Yes! There Is Good News!
Bill Rollins has been publishing each week a column in the local Elk Horn, Iowa paper for the past several years.
Note the original publication date on each blog post
Note the original publication date on each blog post
A short time ago I was reading from the book of Isaiah and came upon a scripture that caught my eye. Isaiah 51:1-2 says, “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the LORD: look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were dug; look to Abraham, your father and to Sarah, who gave you birth.” There is a lot here to catch one’s eye and so perhaps we can spend some time considering this scripture.
The first word is quite important. God is speaking and He says, “Listen to me.” Perhaps every time we see these words in scripture we should sit back and ponder what God has to say. The Hebrew word used here for “listen” is “shema” and has a definition of,\ “to hear intelligently - with the implication of paying close attention” (Vines dictionary of the Bible). This word is used as an imperative - some 27 times in the book of Isaiah for various peoples. But here it is used as a command to those who “pursue righteousness and who seek the LORD.” Is that you? Do you do these two things?
In the gospel of Matthew chapter 6, Jesus tells us not to worry about the things of this world; what to eat, drink or wear. He then says in verse 33, “But seek first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
So, we are to seek righteousness. And the scriptures tell us that it is Jesus himself who is our righteousness (see Jeremiah 23:5&6, 1Corinthians 1:30). Furthermore, Jesus tells us to follow Him (Luke14:27). Hmmmm. Do you pursue righteousness? Do you follow your Savior?
The other parameter for those who should be listening is “those who seek the LORD.” In the book of Deuteronomy we are told to “seek the LORD” and to do this with all of our heart and soul! But really, even without the admonitions in the scripture, wouldn’t we strive to seek God? (That is an interesting question in light of our present society but we shall leave it for discussion at a later time.)
For now, let’s just say that you who are reading this are in some ways “seeking the LORD.” Having established this, I guess it behooves us to “listen to” God. And He is telling us to “look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were dug.” We are then told that this is Abraham and Sarah and intimates that they are our parents. I do not in any way want to leave Sarah out of this equation and will suffice it to say that she and her husband were truly of “one flesh,” from a biblical standpoint. Their lives are displayed in scripture so that we may emulate them! And emulate them we must.
How are we to see them as our parents? We shall consider this in future articles. Remember, we are speaking of “good news.”
God promises us a gift. “And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” And who is there among us that does not enjoy receiving a gift?
If you have been with me through the past several articles, you know that we have been talking about repentance and baptism. We now come to the result of these things: the receiving of the Holy Spirit of God!
I believe we already understand that God has given us the gift of His Son. “For God so loved the world that He gave us His only begotten Son …” This gift was given in order that we may receive another gift – the gift of eternal life. The blood of the Son of God cleanses us from every sin. We obtain from Him a righteousness that allows us to enter into the presence of our Heavenly Father. But the good news here is that God did not just remove our past sins from us and then leave us to figure things out for ourselves. He gave us a helper – the Holy Spirit!
Shortly after the Passover meal (called the last supper by some), Jesus addressed His disciples with many encouraging words. Let’s read what He had to say about the Spirit. “If you love me you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to abide with you forever – the Spirit of truth” (John 14:15). “All this I have spoken while abiding with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, which the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:25). “When the Counselor comes which I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth which goes out from the Father, it will testify about Me” (John 15:26). “I tell you the truth: it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send it to you” (John 16:7).
We find out several things here: first, it is a Spirit of truth. If you want to understand the truth of God, you must receive the “Spirit of truth.” It is my opinion that God will give you some of His truth so as to lead you to realize that you need to repent and receive His Holy Spirit. Going hand in hand with repentance, Jesus tells us that we are to obey His commands. We also see that the Spirit is sent from the Father. And most interestingly we see the Spirit is called a “Counselor.” The King James Version calls the Spirit a “Comforter,” and the Greek word used here really means “one who is called to another’s side, for aid, counsel, defense or comfort.”
I must stop here and praise the heavenly Father who has thought of everything. He has given us His word, from Genesis to Revelation. He has given us His Son – the Savior of mankind. And if that weren’t enough, He gives us a Counselor to aid and comfort us as we walk through this world.
Embrace these things my friends. The hope of eternal salvation lies before us. What then shall we do? “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
In the previous several articles we have considered the statement that Peter made to the crowd gathered during the Feast of Pentecost: “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ ” We have said that this short statement contains several concepts and have now made our way to the phrase: “for the forgiveness of sins.”
First, I must say that we cannot draw close to God while in a sinful state. In the book of Isaiah 59:1-2 we read this: “Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.” Throughout the entirety of the bible, there are many scriptures that I would categorize as “scary,” and this is one of them! My sins have caused a separation from my God: the one who has given me life itself, the one who provides for me in every way, the one who protects me in my every step of this life and the one who loves me more that I could ever grasp. Yes, we all need our sins forgiven.
