Thursday, February 13, 2020

Battle of Gog & Magog and the Battle of Armageddon- The Outcomes

A question that is often asked in prophetic Bible study concerns two end times battles, the Battle of Gog and Magog in Ezekiel 38 & 39 and the Battle (actually campaigns which will be the subject of a future article) of Armageddon in Revelation 16 & 19 (and numerous sources throughout the Old Testament). Are these the same two battles or are they two different battles. Looking at them superficially one would come to the conclusion that they are the same battle told from two different viewpoints similar to the creation story in Genesis 1 & 2. However a deeper look at the text and the description of each battle points to two different battles at two different time periods. When we look deeper into the Word of God instead of a quick reading we discover there is more to understand.
                We previously looked at the combatants listed in the Scripture and noticed a considerable difference between the two armies attacking Jerusalem. Now we will look at the results of the battle. How the outcomes are the same or different and what does that show us concerning these two battles?
Please remember, this article is written from a Premillennial, Pre-tribulation Rapture, and literal-grammatical interpretation viewpoint. Anyone of an Amillennial, Preterist, Post-millennial, Pre-wrath Rapture, mid or post tribulation Rapture viewpoint will disagree with most of what I have written.

                Are there differences between the outcomes of the two battles?

                Ezekiel 38-39 – Fire and earthquakes will fall on the armies who attempt to invade Isarael while their weapons are knocked out of their hands. The bones of the army are buried after 7 months at a specific location by trained professionals (perhaps because their bones are radioactive).

22 With pestilence and with blood I will enter into judgment with him; and I will rain on him and on his troops, and on the many peoples who are with him, a torrential rain, with hailstones, fire and brimstone. Ezekiel 38:22

14 “They will set apart men who will constantly pass through the land, burying those who were passing through, even those left on the surface of the ground, in order to cleanse it. At the end of seven months they will make a search.
15 As those who pass through the land pass through and anyone sees a man’s bone, then he will set up a marker by it until the buriers have buried it in the valley of Hamon-gog. Ezekiel 39:14-15

6 “And I will send fire upon Magog and those who inhabit the coastlands in safety; and they will know that I am the LORD. Ezekiel 39:6

Look at the purpose in this verse, “they will that I am the LORD.” Everything God does is pointing to Him as the reason and giving unbelievers a chance to repent and come to Him. God uses this instance to bring His name among His people, the Jews. God is giving them a chance to restore that relationship and be right with Him before the terrors of the Tribulation. Verse 7 increases the scope of those who will know the LORD is responsible to include the Gentiles, “…And the nations will know that I am the Lord, the Holy One in Israel.”

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

Armageddon – The flesh of the armies that come against Israel are dissolved and slain from the sword of the mouth of Jesus. There is no mention of any burial of the bones.

17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds which fly in midheaven, “Come, assemble for the great supper of God,
18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great.” Revelation 19:17-18

12 Now this will be the plague with which the LORD will strike all the peoples who have gone to war against Jerusalem; their flesh will rot while they stand on their feet, and their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongue will rot in their mouth. Zechariah 14:12

                We can see that things do not go quite as the Antichrist and his minions expect:

19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army.
20 And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone.
21 And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh. Revelation 19:19-21

Another difference related to the outcomes is the protest against God’s invasion:

13 Sheba and Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish with all its villages will say to you, ‘Have you come to capture spoil? Have you assembled your company to seize plunder, to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to capture great spoil?’”’ Ezekiel 38:13

The “Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible” comments:

Sheba and Dedan were countries on the Arabian Peninsula. Tarshish usually means Spain or the western extremities of the Mediterranean world, possibly including, as some think, western France and even England. These countries object to Gog’s invasion.[1]

But at Armageddon we read of no protest. The armies are gathered together and come against Israel in a wave of unbridled passion:

1 Behold, a day is coming for the LORD when the spoil taken from you will be divided among you.
2 For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city will be captured, the houses plundered, the women ravished and half of the city exiled, but the rest of the people will not be cut off from the city. Zechariah 14:1-2

The armies of the Antichrist decimate the city, raping the women and taking half the people captive. This attack against Jerusalem will be severe, but the city itself will not be overthrown. However, the end result will find the Jewish people in such dire straits that only the Messiah will be able to deliver them. Once again we see man in his own power can do mighty things but in the end we all need the Messiah, Jesus.
Just when it seems that all hope will be gone for Jerusalem and the people of Israel, then the LORD will fight for His people. “God is said to go forth when he manifests his power by delivering his people and punishing their enemies.” (Pulpit Commentary)

