CHRISTMAS: A Reason to Celebrate

CHRISTMAS. It’s a time of rejoicing. It’s a time for family to be together. It’s a time for opening gifts. It’s a time for seeing others open gifts. It’s a time for setting our diets to the side. It’s a time to relax. While it has become all these things, it is really so much more.

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. (Matthew 1:18-19, NASB)

The birth of Jesus was not your average trip to the hospital. In fact, there was nothing normal about it at all. Even from the beginning, it was unique. The verses above begin by telling us that Joseph was engaged to be married to Mary. In those days, marriages were arranged most times. The groom or his family paid a price to the bride’s family that covered expenses of the wedding ceremony as well as other areas. The betrothal, or kiddushin, was actually enough to legally bind the bride and groom in marriage. Despite this, the couple would not have sexual relations for quite some time to come. In some cases, this could span the course of even a year. This would not normally occur until the marriage ceremony, or huppah, took place. They were already in the betrothed stage but had not yet come together in a sexual sense as is indicated in the text.

Despite this, we find that Mary was found to be with child. Joseph’s natural reaction was that he had been cheated on. There were a few options with him at this point. Old Testament Law, which they were under, stated Joseph had every right to take Mary out in public and stone her to death. If her adulterer was ever to be found, he would join her in death by stoning (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). Should he not desire her death, he could have at the very least made her ashamed for the rest of her life by leading a life marked of adultery. However, notice that Joseph does not appear to harbor any anger or resentment. He did not desire to publicly shame her or have her stoned. Not only was he a righteous man, but he also loved her. This love is evident by the fact that he desired to put her away secretly. Remember, they were already legally married although the ceremony and the consummation had not yet taken place. The word used for “send her away” literally meant a secret divorce. He loved her enough that despite being “cheated” on, he desired her safety. He would divorce her secretly and buy her some time before the public realized what had happened. However, God had other plans.

20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” (Matthew 1:20-23, NASB)

Joseph was afraid and rightly so. He assumed he had been cheated on, as they had not had sexual relations, yet she was pregnant. He was to have her stoned to death under the Law, yet he still loved her and cared for her safety. He was about to lose his wife to adultery before the ceremony could even take place. This, in turn, would embarrass him as well. God took all these fears and put him at ease. He sent an angel to Joseph to appear to him in a dream. This one spot in Scripture is a very important passage. He tells Joseph that Mary did not cheat on him and that the baby was actually conceived of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, being a righteous man, would have known Scripture very well. It was not simply casual reading for them. It was a way of life filled with study and memorization from childhood. The angel quoted Isaiah. The virgin birth was actually prophesied some 650 years prior. Furthermore, the name prophesied by Isaiah was Immanuel which means “God with us.” This name means more than they could have guessed. Not only is God with us but he literally came to be with us in the flesh.

24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. (Matthew 1:24-25, NASB)

Imagine the relief that must have followed upon waking! Scripture doesn’t say he deliberated in what to do. It says he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and he took Mary as his wife. The ceremony, or huppah, took place. At this point, he had every right to have sexual relations with his wife. Despite this, we are told they refrained from doing so. We are told he kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son. Despite the teaching of the Roman Catholic institution, it’s safe to say he didn’t refrain from natural marriage relations forever as the text says that it was only until she gave birth. Not to mention, Scripture gives the names of other children of Mary. However, Jesus was different. While Joseph was His legal father, His natural Father was of Heaven above. The baby’s name was Jesus and, according to the angel, He was going to save His people from their sins.

No, Jesus was not just your ordinary pregnancy and birth. He was unique in every way. It had to be so in order to fulfill the prophecy declared all throughout the Old Testament. Jesus matched every single prophecy and not one was overlooked. This is because He is who the Bible claims Him to be: God in the flesh sent not to condemn the world but to save it.

My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning…… All who see me sneer at me; They separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying, “Commit yourself to the LORD; let Him deliver him; Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.”……. For dogs have surrounded me; A band of evildoers has encompassed me; They pierced my hands and my feet……. They divide my garments among them, And for my clothing they cast lots. (Psalm 22: 1, 7-8, 16, & 18)

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” (Matthew 27:46, NASB)

And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.” (Luke 23:35, NASB)

So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”……….. Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” (John 20:25 & 27)

And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots. (Matthew 27:35, NASB)

He keeps all his bones, not one of them is broken. (Psalm 34:20, NASB)

So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; (John 19:32, NASB)

Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me. (Psalm 41:9, NASB)

I do not speak of all of you I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘HE WHO EATS MY BREAD HAS LIFTED UP HIS HEEL AGAINST ME.’ (John 13:18, NASB)

While we are all on this Earth trying to live our lives, Jesus came to this Earth to glorify the Father by dying for our lives. This is the real reason for the season. Presents and family time are fun and can even be an important time of togetherness, but we should never let it overshadow why it is we even have a season to celebrate. It’s because of this one baby boy born under the most peculiar of circumstances so that we might one day have eternal life through Him. I urge you all to ponder this thought as we prepare to celebrate the most important birthday party in all of history. Merry Christmas!

