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Paul’s Prayer for Believers, Part Two

Paul’s Prayer for Believers, Part Two

© C. O. Bishop 9/27/17 Cornell Estates 10/15/17

Philippians 1:9-11

Introduction:

Last time we were together, we began looking at the kind of prayer Paul offered for his fellow believers: and the very first thing we saw, was his heartfelt thanksgiving, partly that they had been the recipients of God’s Grace, and partly that they had been participants in the work of evangelism and discipleship with Paul. He went on to say how much he missed them, and recognized that it was God’s love that stirred his heart toward them. They were his brothers and sisters in Christ, and, on top of that, they were his dear friends.

So, when he prayed for them, his prayers were in earnest, and they were aimed at God’s very best blessing appearing in their lives. He did not pray for their physical or financial well-being at all, it seems, which is interesting, because they had all the same needs that we have today. We can learn from this passage, and others like it, what our priorities in prayer ought to be.

Priorities in Prayer

9 And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;
10 That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;
11 Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.

It is important, throughout the epistles, to see what the “prayer-list” of the various Apostles contained. It does not seem to bear much resemblance to ours, usually. Paul does not pray for us to get a raise, or get over the flu, or anything like that. There is nothing wrong with either of those, by the way, but in terms of priorities, I think we should see what is on the collective “list” of the apostles.  On this particular “short-list”, the Apostle Paul prays:

  1. That our Love may abound more and more,
  2. In Knowledge (Greek, epiginosko), and
  3. in all Judgment (Greek aesthesis),
  4. That we may approve things that are excellent;
  5. That we may be Sincere (from “eilikrinea”—“clarity, purity, sincerity”) and
  6. without offence until the Day of Christ,
  7. That we may be to the Glory and Praise of God.

Seven little items…all of them having to do with personal and corporate growth in the Grace and Knowledge of God. Notice that the first three on the list are the foundation for growth, while the remaining four are the result of the first three.

Foundation for Growth

I like the fact that the very first thing on Paul’s “list” is the same as the first thing on Jesus’ list (“A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another…”). Over in Galatians, Paul confirmed the point Jesus had made in the Gospels, that Obedience to that “Law” would cover every other law.

It is also interesting to see that he points out the need for increase—for growth—Yes, we are perfect in Christ, but as a practical matter, there is a need for us to grow in that relationship. When a new mother declares her newborn baby “perfect”, she is not saying that she does not expect that child to grow…only that this is her perfect child and that she is eagerly anticipating watching that growth. God has declared your new nature to be perfect, (Ephesians 4:24 says it is created after God (in His likeness) in righteousness and true holiness.), but He urges us to grow in our relationship with Him, and, thereby, in our relationships with those around us, whether believers or unbelievers.

Three key elements needed for that growth include:

  • Love (Agapé,) as an over-arching life principle,
  • Knowledge: our personal knowledge of God and knowledge of his written Word, and
  • Judgment (Wisdom): Godly discernment and good decision-making.

The Agape Love is the motivation to do what is most profitable for the other person, the recipient of that Love, regardless of how it affects oneself. Jesus demonstrated this Love, by enduring the Cross for the Human race.

Knowledge and Wisdom are closely linked, but are not the same: One can know God’s written word intimately (even as an unbeliever) but be utterly lacking in the wisdom required to correctly interpret and apply it in one’s life. It is just a “piece of literature” at that level, and unlikely to bear fruit. But in fact, this “knowledge is not even a matter of just knowing facts, but rather, the “epiginosko” knowledge, which means an experiential, ongoing relational knowledge, as in, knowing a person completely, because of a long-term committed relationship.

On the other hand, given some knowledge, God can bring conviction, and turn knowledge into wisdom; thus, over a period of time, producing genuine discernment and good judgment.

Evidence of Change

The result should be that our beliefs begin to change in other areas as well. Beginning with the change of belief, by choice, to trust the shed Blood of Jesus as my only hope for salvation, and having placed my dependency therein, I am free to see the whole world differently, as well.

  • I can now approve things that are excellent. Paul points out to the Roman believers (Romans 1:32) that the unbelieving heart not only is itself given to sin of every kind, it gives its approval to those who also pursue the same sorts of sin. (Consider this: Why are the most popular movies always those centered upon themes of immorality, treachery, rebellion, self-will, violence, theft, etc.? )
    It is because all of us, by birth, are those who feed on sin, and that sort of story feeds our old sin nature. But according to this verse, with my new nature, and, by the Holy Spirit, I am capable of separating myself from my old “haunts”, as it were, and approving good things: righteous things, and things that are pleasing to God, as well as being a blessing to those around me. It will likely result in a change in my speech patterns, as well as my interests, and my desires, so that my new nature, more and more, is what makes itself evident in my life.In my flesh, this was not a real likelihood, because, though I might agree, academically, that such things were “good”, I would privately feel that they were “boring”, and I would yearn for the old “hog-wallow” of sin, because that was what I really approved of, regardless of what I might have said.

    My new nature feeds upon God’s Word and yearns for the presence of God, and the fellowship of other believers. So, the fact is, yes, I can now approve the things that are excellent.

  • I can be sincere. The old nature does not have the capacity for sincerity…only the appearance of it. Jeremiah 17:9 states that the heart (the unregenerate heart is implied) is “…deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” Ephesians 4:22 states that the “old man…is corrupt (actually, ‘being corrupted’… the word is a present continuous verb) according to the deceitful lusts.”As an unbeliever, even when I intended to “do something good”, it was always for an ulterior motive—to be seen as a hero, or to gain some sort of social approval. It was never, ever, simply to be obedient to a Holy God. Such a thing never entered my mind, and if it had, I would have rebelled against the very idea. Submission to a Holy God was utterly repugnant to me. Self-centeredness was my only mode of operation, even if I tried to prove otherwise. I wanted to be seen as honest, unselfish, and “good”, but, in reality, I was completely the opposite. I was deceiving myself.

    But today, something has changed: I have a new Ephesians 4:24 says my new nature “…after God (in the likeness of God) is created in righteousness and true Holiness.” Notice that the new nature, or “new Man” as the KJV words it, is a created thing…this is not the Holy Spirit, but a new Creation: a new Me.

    The Holy Spirit is God…He is not a created being. But this new creation, the new Me, the new nature, the new man, is capable of genuine Christ-like motives and is, by nature, sincere: pure, transparent.

    There is sometimes a little confusion over this word—the Latin root for the English word “sincere” is “sin ceros”…”without wax”, and I remember being taught that the ancient potters would place their wares in the sun, to warm them, thus demonstrating that there were no wax-filled defects in the glaze. That is true, and all very fine, but the New Testament was not written in Latin: it was written in Greek. The word here means pretty much what we mean by the word sincere in English: “devoid of deception, pure, transparent, honest.” The Latin “sin ceros” was an entirely appropriate translation, as that glazed earthenware pottery, warmed by the Mediterranean sun, would certainly demonstrate the honesty of the potter or tradesman. It was a means of demonstrating honesty, purity, and transparency. That works for me. It’s just that for years I thought that the original word was “sin ceros”…and it is not: the root is “eilikrinea”—“pure, honest, clear”. And that pretty well describes the character of the new creation…the new nature of a born-again individual. Transparent: no hidden agenda; no “murky”, dark behavior.

  • I can be without offence. This sounds like a tall order, because there is always someone who is offended by some But the issue is that I personally am not to be the cause of someone else sinning. Particularly, that no one reject Christ because of me. If they are offended by the Gospel, then that is a different matter. Jesus warned us ahead of time that the Gospel would cause an offense. But we are not to cause the offense.Remember in Galatians we read that the nine-fold fruit (singular) of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Longsuffering, Gentleness, Goodness, Faith, Meekness Temperance. Those sorts of behaviors do not cause an offense against either the Law, or another individual. We question whether we can actually live that way: Paul makes it clear that we can…but that it takes practice to become consistent in it.

If even our enemies can find no real fault in us except that we are Christians, then probably we are “without offense”. But, if there are other things that are causing others to think evil of the Gospel because they see those things in our lives, then we need to repent, and change our ways.

Is self-righteousness an issue? Pride? Gossip? Complaining? What sorts of things might we be doing that make us a bad testimony of God’s Grace? Those things are what must be changed.

Repentance means “turning around”…going the other way…doing what ought to be done instead of the wrong we have been doing.

  • We begin the cleanup with confession: Admit to God that those things are sin.
  • Repair the damage in relationships by apology if called for—righting wrongs that can be righted…admitting to the wronged individual that we were wrong to have mistreated them.
  • Then we DO the things that God calls for, treating others kindly, not talking behind their backs, not secretly despising them, but praying for their salvation and blessing from God. Be a blessing to them.

This is how we learn to be “without offense.”

  • Finally, I can be to the Glory and Praise of God. The result of all of the above should be that our lives begin to bring honor to God. That people watching will have to conclude that something genuine is going on in our lives, and that either we are wonderful people (we are not, and honesty demands that we say so) or that we serve a wonderful God. The former is not true, the latter most certainly is.

We want to live in such a way as to be a blessing to all around us, not a cause for cursing. We hope that even those who are enemies of the Gospel know that we can be counted upon to tell the truth, to share, and to treat others well. Doesn’t this open us up to people taking advantage of us? Yes, of course, it does! So, we have to be wise, as well. We have to be discerning about how we share, and how we help. Do we always give freely? What about when we can see that the money will not go to the perceived need, but rather, to buy alcohol or drugs? Might we not be better to give food or clothing, in that case?

This is where Wisdom and Judgment come into play. We do not want to be enablers to those who are continually making destructive or self-destructive choices. We do not want to help others to sin. On the other hand, wisdom often tells us to keep our foolish mouths shut, sometimes, and allow God to teach a person, instead of injecting our own thoughts into the existing mess.

But, when a person seems to be open to the Gospel, wisdom tells us how to present the truth to them in a non-judgmental way, so that they can make a clear choice regarding God’s Grace. We are to be a light in the darkness of this world. That light is to be characterized by three things:

The Love of God, the Knowledge of God, and the Wisdom of God, all flowing through us to produce the Light of God…not our own light, but only His light reflected in our lives.

Lord Jesus, open our hearts to your Spirit, and change us into your likeness, so that we can reflect your Light and Love in the dark world around us.


Paul’s Prayer for Believers: Part 1

Paul’s Prayer for the Believers: Part One

© C. O. Bishop 9/19/17 Cornell Estates 9/24/17

Philippians 1:3-8; Acts 16:12-40

Introduction:

These opening verses are further evidence of the tender love Paul felt for the believers at Philippi: He begins the epistle by spelling out his relationship with them, and their responsiveness to both himself and God, as evidenced by their voluntary, earnest involvement in Paul’s ministry, right from the beginning.

Some History

If you recall, from Acts 16:12-40, when Paul and his entourage had first entered Philippi, unlike many cities, there was apparently no synagogue there, as, instead of gathering at the local synagogue, with the Jews first, and sharing with them the news that the Messiah had come, he went outside the city walls with Silas and the others (Luke was with them by this point), because he had reason to believe that there was some sort of worship being carried on, down there by the river. This was evidently not an idolatrous worship but a group of people who believed in the God of Israel, mostly Jews, though at least some of them seem to have Gentile proselytes. There were a group of women there who met together for prayer. At least a few of them believed the Good News that Paul and Silas brought, and one of these, Lydia, was baptized, along with her family who evidently also believed. She begged them to stay in her home, as her guests, and they did so, while they expanded their ministry in Philippi.

The trouble started some time later, when a young demon-possessed woman followed them around, shouting that they (Paul and Silas) were servants of the Most High God, and were there to tell everyone a way of salvation. Paul finally decided that enough was enough, and he turned around and ordered the demon out of her. Ordinarily that would not have been a problem, perhaps, but the woman was a slave, and her owners had been making money off of her affliction, by selling her talents as a fortune-teller. It seems sad, but that was how they saw things. They were not one bit concerned about her welfare; only their profit margin…and Paul and Silas had just ruined it. So they dragged them in to the courts and accused them of spreading false doctrine and “anti-Roman” behavior.

Paul and Silas were savagely beaten, without benefit of trial, and left in the inner prison cell, bleeding, in stocks and manacles. But, at midnight they were praying, and singing psalms, and an earthquake occurred: a very odd earthquake—it shook everything, destroyed nothing, but made everyone’s manacles fall off. Very odd!

The jailer was ready to kill himself, thinking the prisoners had escaped, because he knew he would be tortured, but Paul called to him, saying, “Don’t hurt yourself! We are all here!” That whole experience convinced the jailer that the message they were preaching was worth hearing, and he asked what he had to do to be saved. They told him “Believe in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” So, he and his household believed the Gospel, and he took Paul and Silas into his home (probably attached to the jail), and washed their wounds, and treated them well. The next day, the magistrates, realizing that they had committed a serious error of judgement, in flogging un-convicted Roman citizens, apologized for their error, and begged them to leave town.

