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The whole counsel of God

In Paul’s farewell speech to the Ephesian church elders, he says, “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27, ESV). Other versions note that Paul did not hesitate to proclaim to them the whole will of God (NIV), or the whole purpose of God (NAS).

In June 2001, John MacArthur accomplished something that is extremely rare in Christendom. He finished preaching through the entire New Testament, verse by verse. To his church’s knowledge, this had not been done in over a hundred years or more. The one person that comes to mind is John Gill, who preached through both the Old and New Testaments in the 1700s. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (minister of Westminster Chapel in London for almost 30 years) took more than 12 years (1955-1968) to preach verse by verse through the book of Romans. These are feats that every pastor-preacher should seek to esteem, but is challenging to ever emulate.

What does it mean to declare or proclaim the whole counsel of God? Paul roughly spent two and a half years with the Ephesian church, and it is unlikely that he managed to preach through every verse of the Old Testament, line by line, with full explanation —he just simply did not have the time. D. A. Carson puts it this way,

What he must mean is that he taught the burden of the whole of God’s revelation, the balance of things, leaving nothing out that was of primary importance, never ducking the hard bits, helping believers to grasp the whole counsel of God that they themselves would become better equipped to read their Bibles intelligently, comprehensively

(Preach the Word, Ryken and Wilson, 2007).

He goes on to list key areas that encompasses this, including God’s purposes in redemptive history (truth, God), unpacking of human origin, fall, redemption and destiny (worldview, Saviour), the conduct expected of God’s people (commandments, wisdom), and the pledges of transforming power both in this life and the life to come (promises, hope).

Indeed, if we hold to the Bible as truly the Word of God, this is something we need to be conscious of as Christ’s disciples, whether we are the ones preaching/teaching or studying/reading His Word. Paul reminds us in 2 Tim. to be workmen who handle God’s word correctly (2:15) as all Scripture is God-breathed and useful to thoroughly equip us for His work (3:16, 17).

Paul ends in Acts 20 by reiterating his mission in life to testify to the gospel of God’s grace (v. 24) and entrusts the Ephesian church into God’s hands and His word (v. 32). May we as a church be faithful in the preaching and study of God’s Word, that we may grow to know Christ and make Him known, for God’s kingdom and glory alone.

The paschal lamb

2019 marks the fourth time this 20th century that the Jewish Passover (20 Apr) and Easter (21 Apr) coincide on the same weekend, according to Western Christianity following the Gregorian calendar. Even as we explore the events of the Exodus, we see that it foreshadows the culmination of God’s sovereign plans, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In Jn. 1:29 (and later repeated the next day in v.36), John the Baptist proclaims, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

The Hebrew word pesach (from pasah, to pass over) corresponds with the Greek pascha (29 occurrences in the Greek NT, mostly in the Gospels referring to the Passover feast or lamb). Paul uses it to describe Jesus in 1 Cor. 5:7b, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” The connections are clear – John quotes Ex. 12:46 when he observes, “Not one of his bones will be broken.” (Jn. 19:36). In the Mosaic Law, the paschal lamb was not a sin offering; instead, it was a special sacrifice tied to Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery. The blood of the lamb marked the doorposts of the Israelite houses, so that the angel of the Lord would spare those houses from the dreadful tenth plague which was visited on Egypt on the night of Passover. In Isaiah, the motif of the Suffering Servant further reinforces this link, when he declares, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did
not open his mouth (Isa. 53:7).” Peter in his epistle writes, “For you know … that you were redeemed … with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect (1 Pet. 1:18-19).”

As we wrap up the season of Lent and Easter, and look towards Ascension and Pentecost in the liturgical calendar, let us remember that all God recorded in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, finds its fulfilment in the person and work of Jesus Christ, some 2000+ years ago, but also one day in the final judgment and second coming of our Lord and Saviour. May it be our heart’s desire to exalt Jesus in our lives and ministry, our sacrifice, our Redeemer and Lord, our worthy Lamb of God.

God’s mouthpiece

In Exodus 4, Moses is seen to question or doubt God for choosing him to lead His people out of Egypt. Even after his encounter with God through the burning bush, God’s revelation of His name “I AM,” the provision of the staff, the miracle of the leprous hand as well as the promised miracle of water from the Nile turning to blood, it seemed to be still not enough for Moses to be convinced. Finally, God says to him, “Who has made man’s mouth … Is it not I, the Lord? Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say” (Ex. 4:11-12). Even with this promise, Moses still pleaded with God, and eventually Aaron was sent to be his mouthpiece.