~ Travis W. Rogers

What Are You Thankful For?

THANKSGIVING. It’s finally over. The food was cooked, everybody is still full from Thursday, and there are enough leftovers to carry us into 2021. Perhaps, as you sat around the table, you may have partaken in the tradition of going around the room as each person shared one thing he or she is thankful for. If you’re anything like me, that’s one of the most stressful parts of the entire day. I always wonder if my answer will sound too shallow or if I’ll forget something important. Heaven forbid someone else take my answer and leave me scrambling for a new original answer! Okay, I may be exaggerating a little bit, but the point remains. Why is it often so difficult to give thanks? As I think back on hearing the prayers of my daughter when she was just a wee thing, I think about how innocent she was. She would spend several minutes just thanking God for everything…and I mean everything. She’d thank Him for family, our pets, fresh air, cars to drive in, sidewalks to walk on so we don’t get hit by cars, the random rock she saw and kicked, the dirt for earthworms to live in, etc. It just came so easy and, best of all, it was a heartfelt and genuine thankfulness for all that God has made.

Perhaps innocence has more to do with it than we would think. In the garden, Adam and Eve were truly innocent and all was good (Genesis 1:31). According to Scripture, everything that has breath is to praise the Lord (Psalm 150:6). Yet, as soon as sin entered the world, instead of joyful innocent and a heart of thanksgiving, we see shame and blame taking center stage (Genesis 3:8-12). Instead of thanking God for His goodness, Adam blamed Him for giving him Eve. Imagine standing around the dinner table taking pot shots at everyone instead of giving thanks. It sounds like a miserable gathering. Why, then, do we often find ourselves treating our gathering to God in such a way? Have we lost our joy (Psalm 68:3)? Have we forsaken our innocence (Matthew 10:16)?

Just because the holiday will soon fade away to the previous page of the calendar, that doesn’t mean our season of thanksgiving should fade away into obscurity as well. We have so much to be thankful for! There are two passages in particular that, when used in conjunction, should invoke a sense of pure thankfulness that never ceases.

The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 13:41-42, NASB

By this the love of God was revealed in us, that God has sent His only Son into the world so that we may live through Him.

1 John 4:9, NASB

God owes us nothing. He created us, charged us with a heavenly charge, and we utterly failed. He would be perfectly to simply destroy us. However, in His mercy and love, He glorifies Himself in a way that benefits us greatly. By the Father sending the Son to suffer a gruesome beating that culminated in His death, Christ’s blood was shed for the remission of our sins (Hebrews 9:22) that we may spend eternity giving honor, glory, and praise (Revelation 7:12). As believers in the risen Christ, that eternity begins now. As the stressors of daily life seek to hold you down, remember who it is that has promised we can be content in all things (Philippians 4:11-13). As difficult as earthly circumstances may become, be mindful that we possess a joyful Hope. The Spirit dwells within and provides us with joy (Galatians 5:22) even if we’re not always promised happiness. In time of turmoil, we still have peace (Ephesians 2:14). When we are weak, He has promised to be our strength (Isaiah 41:10). When we feel alone, He has promised to always be with us (Deuteronomy 31:8). When we are weary, He has promised us rest (Matthew 11:28). Truly, we have much to be thankful for!

As you go about your day, continually meditate upon the Word (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2). Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and in all things give thanks, as this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:8). Thanksgiving is more than just a holiday. It’s a lifestyle and a worldview. In all things, give thanks!

~ Travis W. Rogers

Train Like You Fight, Fight Like You Train: Are You Ready for War?

WARFARE. It’s an ugly thing with very real consequences. Far too many soldiers have been brought home under the cover of the flag. Some never made it home at all. Having spent 20 years in the military, and four deployments to the Persian Gulf, I understand what goes into preparing for war. A service member isn’t just given a weapon and told to go to work. There’s months, sometimes years, of training involved. My first two years in the military were spent in training. As with all service members, I started off in boot camp. Over a period of eight weeks, we were broken down and rebuilt in a military culture. For the remainder of these two years, I was dedicated to learning the intricacies of the AEGIS weapon system, including the capabilities, limitations, and technical details of how to operate and repair it. Even after reporting to my first ship, there was still more training. There’s safety, basic seamanship, damage control, etc.