So, the small group of believers from the riverside gathering, and the Jailer’s family were the core group of believers that Paul left behind when he and his entourage left for Thessalonica, via Annapolis. That leaves me with the question: “Where did the elders and deacons come from?” Paul had only been there for a few weeks at most, as far as we can tell, and one does not ordain as an elder or deacon people who are novices in the faith (Paul says so…). So where did these leaders come from?

I have to assume that there were at least some Jews among the group of believers, as Paul always sought out the Jews first to offer them the Gospel of Christ (see Romans 1:16). If that is so, then it all makes sense: the Jewish men all had good training in the Scriptures, and, as it seems that some there were already believers, in the Old Testament sense, then they would make the “shift” to being quite mature Christian believers pretty rapidly. The Gentile believers would take some time to catch up, since they had no such training.

This explains why it was possible for Paul to preach in a town for just a few weeks, and leave behind a functioning New Testament Church that was complete with qualified elders and deacons, and fully equipped to continue as a church without “outside help”. The Church at Philippi was one of these examples. The Church at Thessalonica was another.

Paul quite reasonably might have felt a good deal of concern about these “baby Christians” he was leaving behind. He didn’t leave them after such a short time by choice: he did so for their safety, when riots began among the unbelievers. He left, but he actively prayed for them. So, how did he pray for them? We will examine this in two segments, the first being “thanksgiving.”

How Paul Prays for the Believers (1:3-8): Thanksgiving!

3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,

It is interesting to me, and a little intriguing, that Paul refers to God not simply as “God”, but as “my God”. Why the possessive article?  We need to remember that these people were living in a land where polytheism was the norm. In fact, everywhere Paul went, he had to deal with idolaters of various stripes, some quite hostile to the Good News of Christ. These believers already knew the Lord, so perhaps Paul is only underscoring the fact that both his relationships with them and his relationship with the One God of the Bible, were personal, not theoretical or academic in nature.

Paul thinks of them a lot, and gives thanks every time he thinks of them. He felt this way even toward believers he had never met, as seen in Romans 1:8. But especially for the believers whom he knew personally (1st Corinthians 1:4, etc.), and, these at Philippi were especially dear to him, as he explains in the next few verses:

4 Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy,
5 For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;

It is heart-warming to see that the veteran missionary, Paul the Apostle, was genuinely thankful for the believers at Philippi. (v. 3, 4) I would think for a man with as vital and important a ministry as Paul had…(and he knew it; in spite of the rough service, he knew he was “the apostle to the Gentiles”—he says so in Romans 11:13)…it seems to me it would have been easy to become a little proud, and feel that everyone else should be grateful for him. But Paul had a truly humble spirit, which we can see over and over in the scriptures. He was grateful to God every time he thought of these believers, and joyfully prayed on their behalf, not just once in a while, or when he remembered to do so, or when he looked at his “prayer-list”. He says he prayed for them continually, and rejoiced every time he thought about them.

Thanksgiving for Fellowship

But why did Paul feel so grateful for them (v. 5)? The first thing he mentions is their “fellowship in the Gospel”. Now, we tend to think of fellowship as “standing around drinking coffee and eating finger food”, or maybe sitting around a table at a potluck, and talking about whatever we feel like discussing, from golf scores, to weather, to politics, to gossip…but that is not fellowship. The New Testament sees fellowship in a very functional light—fellowship means “having in common”—“partnership”.

In fact, the NASB translates this word “participation”. That works well, and it is accurate enough, but: as long as we can see that the word “fellowship” always means partnership, participation, etc., then I prefer the word fellowship, because it also implies “unity”. When I am in fellowship with God and other believers, I am in partnership with them and in unity with them. (No coffee or doughnuts required.) I could be in a “partnership” at a business level, with people for whom I had long since lost all respect, or whom I did not trust at all, anymore. The partnership would be real, and legally binding, but unity would be non-existent, and fellowship would be unthinkable as a word to describe our relationship.

The Philippian church had served as Paul’s fellow-workers in Christ, from the beginning. That’s the kind of thing to make any veteran missionary grateful. We fellowship in the person of Christ, when we talk of things that pertain to His glory, when we worship together, sing praises together, witness together, study together, and/or serve together, in sharing the Gospel with those around us. Even when we are apart, working at our assigned tasks, we are partners in the Gospel: we have in common the Love of Christ, and we are in unity regarding our priorities and worship. That’s real fellowship: the kind Paul is talking about, here. What would have to change in our churches to make this kind of fellowship a living reality? (There’s something to ponder….) And they had evidently born fruit, as we will see later. What kind of fruit?

Thanksgiving for Fruitfulness

Every faithful man or woman of God is hoping to bear fruit that will bring eternal glory for God. The Fruit of the Spirit is certainly one sort of fruit-bearing, and we will discuss that subject more fully, later on; but the other kind of fruit-bearing is found in spiritual reproduction: leading others to Christ and then raising them up as genuine disciples. There are few greater joys than that of seeing one’s children in the Lord walking with the Lord, and leading others to Him. Evidently that is what the Philippian believers had been doing; and it brought constant joy to Paul.

Thanksgiving for Future Fulfillment

6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:

Paul’s confidence, even in his absence, is that the Lord Jesus Himself would continue the work in their lives. This verse (Philippians 1:6) is frequently used as a verse to teach assurance of salvation…and it does teach that. But the primary teaching in this verse is that the Lord will continue His work in their lives, and continue to perfect it, or carry it to completion, until either they go home to be with Him, or He comes to get them.

In a broader context, it could be argued that since it says “until the day of Jesus Christ”, it could mean that the Lord will continue to complete the church until the rapture. That’s a possible understanding, and certainly true, but considering the rather personal tone of this book, it seems more likely that we are to gain confidence from this passage that God will not give up on us, personally, and that He will continue to patiently, individually, mold us into the likeness of Christ until the end. That is the way I take it, personally, and it is especially precious to me in that light, as I frequently have felt myself to be a failure, and have wanted to just give up.

I remember one particular time, driving home from work, in deep depression, and grieving over my inability to walk with the Lord in a stable manner, I said, “OK, then, I quit! I cannot do this!” This verse instantly came to mind, as God quietly assured me that He was not quitting. I confessed my lack of faith, thanked Him, and was strengthened to press on.

Thanksgiving for Shared Bonds

7 Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace.
8 For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.

Paul feels extra confident about these particular saints, because he has seen how they have faithfully joined him in the work; not allowing themselves to be “put off” by his imprisonment, but taking full partnership in his ministry. He says, you were “partakers of my grace”—partners in Paul’s gift of apostleship. In light of this, He calls on God as his witness that he greatly longs after them, and specifically that this longing is fully in keeping with the heart of Christ—however Jesus feels toward his beloved flock, that’s how Paul is feeling toward them.

I wish I could consistently say that of myself. Unfortunately, I am all too human, and frequently forget that this is God’s beloved flock, and just grumble to myself about the behavioral problems of sheep in general, including myself. But what if we earnestly prayed for one another, and gave thanks regularly for the Grace of God in one another’s lives? Wouldn’t that tend to change our perspective? It is hard to grumble against someone for whom you are constantly in prayer. Thanksgiving is an important part of maintaining unity. This is something I want to see changed in my life as a believer.

Paul was genuinely thankful for the brethren. We need to be that way, too. How do I know?

God says it is His will for us!

Thanksgiving and the Will of God

1st Thessalonians 5:16-18 says,

16 Rejoice evermore.
17 Pray without ceasing.
18 In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus, concerning YOU!

God has clearly stated that our giving thanks is part of His will for us. Over in Romans 1:21, it says that the people, when they knew God, did not glorify him as God, and they were not thankful. And what was the result? The scripture says that “their foolish hearts were darkened, and they became vain in their imaginations”: they succumbed to idolatry, turning their backs on the reality of God.

Gratitude toward God keeps our attention pointed toward Him. We need to move back toward thankfulness, gratitude, and the common courtesy of giving God his due honor. We need to honor him with our lives as the Creator and Master and Sustainer of all things. And, since He commands us to give thanks in ALL things, perhaps the very best move we can make regarding “difficult” people is to pray for them and give thanks.

In the meantime, let’s at least take Paul’s example, and pray for the brothers and sisters around us, giving thanks for them, and rejoicing that God has made His Grace known to them as well as to us. We can rejoice in the fellowship and partnership we can have with them in God’s work.

Next time, we will continue and see the things Paul specifically prayed for in the believers’ lives.

Lord Jesus, teach our hearts, and draw us along in your Love and Grace. Teach us a heart of gratitude for one another, and love for one another.

 


Philippians: A Personal Note

Philippians: A Personal Letter from Paul

© C. O. Bishop 9/15/17 Cornell Estates 9/17/17

Philippians 1:1, 2 

Introduction:

When we read the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the church at Philippi, we can sense the relationship he had with the believers in that church:  This is a very personal letter. It is written to people who knew and loved Paul, and were loved by him in return. They were his friends! I believe it was also intended to be a “circular” letter, as all his epistles have been regarded, but the primary recipients were the believers; the church, at Philippi.

The apparent date is around A.D. 64, and it was evidently written from prison. There has been some controversy as to which prison, and even which time he was in prison, but the references to “the palace” in 1:13, and the greeting from “…they of Caesar’s household…”, in 4:22 seem to make it clear that his incarceration was in Rome, which would also agree with Acts 28. Undoubtedly there were other imprisonments, as we know from Paul’s own testimony, and, in fact, one was actually in the city of Philippi (which we can read in Acts 16). But this specific imprisonment was evidently in Rome.

One of the most impressive things about this letter is the lack of correction—these Christians were already living their faith, and Paul had no word of rebuke for them; only words of encouragement. The letters to the church at Corinth were loaded with corrective teaching, as was the letter to the churches of Galatia. But Philippi was a church whose faith had been strengthened by persecution, and which had joined with Paul in the work of evangelism, supporting him, as best they could, as he went from town to town.

Greetings:

1 Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:
2 Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

One of the things we can notice immediately in the opening lines of the letter to the Philippians is that it is not the same opening greeting that he uses elsewhere. In other epistles he begins by identifying his office (“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God…” or something similar). In this book, he just introduces himself and Timothy as fellow-servants: this church already knew who he was; they did not need his credentials.

As we read on in this book, and compare with the other epistles that refer to this church, as well as in the book of Acts (chapter 16), we can perhaps see why this is so. Paul has had a warm relationship with these folks from the very beginning. He had personally led many of them to Christ. They had given regularly, to support his ministry, when he, himself, was far away (Philippians 4:10-18)—evidently not because he asked them to, but simply because they loved him and wanted to share in his work.

So, since they knew Paul and Timothy, and were his partners in the work, he only identified himself as a servant of Jesus Christ, and he addressed himself “to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi,” as well as to the “bishops and deacons.”

It is important to notice that the letter was to the church, along with the leadership, not the other way around. Jesus is still talking to His Flock: He does not require us to go through the hierarchy of a priesthood, or any sort of ecclesiastical “chain of command” to reach the throne of God.

We approach God through the Person of Jesus Christ alone. God approaches us in the same way. We are invited to personally read and study and understand His Word… ourselves! We are not told to submit all thought and understanding to some higher-ranking church authority. We are each called, individually, to do three things, revealed later in this book:

  1. Know the Shepherd, personally
  2. Learn His Word, carefully and thoroughly
  3. Join Him in His Work, joyfully and faithfully.

Note that all three of these things are only done through the power of the Holy Spirit… they cannot be done through self-effort or Human reasoning.

To All the Saints:

Something else to bear in mind is that the word “saint” does not mean “pious” or “goody-goody”, or “self-righteous”. Nor is it in reference to people who have been “beatified” by the pope, or some other religious leader. The word “saint” simply means “holy”, or “set apart for a special purpose”. In adjectival form, “holy” can refer to a person, a place, a building, or an object. But in this case, it points out the fact that God is calling out a people for His name, and that those people, who have responded in faith, belong to Him. They are unchangeably set apart for His purpose.

Any object in the temple was holy because it was set apart for a prescribed use in the temple. If someone misused it, it did not change the fact that it belonged to the temple, and was holy. It simply had to be cleansed before resuming temple use. (There is a good lesson there, for us: how do we apply it to the individual believer? When we sin, we need cleansing, but we have already been permanently set apart for God’s service.)

If you have heard of God’s judgment and Grace, and have recognized that you are a helpless, guilty sinner, and have placed your faith in Jesus’s shed blood at the Cross as full payment for your sin, then God has made you a saint.

You still sin, because He has not taken away your will, nor your sin nature, but: you already belong to Him, and He sees you in Christ, for eternity. He will never fail to see you as holy—a saint, belong to His family and to His service. When you have sinned, He will simply have to cleanse you before using you again in His service. But your position in His family has not changed…and never will! 

1st John 1:7-9 says, “When we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

(John 13:8-11, and 15:3—notice the context of 13:30—Judas was no longer there.)

