Faithful in the Resurrection

Day 5 God is faithful in the resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

You could say God is faithful because of the foundation of his character. His faithfulness flows out of his identity. Because his love for humans is unshakable. He acts in ways that are faithful to humanity. While his suffering on the cross demonstrated the depth of his faithfulness, the resurrection is the clarion call of an ongoing testimony of his faithfulness. Nothing can stop the faithfulness of God. Not even the suffering of shame for sin or the confinement of a grave. God cannot be confined to time and space.

Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians in chapter 15 of his first epistle addressed to that church, focuses on the importance of the resurrection and appearance of Jesus to many as the foundation of hope for the church. In the visible resurrection of Christ, the early church found great motivation and comfort in the physical manifestations of the risen Lord. To see this man who had been crucified walking around in new life caused life changing experiences. How could it not cause life changing experiences? It is not every day you see a dead man walk. But when you fully grasp the resurrection of Jesus and his appearance to so many, you realize this man who was killed was raised to walk and talk again. God’s faithfulness extends beyond the grave.

The appearance of Jesus was no doubt a life changing experience. But the ongoing significance is not simply a one-time appearance but an ongoing presence. Jesus spent 40 days between the resurrection and the ascension teaching his disciples. The best news came after the ascension. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell men and to strive with men. If you were to do an inventory of the faithfulness of your friends, I expect those highest on the list would be the ones who stuck by you through the valleys. In your times of need, the people who demonstrated their care for you by the ministry of presence are likely to be the ones regarded as the most faithful. So it is in our relationship with Christ. When we realize the awesome power of his continual presence, we experience the faithfulness of God. His Spirit has come to guide us into all the truth of God’s Word and in daily decisions. He has come as a comforter and a source of wisdom. God is faithful. His timing is nothing short of miraculous and his craftsmanship is unmatched in the world.

Out of God’s character of love flows his faithfulness. Because He loves us deeply, He came as the man Jesus to take our place in death for sin. The depth and width of his commitment is something to be grasped by his continual presence through the Holy Spirit. His resurrection testifies of his faithfulness. The believer is never alone and never beyond the touch of the creator God. He stands by you, above you, and beneath you. He is your strength when you feel the weakest. He is your comfort when you are destitute. He will celebrate with you on the mountain and walk with you through the valley. Our God is faithful. Because He is faithful, you can be faithful.

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God is Faithful — Demonstrated on the Cross

Day 4 God was faithful in the cross Phil. 2:1-11

The humility of Christ through the incarnation and consequently the endurance of the cross, is one of the most striking portraits of God’s faithfulness in the entire Bible. It is the driving force of the Gospel. We should not slight the legal requirements Christ fulfilled regarding atonement. We should not take his display of power and authority lightly. But every human should be taken by his humility. It was not the created that suffered the humiliation of the cross, it was the creator. The interesting contrast here is humiliation versus humility.

Christ was not humiliated on the cross because of his own sin. In fact, you could say he was not humiliated at all. Man was humiliated. After all, the nakedness of Christ during the crucifixion account was indicative of man’s naked position before God. While the testimony of a Roman crucifixion was to be one of humiliation of the crucified, for Christ, the intended humiliation was in reality the glory of God. For the average victim of the Roman system of justice, the walk to the cross was intended to shame the criminal before his peers. Christ’s march to Golgotha was a testimony of his faithfulness. He was not one who had to endure this humiliating experience on his own account, He was one who endured the humiliation of mankind completely of his own choice to die for his enemies. Martyrs for a cause are typically held in the highest esteem by the cause they represent. Christ went beyond the honor and glory of a martyr. He was and is the ultimate sacrifice offered up for the sins of all men. Jesus came in humility but he was not humiliated. Man was humiliated in the crucifixion of Christ, but Jesus earned the name above all names. Humility gained a reward. Jesus was faithful beyond measure when He went to the cross.

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God is Faithful — Covenant Maker

Day 3 God is faithful Covenant Genesis 12:1-3

The eleventh chapter of Genesis ends on a rather sad note. Abraham left his home country and he had  no children. Sarah was barren. The twelfth chapter opens with great promise on two accounts. On the first account, God made a promise to Abraham and his descendants. On the second account, the future holds promise. That is, because of God’s promise, there is a promising future full of hope. God chose to use promises, or covenants, to help man understand the faithfulness of His character and the depth of his commitment to his creation. Promises made and promises kept are excellent ways to prove faithfulness.

Bible students sometimes divide the movements in Scripture according to covenants. There is the covenant God made with Adam, one with Noah, the one in the focal text for today with Abraham, it was renewed with Moses, clarified with David, and finally fulfilled and renewed in Jesus. As the story unfolds in Genesis, it was many years before Abraham and Sarah had a child. The delay was not a testimony of a failing God. Rather it was a testimony of God who led Abraham and Sarah to greater faith.

