Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Letters Of A Changed Man: A Study Of 1st and 2nd Peter. Day 26, The Patience Of The Lord

Today Peter talks about the patience of the Lord. We sometimes feel like the wicked just keep on prospering with no punishment in sight, but their day is coming if they do not repent. And we ought to be grateful for the patience of the Lord, for wasn't He patient with us? How many opportunities did He offer us before we accepted His invitation to salvation? Even though many will never accept His invitation, the Lord's righteousness will not allow Him to withhold the offer from anyone.

Peter knows he is going to lose his life for the gospel very soon. He's concerned about heresies creeping into the church. He's angry that false prophets are working hard to lead people astray. This is why in his final letter he has such strong words to say against those who promote false doctrine. Souls are at stake! There is nothing more serious than the eternal destinies of human souls.

"Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate your wholesome thinking. I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles." (2 Peter 3:1-2) He urges them, "Hold to the truth! If you hide the word of the Lord in your heart you will recognize false doctrine. Study what the prophets have said. Study what the Lord Jesus has said. Study what the apostles have taught you. If what your teachers are saying do not line up with these things, reject their teaching."

Knowing God's holy word is the best insurance plan against falling for lies. Remember how Jesus handled His temptation in the wilderness? He replied to every taunt of Satan with the word of God. To every alternative to the cross that Satan offered Him, Jesus said, "It is written" and then He quoted the Scriptures. This is how we handle false doctrine and the lies of the devil and the deception of false teachers. We must know what is written.

"Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, 'Where is this "coming" He promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as I has since the beginning of creation.' But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction for the ungodly." (2 Peter 3:3-7) Peter says, "They joke about the return of Christ as if it is not going to happen. The longer time goes on, the more they will scoff at the idea. They will say, 'Two thousand years have passed and Christ hasn't returned yet. Why do you believe He's going to? Why do you believe in such fairy tales? This world has always been here and it always will be here. Nothing is ever going to change. There is no 'judgment day'. There is no reward for the righteous. Life is the same as it always has been and it always will be the same. We need to get everything out of it we can instead of believing in myths.'"

But they forget that the world has not always been here and that the Lord spoke the universe into existence out of nothing. One day there was nothing; the next day there was something. They forget that the Lord destroyed the ancient world with the flood. This was an act of judgment against the wickedness of the world, so why would anyone believe God is not capable of bringing judgment again? Just because judgment seems slow in coming doesn't mean it's not coming. The people of Noah's day laughed and made fun of him during the 120 years he built the ark and preached repentance to them. With every year that passed, their scorn of Noah's message continued to grow. They probably said, "He's been warning us about a flood for 119 years and 11 months. Well, where is it? It isn't coming. Noah is a madman." But the next month the rain began to fall and Noah was proved right. This is how the final judgment is going to come. Those who have scorned the truth will see the error they have made.

"But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:8-9) Peter quotes the words of Moses from Psalm 90:4, "A thousand years in Your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night." God has all of eternity at His disposal. To an eternal being, a thousand years is a very short time. It is not difficult for God to be patient. Time means little for the One who has existed forever and who will continue to exist forever. He has not yet brought judgment upon the world because He can afford to be patient in giving mankind time to repent. He knows that some will and some won't, but either way no one will ever be able to stand trial before Him and claim, "You never gave me a chance!" The people of Noah's day could not truthfully cry out as they stood outside the ark, "The Lord never gave us a chance to repent!" They'd had 120 years in which to accept Noah's message from the Lord. The same will be true in the final days. No one can say, "But we never had time to change our minds! We never had a chance to hear the truth! We might have done something different if the Lord had only given us one more day to repent."

Today is always the day of salvation. We aren't promised the next breath, much less tomorrow. In a highly developed nation like the United States we have no excuse for claiming we haven't heard the truth. The word of God is available to us like never before. We don't even have to own a Bible. We can read His word on our phones, our tablets, or our computers. We can listen to it on the radio as we drive down the road. We can turn the TV on and find a generous selection of religious programming to watch. God has graciously made His word available to us in any form we prefer to receive it. If we refuse to accept it, we cannot truthfully ever say to Him, "You never gave me a chance to hear the gospel. If You'd just somehow made it more available to me, I'd have listened to it and repented. But I never had the opportunity." Even the patience of God will someday come to an end, and the judgment He has foretold will fall. Today is the day to accept what He has said. Today is the day to make our hearts right with Him.

