May 2012

The Gospel Stage Is Set. The Father’s Announcement Is Made.

Last post, we considered Paul’s statement in Ephesians 3:11,

11      This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord,

If we stop and contemplate what this says, we come up with some very interesting conclusions. One conclusion that we must admit is that since the plan and purpose of God is eternal, and since God is absolutely sovereign, and since Jesus Christ actually did come to the earth, die, and was raised again, then there must have been some preparatory work ahead of the arrival of Jesus Christ in order to carry out His work. This is a staggering thought. In order for the complexities of the purpose of God to be accomplished, the “stage” had to be set. There had to be some pieces put into place. And since that is true, then we conclude that all of history and time marches on toward one thing, the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, the setting of the stage is not what the fullness of time is. The historical components into which  Messiah was born is not the catalyst for His coming. 

I want to consider a couple things along these lines. First, we need to realize that time is fixed by the Father. Second, we need to see that Jesus’ arrival was not determined by anything other than the Father’s announcement.

It would be easy to look to history in order to see the pieces of the puzzle being put together for such a time as Christ’s arrival. Afterall, Paul did write in Galatians

4      But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, (Galatians 4:4).

Oftentimes, writers take this verse and dive into history and point out the unique world into which Jesus was born. A world most conducive to the spread of the gospel. Whether it was the Roman empire that allowed for ease of travel because of their extensive road system, or the common language of Koine Greek which allowed for the writing of the NT in a popular language, this is often the route we take. However, this is not Paul’s point in Galatians 4:4. I don’t believe that Paul sat back and considered all the historical trappings of the time and thought to himself, “My, what a perfect time for the Messiah to be born.” What did Paul mean by this phrase in Galatians 4:4? What was his thought? He tells us.

Notice the context. Paul is referring to the practice of the time when a boy becomes a man and takes on the inherited responsibilities, and privileges, of manhood as given to him of his father. If you follow the terms referring to time in this section (i.e. vv. 1-9), you begin to see Paul’s thinking unfold.

The first mention of time is found in v.1, “As long as the heir is a child.” Paul is speaking of the time-frame of childhood. In time, the child will become the owner of his father’s estate. However, for now, he is treated no better than a slave-one who has no rights or privileges but is expected to only do what he is told. Then, v.2 states that that child is kept under guardianship until such a time as the father says, “He is mature enough to handle my affairs.” At that point, the child is no longer a slave, but a son-on the same level as the father himself over the estate.

Paul takes that true, historical, practice of families and uses that as an analogy to the gospel. The overarching point Paul is trying to make to the Galatians is found in v. 9 when he asks why, when they have been made sons through the gospel, the Galatians would go back to slavery under bondage to the master of the “elemental” things of the world. Why would one want to throw away all the privileges, and responsibilities, of sonship and go back to being a slave? It doesn’t make sense!

The timing of the coming of Christ is compared to the announcement by a father of the son’s arrival to competency. Verse 2 states that the date of transition out of slavery into sonship, at least as it relates to handling the affairs of the father, is set by the father. That is, the father has complete authority to make that call. No one tells him when to do it. He, of his judgment and for his own purposes, announces the maturity of his son to adulthood.

And that is the answer. The “fullness of the time” equals the date set by the father. To say it another way, The Father announced the date of the Son coming to earth. It was the fullness of “the” time, not because everyone was speaking Greek. It was the fullness of time because the Father said so. And, at the moment of God’s announcement that it was time, Messiah was born to an unwed mother, into an impoverished family, lead by a godly, but poor carpenter. All of this was during the time of the Law.

The Law, being compared to the “guardians and managers” of v.2, was left behind when a slave became a son, an heir. In a very real sense, we go from slavery into sonship also by the announcement of the Father. We do not appoint ourselves as heir of the kingdom. The Father must do it since it is His ‘estate.’ We cannot approach the Father and demand the inheritance, as the Prodigal did. We only receive the kingdom from the Father when He has decided it is time.

This is not unlike the discussion that the resurrected Jesus had with His apostles in Acts 1:6-7. The apostles wanted to understand when the coming of the kingdom of Israel would be. Jesus asserted that the Father of the estate, i.e. the kingdom, has fixed that time by “His own authority.” That says it perfectly! God determines the times and epochs of everything and we have no right to that information. We are children. The Fatherhood of God demands that He is sovereign because of His ownership and wisdom, at least.

So, the next time someone refers to Galatians 4:4 as a reference to historical components of God’s plan, please remind them that God is not compelled by anything, especially history, to accomplish His plan. All time is fixed by His own authority.