3 Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle. Zechariah 14:3

On a side note, in both verses 1 and 3 LORD is capitalized. When we see this word capitalized it is a reference to the covenant keeping Lord. This is a reminder for the reader, in particular the Jewish reader, of the Abrahamic Covenant and the great promises God made to Israel through Abraham. Never lose sight of this when reading the Old Testament. Remember what this would say to the original audience, the Jewish people, when they studied God’s Word.
However, despite all of these differences, we should point out one similarity, and that is the outcome. In both cases, God will win and will gain victory on behalf of His people, Israel. After the great victory at Gog and Magog (Ezekiel 39:1-7), one would think that the unregenerate world would get the message. But only a few years later, on an even larger scale, the world will again gather its forces against Israel and against the Lord at Armageddon. The old adage will be proven again: the one thing people learn from history, is that they don't learn from history.

[1] “The Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible,” pg. 877

Friday, January 31, 2020

The Bema Seat of Christ

The Bema Seat
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 2 Corinthians 5:10
10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. Romans 14:10
            When we examine the Christian experience we discover many things that all believers hold in common. We are saved by the same Savior, we are indwelt by the same Spirit, we are all sinners separated by God, the bodily resurrection of our Savior, and the utter necessity of the 66 books of the Bible. There is another commonality that is seldom taught, preached, or even mentioned from the pulpit or in Sunday School.
            The Bema Seat, the Judgment Seat of Christ is a part of our Christian experience that does not get much attention but it is vitally important as it is an event all believers in Christ will experience.. As Paul mentioned in both the above Scriptures this is an experience that every Christian will be a part of, the “we must all appear” and “we will stand.” Paul includes himself in the passage.  
            “We must all appear” means to make apparent, manifest, known; to show openly, etc. In this passage it shows that after the Rapture we must be as an open book before Christ. All believers actions will be made open and clear before Him. We will not be able to hide anything we have done from Him.
“We will stand” To continue with appear affirms our character will be seen, the good and the bad that we have done in this life. All believers will be brought, from their graves, and none will be able to hide from Him. The secret things of the heart that we may have deluded ourselves into thinking that only we knew will be made manifest before Him to be judged.

What the Bema is not
            The bema seat will not be a determination of our salvation status. Salvation was determined by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for all believers:
and He Himself is the propitiation (satisfaction) for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. 1 John 2:2
Notice that it is Christ that made satisfaction for our sins. Works is not mentioned in 1 John 2:2 though it is predominate in the 2 Corinthians passage, “deeds in the body”.
Our most famous passage concerning salvation as being entirely faith driven:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16
All of our sins are forgiven, and will never be brought up again. So if this not a judgment for salvation what type of judgment could it be.  Let’s look at different sections of these two passages to give light to what type of judgment all believers in Christ will participate in.

What the Bema Is
Both passages call this the “judgment seat of Christ.” Judgment comes from the Greek word bema Instead of a place of passing sentence the bema was a reward seat. Sale-Harrison writes:
In Grecian games in Athens, the old arena contained a raised platform on which the president or umpire of the arena sat. From here he rewarded the contestants; and here he rewarded all winners. It was called the “bema” or “reward seat.” It was never used of a judicial bench.[1]
Our best example today is to think of the Olympic Games. When the competition is over the best three step up on a platform to be honored with medals. Their judging was based on how they ran the race (“in the body”) and are given the rewards appropriate for how they ran them. The bema is a place of rewards not judgment for sin.
“May be recompensed” is from a Greek word that means to take care of, to provide for, to acquire, to obtain, to receive.

What is Being Judged
“According to what he has done” is a description of what we have done in this body. What we do in this life matters to God. He has given us great resources that we are to be a steward of. Some object because they do not have great wealth or great talent. While this may be true we have all been given a gift to be exercised and if we ignore that gift we can all pray. Every believer can act as an intercessor for the church, for missionaries, for unbelievers, for our government, for anything that God has laid on their hearts. This does not require great wealth or talent. Anyone can talk to God.
“Whether good or bad” indicates that it is not just the actions that are being judged here. We must understand that motive is being judged also. How many will proclaim how they gave into the collection plate every week, but when Christ examines their heart He will discover they did it grudgingly, to be seen by others, or out of a legalistic heart:
7 Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7
            Giving, just one aspect of our Christian lives, is from a heart that wants to give. A heart that loves to give. This is the heart that will receive reward at the Bema Seat.