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Letters Of A Changed Man: A Study Of 1st and 2nd Peter. Day 25, Those For Whom Blackest Darkness Is Reserved, Part Two

Today Peter concludes his discourse on the coming judgment of false teachers.

"They will be paid back for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you." (2 Peter 2:13) Peter says, "They're shameless! Most carousing is done after dark, but they do it openly in your presence, enticing you to sin along with them."

"With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed---an accursed brood!" (2 Peter 2:14) We can tell Peter is angry, and he has a right to be. He and the other apostles have labored for the church with everything they have, and yet false teachers are creeping into the hearts and minds of those who are weaker in the faith to lead them astray. It hurts his heart to see the harm done by those who convince believers that it's ok to be a Christian and to live in sin.

"They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer, who loved the wages of wickedness. But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey---an animal without speech---who spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet's madness." (2 Peter 2:15-16) In the book of Numbers we learn that the prophet Balaam was willing to sell out. King Barak of Moab wanted to hire him to curse the children of Israel. Balaam was willing to do it for a large sum of money, but his donkey balked on the journey and stopped still in the road at the sight of an angel blocking the path. When Balaam beat his donkey in his eagerness to earn the money, the donkey rebuked him in a human voice. Peter is saying something like, "These false prophets are as bad as Balaam who was so wicked that an animal had more understanding than he did. The donkey recognized the presence of the angel and Balaam did not. The donkey had more spiritual awareness than his master."

"These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity---for 'people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.'" (2 Peter 2:17-19) Peter warns, "You will find no refreshment from them. They aren't speaking the words that give life, but words that bring death. They focus on those who have very recently emerged from pagan idolatry and say things like, 'Now that you are saved by Christ it doesn't matter how you live. You're free to do anything you want.' Nothing could be further from the truth! There is no slavery worse than sin. These false teachers have not only deceived you, but have even deceived themselves. They think they are living in freedom and are unable to see that they are shackled in chains."

"If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them." (2 Peter 2:20-21) Does this mean it's possible for a person to lose their salvation? I personally don't hold to that doctrine, but I do believe it's possible to become a completely ineffective Christian by not taking advantage to the freedom He offers from living in constant bondage to a particular sin. I also believe that some whom we assumed were saved (because they are active in the church) never really belonged to Christ in the first place. We don't have the time or space to debate such a complicated issue as "eternal security" or "once in grace always in grace", so I will only say that Peter's warning is to be taken extremely seriously. He warns his readers, "If you have been saved through faith in Christ, and then you fall back into your old way of living and you become indistinguishable from an unbeliever, you are in worse spiritual shape than you ever were when you were pagan idolaters. Before you heard the gospel you sinned in ignorance. Now you are sinning with the full knowledge that you are sinning. You will have to answer to a holy God for willfully doing what you know to be wrong and for bringing shame to the name of Christ."

My church started a weeklong revival yesterday, and the pastor who preached in the service last night commented on a sign he once saw in a restaurant. It said, "Our reputation is in your hands." He told us that God is saying the same thing, "My reputation is in your hands." The world judges Christ by those who say they are Christians. (Some, unfortunately, are not even Christians but are using His name for their own gain.) We who truly do belong to Christ are representing the holy Son of God in everything we do and say. We need to honor Him with how we live, not only because He deserves our honor, but because honoring Him draws other human beings to Him. If we who claim to belong to Christ do not honor Him with our lives, we can hardly expect unbelievers to be attracted to Him. In Peter's opinion this is the worst sin we can perpetrate against our fellow man.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Letters Of A Changed Man: A Study Of 1st and 2nd Peter. Day 24, Those For Whom Blackest Darkness Is Reserved, Part One

Peter has been explaining to us that some of the worst judgment God will ever hand down is going to fall on those who have led people away from the truth. It's easy to see why this is so. God loves every human being with all His heart. Anyone who turns a human being away from what is good is going to incur His wrath. You can put yourselves in His shoes by thinking about your own children whom you love. If someone were to lead your children away from a good and fulfilling life into drug addiction and homelessness, wouldn't you want that person punished to the fullest extent of the law? Wouldn't you want that person to suffer as badly as he or she has caused your child to suffer? I think this must be how God feels toward those who bring to ruin the lives of people who might instead have found their way to the light of the gospel. God created us for a relationship with Him; the worst thing anyone can do is cause someone to turn their back on Him.

