Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Bethany Bullet - October 31, 2012

‘Q’ AND ‘A’

Why is the last Sunday of October celebrated in worship as Reformation Day?

On October 31, 1517 Dr. Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses on the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.  (Those doors burned much later and today brass doors stand in their place with the Ninety-Five Theses themselves cared into the doors.)   The 95 Theses were prepared for academic debate on the theological issues surrounding the sale of indulgences, their efficacy and power.  Luther’s choice of October 31 was probably prompted by the circumstance that “spiritual pilgrims” were gathering in Wittenberg to adore the collection of religious relics of Frederick the Wise on All Saints’ Day and thus receive an indulgence for their act of piety.  That event combine with the presence of Johann Tetzel a Roman Catholic priest and purveyor of the “jubilee indulgences” from Pope Leo X the funds of which would help build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  Tetzel was in nearby Brandenburg selling the indulgence to those who attending his gatherings many of whom belonged to Luther’s congregation and the university community.  The pontiff had declared that indulgences could grant forgiveness for the purchaser or even the purchasers dearly departed.  Luther entered the scene not out a desire to change the church, let alone the world, but out of concern for those whom he served as pastor and professor.  Yet, change the church and world it did and hence from Luther’s time October 31st has observed as the beginning of the Reformation and the last Sunday in October has been observed as Reformation Sunday.

What was “Reformed”?

That the Reformation impacted life in many ways: politically, linguistically, economically, socially and artistically is undeniable.  However, the aim of the Reformers themselves and thus the heart of the Reformation was a theological movement.  This was a Biblical enterprise that rediscovered the foundation of Christianity that had been obscured.  The rediscovery of the doctrine of justification, that is, that one is saved by grace only, through faith alone, apart from works, for the sake of Christ “reformed” the very message of the church catholic (a lower case c in the word catholic means universal) and returned the church to the teaching of the apostles that had been strayed from over the centuries.

Why was the Reformation needed?

For centuries God’s Word and the central teaching therefore, the Gospel, had been obscured, distorted and lost in many areas of the Church of Rome.  False doctrine, superstition and corruption reigned in the Roman Catholic Church by the 1500’s.  Though sanctuaries, through stained glass and statuary alike, presented the message of Scripture to the faithful in attendance, the Church itself taught that salvation was a result of works and ‘co-operation’ with God.  The Church of Rome had gone so far as to officially declare that the source of truth was Scripture, History, Tradition and Clergy.  Of course, since Clergy were the interpreters of the other three, truth was not something which the average Christian could come to know through Bible reading, should they be blessed enough to have access to the Scripture and ability enough to read it in a language other than their daily one.  Rather truth, or so said the church, was something that was the domain of the church and the faithful were simply to do and believe as told.  
Tragically monks, priests, bishops, and even popes taught unbiblical doctrines such as works, indulgences and the merits of graces distribution by the church.  Ultimately people were always left to wonder if they had done enough to appease God’s wrath toward sin and escape the punishment due sinners.  Lost was the certainty Christ brings and the truth of the Gospel which the Scripture declares.  That Gospel which proclaims that God in His love and mercy, grants forgiveness and salvation not because of what we do, but because of what Jesus has done for us.  In a very real way the church had been taken into captivity much as Israel in the days of Babylon and God’s release was needed, and the Reformation was the way in which He brought the end to the churches captivity.

Who began the Reformation?