What are the Results of the Bema Seat
            All of the works we have done will be divided up into one of two categories. Good works, those that bring honor and glory to God, and bad works, which we have done in our own selfish desires.
12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. 1 Corinthians 3:12-15

            Loss of Reward
            “He will suffer loss”- These are the things that we have done that glorify the flesh in contrast to glorifying God. These are things that we have done that are accomplished in our own strength instead of through God. These works are worthless for when the fire hits them “wood, hay, straw” they are burned up and are gone. They have no eternal value to man nor more importantly, to God.

            A Reward Bestowed
            “He will receive a reward”- These are the works we have done to the Lord’s glory. We have done these works to magnify His name and to make Him known throughout the world. When the fire comes down to test these works they will remain. They will be identified as “gold, silver, precious stones”. While we do not know exactly what the shape of the rewards will be the New Testament mentions five areas where specific rewards are promised as crowns:
1.      A crown for mastery over the old man, to make sure that the old self is the slave and the Holy Spirit is the master. My honest opinion is that this will probably be the least given out crown. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
2.      A crown for those whose life is characterized by soul winning. Every believer is commanded to preach the gospel but there are those whose every word drips with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and the desire to share it with all. 1 Thessalonians 2:19
3.      A crown of life for those who endure trials and resist temptations. The passage goes on to explain that they resist and endure because of the love of God. Charles Spurgeon summarized this passage as: “They cannot fall into sin because it would grieve him who loves them so well, and whom they love with all their hearts.” James 1:12
4.      A crown for those who loves His appearing. Many are not looking for Jesus to appear. They are comfortable in their large homes, big-screen TV’s, food and entertainment galore. They are believers, they will be raptured, but they will miss out on this great reward since they were looking at what was before them and not looking for their Savior from heaven. 2 Timothy 4:8
5.      A crown for those willing to feed the flock. To be allowed to preach and teach the people of God should be an honor that deserves no reward. To stand before believers of every segment of society should be a reward in itself. But our Savior promises a reward for those “willing” to feed the flock. From the construction in the passage it appears there are those for whom the pulpit is only a profession in which one moves up. They will have their reward here on earth. Then there is the one who comes into the pulpit humble and fearful understanding what great responsibility they have taken upon themselves to teach the Word of God. They will have a great reward in heaven. 1 Peter 5:4

            Dr. Tony Evans wrote an article for the “Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible” entitled “Rewards for Christians.” His concluding paragraph should make us all ready to go and do great things for God for His glory:
“Are you ready to stand before the bema seat of Christ? Out of your love for Christ and appreciation for the gift of salvation, serve God faithfully now, and you will be rewarded later. The hope of winning crowns from Jesus Christ and reigning with Him should convince a Christian that running a faithful race is worth the effort. Being awarded any one of these crowns or opportunities to rule will be an honor beyond anything we can imagine. Let’s go for it!”[2]

[1] L. Sale-Harrison, Judgment Seat of Christ, p. 8.
[2] Dr. Tony Evans, “Rewards for Christians,” Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible,” p. 1234.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Fast Facts on the Early Church Father, Polycarp of Smyrna

Fast Facts on the Early Church Father, Polycarp of Smyrna
by grace ye are saved, not of works,' but by the will of God through Jesus Christ . . . If we please Him in this present world, we shall receive also the future world, according as He has promised to us that He will raise us again from the dead, and that if we live worthily of Him, 'we shall also reign together with Him,' provided only we believe . . .[1] (What Polycarp lived his life and his theology by)

For 86 years I have served Jesus Christ and he has never abandoned me. How could I curse my blessed king and savior?[2] (In response to being asked to curse Christ and live. There is discussion if this means he was 86 years old or that it was 86 years ago that he became a Christian which would mean he was older than 86. Either way he was an older believer)

Hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian.[3] (In response to being asked to acknowledge the spirit of the emperor. A recognition of pagan gods and religion)