In yesterday's study Peter gave us the examples of the wrath that fell on the ancient world through the flood and on Sodom and Gomorrah by fire. The Lord saved out of those calamities only the people who believed on and trusted in Him. If He brought such harsh punishment on those who perverted His word and broke His laws in the past, we can be sure that punishment is coming on those of our modern day who are doing the same. "This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority. Bold and arrogant, they are not afraid to heap abuse on celestial beings; yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not heap abuse on such beings when bringing judgment on them from the Lord." (2 Peter 2:10-11)

The spiritual realm is a busy place. It would stun us to know just how much activity goes on in the unseen world, with God's faithful angels fighting for us against the forces of darkness. I think we'd be awestruck into an amazed silence if we knew only a portion of the battles that have been won for us that we were never aware were even being waged. We have been rescued countless times from plots that were formed against us by Satan and the fallen angels. The Lord Jesus said that Satan's only purpose in dealing with mankind was to steal and kill and destroy. (John 10:10) But thanks be to our powerful God who fights for us and whose angels keep watch over us! If Satan had his way, you and I would not be alive and breathing right now, but greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4) We don't have to live in fear. Jesus was surrounded by probably more demonic activity than anyone else on earth while Satan brought to bear everything he had against the Son of God in an attempt to prevent the salvation of mankind. Many scholars believe this is why Jesus performs so many exorcisms in the gospels, because dark spiritual forces were at their peak while He was present on the earth. But did Jesus walk through this world in fear? No, and we don't have to either. Jesus knew nothing could take Him out of this world until the appointed time, and this is true for us as well. As I once heard someone say, we are immortal until the appointed time comes when God intends to take us home to be with Him.

Peter says that some human beings are so rebellious against all forms of power and authority that they even heap verbal abuse on the angels. Considering the faithful angels don't even curse the names of the fallen angels, it's presumptuous for a human being to do so. But this reveals the attitudes of their hearts, for they regard no authority over them. This is why Peter says, "But these people blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like unreasoning animals, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like animals they too will perish." (2 Peter 2:12) He says, "People who feel no sense of awe for God or for the beings God has created are like creatures on the lower end of the food chain who have not been given brains capable of feeling emotions or of reasoning things out. They are as incapable of spiritual reasoning as the fish I used to draw into my nets. Like creatures created primarily for consumption, those who refuse to use the brains and the emotions God gave them will be consumed by judgment."

God created us in His image to be able to commune with Him and so that both He and we could enjoy a fulfilling and satisfying relationship that is like no other. To settle for anything less is to fail to fulfill our destiny. We are the crowning glory of all that He created, and to refuse to take our place as the children of the Most High God is to lower ourselves to a level we were never intended to inhabit. A day is coming in which He will say to all who have said no to the very best He has to offer: "Have it your way. I wanted the best of the best for you, but you didn't want the best for yourselves. You didn't want to know Me or even acknowledge My existence, so in the judgment I must say to you, 'I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers!'" (Matthew 7:23)

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Letters Of A Changed Man: A Study Of 1st And 2nd Peter. Day 23, 'The Lord Knows How To Rescue The Godly

Peter continues on with the theme of God avenging those who have been taken advantage of by false teachers. But we need never fear God will pluck up the wheat with the tares (Matthew 13:29) when He brings judgment on the wicked, for Peter reminds us of the examples of Noah and Lot. The Lord destroyed the world by a flood and yet rescued Noah and his family. The Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah but pulled Lot and his family to safety. We are going to look at these two examples, plus one from Revelation, which should comfort our hearts concerning the coming judgment of the wicked and concerning the terrible time known as the Great Tribulation.

