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Author Archives: Josh Combs

Jesus to ??? [Only He Knows]

Pastor Josh Combs

“And he has a name written that no one knows but himself.” Revelation 19:12

The final name change in the Bible may come as a great surprise to you. As the Apostle John records the return of Christ, the fierce imagery of Jesus is stunning. John writes,

“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like  a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself” (Revelation 19:11-12).

John is seeing the righteous vengeance of Christ. Jesus has returned not to save the world, but He has come in judgment. When He is finished His robe will be covered, not with His own blood like at Calvary, but with the blood of the nations He has crushed. The image of Jesus from Revelation chapter 19 isn’t one you’ll find hanging in any church nursery. In John’s vision of the apocalypse, the Lord has been called many things: King of kings, Lord of lords, the Word of God, the Alpha and the Omega, the Almighty, the Christ, the Lamb, and the Lord Jesus.

Here John mentions a great mystery. He reveals that Jesus has a name that is known only to Himself. The name, as we understand it, is yet to be revealed. All speculation about the identity of the name is fruitless, because the Bible is clear that “no one knows but himself.”

{Insert Your Name Here} to TBA

Pastor Josh Combs

“To the one who conquers…I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” Revelation 2:17

The Greco-Roman imagery that Jesus uses here in His message to the church at Pergamum can’t be ignored. When an athlete achieved victory, he would be given a white stone with his name carved upon it. This white stone would serve as his entrance pass to a victors’ banquet and celebration of athletic achievement.

The church at Pergamum was engaged in a brutal contest on enemy turf. They were “playing” their fiercest rival in the most difficult “stadium” around. They were on the road, facing the ultimate away game. As John records the direct message from Jesus, the Lord clearly states, “I know….” Christ acknowledges that these Christians are working near “Satan’s throne,” that they have experienced brutal persecution and personal loss, and are under attack from false teachers. Not only is the domain of darkness surrounding them, but wickedly vile “preachers” have brought the fight into the church.  The struggle is real. The game is on and Jesus wants to strengthen, challenge, and encourage His church. The word picture that Jesus paints is that He is waiting at the finish line with a trophy and a personal invitation to a victory celebration for those who conquer.

The Christian life has often been compared to a race with a grueling course but a glorious, long-looked-for finish line. The writer of Hebrews states, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus…” (Hebrews 12:1-2). The apostle Paul challenges the Corinthian church to “run that you may obtain” the trophy (1 Corinthians 9:24).

What awaits the victorious believer at the end of the race is our heavenly Father with the prize and an endless “victory parade.”  The Scripture is very specific that this is not a generic prize, but something personal and uniquely special that the victor is given by the Lord. The reason for this is that, as Hebrews teaches, there is a unique race set before each of us. That individual course is fraught with peaks and valleys, obstacles, distractions, trials, and triumphs. What Jesus says is crucial for each athlete (believer) to hear. Jesus says, “I know where you dwell….” William Newell, writing about this passage says, “There is a personal character in all trials, through which the overcomer (that is, the true believer) will be brought to know the Lord in a peculiar way shared by no other.” This is why we speak of a personal relationship with Christ. Because our trials in this life are deeply personal, we are assured by the Lord that our victory and reward will be deeply personal as well.

The white stone given has upon it our new name, encompassing in it the victory that the Lord has carried us. That name, which will be unique to each believer, is given directly by the Savior. The old will be set aside and eclipsed by the new identity that the Lord eternally imparts to each of us. A new name that we will instantly recognize, know, and embrace will show us that the Lord knew the whole time the difficult race that we were running. Just as a trophy or medal identifies the event, so will this new name.

One day our name will be changed by the Lord Jesus. This new name will reflect the fiery trials we endured in life, while giving us entrance into eternal life. So let us run our race, looking to Jesus, knowing He holds a glorious prize.