Bishop of Smyrna, correspondent of Ignatius
Smyrna was a seaport city about 35 miles north of Ephesus. It has been described as the most beautiful of the seven cities. Today it is called Izmir, Turkey. Scripture does not give us any information concerning the founding of this church, nor is it mentioned in the book of Acts.[5] It is believed that this church was founded during Paul’s journey in Ephesus (Acts 19:10).
Polycarp led the church in Smyrna with wisdom and authority, having been appointed to leadership by men who were witnesses to the Lord. Frequently called on to settle disputes or correct false teaching since his teaching had been formulated directly from the mouth of an apostle. Other leaders of the early church valued his insight as well as they might considering his experience. At one point Polycarp visited Rome. During the visit the sitting bishop deferred to him as when to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. This demonstrated with what respect Polycarp was held.
Ignatius, bishop of Antioch and eventual martyr (108 AD, possibly 140 AD, scarce documents make the determination difficult) was imprisoned and transported to Rome in about the year A.D. 108, wrote letters to several of the ancient Churches. He also wrote a personal letter to his friend and fellow bishop, Polycarp of Smyrna.  Unfortunately the original letters and contemporary copies have been lost to antiquity. For the full content of the letter visit
             Ignatius wrote to Polycarp imparting wisdom to him in several categories. These included: How a bishop should behave, the duties of married Christian couples, care of widows, and the Christian communities in general.

Denounced Marcion as “Son of Satan”
              Polycarp’s strictly adhered to the teachings of the apostles. This would become greatly demonstrated during his visit to Rome, most likely in 154 or 155. The heretic Marcion[6] had led many astray by his efforts to separate the church from its Jewish roots. Polycarp’s persuasive and doctrinally founded teaching turned a large number of the Marcionites (and also from Gnosticism) from their errors. When Marcion saw him he went up to Polycarp, looked him right in the eye, and said, “Do you know who I am?” Marcion was known for intimidating his opponents, however in this case he met someone who would not back down. He looked him right back in the eye and quickly retorted, “Yes, I know you very well, you firstborn son of the devil.”

Told that John fled baths where he saw Cerinthus
                Is this story reliable? Where would Polycarp receive such information concerning the apostle John? According to early church fathers Irenaeus and Tertullian Polycarp was a disciple of the apostle John. We discover in the writings of the early-third-century theologian Tertullian that, according to “original records,” it was the apostle John himself who ordained Polycarp to that office.[7] The teachings and beliefs of Polycarp would have been founded by the apostle John. During the 86 years that Polycarp walked this earth he proclaimed and exhorted that knowledge handed down to him from John the Apostle who spoke what he learned from Jesus Christ. Polycarp would then pass it on to his own disciples. His teaching and his walk in this life was exemplified and demonstrated by those teachings. He would stand firm in his beliefs, as did many of his disciples, though it would lead to his martyrdom.

Rounded up as a leader of “the atheists” (non-believer in the Roman gods)
          Persecution had broken out against Christians in Smyrna. Believers were burned, gored, fed to animals and had their heads removed from their bodies. Persecution was not a constant for the first three centuries of the church but it was a reality that needed to be recognized.
          On a Friday afternoon Polycarp was resting upstairs in a country home. They Romans came in like a posse, fully armed as if they were arresting a dangerous criminal much like when they came and arrested Christ. Friends wanted to sneak him out, but he refused, saying, "God's will be done." (At this point in church history martyrdom had not taken on the belief of an automatic ticket to heaven. Martyrdom was not to be seeked out but if it happened be faithful to the end).
          The story is told that Polycarp welcomed his captors. He spoke with them as if they were long lost, though wayward, friends. Polycarp ordered that food and drink be served while he made his one request: one hour to pray before they took him away. If this story is more than legend did the officers overhear his prayers, did they begin to have second thoughts? What a wonderful witness to those who had come to take him away. Never had they heard or experienced anyone asking for prayer as a request or invite them in for a meal.