When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, he was demonstrating this principle. He told Peter that anyone who was “washed”, was clean all over, and needed only to wash his feet, because of the dirty environment they walked through. He said that not all of them had been washed (referring to Judas Iscariot,) and later, after Judas had left, he reiterated that the other disciples were already clean through the Word they received from Him…they had become believers. Judas had not. They were already saints; Judas was not.

All a believer needs is confession, and fellowship is restored.

What about the Bishops and Deacons?

I find it heart-warming, somehow, to see that the Bishops and Deacons are part of the Church; not the other way around. The only reason shepherds exist is because there is a flock…and, the flock belongs to God, not to the shepherds. The shepherds belong to God as well. They are part of the flock they feed and care for.

It is also interesting to note that the bishops and deacons were always plural. A careful reader will see that this is the normal case throughout the entire New Testament. Paul sent Timothy and Titus, for example, with instructions to ordain elders (plural) in every church (singular). That is a subject for a different sermon. We will not address the relative merits of differing church structures and systems, beyond recognizing that this is definitely the Biblical case.

Grace and Peace

As in all Paul’s epistles, Grace and Peace are offered in that order—Grace, and Peace. It is impossible to experience the Peace of God, or even Peace with God, without first receiving the Grace of God. Both come from the source–God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is one more evidence that this book is strictly to believers: In John 8:44, Jesus said, to the Pharisees, “Ye are of your Father the Devil…” (So much for the “universal Fatherhood of God!”).  In all his epistles Paul only addressed believers as his brothers. (There was at least one occasion in the book of Acts where he did address his fellow Jews as “brethren.”) But he only refers to God as being the “Father” of believers: he makes no exceptions!

God does not claim the whole human race as his children, though He is certainly their Creator. It is only by birth that we enter into a human family as offspring. And it is only by the second birth that we became the offspring of God—his children. Jesus told Nicodemus that only via the second birth could he enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:3, ff) In John 1:12, we are told that to those who received Him (specifically, those who believed in His name) was given the right to become (genesthai—be generated as) children (tekna, meaning, literally, “born ones”—offspring) of God.

So, it is not a light thing that Paul refers to God as “our Father”—nor is it simply a title, or a term of convenience. It is a fact: he has become our real Father. And so is the fact that he calls Jesus “Lord”—it is a fact, that every child of God is under the lordship of Jesus Christ…owing Him full obedience, loyalty and love. (Do we consistently live that way? Hardly….)

The names here, too, are loaded with meaning: “Jesus” means, “Jehovah saves”—God said in Isaiah 43:11 that beside himself there is no savior, and confirms it in the name of His son. When the angel Gabriel spoke with Joseph, in Mathew 1:21, he said “…thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save His people from their sins.” Do you see the implication? God said, that other than himself there was no savior. Then he said “call him Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins…” Jesus is the savior, and his name means “Jehovah is savior.” The deity of Jesus Christ is in view, here. Jesus truly is God in the Flesh.

By the way, the name “Christ” is not Jesus’s “last name”…it is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah”—meaning “the Anointed One”.  So, we are greeted in the name of the Lord (master, owner, leader and teacher) Jesus (Jehovah, the savior) Christ (the anointed one). It would be a serious mistake to simply “brush over” these words of the first two verses as if they were only a polite greeting. The longer I study God’s Word, the more convinced I become that there is nothing accidental or casual about it. We need to read carefully, and consider what He is telling us, in every passage.

Conclusion:

We have been addressed as the holy ones (the saints) of God, in the name of our real Father, the Creator God, and specifically, the Name of our Master and Savior, The Anointed one, Jesus, the Messiah. In the coming weeks we will go on to read what the Lord has to say to us.

Lord Jesus, help us to see ourselves as you see us, holy and blameless before you. Help us to learn to walk in that reality, and to be the Men and Women of God that you have called us to be.


The Behavior of Faith

The Behavior of Faith

© C. O. Bishop 10/12/17; THCF 10/15/17

Hebrews 11:11-16

Introduction:

Last time we talked about “what Faith is”, (and what it is not): The eleventh chapter of Hebrews goes on to speak more about what Faith does, than what Faith is. Faith is believing; that’s all. But Godly Faith is “believing God more than I believe Me.” It means taking God’s Word as being infinitely more dependable than my own thoughts, feelings, and reasoning. I am actually commanded to think, to reason, and to respond with my heart. But I am warned that my old sin nature is so devious as to be the single most likely source of my downfall. Jeremiah 17:9 says that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. So, I need to learn to believe God first, and then to reason within that framework.

I am not told to come up with my own ideas, stamp “God’s Will” on my own presumption, and then expect God to honor it. There have been a few (very few) cases in Biblical history where it seems as though something like that may have happened: places where a passionate servant of God called out some impossible thing, and God pulled it off for him. Now—did God inspire that prayer, or declaration, or prophecy—whatever it was? I don’t know for sure in every case. But I also do not know that He didn’t. The times when God clearly did NOT authorize such a prophecy or whatever the statement was, then it simply didn’t happen. I have known people, personally, who said they “believed God” that they were sent to accomplish some special thing, but when it didn’t materialize, they either made excuses or blamed God, or blamed those around them. That is not faith; it is presumption. So, how does faith behave? What does it look like?

The Response of Faith

11 Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.

Sara judged God to be faithful. That is a good response. I would not have seen that from the exchange in Genesis 18, but I have God’s Word, here in Hebrews Eleven, to inform me of what Sara’s inner thoughts were. She believed God because she considered His character to be reliable: she judged Him to be faithful. Abraham had already decided the same thing, and now the two of them were in agreement that this unsolicited promise of God (a promised child—an heir to the promise of the land and the eternal blessing) was before them, and they believed His spoken Word. Notice that this was not a “feeling,” nor a vision. In this particular case (Genesis 18—read it!) God showed up in person, in the form of a man, and only later in the conversation revealed His identity. He spoke with them both, in person, and He made a verbal, solid promise. There was no presumption on their part. Consider, too, the fact that earlier, when Abram had changed his name to Abraham (meaning “Father of many nations”), it was because God told him to do so. It was an obedient response to a revealed truth: in other words, faith; not presumption. And what was the result of this sort of response?

The Result of Faith

12 Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.

The Birth of Isaac was by Promise. It was a miraculous event, even by God’s reckoning. We tend to yell “miracle” when anything unusual happens; but God does not. This was not a case of a “surprise baby” of which we have all seen examples. This was a case of a miraculous rejuvenation of two very elderly human bodies, resulting in an otherwise normal conception, pregnancy and birth. And God says that it was supernatural, not just unusual. Bear in mind that God made the promise first; Abraham and Sara simply believed the promise. They did not conceive the idea on their own and then try to stamp “God’s Will” on it. It was God’s plan and God’s Promise. All they did is believe it.

By the way, consider the contrast regarding the birth of Ishmael: A few years earlier, they had come up with their own idea as to how to bring about the promise of God that had been given years before, and Ishmael, the son of Hagar, was the result. The entire Arab world calls Ishmael their forefather today. This was not the result of faith, but a result of unbelief (a lack of faith) and presumption. And the warfare and hatred that has resulted will haunt Israel until the day the Lord returns.

We see all these events through the eyes of Moses, as an accomplished feat, but Abraham saw it through the eyes of faith, and had believed the promise for years, even changing his name in accord with God’s command, as an outward statement of faith. We can read about it as a historical fact, but Abraham had to face it as a present reality. So did Sara. I can’t even imagine how that must have felt, emotionally, to watch their own bodies being restored to functionality, and a normal pregnancy and birth resulting.

And yet, God says in the following verses, “these died in faith, not having received the promises!” What promises was he talking about, then? I thought they just received the promise! Isaac was the promised Son, wasn’t he?

13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

This word “persuaded”, here, is important: The Greek root peitho means “to be persuaded”…and it is from this root that both the Greek words “pisteuo” (to believe) and “pistis” (faith) arise. We need to become persuaded in our own hearts that God is good: that He is faithful. That His character is, beyond question, excellent and Gracious. From that foundation, we can believe that His Word is trustworthy and true…and that we can trust in it, implicitly. We are not to be crippled by unbelief, unable to respond in faith, through obedience; nor are we to run ahead of the Great Shepherd with our own presumptuous plans. We need to open the eyes of faith, and, day by day, look to Him for guidance. Look to His written Word for principles by which to live, and pray for direction by His Holy Spirit, for the particulars of life.

When we begin to walk with God in obedience, regarding His Word as true, we find ourselves estranged from the World around us. We no longer fit in. Eventually, we accept the fact that we truly have changed citizenship, and that we now belong to God’s kingdom. With that realization, and having embraced that truth, we begin to release our grip on this World, and we begin to look beyond it.  The Old Testament believers were also looking beyond this world with the eyes of faith: Evidently the promised Son (Isaac) was not where they had their hopes set. (Abraham and Sara did receive him.) Nor, even, was the physical land of Israel their real hope. They were looking to an eternal fulfillment, through a supernatural relationship with the supernatural, eternal, invisible, omnipresent God who created the universe. They looked with the eyes of faith.

The Eyes of Faith

14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
15 
And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.

These folks were looking beyond this world, just as we are! But in their case, they had a physical place to which they could have returned…their hometown, in most cases, was still there, and their extended families, in some cases, were all there, as well. But when they had abandoned their old life to follow the God who had called them, they had also abandoned the gods of their old lives, and the values they once held dear…and their extended families and friends had not followed their example. So a huge barrier was there, against a return. They really couldn’t go back comfortably, even though the physical places still existed. So that is not what they did: they kept looking forward, and did not go back.

Remember, in the previous chapters, that the writer had cited some who “fell away because of unbelief.” We can read in the book of Exodus that the people of Israel were frequently guilty of “wanting to return to Egypt.” I have to shake my head over that one, and wonder what in the world they were thinking: they could not go back!  Even had God permitted it, they seem to have forgotten that Egypt had been literally destroyed on their account, and the Pharaoh and his entire army had died in the Red Sea because of them. What kind of welcome would they have found, if they had returned? It was simply an impossibility, even for those who wanted to return.

But God commends those who did not want to return, who wanted to press on to receive the promise. Abraham was one of those, over 400 years before the Exodus. Even in his later life, when he sent his servant back to Haran, to find a wife for Isaac, he warned him that he was absolutely not to take Isaac back there. He stayed committed to the promise. God commended people throughout the Bible, who clung to Him against all odds, and chose Him over all else.

16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

I have no idea what the eternal state will be like beyond the tiny amount of information we are given in scripture. And, beyond that, He clearly says that none of us have seen it, none of us have even heard a reliable account of it, except the little bit God has told us, and He further says that none of us have correctly imagined it. (“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, what the Father has in store for them that love Him.”) But I believe in His character, and I trust that what He has prepared will turn out to be something unimaginably good, and that He will change my heart from what I now consider good so that I will see it through His eyes, and recognize that Eternal Goodness and Blessing. 

I really don’t spend a lot of time “daydreaming about heaven:” I know that I have no idea what it will be like. So I have abandoned the fruitless behavior of imagination, and am embracing the stance of faith…waiting on God for that unseen future, and confessing that I have no real idea what it will be. That is a choice I make. I choose Faith. I choose to believe God.

The Choices of Faith

In the meantime, Faith has some things for me to do…to choose to do:

  • Trust the Lord!
  • Obey God’s Word!
  • Love my neighbor!
  • Love my wife!
  • Study the scriptures,
  • Feed on the Word,
  • Feed the Flock!
  • Serve with Joy!
  • Rejoice always!
  • Pray without ceasing!
  • In everything, give thanks!

Do any of these sound familiar to you? They ought to! They are all general commands given to all believers. And what Jesus said about that, in John 14:21, is that the one who has those commandments and keeps them, is demonstrating love for Jesus, personally. And those who fall into that category will find that God is loving them back! Jesus went on to say that he would “manifest himself”, or “make himself known” to that sort of individual.

If you want to see Jesus at work in your life, try walking in obedience, by faith. This is not a way to “earn God’s Favor.” If you have placed your trust in Him as your savior, then you already have His favor, in Christ. You are already His Child. If you have not placed your trust in His blood at the Cross for your salvation, then all the works in the world will do no good. Only the blood of Jesus will suffice.

This message is an invitation to believers to join with Jesus in the Service of God, and be blessed with supernatural Joy. The invitation to all others remains the same: “Look, and Live! Turn to Jesus personally for eternal life, and receive it from Him as a free gift!” In both cases, however, the choice is personal. An unbeliever can choose to reject God’s offer. And a believer can choose to stay on the fringes of God’s blessing, and not serve with Jesus. But, Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me….” We are invited to join Him in the work.

All of the behaviors of Faith are a matter of choice. Faith is a choice! Either choose to believe God and do as He asks, or choose not to do so. The choice is yours!

Lord Jesus, awaken our hearts to serve you and to obey by faith the rudimentary things of the Christian life, so that you can draw us along into deeper things as we draw close to you. Help us to see life as you see it, and to make our choices as you direct us to choose.

 

 

 

 


What Does the Bible Teach us About Faith?

What Does the Bible Teach us About Faith?