Today’s Bible Reading:  Revelation 2:12-17;  Hebrews 12:1-2;  1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Saul to Paul

Pastor Josh Combs

“But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him.” Acts 13:9

Arguably the most dramatic conversion recorded in all of the Scripture is that of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. Saul was, in his own words, “advancing in Judaism beyond many of [his] own age…” (Galatians 1:14). He was a Roman citizen, an extremely well-educated Jewish scholar, and bore the name of the most prominent member of his tribe, King Saul of the Old Testament. What appears to rocket Saul to fame among his Jewish colleagues was his vicious hatred for Christians. Saul’s first appearance in Scripture portrays him as the authorizing force, standing watch over the brutal execution of a Christian named Stephen. “Saul,” the Bible says, “approved of his execution” (Acts 8:1). It is as if Stephen’s execution was blood in the water for a shark. Immediately following Stephen’s death, Saul is even more aggressively persecuting the church. “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (8:3).

On a mission to hunt, arrest, and imprison more Christians, Saul’s life was completely changed. A blinding light encompassed Saul, and the voice of Jesus from the glory of Heaven spoke to the early church’s most vicious enemy. “Saul, Saul,” Jesus said, “Why are you persecuting me?”

“Who are you?” Saul responds.

“I am Jesus,” the Lord replies, “whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city and you will be told what you are to do” (Acts 9:4-6). For the next three days, Saul was blind and refrained from eating or drinking anything. God graciously sent a Christian to Saul to pray over him. Saul regained his sight and was immediately baptized. From that encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, Saul was never the same. He boldly began proclaiming Jesus. With the same passion and dedication that Saul had in persecuting the church, he would now become its greatest proponent. Saul became the global emissary for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Decades later, while beginning the first of his four missionary journeys, the Bible says, “Saul, who was also called Paul….” And with those simple words, he is never called Saul again. He is henceforth known as Paul. Saul was his prominent Jewish name, which means “asked for” or “demanded.” Paul was his Roman name.

The significance of this transformation is extraordinary. Paul, who had once pursued success, power, prominence, and position within Judaism had abandoned it all. He no longer demanded to be addressed by the name of a king. His Roman name, Paul, was sufficient. Paul means “little.” In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul writes, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). What he recognized as valuable had completely changed. He goes so far as to call his previous achievements “dung.” The Gospel transformed Saul, a power-hungry religious leader, into Paul, a man who didn’t mind being little. He embraced this dramatic change in his goals and dreams.

The Gospel continues to transform dreams, desires, and pursuits. When we lay aside our selfish ambitions in exchange for “knowing Christ Jesus,” we trade in the temporal for the eternal. Martyred missionary Jim Elliot once said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jesus simply said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). Saul of Tarsus found his life as Paul, slave of Jesus Christ.

Today’s Bible Reading: Acts 9:1-25; Galatians 1:11-24; Philippians 3:2-11

Joseph to Barnabas

Pastor Josh Combs

“Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement).” Acts 4:36

The numbers are stunning. At the outset of the book of Acts, “the company of persons was in all about 120” (1:15). That was the entirety of the church Jesus had established throughout His earthly ministry. But on the day of Pentecost, 3,000 were added    to that number. And then days later, the Scripture says “many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.” The exponential growth was staggering. As the “apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33), more and more people were coming to Christ to be saved. One of the earliest converts in this massive revival was a man named Joseph. He was a Levite from the island of Cyprus. Being a Levite meant that he had an incredible Old Testament education and was extremely dedicated to Judaism. We do not know exactly when Joseph became a follower of Jesus, but he heard the gospel, possibly even at Pentecost (Acts chapter 2), repented of his sins, and believed on Jesus for the salvation of his soul.

As persecution increased against the early church, voluntary socialism became increasingly important. Newly converted Christians were losing their jobs, homes, families, and in some cases even their lives. The church’s responsibility to share their resources became more than just a charitable exercise. Sharing food and finances became a necessary act of the church to support persecuted and poor believers. Joseph, having been born again, joined in. The Bible says, he “sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:37). This was a freewill gift for the care of the church and the furtherance of the Gospel message.

