the BIG story: Isaiah 65:17-25

At the end of the age, God will create a new heaven and a new earth and a new Jerusalem. It will be characterised by security, prosperity, safety, and close communion with God. Isaiah 65 picks up a theme continued by John in the Book of Revelation.

The central focus is the Lord, Immanuel; and the righteous will have free access to him. This glorious new creation will, as Paul says, begin the reign of Christ on earth, that will eventually be caught up to the Father (1 Cor. 15) and become what we call the eternal state. But Revelation says that whilst the saints will reign with Christ in earth; but have access to hin the heavenly sanctuary. It will all be far more wonderful, and complex, than we can even imagine.

Isaiah is describing the restoration of human society to its right conditions and of the transformation of the physical universe, just as in the Garden, the perfect creation was destroyed and changed by sin. The words are used of the Christian hope in 2 Peter 3:13, and Rev. 21:1. Weeping and mourning will be removed (v19), and one of the causes of sorrow, death, or at least untimely death, will be removed so that there will be longevity once again (20).

These descriptions have been taken in a couple of ways:

1. Some wish to take the expressions literally and see reference to a new period on this earth when all the transformations in it will be established; for in the eternal state there will be no death and no sinners at all. People who will be on earth will live, marry, have children, build, and be in harmony with nature. Jerusalem will be the centre of God’s theocracy, and there will be peace and safety there. This view, a millennial reign of Christ and His saints, would see these conditions in Isaiah as a prelude to the eternal state. This view harmonises well with some passages of the Bible, but not well with Isaiah 25 and with the order of things in Revelation.

2. Or, this passage is a picture of the new creation, since Isaiah 25 had announced there would be no death, following the timeline of Revelation (new heaven and new earth after the millennium). This language then is figurative and representative — if there were death, one who dies at 100 would be considered a child. And if there were sinners, they would be quickly condemned. But the weakness with this view is that it really strains the meaning of the text!

Whichever view is correct, there is coming a marvellous new creation that will end the curse and its effects, although the sequence of the events, and how it will all be worked out, is un certain. For the believers, if the new heaven and the new earth come about a little differently than expected, they will not be disappointed!

God will renovate all things in this world to show what he had intended from the beginning. And that “season of refreshing,” that “world to come” will see the final fulfilment of all the prophetic promises. Those who respond to God’s call and serve him faithfully are the heirs of that new creation. Those who stubbornly refuse his call and go after false gods instead will have everlasting death. Faithfulness to God’s call, then, becomes the central point of this prophecy. Believers must show their faith by their devotion; unbelievers must turn to the truth by faith, abandoning all false beliefs and wicked practices.

the BIG story: 2 Corinthians 15

1. This comfort is intended only for Christians.
Paul’s sentence begins, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, …” And then he says that their toil is not in vain “in the Lord.” These words are addressed to Christians, and the hope which Paul speaks of is for Christians only. Death has no power, no sting, to those who are “in Christ.”

2. Correct understanding of Christianity gives stability, even in the midst of troubled times and in the face of false teaching.
False teaching destabilises Christians; true doctrine stabilises us:

Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to Him, that you may not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2).

As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming (Ephesians 4:14).

3. Belief in the truth inspires diligent service, while false doctrine leads to passivity.
The teachings of Scripture related to the second coming are intended to stimulate our service. There are those who abuse doctrines (such as the sovereignty of God and the second coming) by making them an excuse for passivity. Paul concludes this chapter, devoted to prophecy, by encouraging diligent and persistent service.

4. The certainty of the coming of the kingdom of God in the future assures us that what we do “in the Lord” in this life is not in vain.
The reason we can diligently serve God in this life is that we know that in so doing we are “laying up treasure in heaven.” To die is not vain, but gain. To live is not vain, but gain. If we are “in Christ,” we are willing to suffer any earthly loss, because of the heavenly gain which awaits us:

5. Faith in Jesus Christ frees us from the fear of death and thus from our slavery to the devil.
We need no longer be held hostage by the fear of death. Death is a defeated foe.

6. Death is the way to life, and it is to be the way of life for the Christian.
Death really is the way of life, both for the apostle Paul and for our Lord.

Always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you (2 Corinthians 4:10-12).