The kind of covenant God makes is one of a higher authority making an agreement with one of lesser authority. God had everything to bring to man. Man had nothing to bring to God. Contemporary agreements are usually made regarding equal resources. When two men make some kind of agreement, the resources brought by one are usually thought to be equal to those brought by the other. If this formula is not followed, the agreement is thought to be one-sided. The agreement God made with man has no such equality. In the unfolding of history, God has been faithful to keep his end of the covenants while man has continually failed. The important lesson is this, God’s faithfulness does not depend on man’s performance.

Upon reading the remainder of the book of Genesis, one will discover the parameters God placed around this promise. Although it was not dependent upon Abraham’s performance, Abraham could choose to walk in God’s covering of blessings or he could walk outside the covering of blessings. That did not change God’s love for Abraham or his continued work on behalf of Abraham. It does mean that Abraham would suffer the consequences of sin or walking outside the covenant. The key thought for today is this, God has made promises and always keeps them. He has promised a reward to those who are faithful. That is a promise to believe in such a way as to orchestrate your life around the expectations of the Lord. Because God keeps promises, humans can keep promises. Because God’s character is one of keeping promise, we can know that being transformed into the image of his Son includes being made into a promise keeper. If God failed to keep his promises, this earth would disintegrate into nothing. Everything we know as dependable would suddenly lack in dependability. Be of good cheer. God is faithful in keeping his promises.

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God is Faithful — Grace

Day 2 God is faithful even after the fall Genesis 3

One of the key themes of Scripture helping us to understand the faithfulness of God is the theme of grace. The first demonstration of God’s grace appeared soon after the creation of man. As you consider this passage of Scripture, try to put yourself into the place of Adam. He knew God on an intimate level because they met and talked in the cool of each day. That is, he knew all there was to know based on his current circumstances. He trusted God’s faithfulness. But then along came a world changing experience. Adam disobeyed God and ate of the forbidden tree. As you have read in the story from Scripture, Adam hid from the Lord. The question of why is very valid. The answer is also clear. Adam did not know how God would react to his disobedience. The only thing he knew was God promised death. For Adam, even death was yet to be defined. His natural reaction following disobedience was nothing short of an attempt to hide. The intimacy he shared with God was destroyed.

God’ response to Adam’s unfaithfulness is at the heart of the Gospel. Through his acts of mercy and grace, God demonstrated the depth of his faithfulness. As the story goes, God went looking for Adam. It is not as if God did not know where Adam was. The story shows how God came to Adam even though Adam was hiding. His nakedness is a symbol of his exposure. He could not hide his guilt and the Bible expresses that in that he could not hide his state of exposure. Adam was fearfully wondering, “how will God respond?” Man has continually sought out ways to cover his sin since that day. The story says God talked with Adam bringing Adam to a confession of his sin. After Adam’s confession, God took the skin of an animal and made a covering for the nakedness. The theological implications of this act, and the revealing of the true nature of God’s faithfulness are priceless. God provided a covering and offered forgiveness. He continued to love Adam even after his blatant disobedience. God did not allow the capstone of his creation to be totally captured by the enemy. Instead, he offered redemption through the blood of an animal. Of course, the theological implications point toward God becoming a man and enduring a cruel Roman cross to total satisfy the wrath of God against sin. This animal was a type of Christ.

There is more to the story than just the covering from an animal. That was the first act of grace. The next act of grace came in the cursing of the ground and the pronouncement of the punishment. Because of Adam’s sin, man continually lives with difficulty. It is announced as man living by the sweat of his brow and women having pain in child birth. Time here does not permit a full treatment of these consequences; a summary will have to suffice. The world is now full of difficulties and disappointments. This too is a demonstration of God’s grace. It is in the difficulties that man is reminded of the goodness of God, the sinfulness of man, and redemption available from a faithful God. Left to his own devices, man would continue to run away from God traveling far from the covering of his faithfulness. The struggles of life are a testimony to the faithfulness of God. Regardless of how far a man may drift away from God, he will never go so far as to escape the reach of God’s faithfulness.