The Gospel Was Planned Before Genesis 1:1

It is important to consider that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not a new invention. In fact, the gospel is the reason for the existence of everything. Why do we say that? Consider again Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 3:11. He writes in that verse, “

This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord,

Think about this profound statement. Notice the “This” at the beginning of the verse. Although not present in Greek, it is implied and supplied by the editors because v.11 clearly refers to and explains further a previous teaching. There is a unit of thought in vv. 8-11 that is very tight and clean. In verse 8, Paul says that a grace was given to him by God. First, to preach the unfathomable riches of Jesus Christ. Second, to bring to light the administration of the mystery. Both of these are to accomplish a goal which is that God’s manifold wisdom might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places through the church, who is the recipient of this deep and profound wisdom. Verse 11 refers to all of this. The unfathomable riches of Christ, the administration of the mystery of Christ, and the manifold wisdom of God before the angels and demons (including Satan) being evident by means of the existence (and practice) of the church, are all the “this” of v.11. All of this is in accordance with the eternal purpose of God.

Notice, however, that Paul does not say that all of this is the eternal purpose of God. He simply says that all of this is “in accordance with” the eternal purpose of God. Big difference. God’s goal is not simply preaching the unfathomable riches of Christ, as precious and critical as that is. And God’s goal is not simply to bring to light the administration of the mystery so that God’s wisdom is on display, as critical as that also is . These are simply components in the eternal plan of God that has one, and only one, goal.

Before we look at that goal, consider this term “eternal” for a moment. In Greek, it is τῶν αἰώνων “of the ages.” This is in reference to the all the ages of time. But the way that this is written is that it describes something. It describes, modifies, the word “purpose”, πρόθεσιν. This refers to a plan, or purpose, which has been laid out beforehand. It comes from a verb that is used often of something being placed, or set, or put, somewhere. It can, in a logical sense, be in reference to something being established or set in motion. You can see this in the use of the term in Acts 1:7. God has fixed, or placed, certain events, i.e. the kingdom, in time by His own authority. So also, it is according to this “plan” of the ages that all the other things in Ephesians 3:8-11 has occurred. Therefore, this plan, by which and for which, all things happen has been established “of the ages” or for eternity. This plan of God is an eternal plan.

So, what is the goal of this eternal plan? What is God going to accomplish in His plan since God’s plans cannot be thwarted. He will bring it to pass. The purpose of it all is stated in Romans 8:28-29. How marvelous! Understood from our discussion above, we know that every millisecond that passes, and every event in history, and every thought and intention of the heart of every person who has ever and will ever live, are all marching forward exactly as planned by God. It all has God’s purpose in the horizon. It cannot be changed, by man or Satan. With that in mind, we understand that all things, for those who are elect, work together, like a tapestry, for a particular good. That is, good qualitatively as opposed to evil. That is, good that is righteous as opposed to an earthy, man-centered good that is not good enough. This good is the highest good and is the good that defines and limits the working together of all things. What is this good? Simply, but impossibly profound, it is that sinners called, predestined, foreknown, justified, and glorified, by God in Christ Jesus will be made sons, in accordance with the image and likeness of God’s dear, beloved, eternal, Son. God’s good goal, toward which all things inexorably move, is to make elect sinners conformed to the nature and expression of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who will be the firstborn among many brethren.

The reality that God had a plan, before Genesis 1:1, that is being carried out which necessitates everything that ever happens in time and space, is a reality that causes us to bow in fear of a God who not only can conceive of such a plan, but who has the absolute sovereign power and authority to carry it out. And, like Joseph in Egypt, God’s goal for us, in spite of the evil of this age, is for good. But not the good of a saccharin, man-centered, Freudian self-therapy of the happy thinking of a kind of fairy-tale land with no problems. It is in fact, the good of conformity to the image of Jesus Christ and all the privileges that accompany such a condition. But remember, Jesus was crucified, and slandered, and hated by all, except One, the Father.

So, just know, if you understand these things, and you comprehend God’s eternal plan, and you believe this message of conformity to Jesus Christ (which, by the way, demands His lordship over His people), you then need to understand that if you follow Jesus Christ, you will also endure what He did-contempt. However, consider the glories that are now His at the right hand of His beloved Father. And consider Jesus’ promise to His followers in John 14:1-3, “

   Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe  also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.

Be encouraged, faithful Christian. God’s plan is right on schedule. Be obedient to God, as a dear child (Ephesians 5:1; 1 Peter 1:14) and proclaim this message of God’s eternal plan. Call the world to the repentance that leads to life. Live righteously, even if the entire church itself falls in love with the world. Obey the Father, as Jesus Christ did even to the point of the cross. Give Him glory, and you will be raised up. After all, what happens in time cannot stop God’s eternal plan.

