with the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Paul would have Philemon to reflect on God’s Big Family and not just his personal one; on the desire of God to be ever-enlarging His Family and not just in preserving an individual one. 

Christians are saved by themselves (individually – not in mass) as to their sin problem. They are then being saved from themselves (from independence to interdependence) by being placed in the Community of Faith called the Church. Community participation isn’t optional but mandatory for deliverance from selfishness and for displaying the beauty of Christ’s Body and demonstrating Christ’s power over devils, disease, and death. 

Father God has only one plan and it’s a Family Plan. He intends to populate heaven and earth with sons just like His Son. Life in the Household of God requires that we cultivate fellowship, practice forgiveness, and persist in faithfulness. 

It is said of Jesus in Mark 3:14-15, that “… He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons” Withness, Togetherness, Community, Fellowship – these words express the very reason for God saving us. God’s desire is for a Huge Family of hot-hearted, passionate sons who delight in Him and in each other, not a Labor Force of Field Hands who work for Him.

What is this withness or togetherness — this thing called Community? Community is what the gospel of God announced received and believed produces: A unified people who possess a common way, embrace a common truth and celebrate a common life. 

Community, or Fellowship, is translated by our English New Testaments as communion, association, fellowship, sharing, partakers, common, contribution, communicate, and partnership. Although no one English word can catch the full meaning of the Greek, the New English Bible comes close as it translates all of the above by the expression “sharing in the common life.”

The Gospel Begets a Family of Brothers Under the Blood! In this family there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond or free, but brothers and sisters sharing a common Lord, a common life, a common love, a common lot, and a common load! In this Family the issue is grace not race; sin not the color of one’s skin, the miracle of the new birth and not the measures of the natural birth!

THE FAMILY OF GOD CHORUS:  I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God; I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by the blood; Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod, For I’m part of the family, the family of God. You will notice we say brother and sister ‘round here — It’s because we’re a family and these folks are so dear. When one has a heartache we all share the tears. And rejoice in each victory in this family so dear. From the door of an orphanage to the house of the king, No longer an outcast, a new song I sing. From rags unto riches, from the weak to the strong, I’m not worthy to be here, but praise God I belong.

II. The Gospel Brings Freedom to Slaves on the Run! 

A. A Runaway Fugitive from His Rightful Master — Scene Two of our drama is in the prison at Rome where the Apostle Paul is bound in chains for the sake of the gospel. Around him are gathered those named in vv. 23-24 plus Onesimus, Philemon’s slave. Onesimus had run away—perhaps after stealing something. He made his way to Rome as a fugitive under Roman law. In the superintending providence of God, Onesimus somehow wound up in Paul’s presence. There he also heard the gospel from the apostle and received the Holy Spirit through the apostle’s word. Having heard of Philemon’s love and faith, Paul sends Onesimus back to his master. Onesimus himself undoubtedly carries the letter asking Philemon to receive him as “more than a slave, yea a beloved brother.” The final scenes are left to our imagination. Onesimus arrives at the home of Philemon with Paul’s letter. Philemon reads the letter and responds, we trust, affirmatively. Paul then visits Philemon to follow up his letter (an event which may never have occurred).  

We see marvelous and obvious gospel truth illustrated in Onesimus. All of us as sinners have rebelled against our Master and robbed Him of glory, refused His grace and run in our own ways. Like Israel of old, we commit two grievous sins – we forsake God, the fountain of living waters and then hew out for ourselves broken cisterns that can hold no water! Countless millions live in the world and are like Onesimus — fugitives from their rightful Master. They are in a desperate predicament! 

B. A Restless Fear of Just Condemnation — The fugitive slaves may have had many fun days, but they never enjoyed a safe one. They knew neither security nor peace, for they were always on alert for the FUGITIVARII, a group whose business was to recover runaway slaves. The fugitives always had the threat of arrest hanging over their lives. 

How true is this in the lives of all who have run away from God’s authority! They suffer the burden of guilt, and harsh punishment hangs over their lives (Romans 5:18a; 2 Thessalonians 1:8, 9). Those who live without God’s rule directing them will find only a gnawing guilt, an emptiness of spirit, and a purposelessness of existence! They are renegades, fugitives who are vainly trying to escape the just condemnation of their rebellion. The penalty for such is awful. This is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil. (John 3:19). Who can feel comfortable under such a penalty? 

C. A Ready Advocate to Plead His Cause with His Master — There were provisions for the runaway slave to escape severe punishment. There was a possibility that the slave could be restored. However, it all depended upon his having someone with the means of serving as his advocate, sponsor or attorney. 

Paul pleads in verses 17-18 – “So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me; if he has wronged you, charge that to my account!” How awesome is that and how much does this remind you of the gospel, where our Lord Jesus Christ, seems to say to His Father in Heaven, ?These former runaway, rebellious sinners been brought into relationship with me. Receive them, therefore, as myself.”  This is just what God does in the case of repenting and believing sinners; he receives them as Christ because He sees them in Christ and Christ in them. 

If he has wronged you or owes you anything — put that on my account! What an advocate! How generously is this ministry of imputation by a poor prisoner at Rome demonstrated toward a runaway slave, and how gloriously, in this, he is like our Master, who stands as Surety for us! 