Ultimately the Reformers would give God the credit for the restoration of the truth of the Gospel and the return to the central teaching of Christianity, justification by grace, through faith, apart from works, for the sake of Christ.  In fact, along with Grace Alone, Faith Alone and Scripture Alone, Soli Deo Gloria, SDG, “To God Alone be the Glory” became one of the core cries of the Reformation.  Liturgically we acknowledge that the Reformation was the movement of the Spirit of God and result of His working through the Word and action of God’s people by adorning the altar in red, the same color that rests on them on Pentecost Sunday.  Humanly speaking a confused and terrified young monk named Martin Luther and an ambitious pope named Leo X are at the heart of the start of the Reformation. 
The monk Martin Luther, a member of the Augustinian order of the Black Cloister, lived in the monastery of Erfurt.   Luther was obsessed with the guilt of his sin and the conviction that God would have no choice but to damn him.  The obsession got to the point that Luther would ‘hog’ the confessional and take so much time that in confession he would wear his hearers out.   Father Johann Staupitz, the vicar-general of the order, noticed Luther’s despondency and assigned him to become a professor of theology and a doctoral student at the new university in Wittenberg.  This was not in an attempt to free himself from the troubled monk but in order to send him to the Scriptures; for it was Staupitz contention that Luther had come to “hate God” and that he need to “eat more, sleep more and learn to love God.”
In time, Luther began to both lecture and preach on St. Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Passages like “The gospel is the power of God for salvation.” (1:16) & “the righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”  (3:22-24) & “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were sinners, Christ died for us.”  (5:8) & “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  (8:1) brought Luther to what he called his “Tower experience.”  That is through the text of Scripture he understood the grace of God in Christ and it was as if, “the gates of heaven were opened.” 
At this same time, during Luther’s ‘discovery’ of the Gospel in the text of Scripture the pope, Leo X, was seeking to raise finances for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  One of the chief ways the pope intended to raise the needed money was through the sale of a jubilee indulgence.  These indulgences were declared, by the pope and his emissaries, to absolve all sin and all punishment.  This seemed to contradict what Luther was reading and learning in the Scriptures and thus teaching and discussing in the classroom that salvation was not gained by works, or through religious acts, but by grace through faith.  Luther posted his questions and the apparent contradictions of the teaching of indulgences in the Ninety-Five Theses.  While meant for in house academic debate the theses started a firestorm.  The reason for the storm was the recent invention of ‘moveable type.’  Within weeks the Theses were mass produced and even translated into German.  Not only students would be discussing the implications, so would the local political rulers, the laity and those in the Roman Church who sold and affirmed the teaching of indulgences and works. 
The climax of the events of the posting of this writing was the underlying issue of authority.  Without realizing it at first, Luther in stating that the Scripture opposed the doctrine of indulgences and works was elevating the Scripture over the papacy.  In short order Luther was declared to be a heretic.  Within a year he was summonsed to an imperial diet in Augsburg, though political events required the assistance of the prince Fredrick the Wise of Saxony, Luther’s benefactor and friend, by the emperor and the pope and thus Luther was given safe passage to and from the diet.  This proved to be a blessed event as at the debate Luther declared that “popes and councils can err;” with that one sentence the Reformation dye was cast.  Luther, a Roman Catholic monk and Professor of Theology, had just said publicly that the pope was wrong!   
Within a few years Luther would be excommunicated.  Summonsed to an additional diet, in Worms where when told to recant or else he would say, “unless shown by Scripture and clear reason where I am wrong I cannot and will not recant.  Here I stand.  God help me.”  God did help him.  As did Prince Fredrick who had Luther kidnapped for safekeeping and held in the Wartburg Castle.  While a resident Luther would translate the Bible into the German language as well produce many writings on topics of the faith and state of the church.  Within a decade and a half the events that began with the posting of a few pages worth of thoughts regarding indulgences on October 31, 1517 had changed the world and on June 25, 1530 the Reformers along with the German princes would present the Augsburg Confession formed by Martin Luther and his fellow reformers theology and penned by his colleague Philip Melanchthon.  The final result of which was the birth of the Lutheran Church.
-Pastor Kevin Kritzer

Monday, October 29, 2012

The One Year Bible- October 29th

With Halloween and Reformation Day upon us,, All Saints day coming up, and Thanksgiving and Advent on the horizon, it goes without saying that this is a busy time of the year.  It seems that life gets more hectic every year.  Perhaps you feel like you could write your own lamentations today.   But even in the midst of the tough times of life we praise God by saying, “Great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:23).  Let that be our guide today. On to the study...