© C. O. Bishop 9/30/17 THCF and Cornell 10/1/17

Hebrews 11:1-10

Introduction:

At the end of the tenth chapter of Hebrews, we saw the warning to not fall back into formalism or legalism, but rather to step forward into faith. The writer stated that “we” (the believers) are not those who “draw back unto perdition”, but rather, we are to be “them that believe, unto the saving of the soul.” This contrast is set up for us to clearly see, that, regardless of the question at hand, or the challenge before us, the choice is the same—will we believe God, or not?

Human reasoning is very attractive, and, under submission to the Word of God, it actually can result in good decision-making. The problem is that we do not tend to submit our thought processes to the light of God’s Word, so we are easily snared by the World’s way of thinking, because our own hearts are also extremely deceitful.

Secular Humanism demands that we deliberately cast off any reference to the Light of God’s Word, and look at the World exclusively from the perspective of Human reasoning. The results are consistently disastrous, as History has shown us by countless examples. But, as a race, we humans persist in believing that “We have the answers to all problems, and that given just a little more time, we will fix everything”! Now there is a statement of Faith! In spite of all evidence to the contrary, and the observable decline of human behavior, we still think that we humans can produce righteousness, and truth, and peace. Does that sound…reasonable? Given the thousands of years of failure, and given that our most impressive “advances” have been in technology, which, invariably, are soon turned to weapons of one sort or another, by which to rob or kill or spy upon each other, do you really think that we will escape our human predisposal to sin? Our predisposal to lust, and violence, and deceit, and theft?

The World demands that we place our faith in a wholly unreliable demi-god, Man! (Or in any number of false Gods, who all deny Christ.) And those who refuse to believe in Human Sovereignty or in one of the various World Religions, are routinely cast aside, ridiculed, abused, and often killed. Jesus says for us to turn our faith to Him, and be saved from our sin, thus addressing the root problem that all the other deny. So, perhaps the question we ought to be asking, is “What is Faith?” And then: “How do I place my faith where it will do the most good?”

What is Faith?

1Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

This verse is frequently quoted as a “definition of faith.” This is not a definition of faith, any more than “God is Love” is a definition of God…this is a statement of the value of Faith, to the believer: the effect it has on the believer’s life. If I say “my car is how I get to work every morning,” you would correctly understand that I use my car to get to work. But that does not define an automobile; it only describes a particular effect it has in my life.

Faith is believing: simply put, that is all faith is. Godly Faith is believing God. Godly Faith is believing God enough that it changes something in our behavior. Godly Faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth. That definition is borne out is every single statement in the following verses. (“By faith, so-and-so did such-and-such…”)

Faith is not a “force”, or a “power” (though it may free the power of God to work in our lives….) It is not a “muscle” that needs exercise, as some have taught. When we “exercise faith,” it simply means we consistently apply it, just as, when we say that someone needs to “exercise good judgment,” we mean that they need to apply wisdom.

The Greek word for “faith” is the noun “pistis”. The infinitive Greek verb “to believe” is “pisteuo”. Both pistis and pisteuo come from the Greek root “peitho”, which means “to be persuaded.” The people named in this chapter were persuaded that God had called them to do certain things, or to believe His Word regarding certain things; and they were persuaded enough that they did them! They believed God! It was always an action, motivated by belief.

We can believe wrong things, and the result will be wrong behavior. We can believe self-serving things because they are attractive to us, and then act on those beliefs because they serve our self-will. We are masters of self-justification, and self-deception. But, we have a choice as to where to place our faith. Placed properly, faith does have the described result in the believer’s life.

The Old Testament believers allowed faith to have a proper effect upon their lives, in that they believed God, because He was counted trustworthy. The result was that, for them, faith was “the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.”

God’s Testimony; Our “report card”

For by it the elders obtained a good report.

The eternal testimony of God regarding the men and women of faith, is that they believed God. That is a Good Report! That is the “report card” that God applied to their record. Regarding Abraham, God said, “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6) This passage is quoted and used in Romans chapter 4, to teach Salvation by Grace, through Faith. There are some things regarding which Faith only calls for believing God about something he says to be true. The creation is one of those things. See the next verse:

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

Here the writer give a single example that shows how faith might not only be evidenced by an outward action: The writer says that they chose by faith to believe in the creation account, as revealed by God in the book of Genesis. We can (and do) still make that choice today, but it will become increasingly difficult to do, as the World has made that particular belief the special target for ridicule, and verbal attacks.

Certain Christian leaders have attempted to “water down” the Creation account, to make it compatible with evolution. Whole books have been written to try to reconcile the incompatibility between what the World insists is true, and what the Bible claims to be true. I actually have one or more of those books, given to me by well-meaning friends or family.

It is always an error to try to make God’s Word more “palatable,” or more “accessible,” by changing what it says. Evolution and creation are simply not compatible. And, that’s OK! Light and darkness are mutually exclusive. In this regard (and others) we are called to believe. In much of life, our belief calls us to change what we do; to take action of some sort. The rest of the examples in Hebrews 11 are of that sort, but before we address them I would like to present one more example of the call to simply believe:

In John 6:28, 29  The people asked Jesus, “What shall we do that we might work the works of God?” and, instead of listing the ten commandments or anything else that people think they can do to make themselves acceptable to God, Jesus answered, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.

Please don’t add to that verse! Just accept it as it stands!

We can believe it or reject it, but that is the standard of faith, as spoken by Jesus. This is the Testimony of God the Son, regarding Faith.

Now let’s look at some of the other type of examples of faith…the ones that call for action. These also constitute the Testimony of God, regarding Faith:

Old Testament Examples of Godly Faith

Abel

By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.

There are several valuable gems, here:

  • By faith, Abel did …what? A better job of offering a similar sacrifice? No! It says that the sacrifice is what was different! The sacrifice was more excellent! Why? Because he was being obedient to a revealed truth, and bringing a blood That truth had been revealed in practice, by the object lesson of Genesis 3:21, when God clothed Adam and Eve in the blood of the first sacrifice.
  • The writer further states that by that sacrifice, he “obtained witness that he was righteous”…that he possessed a right standing before God. That blood sacrifice made all the difference, then, and it still does. That is how we gain a right standing before God, today, as well: Through Jesus’ blood, applied to our own lives, by faith!
  • Notice, too that it says “God testified of his gifts”…not his “heart attitude” or how he genuflected, or anything else: it was the gift that was in question. God told Cain that if he did right, he, too would be received. But what did Abel do that was “right,” in comparison to which, Cain evidently did wrong? He brought the blood sacrifice, while Cain brought the non-blood sacrifice. God testified of his gifts! It was the sacrifice that was different!
  • Finally, back in Luke 11:50, 51, Jesus referred to Abel as a prophet! What prophecy did Abel make? Here in Hebrews 11:4, it says “by it (that sacrifice) he, being dead, is still speaking.” All the Old Testament blood sacrifices pointed to the coming Messiah. Abel, the prophet, spoke by his sacrifice, and is still speaking today. He points to the Cross!

Enoch

By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

And how does one please God? We are told very little about Enoch’s life. There is a tiny reference to a prophecy by him, in Jude 14, and the account in Genesis regarding God taking him off the Earth, so that he did not die. But that is all! The Writer goes on to say,

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

There it is! That is the definition of Faith! Faith is believing. Saving faith places the believer’s hope in the person of Christ and His completed work at the Cross. So (though we really aren’t told very much), at some level, Enoch was a man of Godly faith, and walked very consistently in the light that he had. That is all we know about him. The result was a tremendous thing: God took him out of the world without dying.

Noah

By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.

“Faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth.” In Noah’s case it meant he went and got a whole lot of timber, and built a monstrous wooden box—a barge, effectively. I have helped build a number of steel barges about that size, and I have helped build a number of barns, houses, etc. out of wood and other materials. I am grateful that I am not faced with the task Noah was assigned. It was an enormous job, and it is no wonder that it took 120 years to complete it.

Notice, too, that it says he was motivated by fear. The Greek word here is “eulabe-theis”, meaning a devout fear. This is not a common word in the New Testament. Usually, the writers use the far more common, simple word for fear: “phobos, or phobeo”. One is a noun and the other a verb…but you can probably see that this is the root for the English word “Phobia”—and it means “fear”. There is nothing wrong with fear being a motivator. Psalm 19:9 says that “The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever.” If fear of the coming judgment moves a sinner to repent and be saved, that is a good thing! If the fear of displeasing ones Savior moves a believer to abandon some pet sin, and serve more faithfully, that is a good thing.

Ann Landers once said, in her column, that she was not a “God-fearing “woman, but a “God-loving” woman. Let me tell you: If you don’t fear the judgment of the Holy God you claim to love, then you don’t know Him well enough to love Him either. The disciples were afraid of drowning, during the storm, but they were exceedingly afraid after Jesus calmed the Storm. That is a Godly fear. (Mark 4:35-41) I’d rather take their example than that of Ann Landers.

Noah was called to build that Ark. I am called to believe God’s Word regarding that flood, the building of that Ark, and the results of the flood, in the world today. I see the geologic evidence in the landforms around me, and I realize that the evidence for a worldwide flood is simply overwhelming: it is all around us. But the World ridicules the idea and it rejects the Author as well as the Message.

Abraham

By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.
By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:
10 For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

Notice all the action words! Abraham’s faith was demonstrated in actions. He:

  • Obeyed,
  • Went out
  • Sojourned,
  • Dwelling

He did things because of his faith: He was called, so he had a specific thing to do. But he did not just sit back and claim to believe. He obeyed! And why? He was looking for the reward. Hope for reward is an acceptable motivator, too! He looked for “a city built by God.” Here on Earth? No, he apparently knew of the coming resurrection, and expected a new body, and looked forward to that redemption. Amazing! And he didn’t even have a Bible to read! Not even a part of one.

Next week we will examine some of the things Abraham accomplished by his faith. But, in the meantime:

What is Our Problem?

Why is it, that with far more revelation available to us, and all the advantages of various translations, and electronic Bibles, and home-study courses, and commentaries, and radio preachers, we still end up being less responsive to God’s Word, not more?

I’m not really sure I can answer that. But it may be worth remembering that, in Luke 18:8, Jesus said “When the son of man cometh, shall He find faith?” (The implication being negative.) Apparently true faith is going to become more and more rare. I don’t know why. But I do know that we are called to believe God, both for salvation, and for our daily walk with Him. Apart from believing God (a.k.a. “faith”), God says it is impossible to please Him. We need to confess our unbelief, and then change the way we think, and learn to Believe God more than we believe our own lying hearts…and to serve Him as those who have been released from bondage.

Lord Jesus, change our hearts. Teach us to believe You and Your Word above all other words and feelings. We realize that our feelings are not an accurate measure of reality. Teach us to trust Your Word implicitly.


Don’t Turn Back!

Don’t Turn Back!

© C. O. Bishop 9/21/17 THCF 9/24/17

Hebrews 10:26-39

Introduction:

In the last passage we studied, Hebrews 10:25, the believers were warned to not forsake the assembling of themselves together. We are told, instead, to seek to stir up one another to love and to good works. We are to encourage one another to walk with God and to live in such a way as to honor God and bless the brethren.

As born-again people, we have been given free access to the throne of Grace. We have been urged to take advantage of that privilege, and to draw others along with us. We have that access specifically through the blood of Jesus at the Cross. We do not have access through religion, nor through rituals, creeds, or regulations. We have access because we have become the children of the living God through the new birth. So the danger to us, now, is to forget how we got there, and to subside into just “going through the motions” of faith, looking like believers, on the outside, but not attending to the inner reality.

This is a danger to us as believers because it makes us ineffective in our relations with other believers and spiritually separated from God himself. But to those who are only beginning to understand the truth about Jesus, and who have never actually “crossed over” into faith, so they have not been born again, there is a deadly danger, because if they settle for formalism, they are not only losing the opportunity for fellowship and service, as a believer is: they are falling away from the opportunity to be born again, and to be eternally saved from destruction. So that warning to both groups is:

Don’t Turn Back to Formalism!

The next passage, then, is a stern warning to those who may still think they can retreat into formalism, and, specifically, Judaism, with its sacrificial system. If one sees (understands) that Jesus’s blood is the sacrifice given for the sins of the world, but chooses to reject His sacrifice and His lordship in their life, they cannot expect to go back to the temple service, and use the blood of an animal to purge their guilt. This is a warning very similar to the one we have read about in chapter six: if “we” (currently alive humans, as opposed to “they”, the people at the time of Moses) knowingly reject the Lord, then judgment is the only future one can expect.

26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.

