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Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 12

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 12

Faith and the Promise of the Land

© C. O. Bishop 9/17/18

Genesis 23the Death of Sarah.

Introduction:

As we journey through Genesis, watching for pictures of Jesus, the Messiah, we also see some pictures of those who believe in Jesus. Bear in mind that Abraham spoke with God face-to-face on at least one occasion, and was spoken to by him (and had a conversation with Him, not necessarily face-to-face) on several occasions. We saw, by comparing these passages with New Testament passages, that the person with whom Abraham spoke was unquestionably God the Son, in a pre-incarnate appearance called a “Christophany.”

But, in this chapter, there is no such conversation: no such appearance. Instead we see what could be just a quiet, sad story of a very old man purchasing a burial place for his dead wife. But God chose to include that story, in quite a bit of detail, so there must be something here of value. If all He had chosen to say, was “Sarah died at 127 years of age, and was buried in Hebron.” we might pass it by and not worry about missing much. But, if we summarize the 20 verses of chapter 23 to read as a terse, 12-word sentence such as the one above, we run a great risk of missing something of real importance. So, let’s stop and consider what is really there.

Sarah’s Death at Hebron

Sarah died at 127 years of age (thus, Isaac was 37 when she died—remember that Sarah was 90 when Isaac was born—we have no idea how much time had passed between the last chapter and this one). Abraham had been with her most of her life, and most of his, though we don’t know how long—she was 65 when they left Haran, and they already had been married long enough to know, by human standards, they were not going to have any children. They just didn’t know that God was going to change that future.

Sarah died in Kirjath-arba ( meaning “City of Arba”), or Hebron (“alliance.”) The place is about 20 miles due south of Jerusalem, and is still called Hebron by the Jews and the Western nations, but Al Khalil by the Arabs. This place has been purchased by the Jews at least twice—maybe three times, as after World War two, the Jews migrating to Palestine routinely purchased any land they gained, buying it from the Jordanian people who had drifted in from the east.

At the time of Sarah’s death, Abraham was sojourning among the Hittites—the children of Heth. He went to them and asked if he might purchase a piece of land to bury his dead wife. (He had a particular plot of land in mind.) They graciously declined, saying that he was a great man among them and that he could simply bury his dead in any of the existing tombs, there, and that he did not need to make a purchase. This would imply that they considered him (at least at some level) to be one of them: they thought of him as family!

But Abraham had other ideas…he knew that he was not one of them, and he knew that God had called him out from the world. He specifically wanted a piece of land that he owned, there in the land of Canaan. He knew that the land—all of it—had been promised to him and his heirs, but the Hittites did not know that. Abraham wanted a gravesite that could be undisturbed, hopefully, and to which his heirs could come back, generation after generation. So he asked, before all the people, that they sell him a particular field wherein was a cave.

Abraham Purchased Land already Promised to Him by God

The owner of the field (Ephron the Hittite) may just have been grandstanding, or may have truly been generous, but, at first, he offered to simply give Abraham the field. Abraham insisted that the owner actually sell it to him, at the full value, and that he specify as terms of the sale, that the whole field, the cave (Called the Cave of Machpelah, still today), and the trees of that field would be part of the purchase. I don’t know how the Hittites felt about it all, but historians say that the price finally named—four hundred shekels of silver—was quite high, compared to other fields sold in the Bible. I don’t know how much it was, in terms of wages at that time, but it was evidently an extremely high price for such a piece of land. However, I think it is important to notice that Abraham did not dicker, or quibble over the price—he simply paid it, and made sure he had plenty of witnesses to that fact. Genesis records that the field, the cave, the trees in the field, and the trees that made up the border of the field were all included in the bargain.

Abraham believed that the land of Canaan would be the eternal dwelling-place of his people: so he bought a piece of it, up front. This is faith, with shoe-leather on it. The Hittites had no idea of his motives, and undoubtedly thought him a total fool, to pay that sort of price for what had been offered as a gift. They may have also seen that Abraham was quite elderly, and that his only son was still unmarried. They may have reasoned that there was a good chance they would get it all back anyway. (In fact, they actually may have done so: according to the record in Joshua 24:32, regarding Joseph’s burial, Jacob had purchased that land again, from the same tribe of people, many years later, for one hundred pieces of silver…a quarter of the price Abraham had paid.)