Gospel news declares that there is a provision for rebellious men who have been on the run from their rightful Owner, and have run out of running room. Rebels against God’s government and refusers of His grace, the runaway slaves of God have only one hope – an Advocate to plead their cause with the Master. Good news — we have access to such an Advocate, who will plead our case before the Almighty Master (1 Timothy 2:5).

Look at Onesimus! How unlikely he appears to become a convert. This man had been dishonest, and he was daring withal, for after taking his master’s property he was bold enough to make a long journey from Colosse to reach Rome. But everlasting love means to convert the man, and converted he shall be. He may have heard Paul preach at Colosse and Athens, but yet he had not been impressed. At Rome, Paul was not preaching in St. Peter’s: it was in no such noble building. But it was probably down there at the back of the Palatine hill, where the praetorian guard have their lodgings, and where there was a prison called the Praetorium. In a bare room in the barrack prison Paul sat with a soldier chained to his hand, preaching to all who were admitted to hear him, and there it was that the grace of God reached the heart of this wild young man; and, oh, what a change it made in him immediately! Now you see him repenting of his sin, grieved to think he has wronged a good man, vexed to see the depravity of his heart as well as the error of his life. He weeps; Paul preaches to him Christ crucified, and the glance of joy is in his eye: and from that heavy heart a load is taken. New thoughts light up that dark mind; the very face is changed, and the entire man renewed, for the grace of God can turn the lion to a lamb, the raven to a dove.

Just as Paul did for Onesimus, Jesus is willing to do for sinful man. Paul put himself in the place of Onesimus (v. 18). Paul constrained Philemon by love to accept the penitent slave (v. 17). Paul forsook personal rights and acted with humility (vv. 8, 9). In Paul we find a beautiful illustration of what Jesus has done for us! (Cf. Philippians 2:5-10; Romans 5:6-9.)

 II. The Gospel Bestows Forgiveness So That Its Recipients Become Forgivers! 

Philemon 1:19-20, “I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it–to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.” 

Paul had been the means of Philemon’s conversion, so he was immeasurably in debt to the apostle; but Paul only gently reminds him of the fact as a reason why he should deal kindly with Onesimus for his sake. “You have refreshed others, then, surely, you will not let me be without refreshment now. You have been very kind to all sorts of saints; then you cannot be unkind to the man who is your own spiritual father.?” 

Forgiveness is free, but it is never cheap! The nature of forgiveness is a release from debt by the payment of a price. Sins are not just forgiven and forgotten. The legal debt to the law of God must be paid. The Bible teaches that Almighty God has determined that sin shall be paid for or punished in one of two places. Either forever in Hell, in the sinner, or in Christ, on the Cross. 

Christ on the cross, paid the debt for our sins by his death and then bore our sins away in such a manner as to take them into the tomb and leave them there as He rose again on the third day. The most glorious thought in the world is “that my sins, not in part but the whole were nailed to the cross and I bear the no more, praise the Lord it is well with my soul!” 

Col 2:13, “And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,” Heb 10:17  “AND THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS I WILL REMEMBER NO MORE.” The Judge of the universe has paid our legal debt ?? Roms 8:3, 34,; pronounced us legally dead ?? Roms 7:4,6, and pronounced our case lawfully discharged. Sin does not condemn us, the curse does not condemn us, the Devil can only attempt to condemn us by his wild accusations, and above all God does not condemn us. Because sin’s debt has been legally paid, condemnation cannot be made. 

The Characteristics of Being Forgiven Will be Shown by Our Attitude in Forgiving Others – MT 18:28?35. Forgiveness isn’t tolerance. It isn’t pretending that the offense never occurred. It isn’t forgetting. It isn’t a feeling I develop. It isn’t turning the other cheek. It isn’t laughing off a wrong done. It isn’t the absence of anger at sin. It isn’t feeling good about what was bad. Forgiveness isn’t the absence of serious consequence for sin. Forgiveness isn’t an apology. This is the world’s substitute for true Biblical repentance. Forgiveness is a promise made. It is a choice of the will. It requires that you absorb all the cost for the offense against you. have you ever found yourself thinking or saying, “Someone is going to pay for this!” If you are a Christian you were absolutely correct ?? and you, the one sinned against, are the one who is going to pay! Granting forgiveness means that you pay! It means that you are willing to absorb the loss. Forgiveness is a full pardon and an act of love. Forgiveness is based upon God’s having forgiven you. 

Forgiving the offender does not merit forgiveness for you, but demonstrates that you have been forgiven of God. Matt 6:12, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.(One little boy was heard praying,: Forgive us our debts as we forgive those who are dead against us”) (14) For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. (15) “But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”Mark 11:25, “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your transgressions.” 

IV. The Gospel Brings Favor So That We Have Acceptance and Advocacy!

Philemon 1:17-18, “So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.” 

Notice verse 17 of our text, “So if you consider me your partner, receive him as myself, or as you would receive me.” In other words, Paul said, “I’m not asking you to receive him on his own account, because he doesn’t deserve it, but rather receive him on account of me. Receive him as if you were receiving me!” 

“Paul’s term ‘partner’ must not be weakened to mean merely an intimate friend or companion. It suggests the fellowship or partnership of those who have common interests, common feelings, and common work. It is a spiritual fellowship and has a double aspect, Godward as well as brotherward. It is the partnership of mutual Christian faith and life. It is upon Philemon’s acceptance of this fellowship that Paul bases his appeal. The form of the conditional sentence assumes the reality of that fact.

