His Last Words on the Cross: It Is Finished

John 19:30 – When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished..

These were His final words on the Cross.  Just seconds before He bowed His head and gave up the ghost He opened His mouth and proclaimed to heaven, to hell, and to earth: It is finished!

CrossMore meaningful and significant words had never fallen on human ears: It is finished.

What had been in the plan and mind of God from the foundations of world was now complete.  It is finished.

It is finished.  It’s done.  On the Cross, I completed what I came to do.  My purpose for coming is now complete.

It’s Done

The debt for sin: Paid in full.  It is finished.

Redemption: Complete.  It is finished.

Principalities: Spoiled.  It is finished.

Powers of darkness: Made a show of openly.  It is finished.

Healing: Purchased.  It is finished.

Restoration: Acquired.  It is finished.

Eternal life: Secured.  It is finished.

Condemnation: Silenced.  It is finished.

Ordinances against us: Abolished.  It is finished.

Chains: Broken.  It is finished.

Prison doors: Opened.  It is finished.

Sight: Recovered.  It is finished.

Bruises: Healed.  It is finished.

Captives: Delivered. It is finished.

Guilt: Pardoned.  It is finished.

Accusations: Cast down.  It is finished.

Judgments: Released.  It is finished.

The transformation of my life into His image is work in progress.  But what the Cross of Calvary accomplished is finished.  The work is done.  The task is complete.

This understanding has revolutionized my prayer and my thinking.  It has done something remarkable to my faith.  We are not trying to finish a work.  The work is already finished.  Jesus already did it.  He said, “It is finished.”  We’re not trying to convince God to do something.  It’s already finished.  We need a shift in our faith!  We need to understand what it means and what it does when we take His word at face value.  It is finished!

Healing

The healing is already done!  Notice what the prophet said before Calvary:

Isaiah 53:5 – But he was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: The chastisement of our peace was upon him; And with his stripes we are healed.

Contrast that with what Peter said after Calvary:

1 Peter 2:24 – 24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

Healing has already been paid for!  Healing has already been purchased and secured.  It is finished!

That changes the way we pray.  That changes our focus.  We’re not praying, “Oh, God, please heal!” He’s already finished the work!  He’s already paid for it.  Now we’re praying what’s already been paid for to be manifest in the situation. Our prayer is, “Be healed in Jesus Name! Receive it in Jesus’ Name.  Sickness, you have to go, because Jesus already paid the debt.”

It’s the difference between trying to persuade or convince God to do something versus informing or enforcing something God has already done.

It’s Time to Go!

A judge can rule that a tenant is in violation of a lease.  A verdict is rendered.  The decision is made and entered into the record.  The judge signs the decree and the court stamps the paperwork.  It is finished!

crossBut the deadbeat tenant is still in the house!  He’s not going to go voluntarily.  Even though the case and ruling is finished, someone – in the authority of the judge – has to confront the tenant and inform him he must go!  The issue is not pending or awaiting a ruling.  It is finished.  It’s not up for debate or deliberation.  It’s already done. But someone must inform and enforce what the judge has already decided.

That’s what prayer is.  We’re not trying to convince God to heal, save, or deliver.  He already did it at the Cross.  He said, “It is finished!”  Our prayer is just informing the unwanted tenant that he must go.

That’s a different mindset.  That’s a different sort of faith.  Sometimes while praying we forget what Calvary already did.  We need to remind ourselves, “It is finished.”  My prayers are just enforcing upon the enemy what Jesus already paid for.

Your healing is already paid for.

Your deliverance is already paid for.

Victory has already been secured.

The miracle has already been bought by the blood.

We Are Distributors

It’s time to pray with that kind of faith and understanding.  Stand in the completed work of the Cross.  Stand by faith upon His words, “It is finished.”  Declare in Jesus’ authority what has already been finished by Him.

We are not producers – we are distributors.  Jesus was the producer.  So quit trying to produce something.  He already produced the work.  We are simply distributing what Christ already produced.