Whatever their thoughts, the sale was made, and Abraham buried Sarah there; Abraham himself was later buried there; Isaac and Rebekah were buried there; Jacob and Leah were buried there (Genesis 49:29-32), and Joseph was eventually buried there, among others. It was the family mausoleum for centuries to come. In Acts 7:15, 16, it was mentioned by Stephen in his defense, before he was stoned by the Jews. The people of Israel knew this place, and it is still important: Hebron is a holy city to them, still today, second only to Jerusalem, itself. Nearly four thousand years of promise are marked by that tomb, the Cave of Machpelah, at Hebron.

Can we see any parallels, here?

We already have a promise of eternal life with Christ. All the riches of His kingdom have already been given to us, though we can’t see much of it, really. We know very little: just what He has chosen to tell us, though many books have been written, claiming to tell us “all about heaven.” But God says “…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.” (1st Corinthians 2:9)

So, how can we “buy a piece of it” up front? How can we put “shoe-leather on faith,” and claim part of what Jesus says we already own?

  • We have to “buy it” in the face of adversity, while the World thinks us fools, just as Abraham did. (We have been called out from the World, just as he was.)
  • We have to make choices that seem the picture of foolishness to those who are lost, but are ultimately wise, before God.
  • Abraham reached beyond death, to purchase a home beyond death. What choices can we make to accomplish something similar?

Jesus had some things to say about this subject:

Matthew 6:19-21;

19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Notice that He did not say, “Where your heart is, there will your treasure be also.” It is the other way around. We have to choose where to lay up treasure, and that will affect where the eyes of our hearts are turning. We read in Daniel 6 that the prophet Daniel habitually prayed toward Jerusalem. Why? Because that is where his treasure was (the city itself, the ruined temple, and the homeland of the Jews), and his response revealed that this is also where his heart was.

As we begin to “lay up treasures in heaven,” our hearts will increasingly turn in that direction, and it will change our perspective on life, and our desires, our ambitions, and, ultimately, every aspect of our lives. So, what indications might I have as to “where my heart is” and what my “treasure” really is? Jesus addressed that, too, in a couple of ways.

Matthew 12:34-36;

34 O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
35 A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.

36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.

The Pharisees had just accused Jesus of being possessed by Satan, and working by the power of Satan. Why? Because he cast out a demon, and healed a blind and mute man, who had been sick because of the demonic possession. So, Jesus did something Very Good, and their response was to accuse Him of being the ultimate evil. They revealed their hearts by their accusations. (Who is the “accuser of the brethren?” According to Revelation 12:9, 10, it is Satan himself!) So the accusers, by their words, revealed whose servants they really were. They revealed what was in their hearts: the “evil treasure” of their hearts, by their words.

Matthew 19:21;

21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

A young man came to Jesus, asking what he should do, to earn eternal life. (He did not use the word, “earn”, but he implied that he wanted to DO something to have eternal life. Jesus knew his heart, and suggested that the young man should “keep the commandments.” The young man asked “which ones?” (Already “hedging” a little, I think…)

Jesus quoted only six commandments, not all of them even part of the Ten Commandments, and leaving out several of the Ten. The young man confidently claimed that he had kept all of them all his life. Jesus knew that the young fellow was wealthy, and He also knew his heart, so He said, “if you want to be perfect (complete), sell everything you own, and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven…and you can come and follow me.” The young man went away, sorrowing…why? Because he loved his riches! His treasure was very definitely here on earth, and he was not about to give it up. What commandment, of those which Jesus deliberately omitted, was the young man violating? Covetousness, and Idolatry, perhaps? Paul confirms that covetousness is idolatry, in Colossians 3:5. So, this young man revealed where his treasure really was, by his actions.

Hebrews 11:24-26

24 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;
25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;

26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.