Supposedly flames refused him; when speared, his blood extinguished the flames
Polycarp was burned at the stake and pierced with a spear for refusing to burn incense to the Roman Emperor. On his farewell, he said: "I bless you, Father, for judging me worthy of this hour, so that in the company of the martyrs I may share the cup of Christ."
The date of Polycarp's death is in dispute. Eusebius dates it to the reign of Marcus Aurelius, c. 166–167. However, a post-Eusebian addition to the Martyrdom of Polycarp, the authenticity of which has not been established, dates his death to Saturday, February 23, in the proconsulship of Lucius Statius Quadratus, c. 155 or 156. These earlier dates better fit the tradition of his association with Ignatius and John the Evangelist.[8]
There are various traditions associated with his death. These should be taken as traditions as the information on Polycarp is very scarce:
  • The guards realized they had no nails or rope to affix him to the post. In response Polycarp assured them that no restraint was necessary—that Jesus would empower him to bear the flames.
  • One account says that the flames would not touch his body. Instead they arched over his head.
  • Another story tells that when the guards realized that Polycarp could not be burned, they stabbed him with a spear—and the blood that ran down extinguished the flames.
           While these stories are just that, stories, we must realize the great faith and great perseverance of this man.  Polycarp is our first mentioned martyr post-New Testament. He demonstrates for us 2,000 years later what it means to stand for Christ and pay the ultimate price. He demonstrated what it means for the Christ and the Scriptures is the only true object we can rely upon in this life. He was offered his life for a simple pinch of incense and to speak a few words. He refused and paid with his life. But the eternity he inherited far outweighed anything this world has to offer.

[6] One of Marcion’s big lies that he was teaching is that the God of the Old Testament the creator God of the Old Testament was not a true God or He was a lesser God.
[7] In chapter 32 of his Prescription Against Heretics
[8] Though I do not recommend Wikipedia for research this is a very good summation of Polycarp’s death.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Battle of Gog & Magog and the Battle of Armageddon- One or Two Battles

A question that is often asked in prophetic Bible study concerns two end times battles, the Battle of Gog and Magog in Ezekiel 38 & 39 and the Battle (actually campaigns which will be the subject of a future article) of Armageddon in Revelation 16 & 19 (and numerous sources throughout the Old Testament). Are these the same two battles or are they two different battles. Looking at them superficially one would come to the conclusion that they are the same battle told from two different viewpoints similar to the creation story in Genesis 1 & 2. However a deeper look at the text and the description of each battle points to two different battles at two different time periods. When we look deeper into the Word of God instead of a quick reading we discover there is more to understand.

                In the months to come I will be looking at various questions concerning  the differences in the battles. I am sure there are additional questions that could be asked so I would appreciate any input from readers in the comment section. Also, this article is written from a Premillennial, Pre-tribulation Rapture, and literal-grammatical interpretation viewpoint. Anyone of an Amillennial, Preterist, Post-millennial, Pre-wrath Rapture, mid or post tribulation Rapture viewpoint will disagree with most of what I have written. Let’s start with the first question.

                Who is involved in the battles?

                We read in Scripture of two different lineups involved in the battles.  The nations of Ezekiel 38:1-6 are:

The Ancient Nations                                              The Modern Nations

The land of Magog                                                 Russia
Meshech and Tubal                                                Somewhere in Russia
Persia                                                                        Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan
Ethiopia                                                                    Ethiopia and Sudan
Libya                                                                          Libya
Ashkenaz                                                                  Austria and Germany
Gomer                                                                       Eastern Europe
Togarmah                                                                 Southeastern Europe-Turkey
"Many peoples with thee"                                    Various other nations allied to Russia [I]

               Please be cautious when you read prophetic scholars and their interpretations as they attempt to determine the modern day equivalent to these ancient nations. You will read differences but many premillennial scholars (not all) generally align their writings with this table.

                In this battle we have named nations that are participating in the battle. As can plainly be seen the battle is mainly contained within a Middle Eastern, North African setting with a powerful nation coming from the north.

                However in the Battle of Armageddon we see that while these nation are included in the roster of nations the battle will involve all the nations of the world:

13 “And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.

14 “For they are the spirit of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.

“And he gathered them together into a placed called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon

                                Revelation 16:13, 14, 16 KJV


                The Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible comments on this passage:


“Satanic trinity (Satan, Beast, and False Prophet) will send these spirits (probably the chief fallen angels in Satan’s hierarchy) “out of the mouth” of Satan himself to deceive the kings of the world into gathering their armies to prepare for what is known as the Battle of Armageddon. They will gather in the valley of Megiddo, which Napoleon proclaimed to be the most ideal battlefield in the world.” [ii]


                The Battle of Armageddon is not a limited circle of Middle Eastern and North African nations. The passage does not mention Gog and Magog or specific countries or limit the area to the Middle East.  The Battle of Armageddon will involve all the nations of the world. In this ultimate anti-Semitic act the armies of the world[iii] will unite under the Anti-Christ and move towards the destruction of the Jewish people. The “war” that the Anti-Christ has been waging for the past three and a half years (Daniel 9:27; Zechariah 13:8-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:4) will now come to a conclusion which will culminate in the destruction of 2/3 of the Jewish population.