Pastor Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament

This week we will dive into the book of Lamentations. I was thinking that this book is like the soundtrack to the book of Jeremiah. If they ever made a movie (more like a miniseries) about Jeremiah, the music would have to be influenced by the book of Lamentations. In David M. Gosdeck’s commentary on the book he says the following:

The Hebrew title for this book of the Bible is taken from the first word, “How”. When, during the Intertestamental Period, the Jews translated this book into Greek they gave it the title, “The Tears of Jeremiah”. When the Greek was translated into Latin, it was named “The Lamentations of Jeremiah,” the title we use today. Lamentations consists of five individual poems. The first four (chapters 1-4) use a poetic device known as “acrostic”. In an acrostic each new line of poetry begins with a successive letter of the alphabet. In chapters 1,2, and 4 each verse begins with a new letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Since the Hebrew alphabet has twenty-two letters, each of these chapters has twenty-two verses. In chapter 3 the author triples the acrostic. Every three verses begin with a new letter of the alphabet, so chapter 3 has sixty-six verses.

In the face of Jerusalem’s destruction, the prophet encouraged the believers to keep on clinging to the Lord. The nation was without excuse. It has plenty of time to repent, but it chose the path of sin. Not its sins had brought the present terror. On its own, the nation could not deliver itself. Its only hope lay in a return to the Lord, and the Lord did not fail. Even in this disaster, believers could see his gracious hand. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). Even under suffering, the believer can confidently wait for the salvation he knows will come.

The New Testament
By the end of the week we will have read two letters in their entirety (Titus and Philemon) and will be into the book of Hebrews. Titus is known as one of the Pastoral letters (along with 1 & 2 Timothy) and has much advice for pastors and church leaders. The following is from Armin W. Schuetze’s commentary on Titus:

Since Paul calls Titus “my true son in our common faith” (Titus 1:4), he know doubt was one of Paul’s converts. He may have been from Antioch, where Paul had worked for an entire year before his missionary journeys (Acts 11:26). We find Titus there when Paul and Barnabas “were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders” about the necessity of circumcision for salvation (Acts 15:2). Paul mentions Titus as someone he had taken along as a test case and reports that “not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised even though he was Greek” (Galatians 2:1,3).

Later Paul found Titus to be a valuable and trusted associate whom he sent to Corinth to settle the problems that had arisen in this congregation. In all of his Corinthian assignments Titus proved to be an evangelical, trusted, and respected “troubleshooter”.

After Paul’s release from his first imprisonment, he may have met Titus when he came to the island of Crete. Paul left Titus there to complete the organizing of the church (Titus 1:5). This was not an easy assignment because of trouble makers who needed correction (Titus 1:10-16). Paul promised to send a replacement to Crete so that Titus might join him again at Nicopolis where Paul intended to spend the winter (Titus 3:12).

Titus must have been with Paul in Rome during a part of his second imprisonment, for Paul sent him from Rome to Dalmatia (2 Timothy 4:10). We know nothing more about this assignment.

Titus was no doubt younger that Paul but very likely older than Timothy. He did not need the kind of encouragement that Paul gave his younger “son” Timothy. The advice Paul gave Titus for his work on the island of Crete continues to be a blessing to the church and its pastors as they read, study and apply his inspired words to themselves and the church of all times.

The book of Philemon is very short but very profound. The following is from the intro to the book in “The Life Application Bible”:

This is a personal letter sent as a plea for a runaway slave. Imagery and parallels abound in this short letter. Paul writes to Philemon and reintroduces Onesimus to him, explaining that he is sending him back not just as a slave but as a brother. Tactfully he asks Philemon to accept and forgive his brother. The barriers of the past and the new ones erected by Onesimus’s desertion and theft should divide them no longer for they are one in Christ.

This small book is a masterpiece of grace and tact and a profound demonstration of the power of Christ and of true Christian fellowship in action. As with Philemon, God calls us all to seek unity, breaking down walls and embracing our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I will have plenty to say about the book of Hebrews in the next two weeks.