"If He did not spare the ancient world when He brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes; and if He rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct he lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)---if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment." (2 Peter 2:5-9) We know that the Lord rescued Noah and Lot, so when Peter says "if this is so", it is the same as if he is saying "since this is so". Since God rescued Noah, who loved Him, God will rescue us. Since God rescued Lot, who lived among wicked people but did not join in with the wickedness, God will rescue us. Obviously God knows how to rescue the righteous; the proof is in the two examples Peter has just provided.

We are living in the end times. We have been living in the end times ever since Christ rose from the dead and returned to the Father's house to prepare a place for us. (John 14:3) I don't know how much longer it will be until Christ returns for the church---His bride. Personally I don't know how much longer a holy God can stand to look on the growing wickedness of this world, but at the same time He is longsuffering toward human beings in giving everyone an opportunity to repent. Christ may come to rescue us from the world today or a thousand years from now, but I think we can recognize the signs of the times the Apostle Paul spoke about, "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God---having a form of godliness but denying its power." (2 Timothy 3:1-5a) Every time we turn on the news we see evidence of these types of behaviors in our world. The Lord Jesus said that there will be wars and natural disasters which shall increase in frequency as the end draws near, just as labor pains increase in intensity as the birth of a child draws near. (Matthew 24:5-8) The news is full of dreadful floods, earthquakes, fires, wars, and the heartbreaking casualties of war.

Does all this bad news mean the end is imminent? Does this mean the terrible days of the Great Tribulation are about to come upon the world? Perhaps so, but we who have put our trust in the Lord need not fear the wrath of those days. We can look forward to the future because of a beautiful promise the Lord made to us through the Apostle John: "Since you have kept My command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth." (Revelation 3:10) We know Christ is speaking to the redeemed---the true church---for in the same passage He says to the church, "I know you have little strength, yet you have kept My word and have not denied My name." (Revelation 3:8) In context Christ is speaking to the church of Philadelphia, which was a literal church in John's day but which also represents a church age. It is believed by most mainstream scholars that each church the Lord writes a letter to through John in Revelation represents a different period of church history, and that the church of Philadelphia symbolizes the final period of the church before Christ's return. The last church the Lord tells John to write a letter to is the church of Laodicea, which represents the apostate church of the Tribulation. This is a church with the attitude Paul talked about, for it will have the form of godliness but will deny its power. There will be no true love of Christ in it. The members may use His name for various purposes in the same way that the false teachers of Peter's day used the Lord's name for various purposes, but they will not belong to Christ.

The Lord didn't allow the flood to take the life of His faithful preacher Noah. The Lord didn't allow the raging fires of Sodom and Gomorrah to take the life of Lot whose heart belonged to Him. The Lord is not going to leave His bride on the earth to endure the worst days this world has ever seen. This is why I agree wholeheartedly with the scholars and theologians who hold to the doctrine of a pre-Tribulation removal of the church from earth. Christ is going to sweep His bride off her feet before judgment falls. He will rescue the love of His life from impending disaster. This is what any mortal man would do, so we can rest assured our all-powerful Bridegroom will do the same. We don't have to fall into a panic about wars, rumors of wars, and natural disasters. We don't have to read about the dreadful days of the coming apocalypse and shake with terror. Our eyes and ears, like those of the apostles and the believers of all ages, should be waiting for our Bridegroom to appear and to call out our names. We don't need to worry about the signs of the end but should interpret the signs of the end as proof that our Rescuer is on His way. It is not His intention for us to focus on this dying world or on its judgment, but to focus on the eternity we will share with Him.

Friday, November 9, 2018

The Letters Of A Changed Man: A Study Of 1st And 2nd Peter. Day 22, God's Judgment Of False Teachers, Part Two

Peter says we can rest assured that God will punish those who teach false doctrine and lead men and women into sin. It may seem to our way of thinking that judgment is slow in coming, but God is faithful to reward the righteous and punish the wicked. To prove his point Peter uses some Old Testament examples, one of which we will study today.

"For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment;" (2 Peter 2:4) He says, "If God was willing to punish rebellious angels, you can bet He is willing to punish rebellious humans."