In Hebrews 6, the writer makes a clear distinction between the “We” and “You” (who were, collectively, the believers,) and the “They and Them” (who were professing believers who subsequently may have fallen away.) Here the distinction is not spelled out so clearly, but the principle remains. A person once truly born again, can never be “un-born again”. The “we” in the following passage is at least the living humans, as a general term, being compared to those who lived at the time of Moses; but probably it is most specifically the Jews who were professing believers, but who may have thought they could always retreat into Judaism “if things don’t work out.” The writer gives a stern warning against that assumption:

28 He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:
29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
30 For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people.
31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Judgment Is Coming

It is clear that the Judge is the Lord (verse 30), and that He is God (verse 31). We know from John 5:22 that the Judge is specifically God the Son…none other. The Lord Jesus is the “Judge of all the Earth” with whom Abraham pleaded for the life of Lot, in Genesis chapter 18.  (Compare John 1:18) The coming Judgment is severe, complete, and final. The question we should ask, here, then, is: to whom is the warning given? Should we be worried that God might change his mind about the promise he made in John 10:27, 28 (“I give them eternal life and they shall never perish”…)?

No, the warning can only apply to those who have heard and understood the Gospel but who have not committed themselves to that hope. Despite the fact that their sins were paid for at the Cross, they still think either that they do no need a savior, or that they can go back to legalism or formalism. Notice verse 29, “…who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of Grace”…Those are the ones to whom the Lord issues this warning. Not to believers who falter and fail, but to unbelievers who have come close enough to hear His voice, and to share in the blessings of the believers, and who continue to hold back, pretending to believe, but finally rejecting Him outright.

In 2nd Peter 2, the false teachers and their followers were warned of coming judgment, and were finally compared to a pig going back to its wallow…so the warning in 2nd Peter 2:20-22  is not of sheep (believers) turning into pigs or dogs (unbelievers), but of pigs and dogs going back to what they do naturally. These were not “sheep who flunked sheep-school” and went back to being pigs and dogs, but rather a pig and a dog who went back to their old, normal ways. They behaved like a pig or a dog, ultimately, because that is who they were all along. They were never changed to begin with; never born again, just as Judas was never cleansed. (John 13:11)

This warning would be most appropriate to Hebrew believers, because they thought they “had something to go back to”, whereas the Gentile believers really had nothing, as Paul pointed out in Ephesians 2:11, 12. However, the danger of collapsing into formalism exists, even for true believers, whether Jew or Gentile: Rituals and robes, bells and smells, liturgy and pageantry all appeal to the flesh. We like that sort of stuff. Just as uniforms make us feel “important and official”, identifying us as members of an organization…thus, belonging to it; and marching bands make us feel patriotic, and victorious and powerful…(even if we are not), the “trappings of religion” make us “feel religious.” We love the feeling of piety…it definitely appeals to the old nature.

Form is attractive to us: it says “I can do things to make God like me! I can do something to deserve God’s favor!” But I can’t. If Jesus’ blood at the Cross does not give me good standing with the Judge of all the Earth, then there is absolutely nothing I can do to improve my state.

The disciples were deeply impressed by the stonework of Herod’s Temple. Jesus told them that the whole thing would be coming down, to the last stone (and it actually happened exactly as He predicted, during their lifetimes.) The Hebrew believers, here, were warned against trying to “go back to Judaism.” Those who were genuine in their faith were eternally secure, as is any true believer in Christ, but those who were vacillating, and uncommitted, were in deadly danger, because if they went back, they were rejecting the Lord.

A true believer can be seduced by false teaching, and thus be rendered ineffective. But a false brother, who has only been “going along for the ride,” and has never been born again, can be turned aside completely, and may never repent and receive the Lord as his Savior.

Remember where you have been with God

32 But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions;
33 Partly, whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used.
34 For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.

This particular passage (“…ye had compassion of me in my bonds…”) is one of the reasons I believe the writer is the apostle Paul: we know for certain that he was imprisoned on multiple occasions for preaching the Gospel. Evidently the folk to whom the writer is primarily addressing the letter were the genuine believers who had already suffered for their faith, and joined with other believers in doing so. They had been treated as criminals; their belongings had been stripped from them, and they had suffered multiple public indignities, and had not stumbled. He encourages them to hold fast to their faith.

Think of Daniel, who was captured from Israel as a teenager, evidently castrated, and forced to serve an evil empire. What hope could he have had? He would never have offspring, nor a wife, a life-companion. He would never again see Jerusalem, during his lifetime. We don’t even know for sure what happened to his friends, as they are never mentioned again after Daniel chapter 3.

His relationship with the God of Israel was such, however, that even his worst enemies, who wanted him dead, could find no fault in him…no way to accuse him, unless they could make his faith, itself, illegal. So that is what they did…and that is where we get the story of Daniel in the lion’s den. But what had Daniel to look forward to?

“Only” an eternity with the God he served. Daniel was addressed as a man “greatly beloved” of God. (Daniel 9:23) Do you think he has found it worthwhile? My bet would be that his relationship with God was precious enough to him that he felt the sufferings to be “worthwhile” even at the time. And now? His eternal reward makes them seem as nothing. I really wish that I had that kind of walk with god, so that my enemies could find no fault with me, and so that all tribulation and persecution seems light, compared to the coming reward.

Look Forward to the Reward

35 Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward.

There is a constant temptation from the world and our flesh, and even from Satan himself, to “give it up!” Job’s wife said “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” It seems possible that, in the context of his agony, she was only suggesting that he take an easier way out of his sufferings. But it was a temptation from Satan, ultimately. Jesus faced similar temptation: “Come down from the Cross and we will believe in you!” Satan was hoping to short-circuit God’s plan! We may be tempted to throw in the towel, so to speak, too. But God encourages us to endure. Philippians 1:29 says, “…for it is given unto you on the behalf of Christ not only to believe on His name, but also to suffer for His sake.”

Bear in mind that Jesus looked forward to the “joy that was set before Him”, and so He endured the Cross, despising the shame of that form of execution. We need to look past the pain and frustration and grief of this world to catch a glimpse of what is to come.

36 For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.

In general, I would say, the promises of God are mostly long-term. He doesn’t make a lot of short-term promises, although there were some. We simply need to trust his timing.

37 For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.

So…how long is a little while? Comparing 2nd Peter 3:9, we see that Peter addressed the same question, and answered “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise…he is longsuffering toward us (the human race), not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

If the “catching away” of the church were to occur today, then the millions who have never seriously considered the claims of Jesus on their lives would simply be lost… When I consider that, it makes me hope for more time, not less.

Incidentally, both verse 37 and 38 are a quote from Habakkuk 2:3, 4… and they were in view of coming judgment, not deliverance. So the statement that “The just shall live by faith” was a promise that the righteous few in Israel would survive the judgment because of their faith. He was not just stating that living by faith was the “lifestyle choice” of righteous people.

38 Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.

The warning is still there against drawing back from God, but, as always, it is to those who have claimed faith, but who have no relationship with the God they claim to serve. Drawing back is fatal for them, as it constitutes their final rejection of the Lord.

Can we, as believers, backslide and fail to walk with God? We certainly can! But God continues the work he has begun, even if we have become blinded and are working for the enemy. Remember Samson? He was literally, physically blinded, and was physically working for the enemy! He serves as a good warning for us. But God did not abandon him.

Conclusion: One Final Contrast

39 But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.

Here again, the contrast is between “drawing back unto perdition” and “believing, to the salvation of the soul.” Believing or not believing. That is the issue, as it always has been. Faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth. And the writer says that he and the people to whom he primarily addresses the epistle (the believers) are not those who fall away, but those who believe, with the result being salvation.

In the context of this treatise on how people are saved or lost, based upon a faith-relationship with the Savior, we have the famous “Faith Chapter” before us…Hebrews chapter eleven. We will talk about that next time, but if you want to read ahead, I would urge you to take note of the point that all the “examples of faith” have in common …they responded to God’s revelation obediently.

If he said “believe” they believed. If he said “build an Ark”, they built an Ark. When the people asked Jesus “…what shall we do that we might work the works of God?”, it is impressive to see that he did not start reiterating the ten commandments, or saying anything that could possibly be construed as works. He said, “This is the work of God; that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent!”

I want to leave that thought with you: It is tempting to rattle on and on, expounding on the concept of faith, but Jesus put it so simply, I hate to “muddy the waters” by my own comments. “This is the Work of God: that you believe on Him whom He hath sent!” It can’t get any clearer than that, folks! You simply have been given a choice to make: Believe in Jesus as your savior, or don’t. If you choose to believe (and it is a choice, to place your trust in His finished work at the Cross), then the result is that you have eternal life, now…you don’t have to wait ‘til you die to find out if you made the team. But you can learn more about that relationship and learn to walk with the Lord, day by day. You can feed on His written Word, and have fellowship with other believers.

If you are hungry, eat!

The Great Shepherd is here to feed His flock!

Lord Jesus draw us along to full faith! Teach us to walk with you and to feed upon your word. Teach us by your Holy Spirit, and help us to grow into your image.

 


The Fellowship Imperative

The Fellowship Imperative

Fellowship with God and with Other Believers

© C. O. Bishop 9/8/17 THCF 9/10/17

Hebrews 10:19-25

Introduction:

As we completed the first half of Hebrews chapter ten, we saw that Jesus offered one sacrifice forever, obliterating our sin-debt, and imputing eternal righteousness to us, as believers. This is a super-important concept: if our sins have been forgiven, and “taken away” by the blood of Jesus, then there is no more offering for sin. The Old Testament system of blood sacrifices is completely over—obsolete—done. . And we cannot go back to it.

Now, I wonder how the Hebrew believers must have felt, with the temple service closing behind them, and no real understanding of what lay before them This is not a new thing, though: Remember that Abram was called out of the land of his upbringing, to go out to a new place, where God would bless him. But he was not given a road map. He was just told to go. He left, not knowing where he would end up.

When I first became a believer, the question arose, “What about all the other religions? How do you know this one is right?” My only answer, at that time, was, “I don’t know anything about all the other religions. I only know that this is my stop…this is where I get off the bus.” I knew I needed Jesus Christ, and I trusted in Him. Later on, I learned more, and came to realize that, indeed, there was no other way. He said so Himself.

Many years later, I was called to sing in a wedding, in Colorado. They sent me a bus ticket, and I took that Greyhound bus to a place I had never been, arriving far behind schedule, in a snowstorm at 1:00 AM, to a dark crossroad, where I had been told that I would be met. There was no one there…but I had a choice: Get off the bus, now, in faith, and wait in the dark, snowy night for my friends to arrive, or stay on the bus and get off at another stop which would look better, but not be where I was told to expect them, and I would have no way to contact them. (This was years before cell-phones became a reality.) As it turned out, after hours of waiting, they had finally gone home, briefly, and they were coming right back. I waited less than 30 minutes before they came swooping out of the dark to rescue me. The point is that sometimes we have had to take a step of faith, and trust that God knows what He is doing. At that point, frequently, we can’t go back…we have to look forward. But we can go forward, and we are called to do so.

The Call to Fellowship

We have already been transferred out of the darkness of the lost world, into the glorious kingdom of God’s light; we can now take the next step, and enter the holy of holies by his blood. We are not told to just “wait on God to come and fellowship with us.” We are commanded, and exhorted to deliberately seek out His company. We are free to enter His presence, now. There is no barrier, today, for believers. This is the state of affairs, today; He says:

19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,

20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;

21 And having an high priest over the house of God;

We see four points, here:

  1. We have confidence to enter the holy place of God’s presence.
  2. We are entering confidently, solely because of the Blood of Jesus that stands between us and God’s judgment. 
  3. We enter by the avenue of the Cross, by faith…through the torn body of the Savior, represented by the veil that was torn, in the temple.
  4. We enter, knowing that our High Priest, Jesus, had already entered in and made the way for us…and that it is He who invites us to that Fellowship.

 With these truths as our basis for confidence, the writer urges us forward. It has taken him nine and one half chapters to “build his case” for the supremacy of Christ, and the efficacy of his blood sacrifice, but now, with that foundation laid, he urges us to take action.

He says for us to draw near to God. We could not do so before, because we were without access to God. Ephesians 2:11, 12 say that “in time past…” we were “…Gentiles according to the flesh…without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the covenants of Promise, having no hope, and without God, in the World.” We literally had no access to God. But now we have that access through Christ. Over in Romans 5:1, 2 Paul says, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have access into this Grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the Glory of God.”

We have access by faith in Jesus, and we are invited to join Him there, at the Throne of Grace.

 

The Invitation to Fellowship with God

22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.

We are invited to enter in with full confidence. We are not entering as those who have “crashed the party”…we are entering as members of God’s household—His own offspring. We are not even entering as “guilty children” who have misbehaved and who are expecting punishment. The punishment was dealt out at the cross. We are entering, in good standing with the Holy God who created us, and redeemed us. We are entering as those who have been washed, and made holy like Jesus. Do I always “feel” this confidence? No, because my heart is deceitful (God says so), and I am always conscious of my failings. But God says that I have been washed, and made holy! (1st Corinthians 6:11 “But you are washed…sanctified…justified…”). You are arriving clean! All you need to do is clean your feet at the door!

A small child enters into his father’s house with utter confidence that he belongs there…because he does! And he enters in, knowing his father is not too busy to address his concerns and questions. He goes there expecting good things. He wipes his feet because he has been taught to do so, initially, but as he matures, he does it because he does not want to bring dirt into his father’s house.