Bits and Pieces

The New Testament
As we look at the book of Hebrews this week, don’t forget the audience of the book.  They are Jewish Christians who are in danger of going back to Judaism. Keep this in mind so it will hopefully make more sense when you read language like “greater than Moses”, “high priest”, “Melchizedek”, “covenant”, “tabernacle”, “sacrifice” etc. I will spend a lot of time in the next two weeks talking about this book. It is one of my favorites.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bethany Bullet - October 23, 2012

Whether it is the Caterpillar from ‘Alice in Wonderland’ or lyrics from rock legend Roger Daltrey, I am sure you have at one time or another asked the same question, “Who are you?”  Today as we focus on our Parish Theme, “An Invitation to a Holy Conversation,” we think about that initial word from God and how we might respond to our heavenly Father who calls us by name and desires to have a conversation with us, His dear children. 

The Apostle Paul is quite possibly the most famous person in the New Testament behind Jesus himself.  In our text today from Acts we see Paul, addressed by his Hebrew name Saul, who is on his way to Damascus looking to murder those who were followers Jesus of Nazareth. 

“Suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him, he fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul…’” (Acts 9:3b-4a)

It would be easy to say that Jesus was trying to get Saul’s attention, with the flashing light and sudden blindness and all.  Perhaps in your mind as you read this text you hear a stern voice calling out, “SAUL!  SAUL!  WHAT ARE YOU DOING!” 

I’m not so convinced.  This is not the first time in Scripture that we hear Jesus use a name twice. 

Jesus at the home of His good friends says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed” (Luke 10:41-42) surely not words of chastisement.

Or His words addressed to the city, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” (Luke 13:34)

On the night of His betrayal Jesus’ words to Simon Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you like wheat.” (Luke 22:31)

In love, Jesus gets Saul’s attention and he responds, “Who are you?” (Acts 9:5)

Ananias is quite possible one of the least known people in the New Testament, but in our text today he too hears words from the Lord, “The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!” (Acts 9:10b).  His response? “Yes, Lord.” (Acts 9:10c)

You see, the Lord desires to be in communion with His children and to do so, He engages in communication with us.  He invites us to talk to Him.  He calls His children by name to speak tenderly to their heavenly Father.

In our text we have two men with drastically different demeanors and God calls them by name.  

  1. Saul responds with an inquiry as to Jesus identity.
  2. Ananias responds with certainty as to God’s sovereignty.

The Lord’s loving invitation comes to you and to me as well.  He invites us to a Holy Conversation.  He longs for you to know His identity and to bow before His sovereignty. 

Like Paul, all too often we get the order mixed up.  Paul knew that God was in charge.  He knew the Scriptures, he knew God as one who tells people what to do, not as one who TALKS WITH and LISTENS TO us.

But ORDER MATTERS - Until you know the Lord Jesus as the God of grace and mercy it does you no good to know Him as the Ruler of heaven and earth.

You see, this conversation is initiated by God and for many it comes as His name was spoken over us in the waters of baptism.  At that moment, you became a child of God, your name was engraved on the palm of His hands, and a relationship was formed. 

God has called your name and desires you to be in conversation with Him. He invites his children to talk, to ask, and even to complain and lament. The conversation of prayer can take many forms but first and foremost our Father desires His children to know Him.

·         It’s not just a personal relationship, but a person!
·         It’s not an, it or a something, but a WHO!

On the road to Damascus, Saul had a real encounter with the living and resurrected Lord; it was not something that was made up, or in his head. The person of Jesus Christ came to Saul and said, “I am Jesus.” (Acts 9:5b)

That same Lord comes to you today and desires to have a conversation with you.  He comes to you in word and in wine and his wish is to be welcomed and that words flow as you have a holy conversation with Him, the living resurrected Lord, your Heavenly Father.

It should blow your mind that we too can have a conversation with the one whose words formed all of creation.  Our Father calls His children to proclaim His identity as Savior of the world, and bow before His sovereignty as King of Kings. 