We know that when Satan rebelled against God he enticed a third of the angelic host to join with him. (Revelation 12:4) This tells us that the angels, like humans, were created with free will. A creature without free will can't disobey it's Creator. We don't know how far back in time this mutiny occurred, but it was likely before God created human beings since as soon as the first humans appear on the earth the devil is lurking in their midst to deceive them.

Verse 4 is the only instance in the Scriptures in which anyone uses the Greek "Tartarus" which in many English Bibles has been translated as "hell". Tartarus is a word Peter borrows from Greek mythology, and in that mythology it was considered the lowest of hells, reserved not for wicked human beings but for rebellious celestial beings. Even the ancient Greeks, idolaters though they were, understood that the sins of angelic creatures were more heinous than the sins of man, therefore the worst possible torment was assigned to them. Peter isn't giving any credence to pagan mythology by saying the rebellious angels are in Tartarus; he's merely using a term his readers easily understand. He's telling them, "The angels were created to serve God and man. They sinned against both. This is so unforgivable that they are considered the lowest of the low."

Does this mean all the fallen angels are under lock and key at this very moment? If so, why is there demonic activity on the earth? If so, how is Satan still free to roam the earth like a roaring lion looking for victims to devour? (1 Peter 5:8) It could be that Peter is speaking metaphorically, saying that the fallen angels have already been judged guilty and that they are already condemned by their wicked choice. Or it could be that Peter is speaking in this passage only of the angels who mated with human women in the days before the great flood. (See Genesis 6:1-8) We find no reference to angelic/human mating after the flood, so God may have had those particular angels thrown into prison until the final judgment. Jude, believed to be one of the brothers of Jesus, appears to make reference to this particular group of angels by saying they are bound with everlasting chains until the day of judgment. (Jude 1:6) By reading Jude's words in context they seem to be connected with sexual sins, for immediately after speaking of this group of sinful angels he talks of the judgment that came upon Sodom and Gomorrah for "sexual immorality and perversion". (Jude 1:7)

The worst sexual perversion ever to occur can arguably be said to have been when angels mingled with human beings. As soon as Satan and a third of the angels turned against God, they planned to interfere with His good intentions toward the human race. One of the ways a portion of the angels interfered was by trying to pervert the bloodline and genealogy of humans in an attempt to prevent the Messiah from coming. Since the very beginning the rebellious angels have envied and hated the creatures God made in His own image. They did not want God to create mankind in the first place, and once He did they despised us. From the moment the serpent enticed Eve to bite into the fruit up to this very day, they have resented the place human beings hold in God's heart. Some scholars speculate this is the entire reason for the rebellion: that the wicked angels disagreed with the plans God laid long before He ever created the first cell of the human body, that they understood God was going to love humans so much that humans would be first in His heart, and that they were scornful of the idea of redeeming creatures they considered so far beneath themselves.

We could travel very deep down the rabbit hole thinking about this mysterious subject, but Peter's point is that if God was willing to punish the sins angels perpetrated against man, He is certainly willing to punish the sins man has perpetrated against man. Angels were created on a higher level than human beings, as both King David and the Apostle Paul attest. (Psalm 8:5, Hebrews 2:7) Yet in God's eyes the crowning glory of everything He created is mankind. His entire purpose in making the universe and planet Earth was to provide a place for humans to live. Everything He made was perfectly engineered to sustain human life. Long before He ever said, "Let there be light!" He already knew man would fall from grace and need redemption. He already knew a sacrifice would have to be made. This is why the Lord Jesus Christ is referred to as "the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world". (1 Peter 1:20, Revelation 13:8) I don't know how far back in eternity past that God decided to create the human race, but the second He made this decision Jesus willingly submitted to being placed under the sentence of death so that He could redeem us. How bizarre this must have seemed to the angels whose hearts were hard toward God. How wasteful they must have considered the death of the holy for the unholy. When King David said the following words he said them with awe and thankfulness, "What is mankind that You are mindful of them, human beings that You care for them?" (Psalm 8:4) But when the wicked angels said these words they said them in scorn and in disrespect toward God, "What worth do You see in these vile creatures? Why do You care about them?"