Philemon’s refusal of Paul’s request would be inconsistent with his acknowledgment of this partnership.” 

Note the added emphasis on the word each time he uses it.

1.    “Receive him” (v. 12)

2.    “Receive him forever” (v. 15)

3.    “Receive him as myself” (v. 17) 

“Put (or charge) that on mine account” (v. 18). Put is from the Greek word “ellogeo” which means to reckon in, set to one’s account, lay to one’s charge, to impute. This is the foundation word for the Biblical doctrine of “imputation”. 

That is exactly what Jesus did for us when He died on the cross. It is as though He was saying to His Heavenly Father, “Whatever wrongs mankind has committed, whatever things he has stolen, whatever debts (sin debts) he has incurred, I will stand good for them all. I will pay the price in full!” And that’s exactly what Jesus did for us. Isaiah the prophet had this in mind when he wrote, “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted….But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isa. 53:4-5

In Galatians 3:13, we read: “Christ has redeemed us once and for all from the curse of the law….”   God’s love in the Gospel clears the record, because the Bible teaches that Almighty God has determined that sin shall be punished in one of two places. Either forever in Hell, in the sinner; or in Christ, on the Cross. 

The phrase “Christ has redeemed us” confirms that our salvation is not based on Divine amnesty but upon the principle of redemption by imputation, which means to deliver by paying the required price.  Our salvation, which has opened a way for us to come confidently before God as He sits upon a throne of grace, does not rest upon the ruins of His throne of righteousness.  Sinners are not saved by suspension of the death penalty, nor by because of the sympathy of God.  We have gotten a misconception of the enormity of the problem that redemption posed as to the necessity for upholding the integrity of God’s righteous rule throughout His universe. God could not just simply say, “Now, now, I am going to be sympathetic toward you sinners. Never mind that I declared that the wages of sin is death. I am going to forgive you all of your sins.” To have done so would have made God a liar, as well as undermining the foundation for moral government in this universe. No, God’s throne of grace does not rest upon the ruin of the righteousness of God.  It is made a throne of grace because the Lord Jesus Christ freely and fully took upon Himself the liability of His people’s sins and on the Cross exhausted the penalty once and for all. As the Bondsman, the Surety, of His Bride, He paid in His person their sin debt. 

God the Judge offers a legal settlement of your case that will clear your criminal record, confirm your full citizenship in Heaven with a valid passport that will open the gates of Glory.  You can walk free from the condemnation of a criminal record. Justification cancels our legal liability and confers a legal status. The Judge who paid our debt then places the perfect righteousness of Christ to our account so that we stand righteous, complete, and forever secure, in Christ, before the throne. When God justifies a repentant sinner, the legal action is a finished, complete, perfect, instantaneous and non?repeatable act. 

Grace reveals that God the Judge has set forth Christ to appease the wrath of His broken and outraged law. Christ has freely and vicariously taken the repentant, believing sinner’s place.  He has suffered and died in their place. He has done exactly what the Infinitely Wise, Holy, Sovereign Judge of this universe decreed would be necessary for our record to be cleared, for us to be justified, declared righteous in His sight.  The Spotless Lamb of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, has bared His bosom to the sword of Divine justice, enduring its fury.  He was taken from that smoking altar of the cross outside the city walls of Jerusalem to the Garden tomb, where three days later, He blasted a cross?shaped hole through the backside of the grave, entered into the presence of God with His own blood, and sat down in the place of supreme authority, forever triumphant and where He ever lives to make intercession for those that believe savingly on Him. 

It is the greatest of “good news” when we learn that a Righteous God and a ruined sinner can meet on a blood?sprinkled platform called the Cross of Christ in such a manner that the sinner’s criminal record is settled forever, and in such a way that glorifies Holy God, magnifies His love, satisfies His law, and justifies the sinner!  We are all convicts and criminals.  But love has made a way where law can be honored and satisfied because Christ for sinners died! 

“Nothing to pay; yes, nothing to pay! Jesus has cleared the debt away. Bought it out with His bleeding hand; free and forgiven and loved we stand.”

V. The Gospel Bears Fruit by Transforming Uselessness into Usefulness! 

a. Produces a supernatural birth for House-hold of Faith Relationships

b. Produces a spiritual father for Personal Discipleship

c. Produces a surrendered heart for Obedience to Lordship

d. Produces a sonship mindset for Kingdom Partnership

e. Produces a  stead-fast faith for Gospel Stewardship 

Philemon 1:11  (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) Onesimus, whose name means “Profitable” or “useful” had become unprofitable. But the gospel had reached him and renewed him to usefulness. 

Look at the difference between the man who robbed, and the man who now comes back to be profitable to his master. What wonders the grace of God has done! What wonders the grace of God can do! Many plans are employed in the world for the reformation of the wicked and the reclaiming of the fallen, and to every one of these, as far as they are rightly concerned, we wish good success; for whatever things are lovely and pure, and of good report, we wish them God speed. But mark this word—the true reforming of the drunkard lies in giving him a new heart; the true reclaiming of the harlot is to be found in a renewed nature. She must be washed in the Savior’s blood, or she will never be clean. The lowest strata of society will never be brought into the light of virtue, sobriety, and purity, except by Jesus Christ and his Gospel; and we must stick to that. Let all others do what they like, but God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Just how useful did Onesimus become for the kingdom of God? This Phrygian by birth and a slave to Philemon, having been led to Christ by Paul, then a prisoner for the faith at Rome, was sent back to his master, with the beautiful letter we know as the Epistle to Philemon, asking for the liberty of Onesimus, that he might become one of his own assistants. 