I’m reminded of my first deployment in 2003. We were still in the recent aftermath of 9/11. President Bush had just given an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein saying he could either leave Iraq, or that his refusal, “will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing.” That time came in the middle of the night as my ship was ordered to send several Tomahawk Cruise Missiles into Iraq. The remainder of that deployment was spent with a heightened awareness that we were living in a time of war. We were required to carry our gas mask kit everywhere we went. Each kit contained atropine and 2-PAM chloride in case we encountered a Chemical/Biological/Radiation (CBR) environmental attack. I vividly remember waking up in the middle of the night hearing the alarm for General Quarters (a condition that is set when the ship is either under attack or is in need of all hands to man their stations to save the ship). I went from being sound asleep in my rack to hearing everyone yelling to ensure nobody was still sleeping. Sailors were flipping on lights and running through passageways, boots still in hand and only being halfway dressed, in an effort to get to their GQ station. We went from most Sailors being asleep in their racks while the night watch held things down, to being fully manned and the ship’s material condition being set for watertight integrity, in what I seem to recall being roughly seven minutes. Thankfully, it was all just a drill set in motion by our Commanding Officer. We had been routinely taking over 15 minutes during our previous drills and he wanted to see what we would do when we thought we were truly under attack.

By now, you might be wondering what all of this has to do with Christianity. Why am I taking us all on a trip down memory lane? It’s because, all too often, Christians live their lives as if it’s all just a drill. Far too many have the approach of “let go and let God” instead of having a spirit of diligence (2 Peter 1:10), on the alert (1 Peter 5:8), standing firm against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:11). I remember being told I study things to death and that I should just love Jesus. While there is certainly a danger in treating God as an academic topic, searching the Scriptures is commendable (Acts 17:11) and is our primary way of coming to know Him, while also equipping us to identify and flee from error.

If you were told you were going to be dropped into the Middle East as part of a convoy, I think it would be safe to assume you would want to know everything you possibly could. You would suddenly be an expert on geographical topography, statistics of attacks in the region, proper body armor, convoy movements, weapon familiarization, etc. Any knowledge which might increase your chances of making it home alive would be welcomed and valued. Why, then, do we not treat our daily lives the same way? Scripture is very clear that we’re in a very real warfare environment (2 Corinthians 10:4). Instead of fighting against earthly forces, we’re fighting against the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2) and the spiritual forces of wickedness (Ephesians 6:12).

Just as with military preparation, we need to prepare ourselves for the spiritual battle that we will be waging our entire lives. It’s an ongoing battle that would lead any to the point of fatigue and failure if left to their own devices. But God has not left us ill-equipped. In the military, the responsibility of leadership is to man, train, and equip. To apply that analogy to our Christian walk really isn’t that far of a stretch. In fact, there are many similarities. I’d like to take a moment to review each point.

MANNED: No Christian is called to walk alone. God has given us His Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail over it (Matthew 16:18). We are a band of brothers and sisters in arms who are called to sharpen one another (Proverbs 27:17). It’s through the encouragement of fellow saints (Hebrews 10:25) and holding one another accountable (Matthew 18:15-19) that we can count ourselves as properly manned in this fight.

TRAINED: It’s this point that I’ve been harping on since the beginning of this article. No service member gets dropped into war without being thoroughly trained beforehand. However, just because one is trained doesn’t mean there is no longer a need for continual training. Toward the end of my career, while I was the one training my Sailors, I was continually learning as well. The same goes for our combat readiness when it comes to spiritual warfare. Just because we may consider ourselves to already know about something doesn’t mean we can’t use the reminder (1 Peter 1:12-13). On a practical level, how often have you found yourself tuning out of a sermon that’s on a passage you’ve been over a thousand times? This is absolute arrogance and serves as evidence as to why we need to continually be in the Word. If the threat were bullets flying into your chest, you would never approach training in such a way. Yet, when the threat becomes eternity in hell, there seems to be an attitude of complacency. Perhaps this is because hell seems like an academic topic and the actual threat is taken lightly. Then again, maybe it’s because we have security in Christ and feel it’s not that important. If even the apostles refused to hold such a position, I highly encourage anyone who may be entertaining it to rethink where they stand on such matters. Do you know better than Peter or Paul? Our manual is the bible and we’ve been called to study it with diligence while accurately handling it as the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Submit to your church elders and be involved in the body of Christ. Through this, you will not be relegated to training in isolation. You’ll be afforded the joyful privilege of training as a cohesive unit, joined together in the power of our risen Lord!

