Mythology tells of a Greek king named Sisyphus who angered the gods. His cruelty and cunning caused Zeus to sentence him to an eternity of punishment. Sisyphus was forever condemned to push a boulder up a hill. Whenever he managed to reach the top the boulder would roll back down and he would have to push it back up again. Trying to become righteous by keeping the law is like Sisyphus pushing a boulder up hill. It is an impossible task. The self righteous life is one doomed to constant turmoil. It is a life of hopelessness and perpetual failure. There is no gospel more cruel than the one that promises eternal life by your own works and obedience. This wicked gospel promises freedom, it offers hope of success, it assures the person of true freedom all while wrapping him in eternal chains. The gospel of works, of obedience, of merit, of “I think I’m good enough” is a fraud that terrorizes the soul.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is very different. The gospel brings liberty. The gospel frees from the slavery of the impossible. The gospel of Jesus does not offer false promises about your ability and goodness. The gospel of Jesus convicts of sin. The gospel of Jesus persuades of your own inability. Only when you first realize your guilt and the impossibility of making yourself right with God can you be saved. The gospel of Jesus frees from the effort to always be keeping the law. The gospel of Jesus frees from the slavery of trying to perform the impossible. The gospel is the good news of Jesus’ completed work. The gospel of Jesus gives liberty. The gospel is the promise of righteousness given by God, kept by God and eternally perfected by God. This freedom from the bondage of saving oneself is the liberty of grace and the freedom of Jesus Christ.
The last twelve books of the Old Testament are known as the minor prophets. They are not minor in their content or their importance. They are called minor because of their relative brevity when compared to the major prophetic books of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. These books of the Old Testament can be rather daunting to read. The people and places described are unfamiliar to us. The extensive use of symbolism can be confusing. Some of the prophecies seem to have a dual fulfillment, finding immediate fulfilment in their near future and later fulfillment in the Messiah.
Despite the challenges studying the minor prophets is well worth the time and effort. Here are some guiding principles to help you better understand these little books:
- Historical context is crucial. All the minor prophets were written after the division of the nation of Israel that followed Solomon’s death. Some were written to the northern Jewish nation of Israel and some were written to the southern Jewish nation of Judah. Some were written before Israel’s destruction by Assyria and some after. Some were written before the Babylonian captivity and some after the return of Jews to Jerusalem. The time of writing, the people being written about and the people being written to are crucial facts for a proper understanding of each minor prophet.
- The minor prophets are filled with Hebrew poetry. English poetry is dominated by rhyming words or rhythmic meter. Hebrew poetry is not. Hebrews poetry is mostly concerned with structure. It uses things like acrostics where each verse in a section begins with the next letter of the alphabet. A then B then C and so on. Hebrew poetry relies heavily on parellelisms where a fact is stated and the next line repeats the truth in a different fashion (“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein.”), or the next line presents a contrast (“The thoughts of the righteous are right: but the counsels of the wicked are deceit”). Another major component of Hebrew poetry is symbolism. English readers may be more familiar with the use of symbolism from Psalms. “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress and my deliverer.” The minor prophets rely heavily on symbolism but the reader is not always told the meaning of the symbols. Understanding the minor prophets requires the reader to develop some understanding of Hebrew poetry.
- Elements of the Messiah’s first and second coming are prophesied in the minor prophets. From the minor prophets we learn the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and would be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver. These are not the only two promises about Jesus in the minor prophets. Rely on the New Testament to point out minor prophets references to the promised Savior and King.
- The message of all the minor prophets, though the particulars of each book are different, revolves around calling the Jews to repentance and obedience. The minor prophets were not written to America or to the church. They were written to exhort the Jews to return to their Lord. Only when the message to the Jews is properly understood can certain principles be applied to American Christians.
Aside from the book of Jonah and a few individual verses the minor prophets seem to be largely ignored. Significant themes in the minor prophets- like the character of God, the promises of God, the salvation of Israel and the redemption of men- are profitable for all Christians. The minor prophets give us a better understanding of God’s dealings with peoples other than Israel and help us better see how God may be at work in America and the nations of the world today. They show God’s Sovereignty over all the nations and point to His future judgment of all nations.
The minor prophets remind of the faithfulness of God to bless His chosen people and to judge sinful men keeping forever His promise to Abraham, “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee.” The minor prophets may require more work to understand and apply but they can be a source of rich instruction to Christian readers today.