The late Dr. S.M. Lockeridge once gave a sermon where he said:

“My King is the only one of whom there are no means of measure that can define His limitless love.

He's enduringly strong.
He's entirely sincere.
He's eternally steadfast.
He's immortally graceful.
He's imperially powerful.
He's impartially merciful.

He's God's Son.
He's the sinner's savior.
He's unparalleled.
He's the loftiest idea in literature.
He's the highest personality in philosophy.
He's the fundamental doctrine of true theology.
He’s the only one qualified to be an all sufficient savior. 
That's my King.

He supplies strength for the weak.
He's available for the tempted and the tried.
He sympathizes and He saves.
He heals the sick.
He cleanses the lepers.
He forgives sinners.
He discharges debtors.
He delivers the captives.
He defends the feeble.
He blesses the young.
He serves the unfortunate.
He regards the aged.
He rewards the diligent and He beautifies the meek.
That's my King.

My King is the key to knowledge.
He's the wellspring of wisdom.
He's the doorway of deliverance.
He's the pathway of peace.
He's the roadway of righteousness.
He's the highway of holiness.
He's the gateway of glory.

His light is matchless.
His goodness is limitless.
His mercy is everlasting.
His love never changes.
His Word is enough.
His grace is sufficient.
His reign is righteous.
His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
That’s my King.

You can't get Him out of your mind.
You can't get Him off of your hands.
You can't outlive Him and you can't live without Him.
The Pharisees couldn't stand Him,
but they found out they couldn't stop Him.
 Pilate couldn't find any fault in Him.
Herod couldn't kill Him.
Death couldn't handle Him and the grave couldn't hold Him. That's my King.

It’s that King who desires to have a holy conversation with you!  The question, “Who are you?” has been answered.  May we not be like Saul’s companions that day who stood there speechless, may we be like Ananias and answer, “Yes Lord!” and answer the invitation and engage our father in prayer.

-Pastor Seth Moorman

Monday, October 22, 2012

The One Year Bible- October 22nd

Sorry for the late post today.
I have always been a fan of the morning prayer service known as Matins. This service has a rich tradition in the Church. This service is filled with singing, prayer and other music. Growing up Lutheran I have seen many versions of this service. But regardless of what hymnal it comes out of the words are very powerful and have great meaning for me. We will read one of the central passages used in Matins this week. Lets use these words as our focus today.
 Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;
   let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
   let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the LORD is a great God,
   and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
   the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
   and his hands formed the dry land.
 Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
   let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
For he is our God,
   and we are the people of his pasture,
   and the sheep of his hand.--
Psalm 95:1-7 ESV

Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament
As we keep plugging away at Jeremiah I saw some great glimpses of gospel this week. Here are a few that hit me:

“Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security.  I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel, and rebuild them as they were at first.  I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me.”  Jeremiah 33:6-8

“For I will restore the fortunes of the land as at first, says the LORD.” Jeremiah 33:11b

And then a great Messianic promise: “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: 'The LORD is our righteousness.”  Jeremiah 33:15-16

We have come to the point in the story where there is more narrative than prophetic. Many historic details are filled in and give us a better picture of some of the events that took place right before the exile. We don’t usually get many of these stories in Sunday School. I had forgotten that Jeremiah gets thrown into a mud pit and almost dies. And that the king burned up the scroll that was written almost in spite of the message it contained. Eventually we see the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple itself. It was a sad day in the life of the people. I put quite a few frowning faces in the margin of my Bible this week. Another bit of the story that I forgot about was that of those who were left in the country and not taken into exile. I found it very interesting that the Lord promised protection for these people through Jeremiah as long as they stayed in the land. But, like what seems to happen again and again, the people do not listen and head to Egypt for what they think is “safety”. Their self-centeredness was their destruction.