EQUIPPED: Just as a military leader can hold the knowledge and training experience, if he neglects to properly equip his Sailors, he has failed them. God has taken care of everything from start to finish. He has given us His Church to be manned. He has given us His inspired Word that we may be trained. He has also given us his Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16) that we may be properly equipped. It’s only through the Spirit that we can truly understand the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14) and be guided in all truth (John 16:13). By the Spirit revealing the truth to us in accordance with Scripture, we are thoroughly equipped (2 Timothy 3:17) to perform every good work that is pleasing to God (Colossians 1:10).

Throughout my career, we had a saying: Train Like You Fight, Fight Like You Train. Through the continual drilling of ourselves, we can be ever ready for the real battle. Paul ran the race in such a way that he would win (1 Corinthians 9:24). He fought, not as if he were shadow boxing (1 Corinthians 9:26), but as if he were truly fighting the enemy. How do we prepare and train? It’s through the reading, memorization, and meditating on the Word that we can prepare ourselves for battle. This is exactly how Jesus overcame Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). Each time, Satan tried to tempt Jesus that he may lure Him into sin. Yet, in each desperate attempt of the evil one, it was the authoritative proclamation of the rightly divided Word (2 Timothy 2:15) that he was defeated.

May we continually press on and fight the good fight of faith and take hold of eternal life (1 Timothy 6:12). If you feel you may be neglecting your spiritual training, I hope you’ve found encouragement in this reading. I exhort us all to take seriously the charge to assemble with fellow believers (Hebrews 10:25), that we may remain steadfast in times of trial (James 1:12), and persevere until the end (Matthew 24:13) that we may one day be with Him in glory (Colossians 3:4) and know Him fully as we are fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

~ Travis W. Rogers

How Shall We Live? Reminders for Life!

In last week’s article, we went over Jude 1-13. While we learned that Jude was the brother of Jesus, we also learned this was not a point that Jude felt he should brag about. In fact, he doesn’t even mention it in his letter. Jude felt his calling was to be a bondservant of Christ. He felt it necessary to teach of a certain group of men within the Church. These men were apostates and false teachers who, though appearing to belong in the Church, actually acted as nothing more than weeds dragging everybody else down.

For this article, I’d like to continue with Jude and dive into the remainder of his message. He wasn’t content telling us what to beware of. His message wasn’t wouldn’t be complete until he also told us how we are to live for Christ. He tells us what to watch out for and then goes on to tell us what to become. Just as with last week, I’ll refrain from posting all of Jude 14-25, for the sake of brevity. Again, I invite you to open your bible and follow along as we venture down this trail.

Jude 17
But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Note how Jude refers to us. He calls us beloved. This wasn’t merely an impersonal message to church members. It wasn’t a memo to be passed around. It was a deeply personal message written to his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. There is no stronger bond than that of Christ. In calling us “beloved” we can feel the sense of love and concern that he was putting forth. He stresses the importance of remembering the words spoken by the apostles. In Jude’s day, this was done through verbal traditions. These words would have been passed on by word of mouth and held on to dearly. If anything, we are in a much better position because we have the Word of God. Jude didn’t have a New Testament to turn to whenever he felt the need to recall something. He was helping create the New Testament through inspired and authoritative writing.

Many people say Scripture memorization is only for intellectuals with great memories. This is completely untrue. If this were the case, it wouldn’t be commanded by God in His Word. This isn’t to say we need to know all of Scripture verbatim. It just means we are to be able to recall the teachings of Scripture as a whole. The only way to do this is to habitually be in the Word. the more we’re in the Word, the more comfortable we’ll become in our quest to know what it says. It’s by treasuring the Word in our hearts that we can remain pure and blameless (Psalm 119:9,11).

Jude tells us to remember the words spoken before us by the apostles. Psalm 119 tells us by keeping the Word of God in our hearts, we can avoid sinning against God. This is because it is by His Word that we are to live. Many years ago, I heard the quip that BIBLE stands for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth, but it’s so much more. It’s our only true and unchanging guideline and standard by which everything else must be judged.

Jude 18-19
that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts. These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.

As we covered last week, these men are in the Church but they are not true believers. They are not followers of Christ. They follow after whatever doctrine fancies them at the time. They blow about with the wind. They crash like wild waves. They are dead both inside and out. However, we also have to remember that they were appointed by God for this condemnation long beforehand as Jude 4 tells us. Last week, we learned how to spot them. This week, we are learning how to not become like them.