Thanks be to God, He loves us so much that He will place under eternal punishment every angel who has ever tempted any of us to sin. He will punish false teachers and those who pretend to be Christians in order to lead human beings astray. He wants us to be with Him in eternity so much that the worst punishment of all will fall on everything and everyone who has prevented (or tried to prevent) a soul from being redeemed.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Letters Of A Changed Man: A Study Of 1st And 2nd Peter. Day 21, God's Judgment Of False Teachers, Part One

As soon as the gospel began to be preached, false teachers began to creep in and pervert the truth. Peter speaks of the condemnation these deceivers are bringing on themselves. It's going to take us two or three days to study Chapter 2 as Peter talks about the wrath of God that's going to fall on anyone who leads souls away from the truth that could save them. 

I can't think of any worse sin than persuading another human being to reject the Lord and to follow false teachings. It's bad enough to want to live in wickedness ourselves, but when we lead another person away from the truth we are sinning against their eternal soul. I don't know exactly what form of eternal punishment will be brought to bear against such persons, but I believe it will be especially harsh. Peter wants to leave the church with a warning to be on guard against anyone who tries to bring in a false doctrine. He and most of the other apostles will soon lose their lives for the faith. He is concerned that it will be easier for false teachers to gain control of the people once the eyewitnesses of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ have passed out of the world.

"But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you." (2 Peter 2:1a) We spoke yesterday about the differences between true prophets and false prophets in Old Testament times. Lying wasn't invented in Peter's day in the first century B.C. Lying has existed ever since Satan rebelled against God. Jesus said that Satan is the father of lies. (John 8:44) Satan lied to Eve in the garden and she fell for it, and ever since that day lies have abounded on the earth. So it's not surprising that there are still false prophets in New Testament times. Satan tried desperately to turn human beings away from their Creator in ancient times so he could prevent the Messiah from coming to save the human race; imagine how much more he wants to turn human beings away from the Lord Jesus Christ now that He has already come and given His life to save mankind.

"They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them---bringing swift destruction on themselves." (2 Peter 2:1b) Christ paid the price to buy freedom for us all; we can either accept Him and be made whole by the blood He shed for us or we can reject Him and be guilty of His blood. The false teachers are pretending to be believers, yet their doctrine and the condition of their hearts deny the Lord. He paid for them, but they haven't really accepted Him. Instead they are using His name for their own worldly gain. They are talking the talk just enough to convince people who aren't well-versed in the Scriptures that they are genuine teachers of the gospel. This is why we have to study the word of God on a regular basis, so we can compare what the Lord says with what our teachers are telling us. 

"Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping." (2 Peter 2:2-3) A modern day example of exploitative false teaching is the "prosperity gospel". There are some well known evangelists of mega churches who have made themselves wealthy by persuading their listeners to send everything they can to their ministry, promising that the Lord will reward them a thousand fold for their sacrificial giving. There's nothing wrong with being the pastor of a mega church if you are preaching the truth. Churches naturally continue to grow when Christ is being honored in spirit and in truth. But some morally corrupt pastors have become obscenely wealthy by fleecing people out of their life savings. These teachers are preaching a false doctrine, for the Lord never promised us wealth in exchange for giving to anyone's ministry. Does He expect us to tithe? Does He expect us to give extra offerings to genuine churches and genuine missionaries according to our individual financial abilities? Yes He does, but in exchange for that He doesn't promise to help us win the Mega Millions lottery. He does promise to bless us for tithing (Malachi 3:10) and He promises to reward our faith in Christ by supplying our needs (Philippians 4:19). 