Jesus said that the way for him to bear fruit was to die. And then He applied this same truth to His disciples. Those who love their lives will lose their lives; those who hate their lives in this world will keep them eternally. The way Jesus would “draw all men to Himself” was by being lifted up on the cross of Calvary. Jesus taught that the way to life was the way of the cross. By means of his death, burial, and resurrection, we have been given life by faith in him. Now, as Christians, we are to apply the same principle to our earthly life. We are to take up our cross, to hate our life, to die to self, and in this way, we will obtain life eternal. Here is an entirely unique approach to life. It is one you will never find originating from unbelievers, but you will find it repeatedly taught in the Word of God. Death is a defeated enemy; indeed death is our friend, and our way of life!

the BIG story: Acts 10

By this time, the gospel was advancing in a way that partially fulfilled the Great Commission given in Acts 1:8, but this was far less than what had been commanded. The apostles had not yet come to terms with the fact that the gospel was the good news of salvation for Jews and Gentiles, without distinction. There were a few exceptions – God fearers – like the centurion in Luke 7:2-10, the Ethiopian eunuch, and Cornelius, but these all appear to be people of influence and means, who employed their resources in the service of Judaism.

So this passage is foundation to the doctrine of salvation, the doctrine of the church, and to the fulfilment of the Great Commission.  Here we find one of the most concise summaries of the gospel:

    1. The gospel began with the preaching of John the Baptist.

    2. The baptism of Jesus, when he was divinely designated as Messiah and empowered with the Holy Spirit.

    3. In his earthly ministry Jesus did good, healed the sick, and delivered those held captive by the devil.

    4. Jesus was crucified by those who rejected him.

    5. The resurrection of Jesus was evidenced by his appearances to many, and to the apostles in particular (who were appointed to testify to his resurrection).

    6. Jesus then gave his witnesses the Great Commission.

    7. Jesus is Lord of all.

    8. Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead.

    9. Everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus receives the forgiveness of their sins.

    10. This salvation is available everyone of every nation, without distinction.

    11. This gospel is the fulfilment of the message of all the Old Testament prophets.

Peter had not said all he intended, but obviously he had said enough. He was just warming up when the Spirit fell on all those who had gathered to hear him speak. It goes without saying that their hearts had been prepared because they immediately grasped the good news. What they needed to hear was not only that Jesus was the promised Messiah, but that faith in him would bring the forgiveness of sins, whether for the Jew or for the Gentile.

And because they were now speaking in tongues and praising God, just as men were when the Spirit came at Pentecost, Peter really had no other choice than to order that their baptism!

1. This is the gospel, by which all men can be saved. 
No text better summarises the gospel than Peter’s words, spoken to Cornelius and those with him. This is the gospel in a nutshell:

Our Lord came to this earth, was baptised by John and by the Holy Spirit. In this way, he was designated as God’s Messiah and was empowered to carry out his earthly ministry. Jesus did many miracles, setting himself apart from all others. He was the Messiah, but he was rejected and crucified by those He came to save. God overruled this by raising Jesus from the dead. He provided convincing proof of this resurrection by many appearances to those appointed as witnesses. The apostles were witnesses of the resurrection, appointed to proclaim the gospel to all who would believe, Jew or Gentile. Jesus will come again to judge those who have rejected Him. He is Lord of all. Have you trusted in Jesus?

2. There is only one gospel, by which Jews and Gentiles alike must be saved.
The Bible teaches that Jesus is the only way to heaven:

Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

3. The gospel is only for those who are completely unworthy of it. 
We can all have people whom we consider unsavable. But the gospel is only for those who are unworthy of salvation and who cannot make themselves acceptable in God’s sight. That is because the gospel is the good news that salvation is a gift, given by grace through faith in Jesus.

4. Salvation is of the Lord.
It wasn’t Peter who took the initiative to bring the gospel to Cornelius and his household; it was God. God prepared Peter and those who would hear his message. It wasn’t Peter who persuaded Cornelius and friends to believe; God did. They came to faith apart from an invitation. And it wasn’t Peter who baptised them in the Spirit. Peter was an instrument in the hands of the Redeemer, but he wasn’t the cause of these conversions.