Tradition has it that Philemon pardoned him and set him at liberty, and Onesimus returned to his spiritual father, as Paul had requested; thereafter he faithfully served the Apostle. We know that Paul made him, with Tychicus, the bearer of his Epistle to the Colossians. (Col. 4:7?9) 

Later, as Jerome and other Church Fathers testify, he became an ardent preacher of the Gospel and a bishop. It is he who succeeded Timothy as bishop of Ephesus. He was cruelly tortured in Rome, for eighteen days, by a governor of that city, infuriated by his preaching on the merit of celibacy. His legs and thighs were broken with bludgeons, and he was then stoned to death. His martyrdom occurred under Domitian in the year 95. 

Paul’s little letter to Philemon is such a clear portrayal of the gospel in human terms. All of us were God’s Onesimus, useless as for as the Father and His Family were concerned. We were slaves to sin, chained to evil, and continually on the run from God. But the Lord Jesus came into our human, helpless, hopeless dilemma and paid the price for our sins on the cross so that God’s justice was satisfied once and for all. All that is left for us is to accept the work of Christ on our behalf. To say it another way, either you can pay for your sins by spending eternity in hell or you can trust completely in the fact that Jesus has already paid the debt on your behalf. 

Here is a wonderful word for Christians to remember. When the devil rises us to accuse us, remind him that you have and Advocate with the Father — Jesus —  who says, “Put that on my account.” When the world points out our faults, Jesus says, “Put that on my account.” When our friends point out our many failures and our enemies gloat over our mistakes, and when our own conscience condemns us, when in short we feel like the biggest sinners in the world, Jesus stands before the Father, raises his pierced hands and declares, “Put that on my account.” 

In putting it this way we can see how the gospel touches every situation of life. We were once slaves but through Jesus Christ we have been set free. 

Charles Spurgeon tells his congregation of an incident in his ministry: “Some three years ago I was talking with an aged minister, and he began fumbling about in his waistcoat pocket, but he was a long while before he found what he wanted. At last he brought out a letter that was well nigh worn to pieces, and he said, “God Almighty bless you! God Almighty bless you!” And I said, “Friend, what is it?” He said, “I had a son. I thought he would be the stay of my old age, but he disgraced himself, and he went away from me, and I could not tell where he went, only he said he was going to America. He took a ticket to sail for America from the London Docks, but he did not go on the particular day that he expected.” This aged minister asked me to read the letter, and I read it, and it was like this—“Father, I am here in America. I have found a situation, and God has prospered me. I write to ask your forgiveness for the thousand wrongs that I have done you, and the grief I have caused you, for, blessed be God, I have found the Savior. I have joined the church of God here, and hope to spend my life in God’s service. It happened thus: I did not sail for America the day I expected. I went down to the Tabernacle to see what it was like, and God met with me. Mr. Spurgeon said, ‘Perhaps there is a runaway son here. The Lord call him by his grace. And he did.” “Now,” said he, as he folded up the letter and put it in his pocket, “that son of mine is dead, and he is in heaven, and I love you, and I shall do so as long as I live, because you were the means of bringing him to Christ.”  

Spurgeon then asked the vast congregation: “Is there a similar character here now? I feel persuaded there is—somebody of the same sort; and in the name of God I charge him to take the warning that I give him from this pulpit. I dare you to go out of this place as you came in. Oh, young man the Lord in mercy gives you another opportunity of turning from the error of your ways, and I pray you now here—as you now are—lift your eye to heaven, and say, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” and he will be so. Then go home to your father and tell him what the grace of God has done for you, and wonder at the love which brought you here to bring you to Christ. 

Dear friend, if there is nothing mysterious about it, yet here we are. We are where the Gospel is preached, and that brings responsibility upon us. If a man is lost, it is better for him to be lost without hearing the Gospel, than to be lost as some of you will be if you perish under the sound of a clear, earnest enunciation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How long halt some of you between two opinions? “Have I been so long time with you,” says Christ, “and yet hast thou not known me?” All this teaching and preaching and invitation, and yet do you not turn? O God, do thou the sinner turn, Convince him of his lost estate. Let him linger no longer, lest he linger till he lament his fatal choice too late. God bless you, for Christ’s sake.”

Islam: Muhammad vs. Christ

June 17, 2011 by  
Filed under Wade's Weekly Word

Muhammad denied that Jesus was the Son of God; that Jesus died on the cross; that Jesus was the Savior. He taught that Jesus was only one of many prophets of which he, Muhammad, was the greatest. Yet, how could he be greater than Jesus Christ? Jesus was born of a virgin and was sinless in nature and the doer of mighty miracles such as raising the dead. But there was nothing superior about Muhammad’s birth or life. He never made the lame to walk, the blind to see or the dead to live. Allah even commanded him to repent of his many sins. How then can be greater than the Christ?