Because of this act of generosity and certainly others, the apostles decided that the name Joseph failed to exemplify all that this man was. So the apostles called him Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement.” Joseph had such a gift of encouraging others that the church changed his name. Whether he always had a somewhat uplifting spirit or this was a dramatic change that was part of his salvation experience, he was now officially the son of encouragement, Barnabas.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, encouragement means to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope. To encourage is to spur on or to give help. This was not only the character quality he possessed, but who he was. He was Barnabas. In Romans 15:5, Paul calls the Lord, “the God of endurance and encouragement.” Barnabas was created by God and now indwelt by the Holy Spirit with the gift of encouragement. We ought to strive for that same encouraging spirit. People around us ought to feel inspired, more hopeful, and strengthened after spending time with us. If we serve “the God of encouragement,” we ought to be very encouraging.

We also need people in our lives to encourage us. Life can be extremely discouraging. We can become hopeless, negative, and cynical. God has imparted to certain people an extra dose of encouragement. Find those people. First, be encouraged by them. Secondly, thank them for their words and acts of encouragement. Lastly, learn to be like them by finding someone else to encourage.

On a personal note, I thank God for the Barnabas’ that He has placed in my life—people who inspire, give hope, lovingly challenge, and give help. My wife Jennifer has become the greatest encourager   in my life. I also know two men that, in spite of whatever personal difficulties or challenges they may be facing, always make time to encourage. They inspire and spur me toward being a better person. Thanks Chris. Thanks Russell.

Today’s Bible Reading: Acts 4:32-37; 9:26-30; 11:22-26

Sources:

Webster’s Dictionary

James and John to the Sons of Thunder

Pastor Josh Combs

“James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder).” Mark 3:17

Like children fixated on the petty and unimportant, James and John among the other disciples often served as discouraging distractions to the Lord. Whereas the eyes of the Lord were fixed on Calvary’s cross, these ambitious followers of Jesus were angry at a perceived slight by the Samaritans. Racial and cultural tensions between Jews and Samaritans were too great to be ignored or escaped. In the several interactions Jesus had with the Samaritans recorded in Scripture, or the parable He told that we know as “The Good Samaritan,” Jesus encounters, addresses, and at times corrects this racial strife. Jews hated Samaritans and Samaritans returned the sentiment.

In Luke chapter 9, as Jesus is traveling towards Jerusalem, He and His disciples find no welcome in an unnamed Samaritan village. Accents, dress codes, various customs, and dietary restrictions would quickly reveal a Jew to a Samaritan. Equally, Samaritans would be identified and despised by Jews. A Samaritan woman, whom Jesus encounters at a well, honestly asks, “How is it that you, a Jew, asked for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (John 4:9). John adds, “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” Even the religious leaders, in their barrage of attacks on Jesus, reveal that calling a Jew a Samaritan had become, in their minds, a vicious insult. “Are we not right,” they snarled at Jesus, “in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8:48). In the hearts of these religious leaders, Samaritans and demon-possessed madmen were in the same category of deplorable, disposable people.

When Jesus and the disciples found no hospitality or warm welcome, the disciples were incensed. They felt personally insulted and provoked to come to the defense of Jesus. He was their miracle-working Master, who had healed and ministered to Samaritans. But now all the guest rooms were supposedly full, schedules packed, and no food available. So rather than moving past the town and traveling further, two angry siblings have a plan. These men were raised in the cutthroat world of the Galilean fishing industry. They knew retribution, retaliation, and how to send a message.

Jesus had called these two brothers, James and John, to follow Him. The Lord, according to Mark’s Gospel, had even given these brothers a nickname that seems quite fitting: “Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17). These men were no choir boys.  John is a long way from being known as “the beloved” or viewed as the tender, effeminate disciple of Davinci’s “Last Supper.” He and his brother are harsh, foul-mouthed, vindictive fisherman.