Moses chose to attach himself to the People of God, rather than continue in the court of Pharaoh. He could easily have been seen as a fool by the World: Pharaoh saw him as a traitorous, murderous turncoat, and would have killed him. But God saw his heart, and took him into a “40-year course in shepherding.” Why? Because, after he graduated, he would spend the next 40 years shepherding the Flock of God! Moses revealed where his treasure really was, by his choices. And there was a Reward coming, as a result of his obedience.

How can we apply this today?

1st Corinthians 3:10-15

10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.
11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

We can see, then, that the foundation laid in our lives is the Person of Christ. What are we to build on that Foundation? Jesus said, (John 15:5) “…apart from Me, ye can do nothing.” Notice that He did not say, “Apart from me you can’t do as much.” The fact is, only the things we allow God to do in us and through us, will have eternal value. The things that we allow Jesus to accomplish in our lives will have eternal value, and He says that there is reward attached to that value. Treasure has been laid up ahead, to our account: a reward, for obedience.

As believers, we can reach beyond death, just as Abraham did, and, by faith, we can claim some of what Jesus already has in store for us. And, by so doing, he says that we will gain reward. Salvation is a gift. Reward is the result of obedience.

The rich young ruler thought that he could purchase eternal life by his works. He did not see himself as a sinner, needing a Savior. Jesus pointed out that he was a sinner, and left him to think it over. I hope that, perhaps later, the young fellow caught on to what Jesus had really been teaching, and received the gift of eternal life, by faith…but we are not told the rest of that story.

Behave like a Child of God, because you are one.

All the teachings regarding the believer’s perfect position, and his perfect standing, in Christ, became completely true of you the moment that you believed the Gospel: the moment that you received Jesus as your own Savior.

Are you living in the reality of those truths? We do not live that way in order to “become a child of God:” it is the other way around! We live that way, because we already are a child of God! Ephesians 5:1 says, “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear Children.” Why? Because that is who you are, as a believer in Jesus Christ!

Lord Jesus, open our eyes to the reality of our position in Christ: help us to reach into eternity by faith, and lay up our treasures there! Let us see beyond the grave, like Abraham, and claim the promised reward, like Moses. Let us serve as your holy ambassadors, in Jesus’ Name!


More Thieves!

More Thieves!

© C. O. Bishop 9/29/18 Cornell Estates 9/30/18

Colossians 2:16-23

Introduction:

Last time, we saw that we can be robbed of our Joy, Peace and Security, by those who want us to return to legalism, rather than resting in the Grace of God, poured out upon us through Jesus, at the Cross. We were warned against conformity to Man-made “rules for piety,” when what we are called to do is allow God to change us from the inside. In verse 16, Paul specifically addressed the issues of dietary laws, the keeping of the Jewish feasts, and the Sabbath.

16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:

Romans 10:4 says: “For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness, to every one that believeth.) The result, then, of the final setting aside of the Law, for righteousness, is that we are also free from the trappings of the religious law adhered to by the Jews. There are people who do place themselves back under the Law, though God warns to not do it, right here in this passage.

And the troubling thing is that we humans tend to condemn anyone who isn’t “like us.” Paul warns us to not allow others to “guilt” us into going back into that slavery. We are easily fooled, and easily coerced through shaming. We are social creatures, by nature, and society around us commonly uses the fear of rejection to make us “conform to the group.” Children learn early, to make the threat, “I won’t be your friend!” in order to coerce another child to do their bidding. When people try to shame you into conformity, away from the freedom in Christ, they aren’t your friend, anyway!

Remember that all the things of the Law were only to “point us to Christ.” Don’t allow them to be used to turn you away from Him.

Remember that the Reality is Christ

17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.

Paul points out that the things of the Law were only a shadow, or a “picture,” at best, of the coming reality of righteousness in Christ. Jesus is the Reality! Since Jesus is the reality, turning to anything else, no matter how pleasing, or solemn, or awe-inspiring—whatever it is that attracts us—is ultimately turning away from Christ.

I do not mean this in the sense of “falling away to perdition,” necessarily: for example, I may have a photograph of my wife, which I especially like, perhaps from when we were first married, and when she was perhaps twenty-one or twenty-two years of age. Her hair was thick, dark and glossy, and she was filled with the vitality of youth. But the woman I love today is not a photograph. She is the real person, and lovelier in person than ever before, though no longer as young. If I were to dote upon that photograph, to the neglect of the real person, can there be any doubt that she would be hurt? It would be turning away from the real woman who is my favorite person and the joy of my life, to gaze at a paper representation of someone I knew nearly forty years ago. I would be turning away from my beautiful wife and attaching myself to a dead image. Our relationship, obviously, would be severely damaged.