The contrast between Jesus and Muhammad could not be greater. While Jesus forbade the use of force to convert people (Matthew 26:51-54), Muhammad commanded his followers in the Qur’an (Sura IX.5) to force people to accept Islam by war, plunder, slavery or the threat of death!

Who is Jesus to a Muslim, and what do they believe about Him? The truth is that everything they understand of Jesus is wrong because of the teaching from the Koran. The only thing that they agree with is his being a prophet, the virgin birth, and his being sinless and that he performed miracles. They deny the only Gospel that saves. Claiming he did not die and rise again, they claim he was taken to heaven alive because God does not have true prophets killed.

When saying His name or any other prophets name, the Muslim will always add the phrase ‘Peace be upon Him” in respect. While we can acknowledge their respectfulness, we must remember that the Bible says that it was our sin that was upon Him. This is the very reason He came and His peace is upon us who believe this. (Isa. 53:5 “The punishment for our peace He took upon Himself.”) Muslims call Jesus the Spirit of God, but this term also does not mean he was God Himself according to the Islamic interpretation. They believe Jesus lived a sinless life without fault, performed miracles, and ascended bodily into Heaven, and that his primary mission was to pave the way for the ultimate and final prophet – Muhammad.

Dr. Ted Baehr notes some of the differences between Mohammed and Christ:

“Mohammed was the prophet of war; Christ is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Mohammed’s disciples killed for the faith; Christ’s disciples were killed for their faith (Acts 12:2; 2 Tim. 4:7).

Mohammed promoted persecution against the”infidels”; Christ forgave and converted the chief persecutor (1 Tim. 1:13-15).

Mohammed was the taker of life; Christ is the giver of life (John 10:27-28).

Mohammed and his fellow warriors murdered thousands; Christ murdered none but saved many (John 12:48).

Mohammed’s method was COMPULSION; Christ’s aim was CONVERSION (Acts 3:19).

Mohammed practiced FORCE; Christ preached FAITH (John 6:29, 35).

Mohammed was a WARRIOR; Christ is a DELIVERER (Col. 1:13; 1 Thess. 1:10).

Mohammed said to the masses, ”Convert or die!”; Christ said, ”Believe and live!”   (John 6:47; 11:25-26).

Mohammed was swift to shed blood (Rom. 3:15-17); Christ shed His own blood for the salvation of many (Eph. 1:7).

Mohammed preached ”Death to the infidels!”; Christ prayed ”Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Mohammed declared a holy war (Jihad) against infidels; Christ achieved a holy victory on Calvary’s cross (Col. 2:14-15) and His followers share in that victory (John 16:33).

Mohammed constrained people by conquest; Christ constrained people by love (2 Cor. 5:14).

Modern terrorists derive their inspiration from Mohammed and carry out their despicable atrocities in the name of his god; Christians derive their inspiration from the One who said, ”Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9).

Modern day disciples of Mohammed respond to the terrorist attacks by cheering in the streets; modern day disciples of Christ are deeply grieved at past atrocities carried out by those who were ”Christians” in name only (the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, etc.).

Many Muslims are peaceful and peace-loving because they do not strictly follow the teachings of their founder; many Christians are peaceful and peace-loving because they do strictly follow the teachings of their Founder (Rom. 12:17-21).

Mohammed called upon his servants to fight; Jesus said, ”My kingdom is not of this world; if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight . . . but now is My kingdom not from here” (John 18:36)

Mohammed ordered death to the Jews; Christ ordered that the Gospel be preached ”to the Jew first” (Rom. 1:16).

The Koran says, ”Fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them” (Qu’ran 9.5); Christ said, ”Preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).

Mohammed’s mission was to conquer the world for Allah; Christ’s mission was to conquer sin’s penalty and power by substitutionary atonement (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:18).

Mohammed claimed that there was but one God, Allah; Christ claimed that He was God  (John 10:30-31; John 8:58-59; John 5:18; John 14:9).

Mohammed’s Tomb: OCCUPIED! Christ’s tomb: EMPTY!”

The conflict between Christ and Muhammad cannot be ignored. Either Jesus is Lord or Muhammad was a false prophet. But Muhammad is dead, while Jesus is alive forevermore.

Mark Steyn writes, “Western civilization – wedded to multiculturalism that undercuts its own confidence, a welfare state that nudges it toward sloth and self-indulgence, and a childlessness that consigns it to oblivion – is looking ever more like the ruins of a civilization.”

This is very scary and will come true unless God’s people recover a God-centered, Christ-exalting, cross-shaped, kingdom empowered, gospel-based outlook that sees the current situation as the greatest opportunity in history to bring masses of radical Muslims to faith in Christ! We must begin to stop trembling in fear and start ministering in faith because we have eyes to see what the natural man cannot – that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe!

Prisoners of Hope -Part One

January 7, 2009 by  
Filed under Message of the Month

Recovering All the Hope Available

in the Age of Advantage!

 

The Text for our Recovery of Hope: Rom 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

The Confession for Our Recovery of Hope: “I am Recommitting myself to Father God in order to be Reawakened by the Spirit of God to Rediscover the Supremacy of the Son of God for the Recovery of ALL the HOPE Available in this Age of Advantage!”

