by Paul Ryan
Almost no one can go through the Christmas season without hearing at least some part of Isaiah 53 being quoted. Did the apostle Paul know what Christmas is? Not so much. What he did know, as every first century Israelite would, is the promise of the Lord and prophesied testimony of the Jewish people found in Isaiah 52:13–53. Contained here are the seeds of Paul’s impassioned motivation and unashamed boldness in proclaiming Christ. Here we find, what could be called, Our Great Christmas Commission.
by Johnathan Arnold
You will soon die and, most likely, be forgotten.
“Half of Americans know the name of only one or none of their great-grandparents,” says one survey. If you are remembered at all, it will probably be for one or two generations. This may seem morbid, disillusioning, or perhaps uninteresting to you, but for me it is surprisingly liberating. The common summary of Count Zinzendorf’s advice to Moravian missionaries is a reminder that faithfulness in one’s generation is enough: “Preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten.”
Since I will soon be dead, it does not (ultimately) matter who knows me now. After I am dead, I will not know whether or not I am remembered. While my body is lying still in the grave, awaiting the glorious resurrection, it is in God’s hands to use (or not use) my life’s work as it best promotes His undying glory. In view of death and the eternal enjoyment of God, the fears, infirmities, and anxieties of my life fade from view, and I can gladly accept Paul’s admonition to “aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands” (1 Thessalonians 4:11).
While others scurry about, anxiously trying to prove their worth through fame, wealth, and work — all before the death knell sounds — those who are safe in Christ may abide in sweet rest and blessed assurance, waiting for the grave or the trumpet to usher them into the presence of the Lord. The righteous may stare boldly at death and join in the mocking strain, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).
While the reality of death is liberating, it is also constraining. Saint Jerome, Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, and many others have been depicted in paintings with a skull or hourglass (usually on their desks) as a memento mori — a visual reminder of the certainty of death and the importance of living well. In fact, there is a whole body of historical Christian literature devoted to this subject, “Remember, you must die.”
John Wesley urged, “You have no time to lose; see that you redeem every moment that remains. Remove everything out of the way, be it ever so small… that might anyways obstruct your lowliness and meekness, your seriousness of spirit, your single intention to glorify God, in all your thoughts and words and actions.”
In the canon of Scripture, Ecclesiastes stands as a memento mori, and helps us to wrestle with the fleeting nature of life before it has fled. “For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance,” says Solomon, “seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool!” (Ecclesiastes 2:6). He later remarks, “what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 3:19). In view of this inevitable end, “the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten” (Ecclesiastes 9:5).
Embracing our mortality lifts the fog of life’s complexities and provides a clear line of sight to eternal matters; namely, the conclusion of the whole matter, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). When we anchor our soul in the uncomplicated reality that “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27), our monotonous and sometimes distressing existence begins to make sense and assume order. God’s Kingdom is better established in our lives and His will is more fully done.
Eye on The Eternal
With death in view, let us occupy until He comes, hearing, obeying, sowing, and looking for eternal things. “For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (1 Peter 1:24-25). When all is said and done, only the gospel will remain. Everything we build apart from His word will be laid bare and dissolved in fire (2 Peter 3:10).
The unsummarized Zinzendorf quote reads, “Remember, you must never use your position to lord it over the heathen. Instead, you must humble yourself and earn their respect through your own quiet faith and the power of the Holy Spirit. The missionary must seek nothing for himself, no seat of honor or hope of fame…. You must be content to suffer, to die, and to be forgotten.”
It is satisfying to know that it is enough to live with humble, respectable, quiet, spiritual faith, then die and be forgotten. While we would all like our churches to be brimming with saints, it is enough to faithfully dispense our gospel ministries and trust God with the results. Our success and legacy are in His hands, for “neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7). Too much focus on our platform or legacy, even under the banner of Christ, is dangerously close to what the world desires, and easily disrupts our rest. Whatever God has called us to do, it is enough to do it and die.
It is well known that after treating several Methodists, a physician remarked to Charles Wesley, “Most people die for fear of dying; but, I never met with such people as yours. They are none of them afraid of death, but [are] calm, and patient, and resigned to the last.” When we remember that we must die, and live faithfully in our generation, death becomes a welcome friend. When we agree with the Psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25), beyond the door of death lies all of our heart’s desires — eternal happiness with God. “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain...having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:21, 23).
by Timothy L. Cooley, Sr.