In the months ahead we will look at additional questions surrounding these two battles and why they are not the same. Future questions will include:

Where are the battles being fought?

                What are the results of the battles?

                 How are these battles fought?

                And others. Please share this article and future articles on social media as you feel led. Any comments will be greatly appreciated. Please come back and check and I will be contributing more articles in the coming months of prophetic significance. Each article will close with the blessed prayer of the Apostle John:

“He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come Lord Jesus.”

Revelation 22:21 KJV

[ii] Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible, p. 1391
[iii] The question of “is America in Bible prophecy” is answered here in a very general response. If America exists as a nation at this time and has some form of army in existence they will take part in this battle. No army of the world will be exempt from this battle.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019



This will be my first blog concerning Thanksgiving so please forgive me if I ramble a bit. Also please forgive any grammar mistakes. The intention is to be as if two friends were talking about Thanksgiving and what it means to them.

When I think back on this past year and the many blessings that the Lord has bestowed on myself and my family it is hard to know where to start. There is a story of man who decided it was time to end his life. He went to a cliff and intended to throw himself off. Before he could do it a voice told him that before he jumps take a moment and thank God for all the wonderful blessings that He bestowed on him during his life. After several hours, and realizing he had just scratched the surface, the man walked away from the cliff realizing just how wonderful our God is and how gracious He is in what he has provided materially and spiritually for all His children.

I am not walking towards a cliff, far from it. But like the man in the story I do forget the blessings that God has rained (pouring rain, not a sprinkle) down upon me. Here in these paragraphs I will  catalogue a few of the greatest blessings He has bestowed on me.

1. My wife and two children.

Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within our house, Your children like olive plants around your table. Psalm 128:3
House and wealth are an inheritance from fathers, But a prudent wife is from the LORD. Proverbs 19:14

Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth. Proverbs 5:18

I do not know where I would be today without my wife, son, and daughter. My wife is my constant, stalwart companion. She is by my side and encouraging me through the darkest day and the sunshine on my heart when we are apart. When Adam was created it was written that it was not good that Adam was alone and needed a help meet (Genesis 2:18). The life I have spent with my beloved has proven this over and over. Where I am weak she is my help. Where I am confused she is my guide. Where I tend to leave this world a bit (Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia) she keeps my feet firmly planted on the soil. Thank you Lord for the most perfect soul mate.

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. Psalm 127:3-5

All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children. Isaiah 54:13 

What a fantastic privilege but what a heavy responsibility. When my son came into the world some 24 years ago I thought I was at least a little prepared for what was ahead of me. I had babysit neighbor's children from 3 weeks old up to 10 years old. I had changed diapers, made formula, taken temperatures (so thankful for the "new" ways to take a baby's temperature versus the "old" ways). I really thought I was set and had a pretty good foundation for taking care of children. WRONG.

Not to say that it didn't help. But it was different when you were on duty at all times and just couldn't hand them back to the parents and go about your own life. But as I read the Scripture and looked into his (and eventually his sister's) tiny face I could not imagine anything or anyone more wonderful. The first time my daughter, now 21, climbed up in my lap and said, "I love you daddy" I did not think the tears would ever stop. Today they still amaze me (though we are past the crawling up in the lap stage). They still in their own way can be such great joy (and I must admit at time aggravation) to my heart.

What would like be without my wife and kids, I don't even want to think of it. Thank you Lord for such a gracious gift as these three people you brought into my life.

2. My job

I have to be honest at first I really didn't like my  job. No, that is not correct. I really, really hated my job. I hated every moment I had to be there. I hated getting up in the morning and going. The only joy I received from my job was a paycheck and going home. Not Christian at all, but I am being honest.

But it was a good job. A very good job that was actually a career and not just a job. There was many good things about it but I was so miserable that I would not even given the good things the credit they deserved.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, Colossians 3:23

It was so hard teaching this and realizing what a hypocrite I was for my behavior.