The book of Acts describes the beginning of the church and the spread of the gospel. It is a book of beginnings and firsts including the first major theological conflict in the church. Conflict raged about the relationship of the Mosaic law to salvation. A group within the church began to insist that the Gentile converts had to become keepers of the law, essentially becoming converts to Judaism, to be saved. Paul and Barnabas vigorously opposed this false teaching. The conflict resulted in a meeting of the apostles, church leaders from Antioch and the church elders in Jerusalem. The events of this historic meeting is recorded in Acts 15. The truths declared during that council clarified for all time the Biblical doctrine that salvation is entirely the grace of God and only received through faith. Any effort to earn, deserve or accomplish salvation is futile and ultimately contrary to true salvation. Peter, Paul, Barnabas and James each addressed the gathered leaders. The doctrinal truths they declared show the fullness of God’s gracious salvation received through faith.
- Salvation is received by believing the gospel (15:7)
- The reception of the Holy Spirit is the sign of genuine salvation (15:8)
- The Gentiles received the Holy Spirit without the keeping of the law (15:8)
- At salvation, the heart of the believer is purified (15:9)
- The law is a burden which cannot make men righteous (15:10)
- All men are saved by the grace of Jesus (15:11)
- The miracles of the apostles testified to the truth of their message (15:12; Hebrews 2:3-4)
- The experiences of the apostles Peter and Paul were in complete agreement with the teaching of the Bible because the Old Testament foretold the conversion of the Gentiles as part of God’s eternal plan (15:15-17; Amos 9:11-12)
The first epistle of Peter was written to people in trouble. It was written sometime near the persecution of Christians instigated by Nero. This persecution has gone done in infamy. Nero is said to have blamed Christians for the burning of Rome and set about to punish them for the crime. The historian Tacitus records that many Christians were arrested and convicted. Their conviction was not for the crime of burning the city but of “hating the human race” (Annals Book XI). Christians were sown into animals skins to be attacked by dogs. Some were crucified- Peter was put crucified during this period of persecution. Others were burnt at the stake to provide outdoor lighting for nighttime activities. Peter writes this letter to CHristians, probably Jewish Christians, who had fled their home to escape the immediate threat. However, they did not escape all suffering. Wherever they went they were met with some degree of persecution. The letter to the refugees scattered throughout Asia Minor is God’s instruction to Christians on how to endure persecution. Each of the first four chapters deals specifically with how the Christian should live in the face of a variety of troubles for Christ’s sake.
It seems that American Christian’s are fast approaching a time in which they will have to decide betweenbeing faithful to Jesus or suffering official sanction. Not every negative thing that happens to a Christian can rightly be called persecution. Being ignored or patronized by the world is not persecution. Losing influence in government or the community is not persecution. Persecution is the threat of violent repurcussions if one does not stop proclaiming God’s truth. Persecution is the response of violence to one who speaks Divine truth. The Bible specifically describes persecution as vicious words against a person (reviling), the loss of possessions, employment or home, being driven out of a community, imprisonment, physical assaults or execution. (verses with each one). Some in America have lost jobs or face the real prospect of losing jobs. Some in America have endured violent verbal assaults for Christ’s sake. The likelihood is that these things will continue to escalate. When they do, how should Christians respond? 1 Peter gives several key thoughts to guide our thinking about persecution:
- The Christian ought not think persecution a strange or unexpected happening
- The gospel is greater than any suffering the Christian faces.
- The eternal joy of salvation is infinitely greater than the sorrow of persecution.
- Persecution is painful but can be rejoiced in because it produces praise to God and perfection in the Christian
- Despite persecution live a life that imitates Jesus and reflects the Christian’s love
- Never respond to evil with evil
- Respond in a way that promotes the gospel and furthers the praise of God
- Care for your fellow Christian’s physical and spiritual well being
- Those who reject and persecute you first rejected Jesus and persecute Him
- You have been called to follow Jesus in all ways, including imitating His suffering
- The government may afflict you but you must honor and obey your God appointed authorities
- As you suffer entrust the well being of your soul into hands of God. Your soul is far more valuable than your possessions or your life
- God will judge the wicked for their persecution of His children
The gospel is not the product of human tradition. A favorite notion of those who do not believe the Bible is the supposition that stories abour Jesus were handed down for several generations. Some began to compile the stories together into different books and finally, several hundred years later, a group of church leaders decided which of the many books about Jesus would be considered Scripture. This is all very fascinating, but it has no basis in reality. The genuine history of the New Testament is that the eye witnesses of Jesus wrote down the truths of God under the direction of the Holy Spirit. The words they wrote were known to be Scripture by the men writing them, by the other apostles and were accepted by the churches as God’s Word.
The gospel is not available today because of tradition. Christian’s proclaim that which has been handed down through the centuries, it is not ours by tradition. Tradition is that which man has devised, protected and maintained from generation to generation. The gospel was given directly to the apostles by Jesus. God worked in them through His Holy Spirit so they wrote His gospel in perfect detail. Jesus’ Word, the Bible, has been preserved until today, not as tradition handed from one generation to the next, but as the Word of God protected by God. What is read today is the same truth God gave to the apostles. The Word of God is the revelation of God and it stands alone without recourse to tradition. We benefit from the traditions and teachings of Christians who have gone before but our faith is not dependent on them in the least. Our faith is the gospel, not the traditions of men.