We’re not manufacturers.  We are distributors!  We are not trying to manufacture a healing, a miracle, or a victory.  It is already finished.  We are simply distributors – freely giving out what Jesus has already secured.  We are just enforcing on earth what has already been finished in heaven.

Not every tenant leaves easily.  Some situations require persistence in prayer.  Sometimes removing an unwanted tenant requires some reinforcements – others to pray and intercede with you.  But keep the faith.  Don’t stop praying.  The enemy must go because the miracle, healing, victory, provision has already been paid for!  It is finished!

~Matthew Ball

The Art of Preaching with Joe Osborne – #BOTT17

On this episode of the Art of Preaching, Pastor Osborne talks about his message at Because of the Times 2017!

In my next interview with Pastor Osborne, he shares some insight about the preaching of several other ministers at #BOTT17.

If the Art of Preaching has been a help to you, then please LIKE and SHARE this video on your social media platforms.  Thanks for tuning in today!

~Matthew Ball

Should Christians Observe the Sabbath?

(And other questions the apostles already answered)

I’m concerned and perplexed by the resurfacing of questions within the church that were asked and answered many years ago.  Should Gentile Christians observe the Jewish Sabbath?  Is it wrong to gather for public worship on Sunday?  Is it necessary to abstain from pork, shellfish, or other foods the dietary laws of the Old Testament forbids?  Am I permitted to wear clothing that mixes materials such as cotton and wool?  What about the hundreds of other laws and customs kept by the Jews?

The Early Church’s Greatest Challenge

The most challenging issue faced by the early church was how to merge Jewish and Gentile converts into one body.  This was no small matter.  This issue became so serious in the first years of the church that it threatened to derail the church’s progress.

SabbathMany Jewish converts to Christianity insisted that Gentile believers abide by centuries-old Jewish customs and some or all of the Old Testament covenants. Disagreement about these issues escalated to serious conflict and even physical persecution.  The persecution of Christians did not only come from the leaders of Judaism or the Roman Empire.  Some persecution of Gentile Christians came from their own Jewish brothers in Christ.

The greatest detriment to the infant church by this ideological conflict was it distracted the church from its ultimate purpose.  Instead of concentrating on the Great Commission, the church was drawn into a quagmire of internal dissension.  As is so often the case (even today), this internal conflict robbed the church of its focus.

The Showdown at Antioch

Even the apostles were drawn into the divisive conflict. At one point Peter and Paul had a heated, face-to-face argument.  Paul rebuked Peter for his two-facedness at Antioch!  When Peter was in Antioch visiting the Gentile church, he ate with them, enjoying their brotherly fellowship.  But when James and a delegation of Jews from Jerusalem arrived, Peter suddenly changed his behavior.  He got up from the table and sat with the Jews, fearing their condemnation for him eating with Gentiles. Other Jewish Christians who had been fellowshipping with the Gentile believers at Antioch followed Peter’s poor example.  Even Barnabas was drawn into the conflict and followed, in Paul’s words, “Peter’s hypocrisy” (Galatians 2:11-21).

Paul’s stern words to Peter were a reminder that we are justified by the work of Christ, not by our adherence to the Law:

Galatians 2:14-21: When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?…know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified…I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (NIV)

The Jerusalem Counsel

Paul’s rebuke of Peter’s hypocrisy did not resolve the issue.  The challenges of merging Jewish and Gentile converts were widespread.  Jewish Christians in Judea were teaching that all Christian converts needed to be circumcised.  Paul and Barnabas had “no small dissention and disputation with them” (Acts 15:2).  A sect of believers in Jerusalem were likewise teaching that Gentile converts should be circumcised and were commanding the converts to keep the Law of Moses.

This issue had to be settled.  The apostles needed to address these questions that had the potential to derail the progress and unity of the church.  The apostles and elders met with Paul and Barnabas to consider the matter.  Peter rose up to speak:

Acts 15:10: 10 Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? (KJV)

Paul and Barnabas also addressed the counsel.  After much intense discussion and prayer, James, the Sabbathpastor of the Church of Jerusalem, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, spoke words of wisdom that became the official ruling of the entire apostolic counsel:

Acts 15:19,20: 19 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: 20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. (KJV)

There was a consensus and a witness in the Sprit that this ruling was the Will of God.  The apostles wrote an official letter that answered the question, “What portions of the Law of Moses should be kept by Gentile converts?”