I am sure that some of you reading this have followed Peter’s admonition and have repented, been baptized into Christ Jesus and have had your sins forgiven. Yet we live in a fallen world and we sin. John in his first letter says this, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). It has been rightly claimed “Christians are not perfect, just forgiven.” And so the good news is that we can and must repent of our sins and so be forgiven. And the great news is that we may then fellowship with our Father and His Son.
But some of you have not followed Peter’s admonition. I wish you would. A life of fellowship with our heavenly Father and His Son cannot compare with anything in this life. The reality of this is found in that final statement of Peter, “And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Notice I used the word “reality.” This is not some “pie in the sky” dream we are looking at but the reality of the promise of our God.
God willing we will close up this series of articles by considering the “gift of the Holy Spirit”. And so, the good news just keeps on coming!!
Until next time, rejoice in the “good news” of Jesus Christ.
At the end of our previous article I asked whether or not it was important for Peter to say we must be baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ.” We have been following Peter’s statement in Acts 2:38 concerning repentance and baptism and so we continue with the fourth aspect of Peter’s comment.
At first blush this may seem like an obvious concept. We have been taking our articles from the “good news” of the word of God, so wouldn’t it be apparent that we should be baptized in the name of the Son of God? Well, yes! However I have heard some say that “we all serve the same God and it doesn’t matter what form of religion we might care to use.” This avenue of thinking will not fit in with true worship of God. It is only a couple of chapters later in the book of Acts that Peter finds himself before the ruling body of the Jews – the Sanhedrin.
The authorities were questioning Peter and John and in verse 5 of chapter 4, we read, “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: ‘Rulers and elders of the people, if we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed … Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.’” The statement “no other name under heaven” would reasonably eliminate every other so-called deity!! There is one God and His one Son is the author of salvation.
I have heard others say that Jesus Christ was just another “good man” who walked the earth. This statement will not stand up under the scrutiny of God’s word! The reality is that Jesus was who He said He was, or he was insane! In the 16th chapter of Matthew, Peter answers a question by stating that Jesus was “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus told Peter that he was blessed because the Father in heaven had revealed this to him. In the book of John chapter 7, while at the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus makes the statement, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” In the next chapter Jesus tells the crowds that He is the “Light of the world.” He later tells Mary and Martha that He is the “resurrection and the life.” He then went on to call their brother, Lazarus, out from the grave after being dead for 4 days.
We are left with only one conclusion: He was who He said He was! Jesus Christ is our Salvation. Jesus Christ is our Redeemer. And so, there is only one name under heaven by which we may be saved. “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Until next time, rejoice in the “good news” of Jesus Christ.
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” In the last article I mentioned that with this short statement, Peter tells us several things. We talked about the first step for those who have been “cut to the heart” concerning their involvement with Christ’s death: they must repent. The second item is baptism.
I have heard some people say that we do not necessarily need to be baptized for salvation because that would be a type of “work” and we are not saved by works. I must ask the question, why was Peter so emphatic? This statement is imperative and that which is imperative is, by definition, a command!
We may also turn to the words of Jesus in His directive to the disciples after His resurrection, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them … and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
So, what is so important about putting someone under the waters of baptism?
Paul said it this way, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” (Romans 6:3)
If we would want to be identified with our Savior, we must be identified with Him in His death. This identification with Him is quite important for even He, who was without sin, underwent the waters of baptism to set for us an example. Two weeks ago I mentioned another scripture in the book of Romans, “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” In the scheme of all things Godly we must recognize that our commitment to God, and the covenant He made with us, through the blood of the sacrifice of His Son, takes place in and through the death of our “old man.” Our sins are washed away in that watery grave of baptism. How else would we expect to live a new life?
The next thing Peter says in Acts 2:38 is “every one of you.” This is a simple statement but has great significance. Salvation is not a group thing! We are not saved because we belong to the “right” group or go to the “right” church building. This commitment we make to God is a personal vow or promise. We stand alone before God repenting for our own sins and accepting Jesus as our own personal Savior. Each one of us must act upon Peter’s statement by ourselves - alone.
Peter then tells us that we must be baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ.” Is this important? We’ll talk more on this, God willing, in the next article.
In our previous article we spoke of baptism. We saw that there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. Is there a connection in the bible between these two ideas?
Last Saturday, as we gathered around the baptismal, I read a scripture that is found in Acts, chapter 2. This chapter starts out with the feast of Pentecost when all the believers were gathered together. There came the sound of a blowing mighty wind from heaven that filled the whole place. (I am sure you remember the event.) Something like tongues of fire appeared over each of them and the promise of God was fulfilled wherein each one was filled with the Holy Spirit.