The gospel is the revelation of God. The gospel is more than revelation of facts, it is revelation that opens the eyes and gives understanding to the spirit of man. Galatians 1:16 says God revealed his Son in Paul. That little preposition changes the entire meaning the sentence. God did not just reveal Jesus to Paul, He revealed Jesus in Paul. The soul changing work of revelation is one that takes place in the man. The work of salvation is not limited to facts imparted or to instruction given. Of course, salvation is not possible apart from the communication of essential truth, but salvation is not accomplished only by the teaching of previously unknown facts. The work of salvation is an internal work- it is a heart work. A person is saved when he apprehends Jesus with the inner man. A person is saved when he grasps the Savior with his heart and soul. Paul already knew the facts about Jesus and he had rejected their significance. When God broke through Saul’s blindness and opened the eyes of his understanding then Saul of Tarsus believed and was saved. The gospel is the work of God’s Holy Spirit revealing sin, revealing Jesus and revealing faith. The gospel is a work of Divine revelation. As a result, salvation is impossible without two essential ingredients: the Word of God and the work of the Spirit of God. No one is saved apart from both.
False gospels and preachers of false gospels are troublemakers. They promise something good and profitable. They promise peace and happiness, what they offer is that which leaves the soul in turmoil. They promise salvation and then require a person spend the rest of his life working for it. The Catholic church teaches that it is a sin to say you know you are going to heaven. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines this sin in this way, “It may be defined as the condition of a soul that, because of a badly regulated reliance on God’s mercy and power, hopes for salvation without doing anything to deserve it.” Relying on God’s mercy and power to save is bad? Thinking you can and should do nothing to deserve salvation is bad? Is that not troublesome to heart and soul? Is that not contrary to the plain and simple teachings of the Bible? Every false religion that promises salvation based upon something the person does is a troubler of men. Whether it be through the keeping of the ten commandments, the attendance at regular church gatherings, a certain amount of missionary work, doing more good than bad or being at peace with yourself and your world, all false gospels leave the ultimate fate of salvation in the hand of the individual. These frauds deny the comfort and assurance of salvation that belongs to the genuine child of God because of the completed work of Jesus. A changed gospel is not good news, but soul terrifying bad news.
Anything which adds to or takes away from the gospel message is a perversion of truth. It is not a slight adjustment. It is not an update for modern times. It is not a strategic change. Anything which says “this part of the gospel is not necessary to be a Christian” and anything which says “this part not in the gospel is necessary to be a Christian” is a turning away from God, a turning away from Jesus and a turning the gospel upside down.
The gospel is all about the glory of God. That is why the gospel cannot, must not, be changed. Any change to the gospel takes away from the glory of God. Any change to the gospel says that God got it wrong or that God did not do enough. The Judaizer’s addition of the law to the gospel was something which turned the gospel on its head. Their gospel denied the perfection of the grace of God. It taught that man’s obedience must be added to God’s grace for one to truly be a Christian. Any gospel which adds the least human effort to salvation denies the grace of God. The gospel that is all of grace is directly contrary to a gospel that is mostly of grace. One is saved by grace through faith alone or he is not. God alone is the author and completer of salvation or He is not. God deserves all glory for redemption, or He has to share that glory with another. One version is good news. The other leaves the soul in
“A valorous hand to hand struggle with inherent corruptions is distressingly rare in the widespread religious profession of the day. You read and pray, and worship in the assembly, and complain that, notwithstanding, your souls do not prosper; you have not comfort; you are not sensible of growth in grace. But all this is mere hypocrisy,if you be not “turning”, tearing yourself asunder from besetting sins, as from a right arm or a right eye. The evilspeaking, watch it, catch it on your lips, crush it as it swells and germinates in the seed-bed of your thoughts within. The equivocations, the half-untruths, down with them. Out with the very truth, although it should break off the nearly completed bargain although it should freeze the friendship that seems necessary to your success. Anger, malice, envy, seize these vipers, that twist and hiss in your bosom; strangle them outright there. Your religion is nothing better than a cheat, if you are not busy with the work of ceasing to do evil. “Herein do I exercise myself,” said Paul, “that I may have a conscience void of offence.” How can the feeblest learners of the truth attain, by an idle wish, that actual progressive purification which its greatest human teacher only strove after by incessant exercise.”