Throughout salvation history, God has appointed men and women to speak forth His words to others, such as the judges and prophets of the Old Testament. To Jeremiah, he said, “If you return, then I will restore you—Before Me you will stand; and if you extract the precious from the worthless, You will become my spokesman” (Jer. 15:19). Jesus, in describing and promising the Holy Spirit after His ascension, encouraged His disciples about standing in front of the authorities for the sake of His name, “do not worry about how or what you are to say, for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (Matt. 10:19-20). Paul in his farewell speech to the Ephesian elders, described his primary ministry given by God, “For I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

Where might you be called to be God’s mouthpiece? Where has God placed you to be a witness and testify of the gospel of God’s grace? Perhaps it might be in your family, to pre-believing parents, siblings or relatives. Perhaps it might be in your school or workplace, your army camp or even to your next-door neighbours and your community. Might there be a word from the Lord or an encouragement from Scripture that you could share to bless and minister to someone hurting? Or is there a situation or circumstance that you are to speak into to affirm God’s biblical principles or gently rebuke or correct someone or something? Maybe like Moses, we might have our hangups, doubts, questions and outright fears, but we can have the assurance that God through His Spirit speaks to and through us, and guided by Scripture and godly wisdom, He will give us the right words and teach us what to do and say. If God can speak to Balaam even through his donkey, what more can we do but walk in faith and obedience, and respond like Balaam, “But can I say just anything? I must speak only what God puts in my mouth” (Num. 22:38).

How do you normally introduce yourself, or how do we introduce new people in our midst? Often we begin with our name and title, followed by our function or position, together with the company or organization we represent. “This is Dr. (so-and-so), CEO of ABC company.” Throughout the ages, societies and mankind tend to focus on status and stature, rather than substance or character. This was true in Paul the Apostle’s time as well. In Philippians 3, he begins by listing his pedigree heritage, achievements and accolades (vv. 5-6). But in an interesting twist, he goes on to consider them as loss or rubbish, in contrast to something, or someone, far superior – that is, to know, to gain, and to be found in Christ.

Firstly, he counts everything in his life a loss for Christ’s sake, in his own words, compared to “the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” This knowledge of Christ extends much further than just mere head knowledge or information about someone. It describes an intimate, active and growing relationship with Jesus, cultivated through walking with Him in abiding trust and surrendered obedience.

Secondly, he considers everything else rubbish, that he may gain Christ, from the Greek word kerdaino (from the noun kerdos) which means “gain, advantage, profit.” It is the same word Paul uses earlier when he says, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21) Jesus also uses the same word when he laments, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:26) and when he describes servants in the parable of the talents, who had two and five talents, and said to have been entrusted, and eventually “gained” more talents.

Thirdly, Paul’s desire is to be found in him. As the words of “Amazing Grace” goes, “I once was lost but now am found,” all of us need to find and be found in Jesus. This does not mean we recite a magic formula or that by simply saying the sinner’s prayer, that we are saved. Jesus warns, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21) This begins by abiding in Christ, for apart from Him, we can do nothing (Jn. 15:5). It then moves to faithful commitment to serving His kingdom purposes.

As we continue down this journey of discipleship, my prayer for us as Christians and the body of Christ, is that we will grow deeper in love and relationship with Jesus, and commit our lives to know, to gain and to be found in Christ.

Immanuel (God with us)

The mystery of the incarnation of Jesus Christ the Son of God still continues to bring wonder and awe to those presented with the facts of the gospel message – for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to dwell among mankind in order to save us from our sins by dying on the cross (Jn. 3:16). Yet what does it really mean for God to be in our midst? Well, for one, it would not be like the satirical, almost blasphemous, 1995 song by Joan Osborne titled “What if God was one of us?” It would not even be like the storyline of the comedy movie “Bruce Almighty” where God bestows an unsuspecting human with His powers for a day, leading only to sheer disaster and calamity when things go awry.

The Bible tells us that “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel– which means, ‘God with us.’” (Matt. 1:23) which the apostle Matthew recorded in relation to angel Gabriel’s pronouncement to the virgin Mary of Jesus’ impending miraculous birth. This was just one of over 300 messianic prophecies to be fulfilled by Jesus found in the Old Testament (cf. Isa. 7:14), written hundreds of year before His birth. Mathematicians calculate that the probability of one person fulfilling just 8 of these prophecies would be 1 in 1017, and it would be 1 in 10157 for 1 person fulfilling 48 such prophecies, let alone one person fulfilling 300+ prophecies! Only Jesus, the true son of God, could accomplish this, and it is the magnificent detail of these prophecies that mark the Bible as the reliable and inspired Word of God.

For Jesus to be incarnate meant that He had to leave His glory in heaven and take on the form of a human, obeying His Father’s will to die on the cross. This is our God, the Servant-King, and because of His ultimate sacrifice, God exalted Him to that highest place, that every knee shall bow to and every tongue confess the lordship of Jesus in our lives and in the world (Phil. 2:5-11). That the highest power and authority, the Creator of heaven and earth, would stoop to our lowly human level, for the sake of His Father, but also for the sake of us humankind – what amazing love!

Another apostle John puts it this way, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked atand our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life … We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.” (1 Jn. 1:1-4) Jesus chose to dwell among man, to reconcile us to a relationship with God, that we might have fellowship (or union) with God, restoring the original order set out when God created Adam and Eve, and one day culminating in the second coming of our Lord and Saviour. May we experience God’s abiding presence, complete joy and deepest love this year-end and in the year to come.

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