Our Scripture reading breaks in on the scene just after the Resurrection of Christ. The disciples were still reeling from His crucifixion and death. They heard this day that a few of Jesus’ followers had seen Him alive! You know how hard that would be to believe! The story is old so, of course, we think they should have believed it, but if it happened to you, even now—even though we know God has done something like this—if it happened to you, it would be just too shocking to believe! They hardly knew what to think.
In the midst of their consternation, Jesus appeared in the room where they were, not even having opened the door to enter. No wonder it says they were terrified, they were affrighted! They thought they were seeing a ghost! They were rubbing their eyes, backing off to the wall, thinking, “What’s going on here?”
He spoke comfortingly to them and began to explain the new developments. Things had certainly taken an unexpected turn. Not because Jesus did not tell them about it! In their minds, they had another pattern figured out, so anything that did not fit what they wanted, they just pushed it off to the side. That’s the way we learn. It’s the way we don’t learn sometimes. Whenever something new comes that we don’t know how to fit in to our thinking, we push it out of our minds. That’s what they did with Jesus’ teaching. Everything they had thought was going to happen did not work out. The worst thing imaginable happened! Jesus was killed, crucified! It was an awful, gory, bloody, gutty scene, and they were still shocked from it. And now, all of a sudden there was talk of a Resurrection!
What was Christ trying to accomplish after His Resurrection? He wanted to prepare His disciples for the work He left for them to do. He gave them directions. He showed them that He was physically resurrected from the dead. He invited them to touch Him, to handle Him, to get Him some food so He could eat it in front of them. They could see that Jesus was there bodily. But He was doing more than just telling them about the Resurrection. Because of the Resurrection, there was a whole new job ahead of them. They have got to take this story to the ends of the world, and so Jesus is preparing them for that.
He gave them first of all an...
Assurance for their Faith — Believe!
He encouraged them, “Believe! Go ahead! You want some evidence? I’ll give you evidence!” I love the story of Thomas. Jesus, knew that Thomas had declared, “I will not believe unless I put my fingers in the places were the nails were and in the place where the spear pierced His side.” Now Jesus prodded him, “Go ahead. Do what you wanted. Touch Me! If you want evidence, if you want something to base your faith on, go ahead and touch Me.” Thomas just fell on his knees and worshipped, “My Lord and My God!”
They had to know what they were testifying, what they were talking about. Effective testimony can only come from conviction — being convinced about the facts, being convicted about the truth. Conviction is born only out of this kind of certainty.
The disciples had seen:
CHRIST'S WONDERFUL POWER
As with most people, the disciples noticed His miracles first. That was part of God’s strategy. Nicodemus understood. He came to Jesus and said, “I’ve seen Your miracles. I realize God is doing something here. What is Your message from God?” That’s the way these disciples had had their attention caught up because they saw His wonderful power. They realized that God was doing something marvelous in their midst. They heard –
His profound, yet simple teaching; easy to understand, but deep enough to daze the doctors. He out-witted even the scribes and Pharisees, who were the professional interpreters of the Holy Writings. These disciples had experienced all that.
They had experienced now –
The shocking, the absurd Resurrection! It’s true, and of course, it’s not absurd. Jesus assured them that everything had gone as it was planned between Him and His Father. His death was no mistake. God had not lost control of the world.
He “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Lk.24:45 NIV). I have to pray that prayer a lot! Open my mind, that I may understand the Bible. Open our minds that we can take it in! There is stuff here that is too deep for our minds. Jesus opened their minds so they could understand the Scripture, and ever afterwards when they looked back through the Old Testament, they could see Christ all over the place! The early church fathers were very strong on that point. They studied the Old Testament, and it is fascinating how many places the church fathers pointed and said, “That was Jesus; this was Jesus! He was right there. He’s all through the Scriptures.” This is not a new God. He is the same Jehovah-God, who has been relating to Israel for hundreds of years!
Jesus appeared to His disciples quite a number of times. We have at least 11 showings of Christ over a period of 40 days, giving them “many convincing proofs that He was alive” (Acts 1:3) and speaking of the kingdom of God.