All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty. Proverbs 14:23

I wasn't working hard. I was barely doing what was required of me and on many occasions doing everything I could to get out of doing what I was assigned. I should have been thankful for what I had been given but all I could be was miserable.

Then something happened. I really can't say when or exactly what it was that happened. But something changed. What I wrote in the paragraph above, take the exact opposite. I began to tolerate what I was doing. Not enjoying, but tolerating it. I could come to work with a half-smile on my face and not looking at the clock all day. Then we had a major change in our office. Our director and assistant director retired. After interviewing an HR director from another college was transferred over to be our new director. The office atmosphere changed with his presence. Suddenly we had a boss that was fighting for us not fighting to protect their job. He managed to get raises and promotions for us. It was amazing what a change could come over an office when someone will fight for you. A few weeks after he started I called in sick and his response, "Do you need to be put on the church's prayer chain?" Now I knew why I was beginning to come to work. Why I suddenly wanted to do my job to my best ability and even go beyond what was expected of me.

Do you see a man who excels in his work?
He will stand before kings;
He will not stand before unknown men
Proverbs 22:29

I do not expect to stand before human kings but one day I will stand before the King of Kings and before my brothers and sisters in Christ and I am thankful that I have learned my lesson on work.

3. My ekklesia

I have been attending church since I was 9 years old. I have met men and women that have inspired me in my learning and in my teaching. I have regularly attended 3 churches in my life. They have been full of wonderful people. Many of them "hard-core, I love the Bible" Christians. I have been given opportunities to teach but unfortunately they have been few and far between. When I first began at Tyndale Seminary in 1992 under Dr. Mal Couch within a few semesters he saw something in me that needed to be cultivated. He began by allowing me to co-teach, with copious direction from him, and then releasing me to teach on my own. What a fantastic training ground and time to develop my knowledge of the Scripture and how to present it.

A few years ago I received a call that I would rank as one of the top events of my life. Dr. Lacy Couch inviting me to come out and teach a group of believers who had studied under Dr. Couch. For me this was the equivalent of being asked to speak from the podium of Charles Spurgeon (if you don't know this name look it up. This is another man to learn under. Unfortunately we have very few in our time like him). Scared, nervous, shaking when I stepped up and began my lesson. By our breaktime that was all gone. This wonderful group made me feel like I had been with them forever. They made my wife and children feel at home. It was so wonderful to see and talk with Lacy.

There are few events in my life that I am more thankful for than being with these fellow believers. When we say brothers and sisters in Christ I know it is true of all of them. I love each and every one of them and I so thankful that God allowed in His providence for the group of us to be brought together.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. John 13:34

4. So many other things

What a wonderful God who gives us so much to be thankful for. As the story in the beginning said, our list could go on for a long time. What else am I thankful for: My mother and my brother, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, my grandmother-in-law (99 years old and loving the Lord every minute of it) food that fills my belly (good food- vegetables, not so good food- donuts), a Bible for every room in the house, a house, a car, clean water,  clean clothes, a library in my house to do my studying, a bed to sleep in at night, air conditioning (a necessity in Texas), and so on, and so on.

Now therefore, our God, we thank You and praise your glorious name. 1 Chronicles 29:13

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Colossians 3:15

And whatever you do, whether in word of deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Colossians 3:17

How to end this, Lord God thank you for all that You have bestowed on me. Not just in this Thanksgiving season but all the time. Let me use the skills and abilities You have given me for Your glory and for the edification of my family in Christ. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Misconceptions of the Christmas Story: The Wise Men

Christmas. What a magic word. Believers and unbelievers alike have a little more happiness in their hearts and a bit more spring in their step. Around the world preachers are adjusting their typical sermon schedule and will spend several weeks telling the story from all angles they can find. In smaller churches children typically take on the role of Joseph and Mary for the annual Christmas play.  Larger churches have older adults take on the roles of Joseph, Mary, the angels and others. Megachurches do their best to outdo one another for their annual Christmas play.  One church has real animals, another has angels on wires flying through the stage, while another has the ultimate light and music show for the attendees.

            We love it and for good reason. This is the beginning of the greatest story ever told. We learn about the humble beginnings of our Savior and the culture He grew up in. At least that is what we should be learning. Instead as time has progressed we have added to the Christmas story and brought into our Christmas plays words and actions that are not in Scripture. For a Biblically illiterate society this can be devastating.