Most of the rest of our readings this week were pronouncements of judgments on the surrounding countries. The Lord will finally punish all the other countries for their unbelief. It is sometimes hard for us to read about all this destruction, but we need to remember that God has every right to punish us for our sins. We need to have a good grasp on this so we can see that the gift of Jesus Christ is so amazing. We are not treated as we deserve. We have been given a wonderful gift in Jesus…you see, I told you this book was Christ centered.

The New Testament
As a pastor I really feel that Paul is talking to me through the words of 1 and 2 Timothy. But just because you are not a “pastor”, does not mean you cannot benefit greatly from these two letters of Paul. I kind of see these letters as letters of encouragement, sort of like Paul is the coach and Timothy is the player. Paul can’t do the work for him but he can give him some great advice. One of the most famous phrases of encouragement comes from 1 Timothy 4, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”  What awesome encouragement! Paul goes on to say, “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”  Paul also reminds us all, “You can’t take it with you.” We need to learn to be content where God has placed us. In 2 Timothy 2 Paul makes a connection to the Old Testament. He writes, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel”   (2 Timothy 2:8 ESV). This is a flashback to the good old Davidic covenant that we have seen in Jeremiah recently. Once again it all comes back to a story about Christ. I love all the “trustworthy sayings” in these letters. The one on the unity we have with Christ gives me great comfort and hope. “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;  if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.”  (2 Timothy 2:11-13 ESV) There are some big passages in 2 Timothy for us in our Theology. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV) This passage forms the basis for our belief in Scripture. We believe that the Bible is the only rule and norm of faith. It comes from God, and is useful for all sorts of things regarding our faith. It gets us ready to respond to God in good works as well. This is one of those passages that should be committed to memory!!! The end of 2 Timothy shows us some of the humanity of Paul. He is stuck in Rome, under arrest, and many of his followers have left him. Only Luke remains. Paul asks for Timothy to come to visit with him. It shows us that Paul not only cares for his good friend and partner in ministry but he misses him terribly and desires his companionship. I hope you have good friends like this; I have been blessed with many of them.

Bits and Pieces

The Old Testament
We will finish up Jeremiah this week and move on to the book of Lamentations followed by the book of Ezekiel. Here are the vital stats for the books:

PURPOSE: To teach people that to disobey God is to invite disaster, and to show that God suffers when His people suffer.
AUTHOR: Most likely Jeremiah
DATE WRITTEN: Soon after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.
SETTING: Jerusalem had been destroyed by Babylon and her people killed, tortured, or taken captive.
KEY VERSE: “My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within, my heart is poured out on the ground because my people are destroyed, because children and infants faint in the streets of the city.” (2:11)
LAW THEMES: The Lord pours out His anger against the kingdom of Judah; Judah finds no comfort; she cries, mourns, weeps, and laments the siege and exile.
GOSPEL THEMES:  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; great is His faithfulness; wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord; he has redeemed you.
KEY PEOPLE: Jeremiah, the people of Jerusalem
KEY PLACE: Jerusalem
SPECIAL FEATURES: Three strands of Hebrew thought meet in Lamentations—prophecy, ritual, and wisdom. Lamentations is written in the rhythm and style of ancient Jewish funeral songs or chants. It contains five poems corresponding to the five chapters.

PURPOSE: To announce God’s judgment on Israel and other nations and to foretell the eventual salvation of God’s people
AUTHOR: Ezekiel—the son of Buzi, a Zadokite priest
TO WHOM WRITTEN: The Jews in captivity, in Babylonia, and God’s people everywhere
DATE WRITTEN: Approx. 571 B.C.
SETTING: Ezekiel was a younger contemporary of Jeremiah. While Jeremiah ministered to the people still in Judah, Ezekiel prophesied to those already exiled in Babylonia after the defeat of Jehoichin.
KEY VERSES: “For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all you idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (36:24-26)
LAW THEMES: Death and God’s wrath come to Israel by the sword; Israel has not walked in God’s statutes; in anger, God withdraws His glory and blessings; idolatry as spiritual adultery; defilement; exile; famine and pestilence.
GOSPEL THEMES: God keeps His covenant; new hearts; gift of the Spirit; the Good Shepherd; cleansing; restore the fortunes; God’s glory returns; the new temple.
KEY PEOPLE: Ezekiel, Israel’s leaders, Ezekiel’s wife, Nebuchadnezzar, “the prince”
KEY PLACES: Jerusalem, Babylon, and Egypt