5. The baptism of the Holy Spirit and even the repeated filling of the Spirit does not make necessarily improve one’s understanding of God’s purposes.
Peter was an apostle, and he was Spirit-filled at Pentecost. But Peter did not have it all figured out the moment the Spirit came upon him. It took the dramatic events of our text to convince Peter that he was wrong.

the BIG story: Acts 2

Pentecost is the sovereign activity of God.

1. The Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost.
Jesus’ baptism in Luke 3 is essential and foundational to our understanding Pentecost. At Baptism, Jesus identified himself with John, his ministry, and his message and he identified himself with lost sinners. And we see God identifying himself (Father and Spirit) with the Son, and with his ministry. From this point on that Jesus is endowed with power from on high to conduct His earthly ministry.

At Pentecost, we see a similar event taking place with Jesus’ earthly body, the church. God identifies himself with the church, the body of Christ. It is one thing to identify ourselves with Christ (which we do in believer’s baptism). Just as Jesus did not begin his public ministry until the Father identified himself with him by sending his Spirit on him, so too the experience of the disciples at Pentecost.  Now, God has come to dwell in his people by his Spirit.

2. Second, Day of Pentecost had fully come,
The coming of the Holy Spirit didn’t “just happen”; it happened on Pentecost to fulfil its eternally determined destiny.

Feast of Pentecost was known by several names: the “Feast of Harvest” (Exodus 23:16), the “Feast of Weeks” (Exodus 34:22; Deuteronomy 16:10), and the “day of the first fruits” (Numbers 28:26). The Feast of Pentecost was to be celebrated 50 days after the offering of the first fruits. It marks the transition from Israel’s barley harvest to her wheat harvest. the more highly prized crop.

So what?

  1. Passover clearly anticipated the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and His saving work on the cross of Calvary. He is our Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7).

  2. The Feast of Unleavened Bread follows Passover, and all leaven must be removed. The death of our Lord Jesus at Calvary removes the guilt of our sins, and thus we must come to hate sin and desire that it be put far from us

  3. Like the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the offering of Israel’s first fruits followed shortly after the observance of the Passover meal. The presentation of the first fruits always occurred on the day after Sabbath, or Sunday. Sunday after Passover was also the day our Lord Jesus rose from the dead, the first fruits from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20).

  4. Fifty days later, Israel celebrated the Feast of Pentecost. It was the time when God identified Himself with the church, the time when He endowed the saints with power so that they could carry out the Great Commission.

3. The disciples did not bring the Holy Spirit down by their actions; the Holy Spirit came down upon them unexpectedly.
This was all God’s doing. And the emphasis then falls on those who witnessed this event. Nothing like this has ever happened before.  An auditory and a visual manifestation accompany the filling of the Spirit. It is not a literal wind or a literal fire. It is a very loud sound that is something like a violent wind. It is something like tongues made of fire.

What is the meaning of these symbols?  In both Hebrew and Greek,  “spirit” is also the word for “wind.” Wind is often a symbol associated with the Spirit of God. Fire is frequently a symbol of God’s presence. Apart from God’s work in our lives, the human tongue is a destructive fire, but once the heart is renewed and the Spirit empowers the tongue, it becomes an instrument of salvation.

So where did these “devout Jews” come from? Where were they before this? Some of them were probably devout Jews who made their way from distant lands to come to Jerusalem to observe the Feast of Pentecost (Acts 20:16). Some might have come for Passover and stayed on until Pentecost. We know that many did make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feasts, especially the three mandatory feasts:

The Passover festival at Jerusalem in the days before the temple was destroyed was an impressive occasion. Perhaps the only comparable event in the modern world is the annual Haj to Mecca. From all over the Eastern Mediterranean world, wherever Jews had settled or foreigners had embraced the Jewish religion, they came each year. Nobody knows exactly how many came. Ancient reports range from half a million to twelve million! A more conservative modern estimate reckons that Jerusalem, quite a small town by modern standards (perhaps 30,000 inhabitants), was swollen to six times its normal population at Passover time. The city itself could not hold them, and they filled the surrounding villages, while large numbers set up tents outside the city.

Messianic expectation was at an all time high. Word about Jesus had spread abroad. Surely the “devout Jews” heard of such things, and just as surely, they would have made every effort to relocate to Jerusalem, hoping to be on hand when the kingdom of God was inaugurated. So these “devout Jews” sensed that there was spiritual significance to these events, and they wanted to know what it was: “What does this mean” (v12)? But others dismissed these miraculous events as the babblings of those who were drunk: “They are drunk on new wine!” (v13).