Acts 15:23-29 – 23 And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: 24 Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment… 27 We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. 28 For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; 29 That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well. (KJV)

What is as striking as the requirements mentioned is the absence of others.  They did not mention circumcision.  They did not mention keeping the Sabbath.  There is no mention of adhering to the dietary laws of the Old Testament (other than abstaining from meat that had been offered to idols, from blood, and from things strangled).  There is no mention of observing the feasts or any number of other Jewish customs and oral traditions.

Those demanding the keeping of the Sabbath were trying to put upon Gentile converts demands they themselves could not keep.

Equally as remarkable is the fact that James was the one writing this ruling.  He was the pastor of the mostly Jewish Christian church in Jerusalem.  It is likely that many of the antagonists of this issue were members of James’ church.  As far as his personal life, James chose stay true to his Jewish roots observing all the Old Testament law to the best of his ability.  Yet in this ruling, James feels led of the Spirit to impose only the four items mentioned above upon the Gentile converts.

The Sabbath

The glaring absence of any mention of Gentile converts keeping the Sabbath can only be interpreted one way.  The apostles rightly understood that keeping the Sabbath as instituted in the Old Testament was a covenant with Israel, not with Gentile converts.  They understood what is reiterated over and over in the Old Testament – the Sabbath was for “My people, Israel:”

Exodus 31:16-17: 16 Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. 17 It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: (KJV)

There is no mention in Acts of the Gentile church gathering together to worship on the Sabbath. Certainly the apostles went to the synagogue on the Sabbath to preach Christ because it was a wise evangelistic strategy.  There is clear evidence, however, of the church gathering on the first day of the week for worship and preaching (Acts 20, 1 Cor. 16).  Throughout the epistles there is never a command for the church to gather together for corporate worship on any particular day of the week.

Jesus is our Sabbath

As a New Testament church, we observe all of the Ten Commandments.  We do “remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.”  We just don’t do it in the same manner that the Jews did in the Old Testament.  In Matthew 11, Jesus said:

Matthew 11:28–30: 28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (KJV)

It is crucial to understand the context of this passage.  Jesus was rebuking the Jewish cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum.  He said if the mighty works that had been done in your cities had been done in the Gentile cities of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom, they would already have repented.  It was an indictment of their staunch religious tradition and resistance to the message of Christ.

It is in that context that Jesus says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden.”  He is speaking to Jews who have struggled under the heavy burden of the Law.  But He says My yoke is easy.  The yoke of the Law is not.  My burden is easy.  The burden of Moses is not.

SabbathCome unto Me and find rest for your souls. Jesus said, “I will give you rest.”  What’s fascinating about this verse is its reference to the Sabbath.  The word for “rest” in this passage is the Greek equivalent of the Old Testament Hebrew word for “Sabbath.”

Are you tired of laboring under the heavy yoke of trying to measure up to the Law? Jesus said come to Me.  I will give you “Sabbath.”  I will be your Sabbath. He said I will give you rest.

Jesus is our Sabbath. He has instituted a new and better covenant.  We have, by faith, laid down the old yoke and taken up Christ’s yoke.  The rest we enjoy is no longer about resting on a particular day of the week.  In Christ we find an eternal rest for our souls.  There is no longer a need to observe the Sabbath of the Old Testament.  The heavy burden of trying to measure up to the demands of the law and the keeping of the Sabbath has been cast on Him.  We trust in His works now, not our own.

Jesus is our Sabbath!

We remember the Sabbath and keep it holy in a greater sense than observing a list of do’s and don’ts for a day of the week.  We honor the Sabbath by declaring that in Christ the Law is fulfilled and complete.  In Him we cease from trying to find righteousness by observing Sabbaths, feasts, holy days, or dietary laws.  The Law was the shadow.  Praise God, Jesus is the substance!  The Law was a schoolmaster to point us to Christ.  And we have found Him!