Jude 20a
But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith,

We are called to build ourselves up. Simply residing on a foundation is not enough. Imagine buying a piece of property. You seek out the absolute best contractors to get a perfect foundation laid. You ride them day and night to the point where they are exhausted. You refuse to give them water when they are thirsty and you beat them when they show signs of weakness. In the end, the contractors achieve what they set out to do: create the perfect foundation. There isn’t a crack or imperfection to be found. It has been finished. Would you be content with this foundation by itself? Would you set up a tent and then call it a day knowing that you had the perfect foundation and needed nothing else? The purpose of a foundation is to prepare for a building. The better the foundation, the stronger the building will be able to hold up to the ground beneath it.

Jesus is our perfect foundation (Ephesians 2:20). We beat Him to the point of exhaustion and, when we appeared to be on top, nailed Him to the cross. We may not have been there in person but we still shout, “Crucify Him!” on a daily basis in our actions. We murder our Savior day in and day out when we are called to build upon him as our perfect foundation. While false teachers and apostates have no root, we are to be firmly rooted in Christ, being built up and established in our faith (Colossians 2:7).

Not only are we called to build up ourselves but also to build up one another (Romans 14:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:11). We are to encourage one another and care for one another. This is the exact opposite of what the apostates were doing. They cared only for themselves. This is because they lacked the one thing needed to truly care for someone other than oneself. They lacked love.

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29, NASB)

Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. (1 Corinthians 8:1b, NASB)

In the above verse, the Greek word used for “edifies” is oikodomē. It literally means to build up. We are to constantly be in a state of building. We are to build ourselves but we are also to build our neighbor. It is through love that edification can occur and it is only in Christ that we can truly love as it is meant to be.

Jude 20b
praying in the Holy Spirit,

The idea of praying in the Spirit has taken on many interpretations. Some feel it’s a supernatural prayer language. Others feel it’s the gift of tongues. However, neither of these are accurate, and they completely miss the point of what Jude was trying to say. Praying in the Spirit is simply having the Spirit pray through us. The Spirit is not some foreign deity that we have to seek out. He literally dwells within us (1 Corinthians 6:19) and guides us in our sanctification. God is a Holy God. There are many times when we may feel like we fall short and don’t deserve to go before such a Holy God. The great news is that though Romans 3:23 confirms this truth, God wants us to come before Him regardless. When we have absolutely no idea what to pray for, we are to pray that the Spirit will show us what to pray about (Romans 8:26). He will intercede on our behalf as the Helper (John 14:16). Even if there are no words to be expressed, God knows our hearts. The Spirit will move us to be holy, set apart for God. Again, to pray in the Spirit is simply to have the Spirit pray in us.

Jude 21a
keep yourselves in the love of God

Note the change in instruction here. Building ourselves up in faith and praying in the Spirit are things we are to do, but this is not the end point that Jude is making. Everything he urges us to do points to the end goal of keeping the faith. He doesn’t simply say, “Keep the faith,” while leaving us in the dark. How do we keep the faith? We keep the faith by building ourselves up and praying in the Spirit. We keep the faith by keeping our focus on God at all times and growing in Him.

While keeping in the love of God, know that it isn’t a system of legalism that does it. We can’t work our way into God’s favor. It’s by the grace of God alone that we can enjoy being in His love. While we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), that doesn’t imply works will earn us salvation. It means we are to live for God each and every day under His grace (Acts 13:43).

While we are to keep ourselves in the faith, it’s God who keeps His children. He has promised to never let any of His children go (John 6:37, 10:28). He has promised eternal life. Not only is it a promise to His children but it is a promise that has already been fulfilled. Those who are His have eternal life. However, there are many who supposedly fall away from the faith, not just for a short time, but for real. The fact of the matter is that these men never had real faith, were never children of God, and were only deceiving themselves. This is why we are called to not only build ourselves up but to also build up one another. Edify one another.

Jude 21b
waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.

While living each day for God, we have a greater hope of the future in the return of Christ (Titus 2:13). We are made in the image of God and there will be a day when we will be glorified as Christ was also glorified following his resurrection. John says the one who anxiously looks forward to the Second Coming purifies himself to the same degree in which Christ is pure (1 John 3:2-3). Keeping our sight on God with anxious expectation is a sure fire way to sanctify oneself, edify the Church, and keep ourselves for God.

Jude 22-23
And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

Jude tells us we are to have mercy on some. The “some” that he refers to appear to be broken down into three different groups of severity. While we’re to show mercy to those in each group, each requires it for a different reason. Additionally, each group necessitates we take different precautions when interacting with them.