God is present with his people, even though we are not yet sinless. We are forgiven sinners, who will one day be freed from the suffering and groaning that is the result of sin (Romans 8:18-25). By the Spirit, he is with us, not only to teach, comfort, and guide, but also to empower us to carry out the Great Commission.

the BIG story: Acts 1

The ascension is not a fitting conclusion to the life and ministry of our Lord. It  seems a bit of an anti-climax in the light of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. It concludes on a note of sorrow and separation rather than of joy, victory, and triumph.

The gospel accounts hardly mention the ascension. But Luke does highlight in today’s passage. One of the most significant words in the book of Acts is that little word “began” in verse one. The gospel of Luke was the report of what Jesus began to do and to teach. The book of Acts records what the Lord continued to do and to teach through his body, the church, and the work of the Holy Spirit which he sent.

On the cross, Jesus declared “It is finished” referring to with regard to the work of redemption, which was accomplished on the cross. Man’s debt for sin could now be marked “paid in full.” But Jesus did not say, “I am finished” in the sense that his work on earth was completed. The work of proclaiming salvation is still going on.

While the provision for man’s salvation was the work of our Lord which was completed on the cross of Calvary, the proclamation and application of the benefits of this work have continued through the centuries, through the church, the body of Christ. The ascension of Jesus Christ was central to the initiation and continuation of this work.

From Acts we discover that the purpose of this forty-day period was three-fold:

1. To convince the disciples of the fact of our Lord’s physical, bodily resurrection.

2. To teach and command the disciples. There was much that the disciples could not understand about the Lord until after his death and resurrection. Only after his accession and Pentecost, would they understand the great truths of the gospel. So they must wait until the promised Spirit was sent.

3. To clarify and correct the disciples understanding of the Kingdom. The disciples remained certain that it must be immanent as a literal, physical reign of the Lord upon the earth. The Lord does not correct the disciple’s concept of the Kingdom; He corrects their preoccupation with the timing of the Kingdom. Subsequently, once they had understood, the apostles preached to the Jews that if they turned to Jesus as Messiah, there would then in their own lives at that point in time, be a restoration of the Kingdom.

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord (Acts 3:19).

The expression ‘times of refreshing,’ was understood rightly by Israel as being the time of the restoration and the establishment of God’s Kingdom upon earth.

There are some still today who seem to be more focussed about the precise timing of Jesus’ return than with godly living (2 Peter 3:11-13). This is the thrust of Acts 1:7-8. The disciples were not intended to know the exact time of the Lord’s return and the establishment of his Kingdom. But as a result of His departure, the Holy Spirit would come, and they would witness to Jesus Christ at home and abroad (John 14:7ff.).

 

The ascension was the final, incontestable evidence that Jesus Christ was the victor over Satan and his hosts. It is the measure of His victory, but also the measure of the power which has been bestowed upon His saints to carry out His work on earth until He returns.

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:
       "When he ascended on high,
       he took many captives
       and gave gifts to his people."

(What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. (Ephesians 4:7-12).

So how does this help us?

1. Separation
In one sense the ascension was the bodily separation of our Lord from his followers. But the Scriptures never record any mourning or tears concerning this. Most likely because the Lord’s departure began a time of even greater intimacy through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:20).

2. Consummation
The work which our Lord in His physical body on earth has been finished. (Hebrews 1:3).

3. Glorification
When our Lord returned to the Father it was marked with splendour and glory because of the work he had accomplished. (Philippians 2:9).

4. Confirmation
The ascension of Christ is a confirmation of our faith and assurance in Christ (Hebrews 6:19-20).

5. Transition.
The ascension serves as a connecting link:

Between the work of Christ in salvation and that in our sanctification; between the gospels and the epistles; between what has been accomplished by Christ and what is still being done through his Spirit. It is even a transition in the ministry of Christ as well. Having completed his work on the cross in his flesh, He now intercedes for us as a sympathetic High Priest, as One who has experienced our afflictions.  (Hebrews 5:14-16).

6. Anticipation
The ascension also creates in our hearts a sense of expectation. He will return, just as He departed.

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