Vs. 2, “There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” We open our chapter with Jesus revealing His glory to inner three (Peter, James & John) on the mount of Transfiguration (vs. 1-13). Question: What is the Transfiguration? It comes from the Greek language that gives us our modern day word: Metamorphosis. All three Synoptic Gospels record this event. The Transfiguration is a special glimpse into the glory of the Lord as Jesus reveals His true identity. The presence of Moses (law) & Elijah (prophets) come to bear witness of Jesus’ identity and mission. Once again, Jesus admonishes them not to reveal what they have seen (vs. 9); at least until He has done His work on the cross. Jesus reminds them the prophecy of Malachi (Malachi 4:5-6) concerning Elijah coming first is fulfilled through John the Baptist (Luke 1:17). When they come down the mountain they encounter a failed exorcism (vs. 14-23). Jesus uses this as an opportunity to give us a fresh understanding of what true faith looks like (vs. 20-21). Sadly, we are reminded that Jesus’ death will come about because of betrayal of the worst kind; betrayal of their own in Judas Iscariot (vs. 22-23). The Temple tax incident (vs. 24-27) teaches us that though Jesus being the Son of God (vs. 25) does not have to pay it, He does so to prevent the stumbling of others.
Regarding application…Father’s Approval. Vs. 5, “While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” These words from the Father were identical to His affirmation when Jesus was baptized (Matthew 3:17). The caveat is, “Listen to him!” As children, we sought so hard to find the approval of our parents. Sometimes they were disappointed, other time we were disappointed. But deep down inside, we want to hear the praises and approval of our parents. Jesus was obedient; even obedient to death on the cross (Philippians 2:8). For my leisure reading, I am reading Peter Criss’ biography (the drummer of the rockband Kiss). He shares a story when they finally performed in MSG (Madison Square Garden) and he had his parents and family attend. As they performed he saw the tears and proud looks of his parents and it brought this 30 plus year old successful man to tears as he played the drums that night. No matter how old we are, we want to make our loved ones proud of us. Just as the Father approves His son Jesus, He also does for us. Question: Why? Because we listened to His son and put our faith in Him. Jesus’ blood brings the approval of our Father in Heaven. Thank you Father for loving us so much!
Vs. 8, “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lords coming is near.” A timely reminder as we remember Jesus’ first coming and look forward to His second coming. We are a consumer society and we are exhorted not to treasure the wealth that the world offers (vs. 1-6). Wealth itself is not a sin, but its when we put it before God or acquire it an unethical way (vs. 4). We are then reminded to be patient through the trials and suffering of our lives (vs. 7-12). Just as a farmer must exercise patience to await a fruitful crop, we too must remember things don’t grow overnight. We are to remember the prophets and Godly people who came before us (vs. 10-11). Question: What then shall we do when we face trials of many kinds? We must pray (vs. 13-20). While we can use our tongues for evil (James 3), we are now exhorted to use it for the highest purpose. Prayer is so powerful that it can heal (vs. 13-15, it can reconcile (vs. 16), and it can cover over sins (vs. 20).
Regarding application…Power or Prayer. Vs. 16, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” Prayer is one of those things that we know is important, yet many of us fail to exercise this part of our life. Many of those in our nations gave prayers to the Newton elementary tragedy in Connecticut. We pray because we realize that there is only one source we can turn to in our darkest times. Prayer is the compass for our life. It recalibrates our hearts and minds so that we can remember the bigger picture of life. Let us be people who live righteous and powerful prayer lives!
Vs. 4, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” Question: What is the problem here? The previous chapter reminded us about human wisdom vs. God’s wisdom. As people continued living with their own selfish wisdom, their sinful desires took precedence over the Lord. They began to love the world and what it had to offer. James does not hold back and denounces such ways of living (vs. 1-10). Little did people realize that their selfish ways were literally hatred towards God. We are reminded that when we submit to God, the devil must flee (vs. 7). In the latter part of our chapter, James addresses two admonitions regarding holy living; speech and money (vs. 11-17). People were gossiping and slandering their brothers and sisters (vs. 11-12). When we so quickly judge the actions of others, we are in effect trying to do something that is reserved for the Lord, not us. And lastly, James addresses the boastful and smug attitude towards their future and attitude towards money (vs. 13-17). Not much has changed, for we struggle with such goals even today. With our current economy and the collapse of the value of homes, we know how the things of this world are never certain.
Regarding application…Here Today, Gone Tomorrow. Vs. 14, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Perspective folks…Perspective. We work so hard for what? To play and enjoy the temporary things of this world? Work hard, play hard. Question: How would you live your life if you only had one week to live? Given such insight, I think many of us would get things right. Yet, we have this reality that our lives are but a vapor in the wind. How foolish to have such a small perspective when it comes to how we look at our lives. This is an important reminder for all of us as we consider how we conduct our lives and our future goals.