We may practice confession initially because we have been taught to do so. As we mature, we do so because we do not want Sin to hamper our relationship with our Heavenly Father. Psalm 66:18 says that when I cling to sin in my heart, God closes his ears to me. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” We learn to cherish that relationship with Him, and develop a hunger for his presence, so we are anxious to not allow sin to keep us from experiencing that fellowship with Him. But there is another aspect to fellowship: fellowship with other believers.

 

The Exhortation to Fellowship with the Church

He also tells us to hold fast to our faith-relationship with God, and to encourage one another to live the life Jesus died to provide.

23 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)

24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:

25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

 It is easy to allow ourselves to become sidetracked by the “cares of the world”, so to speak:

  • money issues,
  • health issues,
  • relational issues,
  • political issues,
  • employment issues, etc.

We are exhorted to keep the relationship with God in the forefront of our minds, and to cling to that relationship as being of primary importance. He says to “hold fast without wavering”. We are not to allow anything to come between us and Him. The basis for our faith is the character of the one who made the promises: He is faithful!

Then the writer says something really odd: he says we are to “provoke” one another…we usually think of “provocation” as having only negative connotations, but, in this case, it means to “stir up” one another. We are to consider the best ways to be an encouragement to one another, to stir one another up to Love, and to good works. You may have noticed that there is a whole lot of “one another” references in the church-related scriptures. Why is that so? Can’t we just go in, sit quietly on a pew, listen attentively, sing songs, give money and go home? Isn’t that what church is all about?

Well…no! Actually, it is not! Even the worship is not, in itself, “church.”

So what is “Church?”

Sometimes I hear people say “Well, my ‘church’ is when I am out in the woods” or “when I am out fishing, alone with God!”…or something similar. The poet, Emily Dickinson, wrote a whole poem dedicated to this idea: she considered the birds singing in her yard to be preferable to the presence of other people. On the other hand, she also claimed she knew the way to heaven instinctively, and could get there on her own. This is sad, but quite common. It is the proud, ignorant statement of independence, without the wherewithal to survive the consequences.

The fact is, people who say such things do not understand what the word “church” means: the English word “church” is usually translated from the Greek word “ecclesia”, which means an “assembly.” It literally means the “called out ones”. It requires being together with other believers. It is certainly not the building, nor is it even, specifically, the teaching or worship.

I can listen to the radio, if I know that a very good teacher or preacher is to be speaking. This is not “church.” I can be awestruck by the majesty of a storm, or the breathtaking beauty of the creation as a whole, and respond in genuine worship. But that is not “church”, either. “Church” means the “assembly” of likeminded believers. This does not negate the need for private prayer and worship being experienced by every individual believer: both of these are good and necessary; but we meet together for corporate prayer and worship …which cannot be done alone. We also meet for mutual encouragement, and teaching, and comfort. None of these things can be done alone.

Church is not a place, nor is it a building, nor even a religious experience. It is, literally, the assembly of likeminded believers for the specific purposes listed above. That is why we are not to “forsake the assembling of ourselves together”. The word in this particular passage is the Greek “episunagogen”: which is where we get the word “synagogue,” that the Hebrews used to describe their own assemblies…the assembly—gathering together. The Hebrew Christians were still calling it the synagogue, which was fine—it simply means assembly. But it cannot possibly be “one person alone with God,” although that is also very desirable. In the Jewish culture, it is required that there be ten families, in order to have a “synagogue,” officially. But Jesus said “Where two are three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Is that a church, then?

Well…perhaps it could serve the purpose, to some degree, but the “assembly,” proper, also has some organization to it: it is an intentional meeting together for corporate worship, prayer, teaching, preaching, fellowship, encouragement, and comfort. It would be hard to do all of that with just two or three people. You could encourage one another, pray together for each other’s needs and concerns…possibly even share some teaching. But I doubt you could call that a “church”, because it lacks the structure assigned by God. God says the church possesses elders (always plural) who serve as pastors, shepherds and overseers. It has deacons (again, always plural), who serve as caretakers of the flock at a physical level.

The Universal Church is strictly an organism, not an organization: it is the Body of Christ, and consists of all believers from the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, all down through time, until today, with all the believers today, whether alive or dead….and it will be completed at the Rapture. Most of its members, we can safely assume, are already with the Lord …and, until the Rapture, it can never “gather together in one place”…at least not one physical place. (It could be argued that we all meet together at the Throne of Grace…and that is true, but we are not conscious of each other’s presence and cannot function collectively as described in scripture. I can’t encourage Peter, for instance, though I am encouraged by his historical example.)

But every Local Church combines certain aspects of an organism with many aspects of an organization. It does have organization. Things are to be done “decently and in order”…in an orderly fashion. The local church gathers together in one place, wherever that place may be. There are possibly millions of local assemblies, all over the world, meeting at any given time.

We gather for the express purpose of mutual care, encouragement and blessing. We learn to “stir up” one another, to love and to good works. Notice the stark contrast, then, between “fellowship,” which we are commanded to embrace, and “forsaking” which we are commanded to avoid:

Fellowship” and “Forsaking” are Polar opposites!

We are not called to be solitary creatures, though some of us may feel that we would like to be. God created us to be social creatures. We do better physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, in a corporate experience. Is it healthy to have the capacity to stand alone? Absolutely! God calls us to do so, in fact! All the Old Testament prophets stood alone. We have their example. But, on a lifestyle basis, we are called to be a blessing to others around us…and we can’t do that unless there are “others around us!” Even in the Old Testament, Solomon (Ecclesiastes 4:9-11) stated that “Two are better than one…and a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Conclusion: The Fellowship Imperative

When we choose to exclude ourselves from the flock, we also estrange ourselves from the Shepherd. (Sorry…you may not like the “sheep” idea, but it comes from God, not from me, so please try to understand and appreciate the truth of it.) The more I learn about sheep, the more I see why God refers to people as sheep—and why people rebel against it and claim they are not like sheep. Isaiah said, “All we, like sheep, have gone astray…” Like it or not, that is what we are. We need the Shepherd, and we need the Flock!

The fact is, if a believer chooses to forsake the assembling of himself together with other believers, knowing that he is commanded not to do so, then, because it is deliberate disobedience, we can safely say that it is sin, and it will definitely limit one’s walk with God. There are many who will disagree, saying “I don’t need other people, in order to walk with God.” I can sympathize with them, because there is an antisocial side to my character as well. But, ask yourself this: of ALL the things God calls us to do, as New Testament believers, what percentage have something to do with other people? The answer is, “virtually all of them”, at one level or another.

We cannot “work with God”, without working with people, because all of the work he has called us to do has to do with the flock at large…other people!

We have to choose to submit ourselves to God’s assignment: go where He sends us, stay where He plants us, and do what He commands. It may not be fun: but the reward comes later. Jeremiah had one of the roughest service assignments of any of the prophets. It looked as though there was no fruit and no reward. But he was faithful, and he is enjoying his reward today. Furthermore, there was fruit, eventually. Millions of people have read the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations, and have believed God’s Word, though virtually none of the immediate recipients responded in faith.

We must look to God for direction, but we must meet with others to carry out those directions.

Lord Jesus, encourage our hearts to walk with you and to fellowship with you at the throne of Grace, and to draw near to the brothers and sisters by your Holy Spirit.


One Sacrifice for All Time

One Sacrifice for All Time

© C. O. Bishop 8/24/17 THCF 8/27/17

Hebrews 10:1-18; Isaiah 1:11-17

Introduction:

We have spent several months going through the first nine chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Last time we saw that Jesus is superior to the Old Testament Sacrifices, and that because of that, he is a Superior Redeemer: He has provided for us Eternal Redemption and Eternal Security in Himself. We are no longer living year-to-year, hoping that we will be able to keep walking in God’s light. We belong to Him eternally, and we are kept by His power.

But the writer is not finished with his topic: He wants us to see that the one sacrifice Jesus brought (His own blood—His own life) not only ended our fear of judgment from God, as lost sinners, deserving His wrath, but it also ended the Old Testament sacrificial system! It was truly One Sacrifice for all time, and it supersedes all that went before. Let’s start reading chapter ten:

The Shadow Show

Chapter 10

1For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.

Remember that the Law, with all its sacrifices, was only a picture—a shadow, even, of what was to come. When we watch a “shadow-puppet” show, we are amazed at how realistic the figures on the screen can appear, even though we know that the reality is just the hands of the entertainer, arranged to make shadows of animals, people, or whatever. In the case of the Law, however, it was impossible for the Old Testament believers to know all the reality behind the “shadow-show” they were given. But they had been told a great deal about that reality, so they did know enough that when the reality (Messiah) appeared in person they could have (and should have) recognized Him. But, as a nation, they not only failed to recognize him, but, even with his repeated proofs and explanations, they rejected Him.

So, the shadows were not the reality…and the shadows could not do what the real Messiah could do. They could not give life, nor could they cleanse the heart from sin. They could not make those who brought the sacrifices any better than they had been before. The best they could ever do is cover sins.

The writer points out that the proof of the ineffectiveness of the Old Testament sacrifices was in the need for continual repetition. The believer could never be rid of his burden of sin. One of the passages where Jesus’s birth is predicted (Matthew 1:21) says “…thou shalt call his name Jesus, for He shall save his people from their sins.” That is a thrilling idea. But how will it play out?

How to Remove Sins

For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.

But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.

The repetition itself continually reminded the believers that they were not truly cleansed, but only pardoned, as it were. They were saved by Grace, through faith, but the Law required that they continually bring the same sacrifice to maintain a walk with God. Ironically, those who were conscious of this fact, were positionally just as secure as are the believers today. And yet they feared the rejection of God. Why?

For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.

This is a good verse to keep in mind: I remember being told by a pastor, long ago, that the Old Testament believers had a “…different way to be saved.” That is impossible, according to this verse: it is not possible that the blood of animals can take away the sins of humans. So what was really happening, there? In every single case, the blood sacrifices of the Old Testament, even though they were offered in ignorance, were looking forward by faith, to the one perfect sacrifice Jesus would make at the Cross. Sometimes the picture was quite vague, but it was always there.

Please consider, in your mind’s eye, the physical motions necessary to “dip a bundle of hyssop in the basin of blood and strike it on the lintel and the two door-posts.”  This command is given twice, (in Exodus 12:7, 22); that the believer was to “strike” the blood onto the lintel and two door-posts. Obedience to that command, inescapably, was making a “sign of the cross”, behind which they waited, hoping and believing that God would honor His promise and save their lives, when he destroyed Egypt. They were in no way “smug” about their safety. They were trembling. We should have the same consciousness of coming judgment when we consider the Cross. That sacrifice, like all the others, looked forward to the Cross. Remember that this first Passover occurred about 1,490 years before the Crucifixion of Christ. 1300 years, roughly, before the Romans invented Crucifixion. This was the plan from the beginning. This is why Jesus came into this world, as the true offering, and died— specifically—the death of the Cross. There were many forms of execution. But it had to be that one (Philippians 2:8).

Had he died by the sword, or by hanging, he would not have been the Messiah. Had he died by stoning, which was the ordinary form of execution under Israel, then he would not have been the Messiah. The Cross was absolutely necessary, which makes it interesting that some cults try to deny that it was a cross at all.

Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me:

The Old Testament sacrifices, ultimately, did not and could not satisfy the righteousness of God. The body given to Jesus at the incarnation (the “in-flesh-ment”—that is what the word “incarnation” means) was the specific sacrifice, planned from the foundation of the World (Revelation 13:8), and regarding which John the Baptist said “Behold the Lamb of God!

What was Wrong with the Old Testament Sacrifices?

In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.

It is interesting, to me, and puzzling, to read that the Lord “has had no pleasure in” burnt offerings and sacrifices. In the Old Testament, we often read that the sacrifices produced a “sweet-smelling savor (aroma)” to God. I can only guess that the obedience in bringing the required sacrifice, and the faith that motivated the obedience, was what really was pleasing to Him…or, perhaps, the fact that the sacrifices always looked forward to the Cross. Otherwise there would seem to be a contradiction, here, and my personal conviction is that God does not contradict Himself.

This passage (verses 5-7) is mostly quoting Psalm 40:6-8 (read it), a prayer of David, and a Messianic psalm. Even at the time of David, he recognized that the sacrifices could be offered with an insincere heart, and they often were just a show. Isaiah 1:11-17 says,

11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.

12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?

13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.

14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.

15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;

17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

God said that He was literally sick of their religious posturing, even including the entire sacrificial system. The sacrifices were just a bunch of poor, dead, charred carcasses. What He really wanted was for the people to change their hearts, and learn to do well.

Jeremiah 17:9 confirms that the heart was the problem, saying “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” So, even though the people were bringing the required blood sacrifice, it was not the obedience of faith, anymore, but just religious posturing. It meant less than nothing at that point. Can we do the same with the blood of Jesus? Can we take it for granted?

What more could be done to heal the relationship between God and Man? We obviously are incapable of changing. The Law and the prophets did not change us…they only condemned us, and allowed us to get a glimpse of the awful holiness of God. But they could not produce that holiness in us.