Jude 22
And have mercy on some, who are doubting;

These people appear to be your typical lost person. They have their doubts and aren’t quite ready to take the leap of faith just yet. Just as God was merciful on us, we are to be merciful on them. As Christians, we are called to be fishers of men. By showing mercy and compassion, we are showing them the love of Christ. These men would fall under your basic evangelism and witnessing.

Jude 23a
save others, snatching them out of the fire;

These men are also doubters but to a much severer degree. They are on the fast track for Hell as we all once were. These men need emergency intervention. They need a bit more focus and dedication to be swayed to truth. At one point in time, we were all bound for Hell. All mankind has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The wages of this sin is death (Romans 6:23). However, God saved us from the flames to spend eternity worshiping Him in His court. Shouldn’t we turn around and do the same for others by spreading the Gospel and preaching Christ crucified at every opportunity?

Jude 23b
and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

This third group would be the false teachers and apostates that we spoke of last week as well as the beginning of this article. These men are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Instead of building others up, they tear them down. We’re still to have mercy on them in that we preach the Gospel to them but we are to do so with a certain sense of fear. When handling these types, be careful not to be dragged down in the process. How many relationships have you heard of where the girlfriend dated an unbeliever hoping to convert him only to be dragged away from the faith as a result of being unequally yoked? Take an instance such as that and multiply the dangers. We should hate everything that these doubly dead men stand for but we should not let that get in the way of our mission of being fishers of men. Personally, I do not recommend a new believer speak with these people. Should a new believer come across one of these types, I would urge him or her to be loving but get away and refer him to a more mature believer in the faith.

Jude 24-25
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

After everything that Jude had to say to us, he finishes it out with praise to God. All of these are reasons for us to worship the Living God.

God has promised to keep us for Himself. In fact, even verse 1 tells us we are kept for Christ. We may face temptation but this does not mean we have to stumble. When God is our foundation, we can stand firm in Him. When we stand firm in Him, we will follow His ways and His commands which will result in standing blameless before Him. Think of the joy of Christ telling us, “Well done my good and faithful servant. Enter into your rest.” It is only through Christ that we are reconciled to the Father. To God, through Christ, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority. In Christ, it is finished and eternity awaits us.

~ Travis W. Rogers

I Am the True Vine

Let’s be real: Jesus was no stranger when it came to speaking in parables and confusing language. In fact, we’re even told the purpose of much of it was to prevent some from hearing and believing the truth (Mark 4:10-12). But what was Jesus getting at when He said He was the true vine? Was this just another riddle meant to confuse the self-righteous, or was there a deeper meaning behind it? For this post, I’d like to focus on the seventh “I AM” statement made by Jesus in John 15:1-6 and break down exactly what Jesus was talking about.

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.

John 15:1-6, NASB

Verse 1
Using the analogy of the vine and vineyard was nothing new. John’s use of it is actually a play on the Old Testament.

For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel.” (Isaiah 5:7a, NASB)
“Israel is a luxuriant vine;
(Hosea 10:1, NASB)

In John’s gospel, we see Jesus going above and beyond by calling Himself the true vine. There is far more to this than a mere analogy. Through careful wording, He is proving that He is the fulfillment of the promises given to Israel.

14 O God of hosts, turn again now, we beseech You;

Look down from heaven and see, and take care of this vine,

15 Even the shoot which Your right hand has planted,

And on the son whom You have strengthened for Yourself.

16 It is burned with fire, it is cut down;

They perish at the rebuke of Your countenance.

17 Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand,

Upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself.

18 Then we shall not turn back from You;

Revive us, and we will call upon Your name.

19 O Lord God of hosts, restore us;

Cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.

Psalm 80:14-19, NASB

In verse 14, the psalmist describes Israel as the vine. Verse 15 says that it was God Himself who planted the vine. Though Israel was meant for great things, we see verse 16 says they were perishing. In verse 17, he pleads with God to show His mercy and grace. In fact, he pleads that it would be done through the Son of Man. When Jesus says He is the true vine, He is saying He is the fulfillment of the promise made to Israel. Christ’s church is Israel fulfilled. The nation of Israel was a foreshadowing of the vine to come: Jesus! He is the true, authentic vine and it is the Father who is the caretaker.