From Saturday to Sunday

It is clear from the Acts record that the earliest Jewish Christians gathered to worship on the Sabbath.  The move toward Sunday public worship began with the infusion of Gentile converts. There was little controversy about matters of the Law or the Sabbath until Gentiles were added to the church.  It was the grafting in of Gentile Christians and questions concerning what Jewish laws and customs they should keep which sparked controversy.  As more and more Gentiles were added to the church, the shift toward Sunday public worship gained momentum.

What prompted that move was the desire to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus and the meeting He had with His disciples, which both occurred on the first day of the week, not the Sabbath.  It’s likely that Gentile Christians also gravitated toward Sunday worship to distinguish themselves as a religion distinct from Judaism.  In the first years of the church, all the believers in Christ were Jewish.  At that time they were simply considered another sect of Judaism.  They were not called Christians until Acts 11 in Antioch.  And so a move toward Sunday worship was a way to distinguish themselves as Christian.

By the time the Book of Acts and the epistles were written, Sunday worship was the norm among Pauline churches.  By the time John’s book of Revelation was written, we see the term, “The Lord’s Day,” which is a clear reference to Sunday.  Early church history is clear: By the time the church became predominantly Gentile, Sunday was commonly their day of public worship.  It’s important to note, however, that Paul did not institute Sunday worship because he was clearly opposed to esteeming one day over another.  He required neither Sabbath observance nor Sunday worship.  He even labeled those demanding worship on a particular day or those adhering to dietary laws as being “weak” (Romans 14).

A Sad Irony

Those who call for others to keep the Sabbath are generally not keeping the Sabbath themselves. Unless they are fully keeping every law of the Sabbath, then they are choosing how they will remember the Sabbath.  I’ve heard some say, “We don’t advocate keeping all the Laws of Sabbath, we just think we should gather to worship on Saturday.”  But by taking that position they have personally chosen what to observe and what to disregard.  Such people have no standing to judge others about how they honor the command to “remember the Sabbath day.”  In fact, to observe only the parts of the Sabbath they deem important brings a very serious condemnation:

James 2:10 – 10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. (KJV)

Galatians 3:10 – 10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. (KJV)

In reality, they cannot keep the Sabbath as the Old Testament required.  No one ever really could. James’ landmark ruling at the Jerusalem counsel brought this irony to light.  Those demanding the keeping of the Sabbath were trying to put upon Gentile converts demands they themselves could not keep.

Sabbath and Public Worship

Yet another error in the doctrine of those demanding corporate worship by the church on Saturday is their ignorance in distinguishing between Old Testament Jewish worship and Jewish observance of the Sabbath.

It was common for the Jews to gather at the synagogue on various days of the week to worship.  Remembering the Sabbath was more about what they did in the home than what they did at the synagogue.  So even if we were under a command to observe the Sabbath, there would be no error in meeting on Sunday, Tuesday, Friday, or any day of the week to worship as a church.  Paul makes this plain in his letter to the Colossians:

Colossians 2:16–17: 16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: 17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. (KJV)

The Last Days

In the Last Days deception and delusion will be rampant.  The spirit of anti-Christ will influence the minds of many.  We think those things that are dark, demonic, or obviously evil as being anti-Christ. But in truth, anything that directs attention away from Christ is anti-Christ.  It’s troublesome that people, well intentioned as they may be, are drudging up 2000-year-old questions that were already settled by the apostles.  An interest in and study of the Jewish foundation of our faith can be beneficial, especially when it magnifies the central figure of the scripture, Jesus Christ!  But any attempt to get peoples’ focus off of Christ by looking backward and by celebrating the things that are to lead us toward Christ may be a subtle trick of the spirit of anti-Christ.

In these last days when our time to fulfill the Great Commission is short, let us not be side-tracked by divisive questions that have already been asked and answered.  Distraction is a tactic of the enemy.  If he can’t get you to backslide, he’ll try to get your focus off of the main thing.  Let us declare, like Andrew, “We have found the Christ!”  We have no need in returning to things ordained to lead us to Him.