At the sound of the wind a large crowd came running to see what was happening. Many of those gathered in Jerusalem for the feast, had come from distant lands and they heard from the disciple’s lips “the wonders of God in their own languages.”
Eventually Peter gets everyone’s attention and brings forth a message concerning a prophecy from the book of Joel. I leave it for you to refresh your memory on this message in Acts 2 at some other time, but at the end of his sermon, Peter says this, “Therefore let all the house of Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Have you ever considered that if you were there, Peter’s finger, as it swept across the crowd, would have pointed to you? “Bill Rollins, this Jesus whom you have crucified …” Yes it was my sins that were the cause of Jesus having to shed His blood on the cross.
In Acts 2:37 the crowd responds to Peter’s words, “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” Isn’t it interesting that the reaction of the people wasn’t something like, “Bah, you can’t put the blame on us for this man’s death.” No, they were cut to the heart and desired to know what they should do.
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” In this short statement, Peter tells us several things. The initial step is not baptism. The first step is to repent. What does “repent” mean? The Greek word used here means, “to change one’s mind or purpose.” In a sense it means to turn around and go the other way. When God calls someone to join themselves to God’s family, the first thing they must do is to turn around, no longer walking in the ways of the world, but rather begin walking in the ways of God.
And God willing, we shall talk more of this in the next article!
A few weeks ago I experienced the passing of a good friend and brother in Christ. I felt sadness in my heart. Not necessarily for the one who died but for the one who was left behind. Our friend Mary has lost her husband. And so out from that sadness came three articles on what Paul had to say about rejoicing. I do hope you enjoyed those three articles because I needed to look at, once again, the reality of rejoicing, even in the face of grief.
This week it’s a different story. A long time friend will undergo the waters of baptism and begin to turn his life over to the Savior. Do you know what happens in the heavenly realm when one repents? “…there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10) I will partake in this upcoming baptism and I will remind the one being baptized just what is taking place around God’s throne at that moment! The angels of God are rejoicing!!
But do you know what is interesting about this event? The Bible likens baptism to death! In Romans 6:1-4 we read, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
The difference here is that no one is left behind. Almost everyone who will witness this event has already experienced the saving grace of Jesus Christ and will rejoice with the angels in heaven. Another aspect of this “death by baptism” is that our friend will become our brother in the body of Christ. And thirdly, as Paul says, this sinner will be raised up out of the waters to a new life. A little later Paul says this, “The death He died (Christ), he died to sin once for all but the life He lives, He lives to God. In the same way count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 6:10-11)
When I think of “good news” (a.k.a. the gospel) I have to put this upcoming event near the top of things that are worthy of rejoicing over. There are many nice things in this world that may capture our attention, but this one is unique.
Paul, in his letter to the Colossians 3:1-4 says: “If then you have been raised with Christ seek those things which are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you will appear with Him in glory.” Baptism leads to something more than the empty glory that this world shines in our eyes. Baptism leads to eternal life and the glory that is beyond our understanding and far beyond any thing this world has to offer.
And that, my friends, is true good news!!
We have been looking at (what I have called) Paul’s remedy for sorrow and grief, found in his letter to the Philippians 4:4-7. In it, he tells us to rejoice. He tells us God is near. He tells us not to be anxious about anything. He tells us to pray and petition God with thanksgiving. And so now, He tells us what the results of these things will be! “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
I was talking to a woman some time ago. Her life was not pleasant. She felt trapped in a horrible marriage. Her husband was a cheater and he was verbally abusive to her. She told me that when she felt she was at the end of her rope one evening, she dropped to her knees before God and told Him she didn’t want her life anymore, that He could have it and that she only wanted to serve Him. She related to me how at that moment she felt the greatest sense of peace envelope her. She knew that God was with her and had given her this peace – a peace that, as Paul expressed it, transcended all of her understanding. Her problems had not gone away but she now had God very near to her and she felt loved.
This story still brings a tear to my eye for I know some of the hurt and turmoil she had to endure.
But this story gives me hope. Hope for my times of trials and problems and hope for you in your times of grief and sorrow.
This God we serve, this God who cares for us and provides for us and protects us, will “guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Paul speaks no empty words here. His words are filled to the brim with “good news”. And yet, he does not stop here. He truly gives us the remedy for every problem, sin, grief, or sorrow we may encounter, in the very next verse. Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”
Did you know that our minds are malleable? (Webster’s second definition: “capable of being changed, molded or trained; adaptable.) We all change our minds from time to time, so we know it is possible. But these eight terms Paul uses here; true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy will transform our minds in a Godly way. If we focus on these concepts and train our minds to muse upon “whatsoever is” true, noble, right etc, we will be godly people!