Now He was getting ready to leave. He told them in John 14, 15, and 16, “It is expedient for you that I go away. If I do not go away, you’ll never grow up. If I do not go away, you’ll never have the full ministry of the Spirit. If I do not go away, you will always be limited. But if I go away, it will be better for you, because then the Holy Spirit will be with you.” We think, “No, I’d rather have Jesus right here so I can ask Him all these questions that I don’t have answers to and that did not make it into His book!” But He said, “It is better for you to have the ministry of the Holy Spirit.”
As they had witnessed Christ’s Person, His supernatural Person, as they had put all of this together, they were increasingly and deeply convinced that Jesus is the Son of God. And now they had just come through a really difficult time, and Jesus gave them Assurance for their Faith.
He did something more, He gave them –
Adjustment of their Focus — Look on Christ!
He directed them to look at Himself! Not like He is egotistical, but He instructed them where their attention needed to be. He clearly defined their –
“This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations beginning at Jerusalem” (Lk.24:46-47, NIV).
They had read the Scriptures before, but they could never see that the Messiah was to be killed. It’s there, once you go back into the Old Testament, understanding what happened to Jesus. Even today, there are Jews, who when you read Isaiah 53 to them, will declare, “You’re not reading out of my Bible. You are reading out of the Christian’s Bible. That’s not in my Bible!” But it is in their Bible! The prediction of the suffering and crucifixion of Christ in Psalm 22 is a detailed description of crucifixion, written long before the horrible way to execute people was invented. God was working all through those centuries to bring about His salvation, and Christ said, “There is no mistake here. I am the fulfillment of all those prophecies. Everything is right on track. Now, let me Adjust your Focus! Come to realize that God is willing to forgive people all over the world!”
He turned their attention away from the temple sacrifices, away from the nation of Israel, away from the ceremonial covenant with Abraham and his physical descendants. He focused their eyes on the spiritual realities He had brought — repentance from sin, forgiveness of sins, the true inward and spiritual significance of the Old Testament covenant.
He turned the lights on, helped them to understand, and put responsibility on them.
He taught them their responsibility to carry on the work He had begun. “You are witnesses of these things — You know it first hand, now go spread this message everywhere!”
What is awesome is that the writing of the New Testament is the recording of their witnessing in such precise documentation that we have solid ground to stand on to this day! The Bible is the Word of God preserving that witness of what His Son did.
Jesus laid on them the responsibility of getting the Word out!
Someone raised the question of a literal kingdom and Jesus’ Second Coming. “Lord, is this the time when You will restore the Kingdom to Israel? Is this the time for the end of the world?” They had their prophecy calendar together. Funny thing about it was, Jesus did not fit their prophecy calendar. That’s why some of the people refused to believe in Jesus. The disciples realized they had been mistaken about what was going to happen, but now they knew what had transpired and they chose to believe! He redirected their attention to what was on His mind, and He gave them an –
Appointment for their Fulness — Seek!
“I am going to send you what My Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Lk.24:48-49, NIV).
Christ makes no reference in this scene to their failure in forsaking Him during His suffering. He has already taken care of that in other conversations. We have at least one where Jesus dealt with Peter about his failure. But they could not bear a scolding now. The time for that was past. They need to have an Appointment for their Fulness, so He urges them to seek.
“Tarry in the city!” Stay in the city –
“Until ye be endued with power from on high”! He sends them back to the city to seek and to wait, but God does the filling.
Power for service and power for purity!
In this passage, Jesus speaks of being “clothed” with Power, but elsewhere Scripture also speaks of our being “cleansed,” in reference to Purity. We need to emphasize both aspects of what God does for us in that second, further work. People tend to major on one or the other. Those who major on power often grow careless about the purity. They are focused on the more exciting shows of power. The more exciting the events they can achieve, the better it proves they’ve got the power! But others say, “No, we don’t want to go off on this power stuff and the strange things that can happen there.” They focus on purity and some of them tend to sink into a small-souled pessimism that sees little accomplished for God. Jesus intended that we keep both in balance — Power for Service and Power for Purity!
Later, Peter, looking back, explained what happened on the day of Pentecost, he testified, “Here is what happened. The Holy Spirit purified our hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8-9). It was the same experience with a slightly different emphasis — endued with power and purified by faith!
This power is Can-Do power, (dunamis — ability, strength, capacity) to live in such a way that both word and deed glorify God before our fellowman. Power to deliver the message. But the power is not for a show. The world is always out to see a show, and sometimes God does spectacular things, but at other times He works in quieter ways. Either way, He is still at work. Throughout His own ministry, Jesus steadfastly resisted the temptation to make His miracles just a show, just to attract people to see something exciting. The power is for the glory of God on our lives so that others will come to know and love the same Savior we worship.