~Matthew Ball

Philippians on Friday: Loss and Gain

Thanks again for reading this week’s Philippians on Friday!  Today we will continue in Chapter 3…

Philippians 3:7-8: But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,

PhilippiansChapter three began with the theme of justification by faith. Paul criticized the religious Jews of the day (by calling them the “concision”) who arrogantly trusted in their own works and strict adherence to the law rather than the Cross of Jesus Christ.

In our last devotion, we discussed how Paul made the case that if it were possible for a man to be justified by his own works, he of all people would qualify. No one was more devoted to the law and observing its ordinances than Paul. Yet he counted all those things loss. He realized that only by trusting in the Righteousness of Christ could we stand justified before God.

A New Valuation

In verse 7, Paul continues driving home this important concept. He tells the Philippians how he looks at things differently. Paul used to pride himself in his own righteousness. He used to esteem his own works so highly. But what was gain to him (his impressive pedigree and resume of righteous works) he now considers loss.  After his conversion, Paul realized that none of the things he previously trusted in made him righteous in the eyes of God.

Trusting in Jesus’ works, not our own, is what brings salvation. If salvation could be secured by observance of the Law, there would have been no need for Jesus’ great sacrifice. He died on the Cross because the Law was not able to truly make anyone righteous. Only by “putting on” the righteousness of Christ through obedience to the Gospel can we be justified.

It’s filth to Me

Paul’s language in this passage intensifies. He first describes trusting in the law as “loss.” But he goes on to Philippianstell the Philippians that what he formerly trusted is now “dung” to him.

Wow! He wasn’t just saying that trusting in one’s own righteousness is irrelevant or futile. He called it dung. It stinks! He said it is the epitome of filth. How ironic that what the Jews thought was righteous, Paul calls dung.

In essence, Paul was saying: I thought I was righteous because of all I did. But really it was not righteousness at all. In fact it was dung.

Isaiah concurred:

Isaiah 64:6: But we are all as an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags;

Our own righteousness is not righteousness at all. There is none righteous, no not one. (Romans 3:10) Only Christ is righteous. And only through Him can we be righteous.

Self-righteousness

Self-righteousness still stinks! It’s still dung. Few things are more putrid than the attitude and arrogance of a person who thinks they are righteous because of the long list of things they do or don’t do. It’s an egregious affront to our Savior to think we could be saved through our own righteousness. To think such a thing means the Cross was all for naught.

Self-righteousness stinks also because of the attitude it typically generates towards others.  When our faith is in Christ’s works, then our focus is on Him.  But when our faith is in our own works, our focus is upon ourselves.  A self-focus generally leads to a critical evaluation of others.  “Look what I have done” naturally leads to questioning others about what they have or have not done.  That attitude stinks.

Winning Christ

Paul won Christ!  He had trusted in the works of Law but even the best Jew of them all couldn’t measure up. So Paul let go of the past and reached forth unto Christ.  He laid aside his faith in the Law’s ability to make one righteous and trusted in the work of Christ on the Cross.  That is a winning strategy!

PhilippiansAs long as you trust in your own works, you will not win.  You will always come up short and fail to measure up to God’s demands.  Your enemy will always point out your shortcomings.  You’ll attempt to find some satisfaction in comparing yourself to others who aren’t doing as much as you are.  That’s no way to win.

Look to the Lamb!  He measured up to God’s highest demands.  Put your faith in Him and what He did. Put on His righteousness though water baptism in His Name.  You will find the true righteousness, peace, and joy that comes through winning Christ.

~Matthew Ball

The Art of Preaching with David Poole – Part 4

This episode of the Art of Preaching is the final segment of an interview I did with Pastor David Poole.  He shares some final thoughts on the subject of preaching as well as telling us a little about his wife’s cajun cooking!

If the Art of Preaching has been a help to you, please share this video!  Thanks for tuning in today!

~Matthew Ball