Jesus is God’s Solution for Sin…and always has been!

Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.

Jesus came in complete submission to the Father, from the fact of conception to the final death under torture. Every step of the way was in perfect obedience to the Father, and in fulfillment of the hundreds of prophecies concerning the Messiah, all of which had to be fulfilled in Him.

Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law;

Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.

10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

In contrast to the Old Testament sacrifices, we see that Jesus said, “but a body thou hast prepared me” This specific body, born by miraculous intervention, was the only acceptable sacrifice. The others, from our perspective and that of God, were tragic victims of our sin, only temporarily acceptable, as witnesses to the coming Christ, who could say, “I come to do thy will, O God.”

11 And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins:

12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;

13 From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool.

14 For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.

The writer reiterates, here, the fact that the Messiah sat down after completing his sacrificial work as High Priest, and yet continues as High Priest. He has never stopped serving, but the sacrificial part is all done.

He also gives a “time-clause,” here: how long will He stay seated? Answer: “until his enemies be made his footstool.” So, He stood up once, at least, to greet Stephen, the first Martyr, and, in a sense, he stands before God continually, to intercede for us; but, his official position, until the second coming, is “seated at the right hand of God.”

15 Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before,

16 This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;

17 And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. 

This is quoting a promise made to Israel regarding the Millennial Kingdom, of course. The New Covenant with Israel has not yet begun. But the portion of the New Covenant that involves the church has been in full swing for almost 2000 years; ever since the Day of Pentecost in Acts chapter two.

18 Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. 

This is a super-important concept: if our sins have been forgiven, and “taken away” by the blood of Jesus, then there is no more offering for sin. The Old Testament system of blood sacrifices is completely over—it’s obsolete! And we cannot go back to it.

People in Israel probably think they will finally be at peace when they can rebuild the temple and re-establish their sacrifices. But they are not reading the book of Daniel carefully enough. There we can see that, when the temple is rebuilt, in troublesome times, under the protection of a peace-treaty, then they will be dealing with the antichrist. They cannot go back to the Old Testament Sacrifices, and neither can we.

In this passage, the writer simply points out the obsolescence of the Old Covenant. In other passages, he says that one who attempts to abandon the Messiah in favor of the old covenant, will only face judgment, not a covering for sin. In reflecting on this concept, it seems to me that such a person is much like those Israelites who were attempting to go back to Egypt, after God had brought them out…all they will find is judgment.

So, there is no more offering for sin. Jesus was and is “Plan A”…there is no “plan B.” If you choose to reject the salvation offered by means of the Cross, then you can have no other reasonable expectation except judgment.

Conclusion: What do I do with this information?

Well…if I were still an unbeliever, I would have to seriously consider the dangerous position I am hanging onto. As an atheist, I had concluded that there was no God, and I smugly proclaimed myself to be without a fear of Judgment. The problem with that stance is that every one of us is aware, even at a human level, that judgment must come! A desire for vengeance for a wrong endured is a common passion in every culture. We know instinctively that right and wrong exist. And it follows, that, if judgment is required for others for the wrongs they have committed, then Judgment must be coming for my sins as well. And Jesus died in my place to avert that Eternal Judgment from an eternally righteous God. And all He asks me to do is accept it by faith.

As a believer, I need to consciously cast my hope and faith on the shed blood of Jesus, both for the eternal life He has provided, and for Grace to daily live for Him. But I can rejoice daily, too, knowing that my position in Him is secure. I have already been made eternally acceptable to God, through the Blood Sacrifice that Jesus offered. I have been invited to serve Him, working with Him in this life. All of us have received that invitation. I don’t want to miss out!

Lord Jesus, fill us with a sense of Godly urgency, so that we do not squander our lives, wasting our efforts on things that have no eternal importance. Help us to see the World around us through your eyes, and to share your priorities in all things.


A Better Redeemer

A Better Redeemer

© C. O. Bishop 8/7/17 THCF 8/13/17

Hebrews 9:11-28

Introduction:

Last time, we saw that Jesus is our Mercy Seat…our atonement…and that the Throne of Grace is His throne: that the Mercy Seat covers all of our sins, and, in fact, all of the sins of the human race from beginning to end.

Finally, we saw that, today, we are invited to approach His throne with confidence, knowing that our standing with Him was made perfect at the Cross. We have entered into this relationship by faith, and we are to continue to walk by faith.

Now the writer is making even more powerful statements concerning the Person of Christ

Jesus is Better than the Old Testament Sacrifices.

11 But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building;
12 Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.

This is an astounding statement: Jesus, in contrast to every priest of the Temple who ever lived, has accomplished what those priests could only dream of:

  • In the first place, the Temple into which He entered was not the Old Testament structure, nor did He enter into its priesthood at all.
  • Secondly, the sacrifice He brought was not the blood of animals which were in no way connected to our guilt. Those animals served as a temporary substitute for the sinner, down through all the ages. God ordained the Law of the Substitute, in Genesis chapter 3. The animals in the garden, whose blood covered the sins of Adam and Eve, were substituted for the fallen pair. All the sacrificial animals, under the Law, served as substitutes; but only until the chosen Lamb of God appeared. There was a substitute involved in every sacrifice for sins, because the Law of Sin and Death demanded the death of the sinner. Jesus took the place of (substituted himself for) every human who ever lived, when he went to the Cross. He is our substitute… and there is no substitute for him.
  • He has provided a permanent, eternal redemption for us. In this particular passage, the Greek word for “redemption” is “lutruosin”. It carries the idea of being “set free.”

There are three words used in Greek, to complete the concept that we call “Redemption:”

  • Agorazo: to be “bought in the market (the agora)”
  • Exagorazo: to be “bought out of the market…taken off the market, not be re-sold”, and
  • Lutroō: to be set free.

So, the whole meaning of the concept of Biblical Redemption begins with the “bad news”: the fact that we have been sold into sin: so that is where God had to go to rescue us—to the slave-market of sin. That is where Jesus went as our redeemer. We have been bought out of that market-place, never to be sold again. And, finally: we have been set free. He bought us for the purpose of setting us free.

Now: with that in mind, consider the importance of verse twelve: it says that Jesus, at the cost of his own life-blood, being tortured to death by the barbaric people for whom He died, has bought eternal redemption for us. It says we have been eternally bought out of the marketplace of sin, to be eternally set free. It simply cannot be stated in stronger terms! Your position in Christ cannot be more secure than it already is. You have been eternally set free. Read verses 13 and 14:

13 For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh:
14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

Whatever effect the Old Testament sacrifices had upon the believer, the effect of the sacrifice of Christ is far superior: His death and burial and resurrection brings eternal redemption. Notice, too, that it says that he did all this “through the Eternal Spirit:” He lived a sinless life by the Holy Spirit, and he sacrificed Himself by the Holy Spirit. His whole life was lived out in the power of the Holy Spirit, and the result is that we are permanently bought out from our former slavery to sin, and have been permanently set free to serve God.

 

The Mediator of the New Testament…the New Covenant

15 And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.

Notice the tenses, here: he sacrificed himself (past tense), and because of that, He is (present tense) our High Priest—the Mediator between God and Man. Bear in mind that a mediator is always a “go-between” of some sort. God says in 1st Timothy 2:5 that “…there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” In this specific case (the mediator between God and Man), the mediator is the priest; the one who represents God before men and Man before God. So Jesus is identified clearly as the High Priest of the New Covenant.

This serves as a reminder that, in the truest sense, the New Testament did not begin with Matthew chapter one. Jesus himself said, “…this is the New Covenant in my Blood….” So, the real beginning point of Jesus’s ministry as the Mediator of the New Covenant, (in spite of what we refer to as his “high Priestly prayer”, in John 17and that is what it was) was the sacrifice he brought as the High Priest: his death at the Cross. He appeared in the real tabernacle with that sacrifice, once for all, and consummated his eternal position at the right hand of God the Father.

So, when our Bibles start the New Testament with the four Gospels, it is only because the Gospels introduce the New Testament. It actually began with the crucifixion, and really got rolling at the day of Pentecost, 50 days later. The Church-age is the beginning of the New Testament. The full New Covenant as promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34, will be ushered in after the Lord’s return.

16 For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.
17 For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.
18 Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood.
19 For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people,
20 Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you.
21 Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry.
22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.

These are perplexing things to read, unless you remember that every blood-sacrifice in the Old Testament was, in one form or another, a picture (or pre-figuring) of Christ and His one sacrifice that was to come. Some are more clearly stated than others. But the closing comment on that passage is this key statement: …without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.

This is a clear explanation of what was wrong with Cain’s offering, in Genesis chapter four by the way. I have heard several preachers make the statement that “there was nothing wrong with Cain’s sacrifice—it was his heart attitude that was wrong.”  They were pretty adamant about it, too, saying that to claim otherwise was to insert doctrine that just wasn’t there.

Well—sorry, but this passage says that the non-blood character of the sacrifice was what was wrong…that, apart from the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. No forgiveness! And, if we skip ahead to Hebrews 11:4, the same writer clearly states that “by faith, Abel brought a more excellent sacrifice…” It does not say, “God liked Abel’s attitude better”: it says the sacrifice was better.

Abel obeyed by faith, and brought the blood sacrifice about which he had apparently learned through Adam’s testimony. (Remember, God attempted to reason with Cain, and effectively reminded him that he, Cain, also knew what the problem was, and that if he obeyed, he too would be accepted. But Cain chose to rebel…and we know the result.)

 

A Better Sacrifice

23 It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.

The logic, here, is that while it was necessary for “all things to be purged with blood”, here on earth, it was even more necessary in the heavenly tabernacle. But, as the heavenly tabernacle is infinitely superior to the Earthly one, so the sacrifice also had to be infinitely superior. And it was! The Sacrifice which Jesus brought was eternally ordained by God (see Revelation 13:8…Jesus is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the Earth.”) Jesus is “Plan A”, and there is no “Plan B!”

24 For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us:

I have a hard time picturing this, because, honestly, I realize that I have no idea what the presence of God is like beyond the very limited descriptions in God’s Word. Perhaps someone might say I lack imagination; but, in this particular case that is a good thing. God says (1st Corinthians 2:9) “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”  In another passage we are told that we are to cast down “…imagination and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.” It seems to me that if God is silent on a subject, then we ought to be silent, too; but there are many books available today giving glowing, detailed description of heaven, and the throne room, the angelic hosts, etc. It leaves me to wonder about the real source of such things.

25 Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others;

26 For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

28 So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.

Jesus made a once-for-all sacrifice, to take away the sins of the World (John 1:29), and we look for his second coming; not hoping that we may be good enough, or that our works will be sufficient, but knowing that He was “good enough”: knowing that His one sacrifice is eternally sufficient.

Some churches teach that, through the Eucharist, Jesus is continually suffering for the sins of the World. This passage flatly states that to be the worst form of falsehood. That teaching denies the truth of God’s Word, and relegates Jesus to a continual “victim of God’s Wrath”, rather than the valiant and victorious Lord of Hosts, Lion of Judah, and conquering Lamb of God that he truly is. He voluntarily stepped forward to be our savior, and his Sacrificial work was completed once for all, at the Cross.

This is how we know that Jesus is not physically (or mystically) in the Eucharist…that the bread and the cup are only representative of His body and blood, and are emblems of how we have been born again.

They are not the means of salvation, nor are they in any way effective to put us in a right standing before God. They are strictly a reminder of how we entered into a right standing with a Holy God, and of who we are as a result. Living in a world that is antagonistic toward the Creator, it is easy to forget who we are in Him, and struggle along in our flesh, instead of trusting Him day by day, allowing Him to live through us.

This has been a fairly persistent false teaching, and many otherwise sound apologists have been snared by it, because it is an attractive idea. I enjoy the writings of C.S. Lewis, but in his early book “Mere Christianity”, he states that one becomes a Christian by taking communion. That is absolutely false. I hope that C. S. Lewis later realized his error, but I still have that book, and there have been millions of copies sold over the years.

One becomes a Christian by coming as a guilty sinner, and placing one’s personal trust in Jesus’s blood as full payment for one’s own personal sin. His literal blood at the Cross is what paid for sin, not the commemorative ritual. We enter in by placing our faith in his real shed blood: his real death, his real burial, and His real resurrection. We commemorate that reality in the Lord’s Supper.

By the way, this is also an important passage in refuting all teachings of “reincarnation:” do you see it? (Hebrews 9:27) It says we are appointed to die once…and after that the judgment. That rules out “coming back for seconds”, so to speak. You get one life, here on earth: no “do-overs”.

Jesus also had one life—and it was given to him specifically for the purpose of going to the cross in the place of the whole human race, to provide the way for us to have eternal life.

 

Conclusion:

So how do we respond? What do we do with all this information? Is it just “fun stuff to know and tell?” Or is there a practical response involved? What kind of response is Jesus looking for?

Let’s go back to verse 14:

14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
There is your “Purpose clause” for all that we just read. Jesus did everything for the Glory of God, and in so doing, He freed us from Sin– so that we could do the same.