Verse 2
This is often used by people to make a case for losing salvation. However, when taken in context with the rest of Scripture, it falls short. The phrase “takes away” comes from the Greek word airo (ī’-rō). The word translated into prunes is kathairo (kä-thī’-rō). Kathairo has multiple meanings. While it does mean to prune, it also means to cleanse of impurity. Jesus is not telling us we are to live a works based faith lest we be cut off. He is actually telling us how we will know one another and is giving us a hope that we will grow in Him. Those who are cut off are those who we are warned of throughout Hebrews as well as in Jude. They are those who appear to be Christian within the visible church but have never truly become members of the invisible Church through faith. They are the apostates and wolves in sheep’s clothing. Jesus promises to cut them out completely lest they sap the strength from the rest of the fruit in the vine. For the true believers who will produce fruit, He will also cleanse and prune them so that they will be even more fruitful. The analogy would have hit home back then because the major fruit grown were grapes in the vineyard and this was exactly how it was done, and for the same reasons. We see a similar warning in Matthew 15:13 where it says, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted.” Those planted by God WILL bear fruit.

Verse 3
Here, Christ is telling us how we are to be cleansed. In fact, we see him using the word katharos. This is the root of the word kathairo used in verse 2. He tells us we will be cleansed by the Word (John 17:17, Ephesians 5:26).

“Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” (John 17:17, NASB)
“so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,” (Ephesians 5:26, NASB)

Verses 4-6
By now, you should be seeing the simple fact that we have a complete and utter dependence upon Christ. We may act in obedience, but it’s always in complete reliance upon unity in Christ or else it is of no value. Scripture gives plenty of examples of our unity in Christ and the relationship that follows.

Foundation & Building
“For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11, NASB)
“having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:20-22, NASB)

Head and Body
“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 6:15a, NASB)
“And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church,” (Ephesians 1:22, NASB)

Husband & Wife
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” (Revelation 19:7, NASB)

The union between the vine and the branches is one in which no branch can produce fruit apart from the vine. Unless the nutrients are flowing freely, a branch will wither and die. The use of the word “abide” goes to show that salvation has already taken place in the individual. It is not something that he is working toward. Apart from Christ, we cannot produce any good fruit. As a result, we can rest assured the fruit is not our own but is of the Spirit working in us. We have nothing of ourselves to boast about (1 Corinthians 1:31; Ephesians 2:9). If it were so, we would continue to produce good works apart from the vine and Scripture would be a lie. The Spirit alone produces the fruit in the believer and keeps the believer abiding in Christ until the end. For those who were never a part of the true vine but only appeared to be for a time, they will have their day of judgment. Verse 6 is quite clear they are cut off, thrown away as a branch, dry up, and are burned in the fire. Hebrews 9:27 says, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.”

May we continually trust in the true vine and the vinedresser. Let us continue to stimulate one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24) while remaining steadfast in the faith of a risen Savior (1 Corinthians 16:13), letting the word of Christ richly dwell within us (Colossians 3:16)!

~ Travis W. Rogers

JESUS: That Sweet Name Above All Names

My heart is inditing a good matter… my tongue is the pen of a ready writer (Psalm 45:1). In a world full of darkness, error, and confusion, the Christian seems to constantly be engaged in a war of innumerable fronts. Satan’s legions are wide and varied, dawning many different uniforms under many different generals, but united in their rage against the singular banner of Truth. Accordingly, the Christian can become quickly overwhelmed, feeling compelled to muster all his strength over and over again as he sees the One he loves ceaselessly attacked. But the Beloved smiles upon His ransomed, and in the heat of the battle says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 28:11). He reminds us that it’s our privilege to do the service of the Lord, and that it’s out of the abundance of His kindness and mercy that He allows us to pick up His banner and share the honor of His cause. But were we all to fail, He would not lose an inch of ground, and we need not fret for His sake as though He needed anything. So, when He calls us to rest, we may sheathe our swords with confidence, knowing that He that sits in the heavens shall laugh at the raging of the heathen, and we may return to our Rock and Fortress for the refreshment of our souls. As we celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection, I invite the Christian to lower his sword and look to the One for whom he fights, like an infantryman gazing longingly at the picture of the one who waits back home. Or rather, since our sword is the Word of God, let us handle and look upon it unsheathed – a sword so well-polished that it flashes back our reflection better than any mirror, and whose glistening brilliance reveals the glories of its Maker. Through His Word we may see Him. Let us come and adore
Him.

JESUS. For the Christian, these two syllables are always far too few. By the time they pass from his lips, he immediately hungers for them again. What the world takes in vain, the Christian cherishes as the very keys to Heaven. He stakes his souls in those five letters, and if he were bound to never utter anything else, he would be content. He loves that Name, because he knows what it means: Salvation is of the LORD. It’s what Jonah cried out in the belly of the whale immediately after foreshadowing the death, burial, and resurrection of our King (Jonah 2:9). What Jonah only saw in shadows and types in his day, the Christian knows and lives, “Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:9).