            Let’s look at some of the more commonly made mistakes in Christmas plays:

            The 3 Wise Men

            We do not know how many wise men came searching for the Christ Child. The Scripture says:

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Matthew 2:1

                As we notice the Scripture does not give us a number. The Scripture mentions wise men, two or more. Typically if there was only two the Scripture might use the word “both” which indicates it was probably three or more. Why do we assume that there were three wise men? When we read of their gifts we discover that there was three recorded gifts given:

11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:11

There could have been many more. These three were the most significant and that is why they are the only ones mentioned.

Another contributing factor concerning the number of wise men tradition says that there were three and that their names were Gaspar/Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar/Balthazar. Since the Bible does not say, in fact there is no mention of their names, there is no way of being certain if this true. Without any supporting documentation it would be wisest to keep with the Scripture.

When did they show up? All of our Christmas plays having them showing up the night of Christ’s birth typically a short while after the shepherds. Unfortunately this could not have been.  The soonest the wise men could have arrived would have been the 9th day after Christ’s birth.  If the wise men had shown up before then Joseph and Mary would have offered the incorrect redemption offering for Christ:

22 And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord;

23 (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;)

24 And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. Luke 2:22-24

                How is this evidence that the wise men had not made an appearance?

“The proper offering was a lamb for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or dove for a sin offering; but for the poor an alternative was allowed - instead of the more costly present of a lamb, a second pigeon or dove might be brought. The deep poverty of Mary and Joseph is shown in this offering. They would never have put the sanctuary off with the humbler had the richer gift been in their power.” The Pulpit Commentary[1]

                If the wise men had come to the family previously the offering would be more than two turtledoves, the offering of the poor. Joseph would have been required to offer a lamb as the wealth the wise men gave to the Christ child would necessitate a more appropriate offering.

                Lastly we read in the Scripture in our aforementioned verse:

                                11 And going into the house…” Matthew 2:11a

                Not the manger but a house. The family was out of the manger and in a house. It would be natural that they would move from the manger into a house, most likely a friend’s house, for the first few months of the baby’s life.  The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary says:

“not the stable; for as soon as Bethlehem was emptied of its strangers, they would have no difficulty in finding a dwelling-house.”[2]

                The question I am asked often after relating these facts is, “what does it matter? Shouldn’t the overall theme be the important point? Not nitpicking the story to death.” While I agree theme of the story is very important it is paramount we understand the story with what is given and not add in our own suppositions and traditions. If we fail at this point to read our Bible carefully and dig out every gold nugget God has given us we will begin to fall for every fake gold nugget man creates. Read, study, learn and digest what the Bible gives us, not what man does.

                But let us not end on such a note. Let us look at two great lessons (there are more) we find in the wise men.

(1) Gentiles looking for the Messiah. I love how God instructs Matthew, a Jew, to relate the story of the Gentiles finding Christ. While in Luke, the Gentile, we read the story of how the Jews were looking for Christ.  By looking at both Gospels we discover both Jew and Gentile looking for something greater than what this world has to offer. (On a side note, Mark and John do not contain the birth narrative. I find many life-long church going Christians automatically assume all the gospels have the birth narrative.) We were once like the wise men. We too were searching for something greater than ourselves.

(2) The wise men were very humble. A widespread joke today goes: “The children of Israel wandered around the desert for 40 years led by two men. Even in biblical times, men wouldn’t ask for directions.” The wise men were exceptions. First they needed a star to guide them and then when they entered Jerusalem they needed the advice of others on where to go. They asked for directions. They did not rest in their superior intellect, their wealth, their prestige, to get them what they wanted. When they were in need they asked for help. Then when they arrived and found Mary and the Christ Child their first actions:

                “…and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him.” Matthew 2:11b

                They fell before a child and worshiped Him. Before they offered Him their gifts they gave Him their worship. They understood who He was and who they were.

                I love this story and I love these men. They searched for the Messiah and we should all emulate searching for the Messiah in the Scripture. We should hunt down every nugget of information about our Messiah that the inspired authors wrote for us. When we discover new things about our Messiah it should cause us to fall down and worship Him even more for what He did for us and what He is doing for us.

                This is the first of a series of articles concerning the Christmas story, what is Bible and what has been added by man. If you have a moment please share in the comments lessons that the wise men have taught you and any traditions that you grew up with concerning them. Thank you for reading.


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