A mouth that proclaims holy truth, but that is not backed by a holy life is the mouth of a hypocrite! God requires no less a standard than “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (I Pet.1:16). Out of a pure heart comes a powerful witness.
The power could only come as they were filled with the Holy Spirit. That fulness can also be described as a fulness or perfection in love.
Christ’s will is that we preach this message with a heart all aflame with Divine Love. He gave them an Appointment for their Fulness. He also gave them an –
Assignment for their Future — Go!
“You shall be witnesses unto Me …
Uttermost parts of the earth”
“Go ye into all the world….” There is an imploring Go in Gospel! Jesus thrust them into the work for Him. It was far bigger than anything they had ever imagined. Yes, the psalmist had sung about letting the heathen know, but Israel had never gotten into really big, powerful moves, with people getting converted or coming to God. Now something new was going to happen! It was so new it shocked the church. Throughout the book of Acts, you usually do not see them planning and strategizing missions. They were trying to keep up with what God was already doing. They were shocked! “You know what? God is saving people without making Jews out of them!” It was a shocking development to them! “We know they are saved! How do we explain that? What shall we do?” They ran to the Scriptures. They recalled the teachings of Jesus. They argued and debated. They tried to figure out, “What is God doing?”
There is this Go in the Gospel!
As Jesus approached the time of leaving His earthly ministry, Jesus repeatedly stressed that He wanted His disciples to carry the message to the entire world. On four different occasions He inculcated His passion. In Luke 24:36-53, Luke recorded two separate occasions — one on the day of his Resurrection, the other on the day of His Ascension. As Jesus prepared to leave, some of the last words that He spoke to them were about their being a witness. He urged the Great Commission time after time! I wonder if He actually talked with them about it more than four times, but we have at least four occasions recorded where Jesus presses them, “Go Tell Everyone!” Jesus’ last Commission should be our first concern.
Jesus concentrated on preparing His disciples for the job ahead. He had to give...
Assurance for their Faith – He knew they needed help for their faith. If you are struggling in your faith, come back to Jesus because He will give you strength and reason to believe.
Adjustment for their Focus – They wanted to construct a prophecy chart. Who would know more about the future and what God was going to do than Jesus Himself? We’d better ask Him before He leaves. But He shut down the conversation. “It is not for you to know.” Every time big world events take place, especially when they concern Israel, people adjust their prophecy chart so they can explain it and let people know what will be next. The big deal is to get people saved, to let them know about Jesus, to tell them He already knows what will happen, and to assure them that Jesus has all the power necessary to give them victory over sin and take them all the way to heaven!
Appointment for their Fulness – I want you to tarry until ye be endued with power from on high!
Assignment for their Future – What He spoke to the disciples is just as appropriate for us today. He wants us to find every person who doesn’t know and tell him or her about Jesus! His will has never changed! We are to be ever at the job of getting people reached because that Go is still on the heart of God!
by Johnathan Arnold
James urged his audience to “be doers of the word and not hearers only” (James 1:22). The emphasis is on doing, but we cannot do what we have not heard. Romans 10:14 asks, “how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” Just as hearing is essential for believing, hearing is essential for our ongoing formation. Certainly one way to love the Lord with our mind is to pay attention in church.
Oct. 01-05: Attended PVBI Revival Meeting four times. Bro. Going preached some challenging messages to all. “Be swift to hear”, “Kingdom Builders” and “Moses Call”. God moved and young people responded to the truth.
by Valorie Quesenberry
It happened recently on a weekday morning.
I read an online article about a Christian woman speaking out against the actions and attitudes of men in power—actions and attitudes that were, to varying degrees, derogatory to women. And there was a backlash. Against her.
There is division among us about how to honor maleness and femaleness and do so biblically in the present political and moral landscape. And so the word sexism has become common in political discussions and social settings around us. My online dictionary gives the definition of the word as "prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex." And, let’s go on record, that’s wrong.
But, one of the confusing factors going forward is that many of us, especially perhaps those of us who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s and earlier, are conflicted by what we see now and by what we’ve experienced in the past. We recall the farce of past political struggles where authentically good men have been blindsided by a woman with a false story backed by an advocacy group. We’ve even witnessed pastors destroyed by untrue accusations, although in this day of unprecedented moral failure that is hard to believe.