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God is Faithful — Creation

The subject of God’s faithfulness describes the demonstrative ways that God has proven himself to be true to his character. He has no identity crisis. He does not lay awake at night trying to discover his purpose. He does not agonize over job changes, health issues, or when to retire. God is complete, knows who He is and acts in complete congruence with His character. As the song writer has declared, “there is no shadow of turning with Him.” Even so, the faithfulness of God is the foundation on which the faithfulness of man can rest. In fact, without God’s example and revelation, man would not even know what faithfulness is. Man can be faithful because God is faithful and in his divine wisdom, He empowers men to be faithful. Perhaps the ability flows out of the concept of man created in the image of God. If we are to learn faithfulness, we must gaze upon the one who is faithful above all else. If we are to live faithful, we must surrender to His will and welcome his refining work in our lives so that we can bear fruit of the Spirit leading to a life of faithfulness. It is to the faithful that Jesus will utter the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Day 1 God is faithful in Creation –Genesis 1

Many years ago, my family visited the famous “Old Faithful” geyser in Yellowstone National Park. Old Faithful has been entertaining tourists on a regular schedule for decades. She earned the name faithful because she has been sending thousands of gallons of hot water high into the air on an interval of between 35 and 120 minutes since 1939. Even though this geyser, hidden deep in the mountains of North America has gained a reputation for being faithful, she is not the most faithful of events in God’s creation. The seasons of the year have been faithful since the flood. Sunrises and sunsets have been so faithful that scientist can predict with amazing accuracy the time of each, years in advance. Where would creation be were it not for the faithfulness of a sunrise to start the day and a sunset to signal a time of rest?

The faithfulness of God’s creation is a testimony of the faithfulness of God. Genesis 1 gives a description of God bring the universe into existence. Theologians like to use the word ex nihilo to point out that He made that universe out of nothing. God’s kind of creating is much different than that of an artist who takes materials made in God’s creation in and makes them into a magnificent piece of work. While God’s work of making something out of nothing is truly remarkable and not reproducible by his creation, it is not the only work God does in creation that man can not do. I did use the present tense “does” very intentionally. God’s work in creation began thousands of years ago. However, that work continues today as seen in the rising sun each morning and the setting sun each evening. God not only made the universe out of nothing, he sustains it by his own hand. God is faithful in creation.

God’s faithfulness in sustaining the creation has been going on for so long that it is easy for his created to simply take it for granted. He is so dependable it is easy to overlook the work God performs each day to keep this world in place. Were it not for God’s faithfulness in sustaining his creation, his created would have no idea what faithfulness really is. Were it not for God’s consistency scientist would not be able to detect any changes in the atmosphere. If there were no normal, there would be no abnormal. God’s faithfulness is normal. That does not mean his actions are always precisely the same. After all, His actions flow out of a character of love. Love sometimes requires a change in actions. But in the overall scheme of things, God’s faithfulness is quite evident to those who wish to see it. When a human acts in faithfulness, it is a testimony to the image of God in their life. When they act in unfaithfulness, it is a testimony to the works of evil in this world. As a matter of application of this principle, list 2 or three areas of your life where you have been faithful for a long period of time. Spend a few moments meditating on the idea that your faithfulness is a testimony of God’s image manifest in your life.

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Justification

James 2:14-26

The tension between faith and works has long been a reality among followers of Christ. Ephesians 2:8 says you are saved “by grace through faith not of works lest any man should boast.” In this passage of the book of James, the Bible says you are justified by your works. The entire book of Romans is arranged to make an argument of justification by faith and not of works. Consequently, the question surfaces, is man justified by faith or by works? The answer is not all that complicated and can be found by seeking to harmonize the concepts of Scripture. That harmony does not include an apology for its contents. When Paul was speaking of justification and giving a plain explanation in Ephesians, he was speaking of justification in terms of citizenship. You might say, one is justified as a Kingdom citizen by the grace of God demonstrated by the faith of a believer. This justification is in the eyes of God. It is the event of being made right in the sight of God. The justification spoken of by James is not a justification related to righteousness or being made right, it is a justification of one’s claim to having been justified in the sight of God. Justification from a legal perspective is made on the argument of, “…by grace, through faith.” Justification made regarding rewards is based on evidence that this justification in heaven has been translated to life on earth. That evidence is nothing short of the works of the individual. It should be noted that such good works are performed through the empowerment and motivation of the Holy Spirit.

There is a danger of being easily misunderstood on this point and there is a danger of an individual working to gain a relationship with Christ through works rather than faith. However, James seems to be very clear that these works are a result of faith and not a pathway to faith. There is a clear difference. Works that are a result of faith are works performed because of obedience to a word of revelation to man. This word of revelation is personal in a relationship with Christ. Abraham’s faith was proven by his works when he offered Isaac as a sacrifice. Only the faith of Abraham could be proven by this act. I cannot recall any other instance in Scripture where God called on a man to sacrifice his son. If I were to have put one of my sons on an altar for sacrifice without a heavenly directive, my faith would not have been proven because God did not tell me to do such a thing. You can only act in faith when God has revealed himself to you. In the age of the New Covenant, God has spoken through His Son and given the Holy Spirit to guide us into understanding of all that Jesus says. Consequently, walking in faith that justifies requires hearing the voice of God through the Holy Spirit in direct correlation to His Word, the Bible.