Do we need to change our minds? Do we need to transform them? In Paul’s letter to the Romans Paul uses an imperative to command us to do just this very thing. In Romans 12:2 he says, “Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”
This society we live in strives to have us conformed to its pattern. Paul says no! God says no! We need godly minds. And that’s good news!
“I will say it again: Rejoice!” In the last article we were considering the Apostle Paul’s remedy for finding ourselves living in sorrow and grief. In Philippians 4:4-7 we find him telling us twice to rejoice. But he tells us to rejoice “in the Lord” and he tells us to put on the attitude of gentleness. This is interesting advice so far but he then goes on to tell us that the Lord we are calling on for joy is near.
In the book of 2 Chronicles 15:2 the prophet Azariah gives Asa, king of Judah a most precious message. He says, “The LORD is with you when you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you …” This is a great promise that is echoed throughout the bible. Moses understood that God would never leave him, not forsake him, and the same thing was echoed in the book of Hebrews 13:5. When we call out to God and truly draw near to Him, He will be there with us. Earlier in the book of Hebrews in 4:16 we read, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find help in our time of need.” Yes, Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord for He is near.
In this quote from Paul’s letter we are next told not to be anxious about anything! And isn’t this why we sometimes find ourselves in sorrow and grief – because we are anxious about the future? We have had a loss and what will the future hold? So, what is Paul’s remedy for this anxiousness? “But in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
Did you notice there is a threefold expression of how we are to approach God? Let’s look at the first two: Prayer and petition. Sometimes we think that when we might need something from God, we go to Him in prayer. But prayer is not a request. It is actually defined in Greek as a word of sacred character. It is devotion before our God. The word “petition” is better defined as, “requesting a particular need or benefit”. Paul uses both words as we: 1) Pray, i.e. Approach God with the worship, honor and praise due to the Supreme and Almighty Creator of the universe. And 2) Petition, i.e. We present our request to be separated from our anxieties, and the turmoils we face and so enter into the rest that our Savior promised us in Matthew 11:28.
What about that third expression in the above quote? What about “thanksgiving?” There is a line in a song that may help us here: “I thank God for the storms He’s brought me through. For if I never had a problem, I wouldn’t know that He could solve them, I’d never know what faith in God could do.”
Sometimes we wonder why God brings trials upon us. They hurt. We feel alone. They cause us anxiety. There was a time in my life, some 38 years ago when I found myself all alone. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say, I’d never experienced anything like it before. At that time I realized there was only one place to turn. I turned to God, in praise, with petition, and with thanksgiving. And as I look back on that day, I realize it was one of the happiest experiences of my life. I found out just how close God was to me.
Yes, there is still more good news to come – God willing!
And so, yes, it is true, there is good news today! But do we sometimes lose sight of that fact? I believe we are all prone to being overwhelmed by the cares and worries of this life and sometimes it feels that joy has not been abiding with us. The loss of a loved one is perhaps the greatest cause of grief in one’s life. I suppose one may find a list of the top ten reasons for the loss of joy and I would surmise that they would all contain the word “loss.” Loss of job, home, self esteem, health etc, I am sure you could fill in the blanks from your life.
The truth is, God is not a God of sorrow, nor has He called us to a life of sorrow. So how do we get over the feeling that the walls are closing in on us? How do we survive when we feel that tomorrow will only bring us more of the tears of today?
The short and easy answer here is to say that we must pray and read the word of God. But what should we pray about and where in God’s word should we begin reading? May I humbly suggest that we begin with the letter of Paul to the Philippians. In chapter 4 verse 4 we read, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Let’s take a closer look at this statement. “Rejoice in the Lord always.” The word “rejoice” is the direct antithesis to the words “sorrow” or “grief.” Paul is here telling us to turn our focus completely around. He understands that it is fully within our capacity to accomplish this but he doesn’t just leave us wonder how to do it, He lets us know that we are to do this “in the Lord.” In other words, we are to do this with God’s help. God knows our hearts. He knows our deepest needs. He understands that sometimes we just hurt! Think of it this way: When Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane, we are told He was filled with inner grief and sorrow. He said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” The heavenly Father looked down and saw His Son, His only Son, whom He loved and we are told in the book of Luke 22:43 that He sent an angel: “An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him.” Yes, God will strengthen us in our time of need also. And yet that is not all; Paul tells us to rejoice “always.”
“I will say it again: Rejoice!” Paul wants us to know the truth of his statement and so repeats it. And then Paul lets us know that if we need God’s help in our striving to rejoice, we should not show any harshness, but we should “let our gentleness be evident to all.” This is an important ingredient to the answer.
And so we shall, God willing, talk more on this subject next time!
Bill Rollins resides in Elk Horn, IA, with his wife, Sally, and has pastored the Church of God of Omaha, NE for more than 35 years.