Archives For New Testament

By J.D. Greear

What do we mean when we talk about the “favor of God”?

The house you’ve always wanted goes into foreclosure and you buy it for a steal. Your kids bring their report cards home and it’s straight A’s. You find out that a long lost relative left you a tidy sum of money.

Many people may think that God’s favor is something like that. When life seems to break your way, it’s easy to think, “God is really smiling down on me now. He must really love me.”

When we turn to the New Testament, though, we get a splash of cold water. The favor of God doesn’t always line up with great circumstances. Case in point: Mary.

When the angel Gabriel shows up to announce the first Christmas to Mary in Luke 1, he tells her twice that she has God’s favor. But her situation sure doesn’t look like it.

Gabriel has just told her she is going to be pregnant out of wedlock in a culture where this isn’t just frowned upon but could have been punishable by death. The man she loves, Joseph, is probably not going to understand the situation or believe her bizarre explanation and might leave her. She’s already poor, and if Joseph rejects her, she’ll be destitute. She might have to beg for a living.

So here’s Mary — financially insolvent, with a ruined reputation, her most important relationship in tatters.

Maybe you can relate if you sense no joy or good cheer this Christmas season, but dread. Your life doesn’t look like one “blessed and highly favored.” For you, Christmas only reminds you of all the good you don’t have in your life.

If that’s you, then Mary’s circumstances are particularly relevant, because she supposedly has the favor of God in the midst of all her mess. How?

Because a Son is being born to her — a Son, the angel says, whose name will be “Jesus,” meaning that He will save His people from their sins. Like all of us, Mary’s main problem was a severed relationship with God. Jesus was coming to restore that.

But Jesus was coming to do more than merely save from sin. Gabriel points out that He’ll also rule from the throne of David (Luke 1:32). It’s easy to miss how big that promise is. David’s throne symbolized the restoration of worldwide peace and blessing — a condition called shalom.

Think of the promise in Joel where the prophet says, “I will restore the years that the swarming locusts have eaten.” Not just forgive, but restore. Bodies destroyed by disease will leap and run in perfect health. Reputations that have been ruined will be exonerated. Relationships torn apart by death will be mended, as we see, in Tolkien’s words, “all the sad things come untrue.”

We know that God will do this because He did this with Jesus. At the cross, Jesus went through pain that looked like a defeat. But the Father used that pain for our good. He reversed it and turned the devil’s strongest attack into an opportunity to redeem us and restore the world.

Mary isn’t the only one with a miraculous birth in Luke 1. Her relative Elizabeth also gets a visit from Gabriel, and even though she’s barren, she is promised a child. Barrenness has never been easy, but in those days it would have been devastating, the biggest disappointment a woman could imagine. The lead-up to Jesus’ birth includes an elderly, barren woman getting pregnant because the birth of Jesus is God’s promise to erase our deepest disappointments.

What that means is we don’t have to be frantic if we don’t get to everything on our “bucket list.” Many of us live with such an urgency to experience everything that life becomes worthless if we don’t. It’s not the glib stuff, like not seeing the Grand Canyon, that really leads us to disappointment. It’s not getting married, or having children, or being financially comfortable, or overcoming an illness. What we need to see is that in the resurrection, under the reign of the Son of David, every disappointment will be fulfilled.

We have pain; He will reverse it. We have disappointment; He will erase it. We yearn for justice; He will restore it. When we go through seasons of racial strife in our country, many people start to ask, “Will there ever be justice?” Or maybe the yearning for justice is more personal: You’ve been wronged and just can’t get past it. You want to cry out like the psalmist, “Will the wicked go unpunished?”

Unless we look to God’s perfect justice — instead of our judicial system or our own efforts — we’ll always be bitter. Perfect justice will be restored but only when Jesus rules from David’s throne. That truth gives us the hope to continue working for justice now while enduring the injustice in the world.

In the end, that’s what God’s favor is all about. It’s what Christmas is all about — hope. God’s favor isn’t always easy. Sometimes, as with Mary, it brings with it a lot of difficulties. But it’s always good because it brings us a hope in God’s promises and an assurance that His presence will be with us.