The justification we are speaking of here is the same justification heard by the faithful steward. It is not justification for salvation, it is the justification for faithfulness. It is faith in action that reveals faith within the heart of an individual. He gives the reward due to the faithfulness of the individual. Salvation is given freely and justification is by simple faith. The reward for faithfulness rests upon the use of resources entrusted to the servant.

As I conclude this portion of the study, I am reminded of a song I heard in church as a child. It was written by Ira F. Stamphill.

FOLLOW ME

I traveled on a lonely road and no one seemed to care.

The burden on my weary back had bowed me to despair

I oft complained to Jesus how folks were treating me,

And then I heard Him say so tenderly,

“My feet were also weary, upon the Calvary road;

The cross became so heavy, I feel beneath the load,

Be faithful weary pilgrim the morning I can see,

Just lift your eyes and follow close to me.”

I worked so hard for Jesus, I often boast and say

“I’ve sacrificed a lot of things to walk the narrow way,

I gave up fame and fortune, I’m worth a lot to Thee”

And then I hear Him gently say to me,

“I left the throne of glory and counted it but loss,

My hands were nailed in anger upon a cruel cross,

But now we’ll make the journey with your hand safe in mine,

So, lift your cross and follow close to me.”

Oh Jesus if I die upon a foreign-field someday,

Twould be no more than love demands, no less could I repay

“No greater love hath mortal man than for a friend to die”

“These are the words He gently spoke to me,

If just a cup of water I place within your hand

Then just a cup of water is all that I demand.

But if by death to living they can thy glory see,

I’ll take my cross and follow close to thee.

This song and consideration of James 2 leads to this question, “How would you define the cup of water placed within your hand?”

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Treasure

Matthew 13:44-46

The study for this week has focused on the reality of rewards for servants of the living God. Many of the truths presented this week came from the Gospel of Matthew. The primary theme of the Gospel of Matthew is the Kingdom of Heaven. Matthew’s argument is that Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of Heaven through his death, burial, and resurrection and those who follow him are Kingdom citizens in the present age as well as the age to come. He includes many of Jesus’ teachings about the Kingdom and explains what it is like to live in the Kingdom.  It is in this context where he mentions rewards so strongly. These rewards are given out to Kingdom citizens who live well as citizens. You might think of them as citizenship awards. Jesus taught frequently that life in the Kingdom is valuable. It is a Kingdom where men are forgiven. It is Kingdom where the king makes every provision. However, it is also a Kingdom where citizens are defined by their faith and identified by their behavior. To be a citizen of this Kingdom is a prize to be most sought after by men. The cost of citizenship is nothing short of total surrender to the will of Jesus. It is the value of citizenship that makes that surrender worthwhile. Jesus uses two stories to bring a greater understanding of this truth.

First, Jesus compared the value found in the Kingdom to a treasure hidden in a field. When a man seeking treasure discovered treasure hidden in a field, he did whatever was necessary to gain that treasure. In this case, he sold all that he had in order to gain the treasure. A key element of this story is the joy of the treasure-seeker when he found the hidden treasure.

Next, Jesus compared the one who sees the value of the Kingdom to a merchant seeking pearls to sell in his mercantile.  This seeking merchant found a pearl with much value. Evidently, this merchant could buy the pearl for less than its retail value, take it to his store and make a handsome profit. The response was to sell everything he had in order to be able to buy the pearl. The Kingdom of Heaven is of great value. In order to receive the reward of heaven, one must give everything he owns. It must all be given to Jesus who is the gatekeeper to the Kingdom of Heaven. Interestingly enough, Jesus often turns the assets of the one who gives his life to Jesus into assets entrusted to that servant. When a man who has a great ability surrenders his life to Jesus, Jesus takes possession of the asset. The man is often then entrusted to serve as the steward of that asset for gain in the Kingdom of heaven. It is now to be used in God’s economy.

How do these two stories relate to rewards given by the Master? Citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven serve the Master. If you desire to hear the words of affirmation from the King of the Kingdom, you must be a citizen of the Kingdom. Citizenship is gained by surrender to the will of the Master and rewards are given to the one who lives according to that surrender. Using all the resources entrusted by the Master results in rewards from the Master. The rewards are greater than any earthly reward offered by the ruler of this world, Satan. Missionary Jim Elliot captured the thought succinctly, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

Again thinking about the list of resources previously identified, are there any items on the list that you need to surrender to the Lord for his use? Surrender is the key to reward; however, when surrender is the action the reward is spiritual rather than material. The greatest reward is a relationship with Christ. Out of that relationship grows the servant heart and attitude that finally reaches the reward, “Well done, good and faithful servant.

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