The Christian – wishing that the Savior’s Name would not so soon depart from his mouth – hastens to add Lord, and proclaims the Lord Jesus. He is not just his personal savior, but the Lord of all – King of kings, and Lord of lords. He is the One to whom every knee will bow and every tongue will confess to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11). He is that very LORD from whom salvation comes. He is the One to whom every planet, star, and galaxy does obeisance as they follow the course He mapped out for them. His is the hand that gardens every flower, molds every mountain, and fills every spring of water. He is the One who “changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding: He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him” (Daniel 2:21-22).

For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist

Colossians 1:16-17

Heralded by Lord, Jesus is then magnified by His Office, crowning His full title as The Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus came to be the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, and whoever truly believes this is born of God (1 John 5:1). To believe this is to believe that He accomplished the Office of the Messiah, and that – for His people – He has fully and completely trodden under foot the serpent who caused our ancestors to fall (Genesis 3:15). It’s to believe that Jesus is that rod out of the stem of Jesse who would “smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips […] slay the wicked” (Isaiah 11:4), causing the wolf to dwell with the lamb in peace together (Isaiah 11:6). It’s to believe that He is that servant, the BRANCH, that would remove the iniquity of the land in one day (Zechariah 3:4, 8-9).

Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Jeremiah 23:5-6

He is the redeemer who has saved His people, the One promised to make His own Soul an offering for sin (Isaiah 53:10).

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

Isaiah 53:5

Out of all the works of our God, this one is the greatest. Nowhere have the Divine Attributes intersected so perfectly than with the beams of the Cross, where perfect love was manifested and perfect justice was satisfied. The Christian knows that he’s worthy of death. He looks upon the lifeless corpse of his Savior hanging on the Cross – that beaten, bloody Body forsaken by God and man, and groans, “that should have been me… I deserved that!” The Christian knows he has sinned against a Holy God, the most Pure, Majestic, Good, and Righteous Being that could ever be comprehended, and who exceeds comprehension altogether. But this Jesus, He was the only One who didn’t deserve to suffer at all. Man has committed uncountable atrocities since his fall, bathing himself in injustice and evil devised against others without a cause, but this was the only time when the Victim was truly innocent. This is the Man who never once did any wrong, never once dwelt on an impure thought, never once harbored an ulterior motive for His own advantage; He is that very Pure, Majestic, Good, Righteous and Holy God in the flesh! And what unimaginable suffering! Besides the taunts, the humiliation, the nails, the asphyxiation – besides all that, the sweet communion He enjoyed with His Father was severed in His humanity, when He became “sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). And so He cried out, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). So amazing is His love, that He was willing to lay aside the most blessed and wonderful joy to save the souls of His friends, who had done nothing but treat Him like an enemy. But praise be to God, the separation would not last, and He would rise from the grave with the souls of His people, and open the seals of the book that remained untouched for millennia.

How agonizing it must have been for John to see the book waiting in the hand of God – the book that would end in the perfect consummation of the Divine plan – yet there was none who could open it, or even so much as look at it! One by one the mightiest, wisest, and most pious of the human race vainly tried to open the book, but the standard had been given long ago: “Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully” (Psalm 24:3-4). And so, one by one all fell short, and “no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon” (Revelation 5:4). But then an angel heralded the Good News, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in” (Psalm 24:7).

Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof

Revelation 5:5

Jesus has come to claim His place. He has ascended into Heaven bearing His scars as trophies, for in them is declared that the penalty due to His Bride, the Church, has been paid, and with His own blood He has bought her. It is finished (John 19:30). What man could never do, God did Himself. No man could ascend into the hill of the LORD, so He became Man and ascended it Himself. No man could open the book, so He became Man and opened the book Himself. No man could reach God, so He came down and offered Himself for us, and in His flesh bridged the gulf between the finite and the infinite. He has opened the first seals already, and with the end of the seals will come that blessed and holy reign that God has promised so long ago.

Brother or sister, whether or not you’re able to attend church this Easter, let your mind dwell on your Lord Jesus this Sunday. His tomb is empty and He sits on the right hand of the Father, and if you’re in Christ, you’re seated with Him even now (Colossians 3:1). As you read through the Gospels, know that the One you see there is the very Jesus described here, the very Lord of all, the very Son of God in the flesh. Pour over His words, mediate upon them, cherish them, love them – His teachings are God’s teachings, and His ministry is God’s ministry. And so, too, will you see Him in the teachings of the Apostles, Prophets, and Moses, for they were authored by the same Holy Spirit that filled Christ, and there’s no division between them. Let us learn more of Him, and strive to better worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. The more we learn of Him, the more we will see that it’s indeed our reasonable service to present our bodies “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God” (Romans 12:1).

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