Vs. 10, “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” Just as favoritism was divisive in the church (James 1), the tongue can be a very dangerous weapon (vs. 1-12). In the context of this passage, James is addressing the reality of influence a teacher or leader in the church can have. Though the tongue is small, it can cause great damage. That is why not many should so quickly take on the role as leaders (vs. 1). In the very least, teachers and leaders should be prayerful and ensure they are spiritually mature. While none of us can control the tongue (vs. 8) on our own, only the Lord working in our hearts can change it. The Lord is the source of our goodness and our wisdom (vs. 13-18). I recall one of the most profound prayers requests I ever heard was in a bible study with someone genuinely asking to pray for wisdom.
Regarding application…What is Wisdom? Vs. 13, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” There are many who seek the accolades of knowledge. Get the best grades, go to the best schools, have the most prestigious careers. The say, “knowledge is power.” But, knowledge without wisdom is nothing. Just because you know something to be true doesn’t mean we can wisely apply it to our lives. The building of the Tower of Babel seemed to be a knowledgeable thing to do, but it was quite unwise (Genesis 11). There is worldly evil wisdom (vs. 14-16) and then there is Godly wisdom from above (vs. 17-18). Let us be people who seek such wisdom in a world where chaos seems to get the frontpage news.
Vs. 1, “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.” James now begins to show us practical ways to show our faith and works. The Jewish society was an honor and shame society. There was a problem with the church giving favoritism and honor to those who were rich, while neglecting the poor (vs. 1-12). When we show favoritism, we are not having the mind of God (vs. 4). Notice how they were not to ignore the rich, it’s just that they were to not give more honor to them. While many of us know this truth about rich and poor, it is a true paradigm shift to how this world operates. James reminds his audience about the law since they were well versed in it (vs. 8-13). Much of their perspective was based on living righteous by obeying the laws of God. However, they were doing so without love and therefore breaking God’s royal law (vs. 8). And lastly, we come to one of the central points of the book of James: Faith and deeds (vs. 14-26). While faith is believing what is true, there is far more to it. True faith is one that is demonstrated in both belief and action. Now, one of the big issues in James is the seeming contradiction that James presents verses what the Apostle Paul states (Romans 3:8). If you have real faith, you were produce good deeds. Indeed, we are saved by faith and a true believer won’t do works out of obligation, rather out of heart.
Regarding application…Living Faith. Vs. 22, “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” I once heard this analogy about a fruit tree. A fruit tree grows and has one purpose; to grow fruit so others can enjoy. Technically, if a fruit tree had free will, it might choose to grow rotten fruit or no fruit at all. But, a fruit tree’s purpose is to bear fruit. When we put our faith in the Lord, we become a new tree, rooted on the foundation of Christ. We were created to bear fruit. However, there are those who think that just being a fruit tree is enough. But, the very essence of a fruit tree is to bear fruit. Likewise, the very essence of a Christian it to bear the fruit of good deeds. Let us have a living faith today!
Vs. 2, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” We don’t wake up in the morning hoping and praying for trials in our lives. However, James reminds the Christians who were living in their day that all their trials had its purpose. Many of the recipients of this letter had lost much of what they had once known; their loved ones, their homes, their community, their means of income. When we go through such trials, we must persevere and grow (vs. 3-6). James also reminds us that much of our trials can also be a lack of our own faith (vs. 6-8). Sometimes we think the grass is greener or that money will take away the trials (vs. 9-11), however, we should be thankful for such situations in our lives. When those trials come, our response to them can determine our spiritual condition of being alive or dead (vs. 12-15). In light of our nations tragedies of the Connecticut school shooting and Oregon mall shooting, it is tempting to blame God. But God is the source of good things (vs. 16-18). As children of our Father in Heaven, we would do wise to listen to the Lord and others (vs. 19-21). But James doesn’t stop there, while we may listen, that is only half the battle. We must take action and be doers of God’s words (vs. 22-25). But we must not be selective in our doing, Let us be authentic and speech and deed (vs. 26-27).
Regarding application…Persevere. Vs. 12, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” Question: Persevere from what? From trials. This is someone who had endured much trials and opposition, but none of that stop their ultimate faith in the Lord. Think of Job in the Old Testament. Jesus forewarned us that we would have troubles in this world (John 16:33). There are troubles and atrocities that we cannot fathom, but let us persevere in our faith to bless the name of the Lord in good times and bad times.
The book of James was written by James the half-brother of Jesus. In Jesus’ ministry years, James did not believe Jesus was the Son of God (John 7:5). However, after the resurrection and the birth of the church, James began to be a prominent leader of the church in Acts. He presided over the famous Jerusalem council in Acts 15. One of the notable aspects of James is that this letter would be the earliest recorded scripture in the New Testament, probably written around 45 A.D. James wrote it to the Jews who had been scattered due to the dispersion from the oppression of Herod Agrippa. They were getting opposition from the Jews who had rejected the Gospel and had hostile reactions towards Jesus’ condemnation towards their empty traditions.