But the point is that since we have seen feminism drive a wedge in society and chauvinism become a broadly applied term, we have become skeptical and difficult to convince. Even when there seems to be a good reason. And on the other hand, our college-age and young adult population today is much more open to discussion in these matters. Their inherent drive for authenticity is stronger than their familial and political loyalty. So, it makes sense for us to listen to one another. And, as the body of Christ, both young and old, we must affirm the dignity and value of both male and female and lead the way in honoring them in our everyday interactions and responses.
by Johnathan Arnold
“How do I know if I am ‘called?’” This nonspecific question has been asked by generations of sincere Christians, especially young people who are zealous to do something for Christ. It’s likely that you have heard a senior Christian, afraid to quench the ambition of the asker, offer the counsel, “we are all called.”
In the most general sense, this is true. We are all called to use our spiritual gifts for the edification of the body. We are all called to share a reason for the hope which lies within us by talking to others about the gospel. We are all called to be disciples and disciple-makers. But this is not what most people mean when they ask, “How do I know if I am ‘called?’” The question points to a different kind of calling.
by Shari Stratton
I was a teenager when it started. An irrational, paralyzing fear that some kind of tragedy might be in my future — especially one that might suddenly take the life of someone close to me. My parents were needing to make a trip out of the country for a few days and my younger sister and I were going to stay home by ourselves. We had family nearby in case we needed anything and I remember feeling quite grown up and responsible. The night before they left, however, I became overwhelmed with a paralyzing fear that something would happen to keep my parents from coming home. At first, I tried to dismiss the thought, but then…what if this was a premonition of something bad about to happen? The more I thought about it, the more suffocating my fears became. I was sure that I would never see my parents again. What would become of me? How would I move on?
by Timothy L. Cooley, Sr.
Read Psalm 118:1-29.
Do you want to grow spiritually? If you’re reading this, you probably do. But how do we grow?
by Johnathan Arnold
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson went on a camping trip. They lay down for the night and went to sleep. Some hours later, Holmes woke up and nudged his faithful friend: “Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.” Watson said, “I see millions and millions of stars.” Sherlock asked, “And what does that tell you?”
After a minute or so, Watson explained, “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three in the morning. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful and that we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day today. Why, what does it tell you?”
Holmes was astounded, then said, “Watson, you idiot! Someone has stolen our tent!”
In our discussions about holiness—and especially entire sanctification—we can easily be lost in the minutia of theology while ignoring glaring spiritual problems in our lives. Inspecting a curious dollop of foam on the ocean’s surface is a fantastic way to forget we are swimming in shark-infested waters. Doctrinal precision is important and we should never treat someone with suspicion because of their questions; however, it’s always helpful to step back and ask ourselves a few big-picture questions:
Don’t be like Watson and miss the big picture.
by Rachel Plank
A letter of practical advice and encouragement for small churches and small church pastors.
by Johnathan Arnold
Unlike the apostles who shared the things they had seen and heard, my knowledge of revival is merely as a student of history who seeks to be taught and as a candidate for revival who needs to be humbled. While reading Leonard Ravenhill’s book Why Revival Tarries, I came across six points that are worthy to be shared and brought up-to-date with examples that will show their relevance. In our lethargic, lukewarm church age, when revival is so desperately needed, we are right to wonder why it tarries. Why has it been so long since we have seen a mighty move of God’s Spirit like those in the days of Edwards, Wesley, Whitefield, and Finney?
August 9-15: Belize, the installation service for Rev. Aaron Gillett was the highlight of the week. There were 95 in attendance from 7 different churches. The boy next door grows up, gets saved, goes to PVBI, gets married to Mary, and comes home to be the Pastor.
by Matt Maloyed
Advice for those publicly praying with others about a spiritual, physical, or emotional need.
by Darrel Stetler II
"Pastor.” The title may have lost some respect over the years due to high-profile scandals, Hollywood hit jobs, and TV caricatures. But the word still conjures up good things in many American minds. A 2011 study by Rasmussen says 70% of Americans view pastors favorably.
But pastors, through all of their healing, restoring, and guiding work, sometimes live with a lot secret pain. According to a survey by the New York Times in 2010, about 1,500 pastors per month leave the ministry due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.
Assistant Editor, Content Strategist
Dr. Timothy Cooley, Sr.
Fact Checker, Accountability Editor