Upon seeing this cold welcome, James and John petition Jesus to do something ruthless. “Lord,” they ask, “do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54). With the image of Sodom and Gomorrah ablaze in their eyes, these disciples are ready to, literally, burn it down. Jesus would later give instructions on how to respond to the cold shoulder. Essentially Jesus would instruct them to preach, leave the judgment to God, and walk away. But for now, James and John want justice. They want the holy judgment of God to fall from the sky and strike down an entire village of men, women, and children. They certainly don’t appear to be tempered or patient men. They are “the sons of thunder.” Here comes the boom. They have embraced the role of God’s executioner. Jesus is disgusted. He rebukes their cruelty. The Scripture in its brevity conceals the severity of the rebuke. We can assume with some confidence that the words of Jesus were piercing. Jesus wasn’t concerned about destroying this village; He was concerned about saving it. Years later and with significantly greater understanding, John would record these words of Jesus: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).

What “the Sons of Thunder” failed to see was that the patient love and mercy of Jesus for that unwelcoming village was the same longsuffering love the Savior had extended and was extending to them in that moment. Praise God for His mercy. May we extend that same mercy and love to everyone, even those who reject us and our Lord.a

“James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder).” Mark 3:17

Matthew chapter 20 is a portion of Scripture with incredible amounts of tension-filled anticipation. For the third time in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has revealed the reality of His impending arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection. Yet none of the disciples seem to grasp what Jesus is attempting to explain. They seem obsessed with busying themselves with parade preparations. They know their geography. They realize they are within hours of Jerusalem. They are hearing and probably participating in the rumors of Jesus entering Jerusalem as a conquering King. Expectations in the hearts of Jesus’ followers could not have been higher. The miracle-working, death-defying, buffet-bearing King is traveling towards the city of David. The Messiah has arrived and they have a front seat. More than just a personal connection to the King, they can claim to be His most loyal and long-time followers. They wrongly assume the nature of Jesus’ kingdom and totally misunderstand His kingship. They are clueless as to the true nature of Jesus’ purpose for entering the sacred city.

The Sons of Thunder, among other characteristics, had abysmal timing. While Jesus is grappling with the terrors of the cross, James and John are picturing themselves sitting upon thrones. These members of Jesus’ inner circle have devised what, in their minds, appears to be a clever plan for securing their spot in the royal pecking order. Without any hesitation, they enlist the help of their mother. Kneeling humbly before Jesus, she asks, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (Matthew 20:21). James and John have gone for broke. The remaining ten disciples, according to Matthew’s Gospel, are “indignant at the two brothers” (Matthew 20:24). Jesus kindly explains, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” The Sons of Thunder are quick to clamor, “We are able.” C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity writes, “Pride is in competition with everyone else’s pride. It is because I wanted to be the big noise at the party that I am annoyed at someone else being the big noise.” In 1940s British vernacular, Lewis reveals the exact heart of James and John. They wanted to be the “big noise.” After all, they were the Sons of Thunder.

Their selfish ambition and their itch “to execute judgment” as MacArthur dubs it, was erased after the resurrection of Christ. These two men who were noisy, judgmental, vindictive, ambitious, and conniving abandon everything for Christ. History notes that James, even when marching towards the executioner, was found to be boldly proclaiming Christ. His faith was so convincing that the early church fathers testified that the very guard escorting this great apostle converted to Christ on the spot and was beheaded alongside James.

John, his brother, would write much of the New Testament. He would be the longest surviving apostle of Christ. Sentenced to hard labor on the island quarry of Patmos, John was given the vision we see recorded in the book of Revelation. He would pen the Gospel of John, uniquely and for all time proclaiming the love of Christ.

These Sons of Thunder truly made some noise. They left an indelible mark on the entirety of humanity. When Jesus met them, they were boisterous, empty noisemakers. When Jesus changed them, they were the thunder echoing the one whose “appearance was like lightning” (Matthew 28:3).

Today’s Bible Reading: Luke 9:49-56; Mark 3:17; Matthew 20:20-24; Mark 3:17



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