 

Prisoners of Hope! –Part 1

Zech. 9:9-13

 Intro – In the first eight verses of this chapter, we are shown a prophetic vision. This Holy Spirit-inspired revelation was fulfilled some two hundred plus years later in the conquests of Alexander the Great, especially over the Syrians and Persians. During these events, we are told that favor would be shown to Jerusalem, and God’s vengeance would be exacted against the enemies and oppressors of His people, along with His protecting care over His people themselves. This happened as prophesied.

 Contemplating these soon to come events, and the career of that mighty pagan prince and warrior – Alexander the Great – Zechariah the prophet is moved by the Holy Spirit to see down through the corridors of history to a King and a Conqueror of a very different description. He sees Yeshua Hamashiach – the Messiah – the Christ– King Jesus! That these verses point to the first advent of Christ is an opinion entertained both by Jewish and Christian expositors. Matthew 21:4, is the fulfillment of this prophecy as King Jesus rode on a donkey into Jerusalem.

The people of Zechariah’s day were still prisoners under the yoke of a foreign government. They had waited so long for the fulfilling of the promises of God that they were no longer “standing on these promises” but just sort of “sitting on the premises”! Their dreams had been shattered, the future appeared ever so shaky, and hope seemed to mock them! Through the prophet, God says, “View yourselves, not as prisoners of horrible governments, but as “prisoners of hope” in Holy God!” “Prisoners of hope” is a description applied to the Israelites because they had by way of God’s blood covenant the hope of redemption. They were captives who have good hope of deliverance because they are still in covenant with God.

 Some of those under the sound of my voice have lost heart and hope over a promise God gave you; over a personal dream that hasn’t been fulfilled; over the future of the church; over the future – period! You have come to feel that pessimism about the future is your best defense against further disappointment. If so, it’s time to let hope arise and do a little of the “Messiah’s Math” on your outlook on life. Let Him divide “disappointment”: and subtract a “d” and add an “h”! This will cause you to see the happenings of life as “His – Appointments” that will bring you to seeing His will done, His name hallowed, and His kingdom coming more fully in you and through you for His glory and your good! You then will become a captive, a detainee, a Prisoner of HOPE!

 I. We are Prisoners of Hope to an Undefeatable Gospel – Cols 1:23; 2 Thess 2:16

A. Captivated by the Good Hope of Christ’s Promises

 II. We are Prisoners of Hope to an Unseen and Unclear Vision of Christ – 1 Cors 13:12

A. Captivated with the Greatness of Christ’s Person!

 III. We are Prisoners of Hope to an Unredeemed Body – Roms 8:23-25

A. Captivated by the Glory of Christ’s Provisions!

 IV. We are Prisoners of Hope to an Ungathered Family – Rev 7:9

A. Captivated by the Gathering of Christ’s People!

 I. We are Prisoners of Hope to an Undefeatable Gospel – Cols 1:23; 2 Thess 2:16

 A. Captivated by the Good Hope of Christ’s Promises

Cols 1:23, “If you continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;”

 2Thess. 2:16, “ Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 2:17  comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.”

Let’s review our definitions of HOPE — Biblical Hope is the Confident Expectation and Desire for Something Good from God in the Future with the Expectation of Receiving It!

Biblical hope is a future security and certainty grounded in a present reality – and the present reality is the indwelling, infilling presence of the Holy Spirit – who is the Other Jesus without a body. Cols 1:27b, Christ in you the hope of glory.

 Prisoners of hope see the gospel as God-authored, Christ-centered, Cross-shaped, Resurrection-empowered, kingdom-based, devil-defeating, world-impacting, and God-glorifying

Rom 1:1  Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.  God is the author of it and the One who puts it into effect. It achieves what He wants it to, and in the way He determines. It deals with the problems that He perceives and defines. It doesn’t primarily deal with our needs as we perceive them-how can I live a better life, overcome my hang-ups, have purpose and meaning in my life, be successful, miss hell and make heaven when I die – although it includes these. The gospel is God’s way of dealing with His “problem” of how He, a holy and just God, can justify and accept sinners like you and me. Only God’s wisdom and work is great enough to devise a plan that will achieve this.

 The gospel of God in Christ overcomes ever enemy that would rob us of the Joy of the Lord:

It overcomes divine wrath, as he becomes a curse for us; real guilt, as he becomes forgiveness for us; lawbreaking, as he becomes righteousness for us; estrangement from God, as he becomes reconciliation for us; slavery to Satan, as he becomes redemption for us; bondage to sin, as he becomes liberation for us; pangs of conscience, as we becomes cleansing for us; death, as the becomes the resurrection for us; hell, and eternal death, as he becomes eternal life for us.”

 The gospel is a good news announcement of total victory, immeasurable power, and exhaustless provision.

 Beloved, for the most part, few of us are “Prisoners of hope to an undefeatable gospel”! We believe the gospel is big enough to keep a few us out of hell and get us into heaven, but doubt that it’s big and powerful enough to defeat the world, the flesh and all the forces of hell that are arrayed against it.

 Baptist pastor, Charles Spurgeon, was a “prisoner of hope in an undefeatable gospel!”

 Preaching from the text of Mt. 8:11-12,“And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” – he shows himself to be a prisoner of hope in an undefeatable gospel:

 “Some narrow-minded bigots think that heaven will be a very small place, where there will be a very few people, who went to their chapel or their church. I confess, I have no wish for a very small heaven, and love to read in the Scriptures that there are many mansions in my Father’s house. My friend, do you think that Christ will let the devil beat him? That he will let the devil have more in hell than there will be in heaven? No: it is impossible. For then Satan would laugh at Christ. God says, that “there will be a number that no man can number who will be saved;” but he never says that there will be a number that no man can number that will be lost. There will be a host beyond all count who will get into heaven.