It may seem to us sometimes that God is not swift enough to judge liars and swindlers, but Peter assures us that God is not dozing off or turning a blind eye to the sins of false prophets. Peter will expand on this theory in Chapter 3, reminding us that God is not slack in keeping His promises, but that He is giving sinners time to repent of their deeds. (2 Peter 3:9) False teachers will never be able to accuse the Lord of not giving them opportunities to accept the truth and repent. In tomorrow's study Peter will compare the coming judgment of false teachers to the judgment of the world in Noah's day and the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah in Abraham's day. Noah preached a message of repentance for 120 years while he built the ark. No one repented and judgment came on everyone but Noah and his family. The Lord gave the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah many years to repent, even allowing Abraham's nephew Lot to live among them as a "righteous man" (2 Peter 1:7-8) as a godly example to them. But no one repented and judgment came on everyone but Lot and his two daughters. I think our current false teachers have not yet faced harsh judgment in this life, or have not yet been taken out of this life, because the Lord is giving them time to repent. Some of them may repent and some of them may not, but when they stand before the judgment seat of Almighty God they will have to admit that whatever penalty He brings against them is justified.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Letters Of A Changed Man: A Study Of 1st And 2nd Peter. Day 20, Peter Invites Us To Check His Testimony By The Message Of The Prophets

Peter concluded yesterday's passage by assuring his readers that the gospel he preaches is not just a story. He was an eyewitness of it. Today he begins by pointing out that the gospel fulfills the Old Testament prophecies of Christ.

"We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts." (2 Peter 1:19) He says, "You don't have to rely only on my eyewitness testimony as proof of who Jesus of Nazareth is. Search the Old Testament prophecies. Whose life perfectly matches the prophecies concerning the Messiah? The prophets foretold His lineage, His virgin birth, His place of birth, His flight into Egypt, His miraculous ministry, His torturous death, and His victory over the grave. Who possesses all these credentials? No one but Jesus of Nazareth. So don't just take my word for it. Check these facts for yourselves."

Peter says the gospel is like a light shining in a dark place. If I didn't have the light of the gospel in my life I don't know how I'd make it through this dark world. Many days the only reason I've kept moving forward is because my Redeemer lives. Right now the "prince of this world"---Satan---is still working hard to lead men and women astray from the truth (John 14:30), so the light of the gospel is a welcome respite from the darkness around us. But when the King of all kings comes to reign, He will be like the blazing sun, lighting up every corner of the earth like the sun coming up in the morning. Life on earth will be an endless day under the eternal reign of our King. The darkness will flee forever.

The prophecies of the Bible, like Peter's eyewitness testimony, can be trusted. This is because the prophecies were given to the prophets directly from God. There is no higher authority than Almighty God. "Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation of things." (2 Peter 1:20) The Lord didn't give prophecies of the Messiah to only one prophet. He confirmed the truth of the prophecies by giving them to multiple prophets. That's how we know these men didn't make their messages up. This cannot be said of false prophets. The messages of the false prophets did not agree with each other in the details and they didn't come true. In the days of real prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, for example, false prophets were promising peace of Judah and assuring the people they would not be conquered. But of course we know they were conquered just as Isaiah and Jeremiah warned them.

The prophets usually made twofold prophecies: one for the near future and one for the far future. If the prophecy for the near future did not come to pass, then people could hardly be expected to count on the prophecy for the far future. The prophet Isaiah told Judah that Babylon was coming for them, and it came to pass. He also told them the Messiah was coming and would suffer for the sins of mankind and would rise from the dead after His suffering. (See Isaiah 53.) This prophecy also came true. This means everything Isaiah predicted regarding the Messiah is reliable, and it means everything the other prophets of the Bible predicted regarding the Messiah is reliable. And no one fulfilled the detailed prophecies regarding the Messiah except Jesus of Nazareth.

"For prophecy never had its origin in human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1:21) The prophets sometimes understood exactly how and when God was going to fulfill the word He gave to them. At other times they did not, but they passed the messages along anyway. Many of them must have been puzzled by the idea of a rejected and suffering Messiah. They didn't have all the pieces of the puzzle and could not clearly foresee how this was part of God's plan to save the souls of human beings, but they faithfully passed along God's word. In Peter's day, and in our own, we can clearly see how the puzzle fits together. Peter and his readers understand things the prophets desperately wanted to understand. We understand it too. We see how Christ can be both the suffering Servant and the conquering King, for at His first advent He gave Himself as the sacrificial Lamb, and at His second advent He will rule the world from David's throne. We can look forward to this as a fact. The prophecies of His life in the flesh came true. The prophecies of His perfect eternal kingdom will also come true.