God’s Eternal Plan.

When we stop to consider all that God has done in the gospel it quickly becomes a staggering exercise. When we compile the teaching from Scripture concerning God’s plan of redemption, there follows a certain pattern:

  • The plan designed before the world was,
  • The “setting of the stage” in order to execute the plan,
  • The initial components of the plan inaugurated,
  • The plan executed, the plan awaiting its final installment,
  • The plan completed and its effects enjoyed, uninterrupted, for eternity.

Paul wrote a most profound thing in Ephesians chapter 3.

         1      For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—
         2      if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you;
         3      that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief.
         4      By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ,
         5      which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;
         6      to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,
         7      of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power.
         8      To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ,
         9      and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things;
         10      so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.

To break this down into thoughts that Paul is expressing is instructive. Paul first writes that he is a prisoner, not of Rome, but of Jesus Christ. This is because he was preaching the gospel to the Gentiles and they were getting redeemed. Paul had been given a duty, a certain management of sorts in reference to the message of the grace of God in Christ (v.2). This message was given to Paul via a revelation from Jesus Christ Himself, much like Revelation 1-3. He calls this the “mystery of Christ” (v.4). Now, this becomes the topic of choice for Paul. The mystery is in reference to Jesus Christ. It is not simply a mystery about Jesus. And it is not as if He Himself were mysterious. It is the mystery, i.e. that truth that no one has known except the Father until now, having revealed it in Christ and explaining it through apostles and prophets, concerning all that God has accomplished in Christ, specifically as it relates to the salvation of Jew and Gentile alike into one body. Gentiles are brought into God’s kingdom not from aligning themselves with the Mosaic Law along with Israel. Gentiles partake of the promise of the kingdom in Christ through the gospel. The gospel is that instruction given to the Gentiles by which, upon believing, they are saved. Again, Paul asserts his calling, responsibility, and reminds them that he is called to be a preacher of this mystery, the unfathomable riches of Christ (which encompasses the salvation of Gentiles), as well as exposing the actuation of the mystery into this world (v.9). But notice that this mystery “has been hidden in God” “for ages.” This is incredible! God has kept a plan unrevealed from before Genesis 1:1, but now has begun to carry it out in Christ Jesus. And what is the result? The result is that God’s magnificent, and manifold, wisdom would be on display through the church to the rulers and authorities, not on this planet, but in the heavenly places. He did what He did not to impress rulers and presidents here. He has done what He has done in order to exclaim to the angels that Satan is not lord, He is.

And what does v.11 say?

      11      This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord,

All of this “was in accordance with”, or exactly carried out perfectly in line with, “the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Magnificent! Everything is right on schedule. The most horrendous event in human history was the murder of God’s Son. It appeared to be out of control and unexpected. Satan entered a man in order to betray Christ to the authorities so that they would execute Him unjustly, and that is exactly what happened. And yet, with all the pandemonium and confusion of the trials, accusations, foolishness, and abandonment of the disciples, everything happened according to a predetermined plan which only the Father knew from eternity. That is why Peter said,

         22      “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—
         23      this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.
         24      “But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. (Acts 2:22-24).

 

All things have been, are, and will be consumed in Christ. Jesus Christ did nothing but what the Father told Him-

   49      “For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. 
   50      “I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.” (Jn 12:49–50.)

Thus, because of the perfect obedience of God’s Son, which is the only pattern for all children to their parents, God has accomplished salvation for all who would ever believe.

The realities of Jesus Christ demand a greater treatment than this post. I will be studying further on Jesus Christ and writing that here, following the order from the first paragraph above.

Worry Is Of This World

Few things grip us like anxiety. Whether it is worry over a lost child, a condition at work, or the provision of basic necessities, the act of worrying can sap a person down to the core of his being. The fear of being without food for your family, for example, hits at our basic need level and not having that can automatically put us into a tailspin of worry, doubt, and fear which, in time, lead to the potential for decisions that you may not have otherwise made. Worry is sin. Anxiety is sin. The fear of basic provision to the point of godless worry is sin. Why? Jesus answers this in Matthew 6:24-34.

Matthew writes,

         24      “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

         25      “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
         26      “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?
         27      “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?
         28      “And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin,
         29      yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.
         30      “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!
         31      “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’
         32      “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
         33      “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
         34      “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

This profound teaching of the King of kings is absolutely convicting, profound, illuminating, and comforting all at once.