 They are to “come from the east and west.” The Jews said that they would all come from Palestine, every one of them, every man, woman, and child; that there would not be one in heaven that was not a Jew. And the Pharisees thought that if they were not all Pharisees they could not be saved. But Jesus Christ said there will be many that will come from the east and from the west. There will be a multitude from that far off land of China, for God is doing a great work there, and we hope that the gospel will yet be victorious in that land. There will be a multitude from this western land of England; from the western country beyond the sea, in America; and from the south, in Australia; and from the north, in Canada, Siberia, and Russia. From the uttermost parts of the earth there shall come many to sit down in the kingdom of God…

 Now he has said here, “many shall come.” The devil says, “they shall not come “but “they shall come.” Their sins say, “you can’t come;” God says, you “shall come.” You, yourselves, say, “we won’t come;” God says, “you shall come.” Yes! there are some here who are laughing at salvation, who can scoff at Christ, and mock at the gospel; but I tell you some of you shall come yet. “What!” you say, “can God make me become a Christian?” I tell you yes, for here in rests the power of the gospel. It does not ask your consent, but it gets it. It does not say will you have it, but it makes you willing in the day of God’s power. Not against your will, but it makes you willing. It shows you its value, -and then you fall in love with it, and straightway you run after it and have it.

 They shall come! They shall come! You may laugh, you may despise us; but Jesus Christ shall not die for nothing. If some of you reject him, there are some that will not. If there are some that are not saved, others shall be. Christ shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hands. They shall come! They shall come! And nought in heaven, nor on earth, nor in hell, can stop them from coming.”

 Scottish missionary to Africa, David Livingstone wrote: “That the salvation of men ought to be the chief desire and aim of every Christian.” He said, “I hope to be permitted to work as long as I live beyond other men’s line of things and plant the seed of the Gospel where others have not planted.”

 With the firm belief in an “undefeatable gospel”, he set sail for dark, dangerous Africa in 1840. It took him 3 months by sailing ship to reach Cape Town and another 4 months by ox cart before he even reached Robert Moffat’s mission station at Kuruman where he would begin his work for the Lord in Africa.

 During his first missionary journey with his wife and children, their 4th child, Elizabeth, was born. Within a few weeks she had died and the rest of the family were sick. He received much criticism for the “irresponsibility” of taking a wife and 4 children on a missionary journey in the wilderness. Later he was criticized for sending his family back to Britain while he pioneered the remote regions of Africa. When his wife rejoined him for his second great missionary expedition in the Zambezi valley she died of malaria.

 “I shall open up a path in to the interior or perish.” He declared. “May He bless us and make us blessings even unto death.” “Shame upon us missionaries if we are to be outdone by slave traders!” “If Christian missionaries and Christian merchants could remain throughout the year in the interior of the continent, in 10 years, slave dealers will be driven out of the market.”

 Battling rains, chronic discomfort, rust, mildew and rot, totally drenched and fatigued, laid low by fever, (he suffered from Malaria alone 27 times!), and attacks by lions, and hostile natives, Livingstone continued to persevere across the continent. Hostile tribes demanded exorbitant payment for crossing their territory. Trials tested the tenacity of the travel wearied team. As he wrote: “Can the love of Christ not carry the missionary where the slave trade carries the trader?”

 After 2 years pioneering across the remote regions of Africa, Livingstone reached Luanda. The “Forerunner” ship was ready to take him to England. However, Livingstone chose to return overland to bring his guides and porters back to their village. Rather than risk their being sold unto slavery in Portuguese West Africa, he preferred to take another 2 years crossing the continent that had almost killed him, on his first journey! However, had Livingstone chosen to return he might well have ended his ministry. The ship sank with all hands lost (and with his journals)!

 “These privations, I beg you to observe, are not sacrifices. I think that word ought never to be mentioned in reference to anything we can do for Him who though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor.”

 Yet for all his gospel efforts, he saw very little fruit, but remember he was a “prisoner of hope!”

 Here the ring of victory in his hope of the gospel of Christ: “We work towards a new state of things. Future missionaries will be rewarded by conversions for every sermon. We are their pioneers and helpers. Let them not forget the watchmen of the night, who worked when all was gloom and no evidence of success in the way of conversions cheers our path. They will doubtless have more light than we, but we serve our Master earnestly and proclaim the same Gospel as they will do.”(see Zeph 2:11 and Zech 14:9)

“A quiet audience today. The seed is being sown, the least of all seeds now, but it will grow into a mighty tree. It is as if it were a small stone cut out of a mountain, but it will fill the whole earth!” (Dan 2:34-35, 44), Matt13:31-32)

 “We work for a glorious future which we are not destined to see, the golden age which has not yet been but will yet be. We are only morning stars shining in the dark, but the glorious morn will break – the good time coming yet.” (Rev 2:26-28).