The New Testament
Here are the vital stats for the next three books we will read in the New Testament:

PURPOSE: To advise Titus in his responsibility of supervising the churches in the island of Crete
TO WHOM WRITTEN: Titus, a Greek, probably converted to Christ through Paul’s ministry (he had become Paul’s special representative to the island of Crete), and to all believers everywhere.
DATE WRITTEN: About A.D. 64, around the same time 1 Timothy was written; probably from Macedonia when Paul traveled between his Roman imprisonments.
SETTING: Paul sent Titus to organize and oversee the churches on Crete. This letter tells Titus how to do this job.
KEY VERSE: “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I direct you” (1:5)
LAW THEMES: Be above reproach; rebuke; the pure and the defiled; submissiveness; devotion to good works.
GOSPEL THEMES: Election; soundness; God’s grace; redemption; washing and renewal; justification.
KEY PEOPLE: Paul, Titus
KEY PLACES: Crete, Nicopolis
SPECIAL FEATURES: Titus is very similar to 1 Timothy with its instructions to church leaders.

PURPOSE: To convince Philemon to forgive his runaway slave, Onesimus, and to accept him as a brother in the faith.
TO WHOM WRITTEN: Philemon, who was probably a wealthy member of the Colossian church, and all believers.
DATE WRITTEN: About A.D. 60, during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome, at about the same time Ephesians and Colossians were written.
SETTING: Slavery was common in the Roman Empire and evidently some Christians had slaves. Paul does not condemn the institution of slavery in his writings, but he makes a radical statement by calling this slave Philemon’s brother in Christ.
KEY VERSES: “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord (verses 15-16)
LAW THEMES: Usefulness; imprisonment; service; debt; partnership
GOSPEL THEMES: Comfort/refreshment; reconciliation; forgiveness.
KEY PEOPLE: Paul, Philemon, Onesimus
KEY PLACES: Colosse, Rome
SPECIAL FEATURES: This is a private, personal letter to a friend.

PURPOSE: To present the sufficiency and superiority of Christ
AUTHOR: Paul, Luke, Barnabas, Apollos, Silas, Philip, Pricilla, and others have been suggested because the name of the author is not given in the Biblical text itself. Whoever it was speaks of Timothy as “brother” (13:23)
TO WHOM WRITTEN: Hebrew Christians (perhaps second-generation Christians) who may have been considering a return to Judaism, perhaps because of immaturity, stemming from a lack of understanding of Biblical truths; and all believers in Christ.
DATE WRITTEN: Probably before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70, because the religious sacrifices and ceremonies are referred to in the book, but no mention is made of the temples destruction
SETTING: These Jewish Christians were probably undergoing fierce persecution, socially and physically, both from Jews and from Romans. Christ had not yet returned to establish his kingdom, and the people needed to be reassured that Christianity was true and that Jesus was the Messiah.
KEY VERSE: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (1:3)
LAW THEMES: Retribution for disobedience; slavery to death and the devil; and unbelieving heart; rebellion; obligation to sacrifice; repentance from dead works; crucifying Jesus again; the living God’s vengeance; struggle against sin; discipline; obedience to leaders.
GOSPEL THEMES: God spoke through Jesus; purification for sins; inheriting salvation; our High Priest and Mediator; sanctification; God’s promises; Melchizedek; sprinkled and washed; assurance of faith; the founder and perfecter of our faith; the great Shepherd.
KEY PEOPLE: Old Testament men and women of faith (see chapter 11)
SPECIAL FEATURES: Although Hebrews is called a “letter” (13:22), it has the form and content of a sermon.

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