– William Arnot Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth
The gospel is not all about you. This is one place the gospel has been unwittingly compromised. The gospel is often presented as if it was all about the person. This is especially terrible when the gospel is presented as a means to life improvement. Jesus did not die on the cross to make your life better. Jesus did not redeem anyone so they can achieve their dreams. Jesus died on the cross to redeem a people to His everlasting praise. The eternal song of the saints is continual praise to the greatness and glory of God the Father and God the Son. The gospel is good news because the sinner is the great beneficiary of God’s plan of redemption, but God does not redeem from sin so men can go to heaven and have wonderful eternity. God redeems a people to exalt His praise forever. An eternity of perfect praise to God is so wonderful our minds cannot fathom it. A sin broken mind cannot discern the true wonders of eternal praise to God. Jesus died for His glory and the saved receive its rich benefits. The gospel is not all about you or all about the person you are witnessing to.
The gospel is all about God. It is declaration of what Jesus has done. As you think on the gospel remember the God who has orchestrated this entire plan of salvation. As you tell others the gospel point them to God. The problem of man is not a life that is frustrated, the problem is sin against a holy God. The answer is not that men are so special to God, but that God is so gracious and merciful. Salvation is not a means to being all you can be, salvation is God forgiving all that you are. Let the gospel shape your thinking to the glory of God.
Many Christians have watched the evening news and sighed, “Even so come quickly Lord Jesus.” Many Christians have received bad news and thought, “Even so come quickly Lord Jesus.” The apostle John concludes the book of Revelation with the words, “Even so, come Lord Jesus.” These words are John’s amen to the book of Revelation. Come Lord Jesus is the believing heart’s cry of agreement and longing. This longing for Jesus’ return must exceed the desire to escape the troubles of this life. The Christian must long to flee this life because he loves His Savior and His God more than life.
Jonathan Edwards said, “The enjoyment of (God) is our proper happiness, and is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasont accomodations here: better than fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of any or all earthly friends. These are but shadows; but God is the substance.”
Paul said, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8) “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with ahnds, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven.” (2 Corinthians 5:1)
The return of Jesus will deliver Christians from the depravity of this world, the misery of sin, the corrupted physical body and the tragedies of life. These good things ought not be the believer’s prime motivation in longing for Jesus to come. A mind that thinks like the New Testament longs for the return of Christ because it loves Jesus far more than life itself. The disciple of Jesus should have long ago broken his attachment to the things of this life. The Christian’s affections should already be on things above. If your life is in Christ; if Jesus is your supreme, all-encompassing love; if you desire the glory of God above all else; if you long for the vindication of God’s righteousness then you will desire the return of Jesus for His sake. Going to heaven is very cool. Seeing Jesus is infinitely superior.
The supremacy of the glory of Jesus over any benefit the Christian gains at death is evidenced by the eternal praise found in Revelation. “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” (Revelation 4:11) “Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain and ahst redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” (Revelation 5:9) “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.” (Revelation 5:12) “Blessing and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever.”(Revelation 5:13) “Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.” (Revelation 6:10) “Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever.”(Revelation 6:12) “Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship beforethee; for thy judgments are made manifest.” (Revelation 15:3-4) “Salvation, and glory, and honor, and power, unot the Lord our God: for true and righteous are his judgments.” (Revelation 19:1-2)
No where does the Bible describe the saints in heaven as praise God because their knees don’t hurt anymore or because they have had a wonderful reunion with their lvoed ones. The saints praise God because God is the only thing in heaven worth praising. Everything else is secondary. Look for the return of Jesus because He alone is worth looking for.
“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”
“O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?”
The letter to the Galatians was one of the first letters written by the apostle Paul and one of the earliest books of the New Testament. It is the first book of the New Testament to lay out the major doctrines of the gospel. The other early works, James and both letter to tis he Thessalonians, assume the gospel and refer to the gospel but do not give lengthy explanations of the gospel. Galatians is the first full orbed New Testament explanation of the gospel. Outside the book of Romans, Galatians is probably the most important defense of the doctrines of justification by grace through faith alone. What makes this letter so powerful is it is an apologetic against a very definite attack against the gospel. The letter to the Galatians has been called the Magna Carta of Christian liberty. Galatians is one of the most important books of the Bible for the understanding of the gospel throughout the world.
Galatians shows the supreme importance of the gospel message. It matters what we preach. It matters what others preach. This letter unveilings a powerful for the eternal necessity of an accurate gospel message. One reason the Judaizers changed the gospel was to avoid persecution by the Jews. (Galatians 6:12) The manner in which believers today are tempted to compromise the gospel is not the same as it was in Paul’s day, but the motivation is often the same. The temptation is to change the gospel message to avoid suffering the disfavor of men. The compromise of the gospel may have temporary benefits for the Christian but it will always result in eternal loss. Resist the temptation to spin the gospel towards a more appealing direction. Refuse the desire to soft pedal the hard parts of the gospel. A compromised gospel will never save a soul from hell. Only the gospel of Jesus will deliver the soul from its bondage to sin and death.