 II. We are Prisoners of Hope to an Unseen and Unclear Vision of Christ – 1 Cors

    13:12

1Co 13:12  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

A. Captivated with the Greatness of Christ’s Person!

 An amateur painter once tried to develop his own version of Leonardo daVinci’s “The Last Supper”. After giving it his best shot, he showed his efforts to a few friends. He was broken-heartened when one remarked, “My, what exquisite detail you have given to the cups the disciples are holding!” Realizing he had failed to make Jesus the central focus of his painting, as he had intended from the outset, he tore up the canvas and started all over again.

 Christians are like painters, passing along various images and impressions of Jesus, and if more detail is given to us, or stuff we have, and doesn’t leave the impression that Jesus is Central and Supreme; that He is the One who is to be prized, praised, and proclaimed, then we are failing in our mission.

 1. God has NO HOPE for Us beyond who His Son is!

 We need to see how our great and good God has guided history to a day when all the hopes of the ages past were fulfilled in one man. This one man represented humanity as the last Adam. He represented Israel as the ultimate Israelite, the Messiah. He took the sins that separate and forever settled the issue. He took the judgment the world’s rebellion deserved and drained it of its accusations. He invaded death’s dark prison house and blasted a cross-shape hole out the back so that although death takes us, it can’t keep us!

He has endowed us with the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, and given us the legal right to use his name to obtain the resources needed to get the job done. He has given us time to embrace this call and begin to work generationally. If we can see Him more clearly and hear Him more obediently, we will become prisoners of hope who are captivated by this good news. Prisoners of hope will find themselves caught up in a whole new way of living — living to give, longing to serve, loving to worship, leading outward to speak — and ready to die in this wonderful experience of the hope of eternal life.

 If we are to be “prisoners of hope” we must go on being re-converted and refocused to a real, radical, yet biblical vision of the Man, Jesus Christ. We need to see Him as fully God, fully man, fully sovereign, fully redeeming by his substitutionary, wrath-absorbing death, fully alive by His bodily resurrection and fully reigning via His ascension and heavenly enthronement. We need to see Him manifestly present in the throne gift of Heaven that He gave to men on the Day of Pentecost – the Other Jesus without a Body – Holy Spirit. We need to be fully committed to proclaiming Him in His fullness with sound biblical truth followed by Spirit-demonstrated miracles, signs and wonders!

 The Glory of His Person should Captivate My Heart!

The Thrill of His Mission should Dominate My Plans!

The Wonders of His Grace should Regulate My Life!

The Future of His Plan should Alleviate My Fears!

 We need to see Jesus’ coming in a greater soul-saving, heart-transforming, culture-impacting presence and power even now, right where we live so that His kingdom comes more fully and His will is done more freely. We need to ask for foretastes of what will some day fill Heaven and earth. We need to stay focused on His worthiness as the Son of God, the only Savior of Sinners and the Satisfier of the heart-hunger of the saints. We need to see Him in a fuller, personal, experiential way that heightens our awareness of the riches, resources, and reaches that are available in Him as the Revealer of God’s Person and the Redeemer of His people.

 We need to see that the fullness of all His gospel riches and resources flow to us so that they can flow through us to the ends of the earth. We need for Christ to fire us with His zeal for the enjoyment and deployment of the glory of God. We need to begin now to see, savor, and share His life and love so that the People of God become a showcase of His majesty and glory before the nations.

We need to declare that Christ is ALL!

We need to ask him to give us the power to stay hopeful about our future, yet happy right now even with certain dreams and desires unfulfilled.

Christian, are you feeling as though you are hopeless? Well, you aren’t, but you very well may be helpless. God puts us in a position of helplessness or complete dependency in Him. The natural response is to struggle to gain back some measure of control over your life. The pain from this experience feels like hopelessness, but its really the condition of helplessness that is causing you pain. God wants you completely dependent on Him. Prisoners of hope no that they are shut up to Him.

Here’s the word you need — Zec 9:12  Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.  Your stronghold is seeing, savoring and trusting in the loving Lord Jesus Christ. Trusting Him in spite of all the reasoning of your mind; in spite of all the circumstances that surround you; in spite of all the people that have hurt you. You were content to give God control of your life until He decided to do something with your life you did not like. You were happy to surrender all to Him, until He decided to give your promised job or promotion to someone else; until the healing of your loved one didn’t come; until your mate left you or your children turned to the world. You believe in God’s sovereignty, until His sovereign will conflicts with your will. Then you want to run from Him, but He is your refuge. So, run to Him and not from Him — return, child of God, to your stronghold, your fortress and remain a prisoner of hope in the assurance that all that God has promised to be for you in Jesus – He will be!

 There is in our text a great picture of the non-Christian in three aspects:

 I. SELF-RUINED –Joseph, Daniel, Jeremiah, were cast into “the pit” by wicked hands. The sinner has himself to blame. If there is gloom, chains, and misery, it is because of revolt from God. It is not the body but the soul that is “in prison,” and no soul can be imprisoned save by its own deed and consent.

II. GOD-PITIED —Though we have cast off God, he has not cast off us. He is long suffering and merciful. His voice to us is fall of pity and inspires hope. “Prisoners of hope.” Why? Because for some, He issued a call that has roused to a sense of danger and encouraged them to to seek deliverance.

 III. CHRIST-RESCUED Zec 9:12  Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.  Refuge is provided. The “Stronghold” is Christ. He is near,  open to all and there is grace and space available for the reception and defense of all who come. Hence the urgent and loving appeal, “Return” and happy they who have responded, “who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the Hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:19)!

 

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