  1. Convicting: the conviction comes in the fact that this is a command. Do not worry (vv.25, 31, 34). Three times the Lord commands the disciples, and us, to not worry about our physical needs. Why? Because of the principle found in v.24. Our hearts are prone to submit to something. And, whether we understand it or not, we always submit to one thing or another. If we do not submit to the Lord and His Word, we are submitting to something else, whether it is ourselves, our money, our problems, sin (see Romans 6:16), or another person. We are rebellious at heart. Jesus Christ has been given the kingdom of the Father, the kingdom of the cosmos, and He is the Ruler of it all and ever person, alive and dead, are subjects of that King (Philippians 2:9-11). He is Lord and Master. He has authority to command, and all things in the created world are subject to Him (Colossians 1:15-17). They are His (Psalm 24:1-2). Now, ask yourself, “If Jesus Christ is Lord, why am I not submitting to Him as such and relying upon Him for provision?” God created us to submit to Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength in love. When we sinned in Adam, we rebelled against that love and always submit to so many other things. Jesus calls us back under His authority, as a loving shepherd, and commands that we submit our hearts, once again, under Him. That is why Jesus said you cannot serve two masters.
  2. Profound: the profundity of this passage is contained in the fact that if we were in the Millennial Kingdom wherein we would see Jesus Christ everyday in His temple we would not worry. So, since we are in His kingdom now (Colossians 1:13), why do we worry? Is this not His kingdom? Are not all things under His sovereign control? Is your mortgage payment a surprise to Him? So, live in light of the fact that you are in His kingdom now! We have been transferred away from a master who hates, uses, and murderously controls those who are under his rule. However, even though we live in his sphere of influence, we are not of it. Even though we interact with his kingdom (Matthew 4:8-9), we are not subjects of his any longer. We are the prize that has been plundered and stolen away by a greater, stronger Man (Matthew 12:25-29). Thus, we now live in the kingdom of Christ operating under His sovereign, powerful control and under His watchful care. Therefore, we have nothing to fear. As Habakkuk said, in light of the impending Chaldean invasion,

17 Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
18 Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
19 The Lord GOD is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places.
For the choir director, on my stringed instruments.

  1. Illuminating: what does this teaching tell us about our Lord? So much. But think about this. God actively clothes flowers (v.25). God actively feeds birds (v.26). Flowers die in the heat of the afternoon sun, and birds live short lives. These things are seemingly insignificant. But see what Jesus said in v.26b. He asks a question that a father would ask his son in an attempt to capture his son’s trust; “Are you not worth much more than they?” What an insight into the motivation of God’s care. We are of more value, much more, than flowers and birds! But, lest we fall into some kind of mindset that exalts our self-worth, it is not what you think. The Bible is clear that we are made in God’s image. Therefore, God has created us to display Himself, and not us. And we also know that God is zealous for His own glory (1 Chronicles 16:28-29). Thus, our worth is not really ours, but God’s. As the Psalmist says, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name” (Ps. 29:2). Jesus is simply telling us that we, as God’s image and likeness, have more value than simple flowers and birds, like a beautiful Ming vase has more value than a clay flower pot in the back porch. Yet, they are made from the same materials.
  2. Comforting: all the above brings comfort. However, there is more. Comfort does not come in simply meandering through life. As a Christian, we have obligations. We have a duty. We are in a war. We are in a firefight daily; against the world, the flesh, and onslaughts of the devil. This is no time to kick back and wait for manna from heaven. We have been entrusted with the precious proclamation of the coming kingdom in which all men will be judged and will either receive eternal life, or eternal hell. We have been commissioned to proclaim the gospel. We have an announcement to make. God commands us, “Make disciples…” (Matthew 28:19f.). In doing that, however, we cannot worry about our provisions for our lives. We just simply can’t. It is antithetical to our God, our calling, and our mandate. Are we saying that God can provide eternal salvation, He just cannot provide our food and clothing? How blasphemous! Give glory to God and wait upon His provision, while working and making disciples. Therefore, Jesus says, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and”, and here is the comfort, “all these things will be added to you.” How wonderful! Our God will provide the uniform we will need in His army. In Him we have our provision for food, clothing, finances, and other necessities. In fact, God the Father knows that we need these things even before we realize it (v. 32). So, be busy about our Father’s business. Did Jesus starve? Was Jesus poorly clothed? Yet, did Jesus live on the hill and have a suit of clothes for every occasion? Maybe what we consider needs and what God considers needs are two different things. The Apostle Paul taught, “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” (1 Timothy 6:8). So, maybe the question is not God’s provision, but our contentment.

Praise to our God who covers us, not with expensive clothing, but with Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:27)!

     

              

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