He finished His work in order that we might be eternally set free from sin and so that we can join Him in glorifying the Father through service. In John 14:21, we see that the mark of one who loves Jesus Christ is that they obey Him, through faith…and the result is that God, in the person of Christ, engages in a continuing love-relationship with the believer, and deliberately makes Himself known to the believer, in an ongoing, living experience, as that person continues to serve the living God.

We frequently quote Ephesians 2:8, 9, in regards to how we are saved. But we seldom quote Ephesians 2:10, which suggests why we are saved:

  • We are his workmanship
  • Created in Christ Jesus
  • Unto good works, which God has before ordained
  • That we should walk in them.

If you have trusted in Jesus as your savior, then you have been born again; and your new nature is created in the righteousness and holiness of God. (Ephesians 4:24) Because of that, you are free to serve Him. God has things for you to do! Don’t miss out on the opportunity! We only get one life, and it is our one opportunity to serve the King.

Lord Jesus, stir our hearts to serve you. Change the way we see life. Help us see it as our one chance to walk with you and to work with you. Strengthen and encourage our hearts to follow you. Draw us along as your flock, and teach us your way.


What is Covered By The Mercy Seat?

What is Covered by the Mercy Seat?

© C. O. Bishop 7/18/17 THCF 7/30/17

Hebrews 9:1-10 Hebrews 4:16

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the epistle to the Hebrews. Last time, in chapter eight, we saw Jesus revealed as our true High Priest, and as the mediator of the New Covenant, which was originally promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Now the writer is discussing, in more particular detail, the reality of Jesus in the Tabernacle and the Temple. He begins by discussing what was physically in the Tabernacle, and what was in the Ark of the Covenant, and the significance of the Mercy Seat. So we will discuss those things in that order:

What was in the Tabernacle?

1Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary.

For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary.

And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all;

The Tabernacle, proper, also called the “tent of meeting”, included two compartments, both of which were closed to the public. The outer sanctuary, wherein were the golden lampstand (or candlestick, in this passage), and the table of showbread, which was changed daily, was open to the general priesthood, for their service. The inner sanctum, the holy of holies, was only open to the High Priest, and that only once a year. He entered in once a year, with a blood sacrifice for the nation of Israel, and to offer prayer for the nation.

Inside the inner sanctum, the holy of holies, was only am incense altar, for burning incense…no other kind of sacrifice or offering…and the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant has been an object of mystery for thousands of years, but, in the matter of physical reality, it was simply a wooden box, approximately 27” x 27” x 45” long, and it was plated over with gold, with a solid gold lid that had images of cherubim on top, and with golden rings in the sides of the box, through which poles could be inserted by which to carry the box. That was it!

You can read the full description in Exodus 25:10-22. There are people today, who falsely claim to have built according to these directions and it turned out to be a radio transmitter (Erich Von Daniken, in his book, Chariots of the Gods) and others who simply claim that it generated electricity. These are all patently false claims, but they can only deceive those who fail to go read the instructions to Moses and see what the Ark of the Covenant really was. It was a BOX! Yes, it was gold-plated, etc., but it was still just a box! There were no wires: nothing that could generate any sort of physical power. The God who ordained it was the only power associated with that Box. When Uzzah touched the box, 400 years later, and was struck dead, he was struck dead by God, not electrocuted! Further, when Moses communicated with God, he did not need a radio, as Von Daniken claimed; and neither do you! God can hear you today, if you will talk to Him, just as He heard Moses 3,500 years ago in Egypt!

But, what was in the Ark of the Covenant?

Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant;

The things in the ark, again, do not lend themselves to anything except symbolism. These three things were in the Ark of the Covenant, eventually:

  • A golden jar of Manna (reminding them of God’s faithful supply),
  • Aaron’s Rod that budded (reminding them of His promise of the resurrection), and
  • The two stone tables of God’s Law (declaring His Holiness, Righteousness and Justice.)

The recipients of all three (the Nation of Israel) had rejected all three in unbelief.

  • They had despised the Manna, saying they missed the leeks, onions, garlic, cucumbers and melons of Egypt, and they wanted meat, besides. They rejected the sustenance offered by God in every way, and they only desired to return to Egypt.
  • They had disregarded the promise of the resurrection, living for the pleasure of this world only (Just as Esau had done, 500 years earlier, and finally,
  • They had constantly disobeyed, defied and broken God’s Law; or at least only obeyed it at a surface level, and concerning matters in which obedience was relatively convenient. God’s Holiness was never central to their thinking, nor His Law central to their lives.

And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly.

I really can’t tell you very much about the Cherubim…I have never seen a cherub, and the scriptures give no clear description. All I know is that they were the highest order among the angelic creation, and seem to have been “palace-guards,” of a sort. A cherub was placed to guard the way back to Eden so that Adam and Eve could not return there. Lucifer was originally a cherub, and was evidently the head of that group. We don’t know a great deal more about them.

The pure gold Mercy seat, itself, on the other hand, was both the “lid” to the box—the covering for all that was within—and, it was God’s throne on earth. Give this some thought: Why would God seat himself upon His Mercy, covering the things within the Ark of the Covenant? There is something truly significant about this: He was Seated (enthroned), upon Mercy, Covering the things pertaining to His relationship with Sinful Mankind. So, let’s talk about that:

God’s Mercy and the New Covenant

God’s rule on earth has to be based upon His Mercy. Lamentations 3:22 says, “It is of His mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.”

And, His Mercy is what is needed to cover the ungodliness recorded by the contents of the Ark of the Covenant, itself. Remember: everything in the Ark, though they were emblems of God’s goodness, because they had been rejected by Man, were also emblems of our sin and perdition.

By the way, it is not only the Jews who have rejected God’s rule, his promise, and His supply. We Gentiles routinely spurn everything of God as well. We mock him in our literature and our movies and our jokes. We claim to be our own source of authority, the “captains of our own souls,” the directors of our own futures, and the guarantors of our own sustenance.

Meanwhile we face world famines, a diminishing fresh water supply, drug-resistant diseases, and the inability to cure our own lawless social ills; yet we boast that we will emigrate to the stars. Really!? We can’t solve our problems here, so we think we can travel hundreds of millions of light-years away, and start over elsewhere? How sad and foolish it all must look from God’s perspective. How desperately we need His Mercy!

Only God’s Mercy can cover our rebellion, our pride and our disrespect. But, the Ark of the Covenant is long gone…so, where can we find the Mercy of God today? Let’s see whether the Scriptures can tell us:

Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God.

But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people:

Only the priests (plural) could go into the outer sanctuary of the tabernacle, and only the High Priest into the inner sanctum, the holy of holies, and that only once a year, with a blood sacrifice for sin. This is just historical fact. The recipients of the letter were primarily Jews, and they knew all of this. But the Writer goes on to teach them what they did not know regarding that history.

The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing:

Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience;

10 Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.

Notice that verses 8, 9 and 10 give the “expiration date”, effectively, for the old covenant. It was only good “While as the first tabernacle was yet standing”. It was only a “figure for the time then present”, and was imposed upon them “until the time of reformation”. The obsolescence was actually “built-in” in several ways: Every priest eventually died, thus requiring a new priest; the buildings fell into disrepair, or were destroyed, etc.; and the sacrifices had to be repeated, day after day and year by year.

But Jesus is not bound by any of these imperfections, nor can his ministry become obsolete: He made one perfect sacrifice which provides the believer with a perfect standing before God, and, to top it off, unlike either the priests or the tabernacle within which they served, He himself lives eternally to intercede for us.

Notice verse nine, which says that the gifts and sacrifices the priests offered at that time could not even make the priests perfect, let alone those whom they represented. All the sacrifices accomplished was to temporarily “cover” the sins of the people, including those of the priests. The word translated “atonement”, in the KJV translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, is the word “kaphar.” It means a “covering.” Fittingly, that is also the name of the lid of the Ark of the Covenant…the “kaphar.”  And, what was it covering? Just the box? No, it covered what was in the box:

  • The despised supply of God,
  • The disregarded promise of God, and
  • The disobeyed, defied and broken Law of God.

These emblems of our Stubbornness, our Unbelief, our pride and lawlessness were what was really in that box, though ironically represented by the very emblems of God’s Sustenance, Promise and Justice. So, it required God’s Mercy to cover it all.

That is why the lid was also called the “Mercy Seat”, and it was a pre-figuring of the Mercy-seat before which we now freely appear before God. Under the Old Covenant, God’s Mercy, through the blood sacrifices, covered our sins. But under the New Covenant, in the person of Christ, our sins are taken away. John the Baptist, in John 1:29, clearly declared Jesus to be the one to fulfill all those prophecies. (“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the World.”)

So, in light of all that history; applying it to our lives, today; for us, who have never seen the temple…What does it mean today? We have never seen the Cross, either; but we have placed our faith in the Blood of that Cross. And, the Blood of that Sacrifice is what stands between us and the Judgment of God, today. His Justice and Righteousness were satisfied by that sacrifice. His Mercy and Love were satisfied there, as well.

The scriptures say that Jesus completed his sacrificial work, and then sat down…where? The only place He could sit down was in the throne with God, the Father. So that is where He is today, still on the job, interceding for us. Jesus is our Mercy Seat—our atonement—our covering. More than that, He has taken our sins away!

So…going back to our original question:

What is covered by the Mercy Seat?

The short answer: Everything!

All of our rebellion is covered by the Cross, all of our mistaken pride, and our stubborn self-will. All of our lies, by which we deceive ourselves and others. All our cruel unkindness by which we mistreat others. All our lack of forgiveness and our implacable hearts. All of our self-pity and narcissism, our lusts, our unholiness, our arrogance, and our fears. Calvary covers it all.

And, what is really important, here, is to see that His sacrifice at the Cross was a one-time sacrifice to “Take away the sins of the World”. That is what John the Baptist meant in John 1:29 “Behold the Lamb of God (the sacrificial Lamb) which taketh away the sins of the World.”

So…did that include the sins of, say, Adam? Or Abraham? Yes! Their sacrifices looked forward, in faith, to HIS sacrifice. And, if the cross took away the sins of Adam, it also took away the sins of the sons of Adam. If it took away the sins of Abraham, it also took away the sins of those who are Abraham’s heirs by faith.

Jesus said that those who do not believe are condemned already because they do not believe. The penalty of their sins was actually paid at the Cross. But, in choosing to reject that fact, they remain under the judgment of God. They can still change their mind, if they are willing to do so.

When you chose to place your trust in the completed work of Jesus—in His blood sacrifice for your sins—from God’s perspective, your sins were permanently removed from you. You are still living out the physical reality of your life, with all its trials: but in God’s economy, you have been permanently placed into Christ, so that where He is, you are! Read Ephesians 2:4-6…read it slowly, and think about what it actually says! You have already been resurrected with Jesus, and have already ascended… and are NOW sitting with Him in heaven! Where He is, you are!

I have always had a hard time with that concept…But God says that it is important for us to grasp that truth, and for us to rest in what it implies. The work is done!  We are not to slave away, fearfully trying to “do enough Good” in the world, so that God will accept us: He has already accepted us! I am already forgiven! I am already accepted in the Beloved!

John 5:24 says that my Past is covered: He says that I have crossed over from Death into life. Incidentally, that is actually not a simple past-tense, but a perfect tense: a completed action in the past, which has continuing effect for the future. “It is finished!

My Present is covered: He says that I have Eternal Life, now! I don’t have to wait until I die to find out whether I “graduated” or just “flunked out.” This is a very precious promise to me, because if I had to wait, knowing my failures and sin, I would be without hope.

My Future is covered: He says that I will not (ever) come into condemnation. I will never be condemned for my sins. I do not have to live in fear of the righteous judgment of a Holy God, because that righteous judgment was poured out on Jesus, at the Cross. “He who knew no sin was made to be sin, for us, so that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”

Conclusion:

Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of Grace, that we may obtain Mercy, and find Grace to help in time of need.” This is where we find Mercy today. The Ark of the Covenant (as well as the whole temple on earth) was lost almost two thousand years ago. But the real Mercy seat still awaits our response of faith. Jesus sits enthroned, and His throne is the throne of Grace. We are to approach Him in full confidence, knowing that His work is complete, and that we are fully accepted in Him.

When is the “Time of Need?” It is now! Daily! Moment by Moment! All of our life is a crisis, apart from Christ. As an unbeliever, had I died at any time prior to coming to faith, I would have been eternally lost. I literally had no hope. Even as a believer, today, when I am out of fellowship with God, I am reduced to living by my own strength and wisdom, and, for all practical purposes, I am again without Hope.

Our “Time of Need” is a moment-by-moment dependency upon the Grace, Mercy, and Forgiveness of God, as well as His Supply and Sustenance. We find all of these in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Lord Jesus teach us to believe your promise, and to trust your Word. Draw us along into a full relationship with you by faith and teach us the gentle life of obedience to your Spirit. Fill us with your Mercy and Grace.