Vs. 1, “Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied.” This is the tests of all tests! Most of us in life do not enjoy taking tests. Question: Why? I believe it is because they reveal what we don’t know. Tests in the school of life are like trials. James in the New Testament reminds us about how we should deal with trials (James 1:2-4). Indeed, Abraham was justified by faith, not by works. Yet, we also are reminded that faith without action is dead (James 2:17). They say 2 billion people watched Usain Bolt triumph in retaining the status of the world’s fastest man! It was the most distinguished competition to date, yet he passed this test with flying colors. Abraham’s test from God was for the whole world to see! Billions of people over the ages have been reminded of this test Abraham passed! I cannot begin to imagine the feelings and emotions Abraham must have felt traveling with his beloved son and knowing the fate that was ahead. Father Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac. Sound familiar? Our Father in Heaven was not only willing, but did sacrifice His only son so that our sins could be forgiven. Abraham was reassured of God’s covenant and came back with a renewed sense of hope (vs. 16-18)
Regarding application…Will You Sacrifice? Vs. 2, “Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” There’s the saying, “Put your money where your mouth is.” “Put up or shut up.” Abraham was a man of faith. This was a time for God the Father to be glorified. Abraham proved to all of us why God chose him. There are many Christians who claim to have faith in the Lord Jesus, but are not willing to sacrifice. Last Sunday, my big application for the sermon was “Draw the Line.” Let us be willing to live out our faith and be doers of God’s Word. As we can see, the life of a person who trusts in the Lord is not easy. God will ask us to do things that seem crazy! But, we must still trust and obey for there’s no other way!
Vs. 21, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing.” Despite the opposition, Paul remained resolute on ensuring the truth of God’s grace would continue to ring clear. There are five recorded instances where Paul visits Jerusalem. While there are differing views on which instance Paul is referring to in our passage (vs. 1-10), the point that Paul makes is that not only did he find approval from the mother church in Jerusalem, but that God was blessing him (vs. 2) each step of the way. Remember, the Jews strongly felt that the Gentiles should follow their customs of the past (i.e. circumcision). But Paul makes it a point to the Galatian churches that Peter (Cephas), John and James (the half-brother of Jesus) all who were the esteemed leaders (vs. 2), were supporting him. Paul then refers to an event that is not easy to think about: The confrontation with Peter (vs. 11-21) in Antioch. Question: What was the issue? Paul confronted Peter because initially when visiting Antioch Peter was fellowshipping with Gentiles. However, when the Judaizers came, Peter turned away from the Gentiles and separated himself from them. Needless to say, this caused quite an issue for it separated the Jews and Gentiles. Paul accused Peter’s actions as hypocritical (vs. 13). Peter aligning himself with the Judaizers was presenting a false stance and distorted the very truth of the Gospel! By conforming to the Judaizers, Peter was endorsing their ways in how they approached the Lord.
Regarding application…Dying to Live. Vs. 20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” This was the title message of my sermon this morning in Philippians 1:18-26. Here again, we are reminded of the truth of the Gospel! The Gospel is the Good News. The Good News is that we don’t have to be perfect to attain eternal life. It is not what we do (vs. 15-16, justified by works), but what Christ did for us. Being crucified is taking up our own metaphorical cross daily and following Jesus (Luke 9:23). Brothers and sisters, we have a responsibility to live out the Gospel. This was the driving force that convicted Paul to oppose Peter. It wasn’t that Peter was condemned to hell by his actions (vs. 11), but he was condemned for the testimony and message that came across to others. How we choose to live our lives can hinder others (vs. 13). Even one of the greatest encouragers for the Gentiles in Barnabas was hindered by Peter’s actions. When we choose to live out the Gospel, we die to ourselves. Go forth this week and let Christ live in you so abundantly that people see Jesus in you!
Vs. 1, “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” We know it is well established that the Gospel is far Gentiles as well. However, we see a doctrinal issue arise; an issue so serious that Paul and Barnabas would have to travel up (as in elevation) to Jerusalem to deal with it. During the Jerusalem council (vs. 5-21), we see Peter step up and defend the Gentiles and remind everyone they were saved by faith, not by what actions they had to do (circumcision). Interestingly, we also see James (Probably the half-brother of Jesus and author of the book of James) have a leadership role now in the church at Jerusalem. While Gentiles did not have to become Jews established in this council, we do see some encouragement for the group at that time to accommodate each other regarding other issues with food and sexual immorality. We also see Paul & Barnabas separate ways for now because of the disagreement regarding John Mark. Without making too many assumptions, we can certainly see that God worked through their later restorations (II Timothy 4:11) as well as send out two teams from Antioch instead of one (vs. 36-41)
Regarding application…Dealing with Conflict. Vs. 39, “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus.” I believe it is safe to say that God’s sovereignty is bigger than our personal conflicts and disagreements. I suppose in some ways…conflict is unavoidable. Question: Who was right? Who was wrong? Barnabas was the encourager and still saw potential in John Mark (they were cousins). Paul needed to ensure that all who came would be dedicated (not unreasonable). In the end, though sometimes we must go our separate ways, God’s ultimate plan to bring the Good News to all would not be hindered. Nor should we allow times of conflict to stop us in our bigger picture of life. This application today actually brings me great comfort in light of my present circumstances. I know God will continue to bless me wherever I go. Likewise, brothers and sisters…God is directing you down a path of servant hood and ministry wherever you go! Be obedient to His call and don’t let things of this world discourage you!