J.D. Greear is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

Old Holy Bible and the American Flag

As we approach July 4th, many pastors preach about Christians in America repenting of sin and turning back to the Lord so that He will bless His churches. One text they often use is 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NASB):

“[If] My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Is that an appropriate application of this text?

To be clear, these are God’s words spoken to Solomon, King of Israel. Likewise, the “land” referred to was the land of Israel. When the Israelites sinned against the Lord, He would send the plagues mentioned in verse 13. But if they responded by humbling themselves, praying, seeking God’s face and turning from their wicked ways, God would hear from heaven, forgive their sin and heal their land.

Can Christians in America find any appropriate application from this text?

The Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:16 (NASB), “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” The word “Scripture” in this text referred to Old Testament Scripture. That would include 2 Chronicles 7:14, rightly interpreted.

Likewise, when the apostle Paul cited Old Testament examples of rebellion in Israel’s history that prompted God’s punishment, he noted that they also served as warnings for Christians living under the new covenant. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:11-12 (NASB), “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.”

Is America Israel? No. Is God an American? No. But can warnings and promises to God’s people in the Old Testament be applied to Christians today? Absolutely.

Regarding 2 Chronicles 7:14, it is very appropriate for any Christian to obey the spirit of this text by endeavoring to humble himself or herself, pray, seek God’s face and turn from wicked ways, trusting that God will hear, forgive and heal.

The apostle Peter, speaking to a group of first-century Christians, said this: “For you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God” (1 Peter 2:10 NASB). Today, followers of Jesus are God’s people. Christians are those who are “called by [His] name.” Therefore, it is appropriate that we apply the timeless truths of 2 Chronicles 7:14. How suitable for all Christians in America, and in any other nation, to humble ourselves, pray, seek the Lord’s face and turn from our wicked ways, asking Him to graciously hear from heaven, forgive our sin and bring spiritual healing to the ailing, impotent churches in our land.

In 2 Chronicles 7:14, we note three precepts that are consistently called for by God throughout Scripture: humility, hunger and holiness.

The first requirement for such spiritual healing is humility. “[If] My people who are called by My name humble themselves.” It is always good for Christians to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). God will share His glory with no one because God alone can handle His glory. Every redeemed human being should give all glory to Jesus for salvation and every benefit it brings.

Frankly, modern Christianity is marked by far too much arrogance and condescension. For instance, all of us need to use great caution and wise deliberation when posting on social media. The Bible says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29 NASB). The word “unwholesome” is the Greek word sapros, meaning “rotten.” Here it refers to speech that is likened to “garbage” or “trash.” Frankly, there is too much “trash-talk” on social media. Humility is always becoming in any child of God.

The second requirement for spiritual healing is hunger. We see it in 2 Chronicles 7:14 in the words: “(If) My people who are called by My name … pray and seek My face.” Jesus urged His followers to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6 NASB). All Christians in America — and other nations — would do well to increase our hunger for godliness. We should taste and see that the Lord Jesus is good (cf. Psalm 34:8).

The final requirement for spiritual healing is holiness. “[If] My people who are called by My name … turn from their wicked ways.” Holiness comes by means of repenting from sin. Repentance means to confess our sins and turn away from them. That leads to true holiness.

These three emphases from 2 Chronicles 7:14 — humility, hunger and holiness — are much needed among Christians today, whether we live in America or not. Just because 2 Chronicles 7:14 was not written to Americans does not mean that Christians in America cannot benefit from its admonitions by obeying its precepts. Again, “all Scripture is profitable.” The warnings in the Old Testament “were written for our instruction.”

Many Christians in America are praying for a fresh spiritual awakening and revival among those of us who know Jesus Christ. I for one am praying for American Christians to embrace genuine humility, hunger and holiness. I am also praying that the Lord will graciously see fit to hear from heaven, forgive our sin, and send His much-needed healing.

When I think of it that way, I don’t know of a verse in the Bible that serves as a better guide for praying for revival than 2 Chronicles 7:14.

–Steve Gaines is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church. This column originally appeared at BPnews.net.