All the regulations and rituals of the Old Testament Law, were a picture, or a foreshadowing of the reality to come. Jesus is the reality. If we insist on turning back to the Law, we need to realize that, in so doing, we are turning our hearts away from Christ, with all He has done, and concentrating on the things that we can do.

More Thieves!

There are all sorts of ways through which we can damage our freedom in Christ, and thus, our walk with him. Rituals, self-flagellations, self-humiliation, and over-emphasis of angelic intervention in human experience, along with self-conceived visions (as God called the visions of the false prophets in Jeremiah’s time) all tend to lead us away from a simple, day-by-day walk with Christ. The whole point of our life in Christ is that it is to be Christ-centered.

I have read that there was a teaching at the time this was written, which denied the deity of Christ, and relegated him to the status of an exalted spirit, but claimed that angels had somehow brought us salvation. They denied the value of the blood of Jesus at the Cross, and substituted their own ideas for the Truth of the Gospel. They drew people away from the Gospel and in so doing, destroyed their walk with Christ. Paul warns that such false teachers can ultimately trick us out of the reward that is offered to us for simply walking with Him.

18 Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,

To “beguile” means to “trick.” You remember that Eve’s only defense, in the Garden, was that the Serpent had tricked her—beguiled her. Don’t let people trick you into giving up your reward. (Remember: Salvation is a gift: rewards are earned!)

People may claim to have seen visions of some sort (and I do not deny the possibility): but the visions have to be in agreement with the Written Word of God, or I am deeply suspicious of their source. There is something in the human psyche that demands self-aggrandizement, even if it is some sort of “I am more humble than you are!” type of boasting. God told the false prophets who were Jeremiah’s contemporaries that they had caused their “visions” or dreams, themselves, and that the visions were not from God. (Jeremiah 29:8) Believers easily get drawn into a mystical “experience-driven” faith, as opposed to simply believing God. I remember a fellow-pastor relating to me how he had attempted to share scripture with a woman, who responded angrily, “I don’t care what the Bible says! I have my experience!” Our experiences may or may not be interpreted rightly, and may or may not be “messages from God.” While it certainly is possible to misinterpret God’s Word, at least it is there to be re-read and understood by anyone who cares. Our experiences are not so secure. (Compare 2nd Peter 1:15-21) The Word is our Light.

The Body needs the Head

All of our rituals and pious grandstanding do not impress the Lord. Most of them are weak attempts to emulate parts of the Jewish experience: the feasts, the dietary laws, the Sabbaths, etc., even to the extent of attempting to re-create some of the temple vestments and furniture. There was a man, for a while, who had made a copy of the altar of incense, and who had a religious television show of praying before the “Golden Altar of Incense Prayer!” That is blasphemous, as his work was certainly not the altar of incense. It was false teaching, too, as in the New Testament there is no such altar, and no directive to pray in a particular place, posture, or manner. Such things look attractive, and sound pious, but they do not draw us closer to God. They only result in a return to legalism, not a free, wholesome walk with the Savior.

19 And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.

Notice that the Head is Christ…and the Body is the Church, proper. The Head is to be the only source of nourishment and guidance for the Body. And the Body is to respond to the Head, not to all the misdirection of the World. Give this some thought: we are dependent upon the Head for all things, whether we know it or not, and whether we choose to do so or not. He still is the ultimate source of all our sustenance, and care. But he asks that we choose to depend upon Him; and, that we choose willingly, not by default. Choose to respond to the Person of Christ, and not to the temptations and pressures of the World, and your perspectives will begin to change.

We are to abound in the fruit of the Spirit, not the works of the Law: the result is that the Church flourishes, and the increase is from God, not human effort. A friend of mine visited a number of churches, not because he was looking for another church, but because he had been grieving a loss, and was deliberately “going where no one knew him”, so as to avoid the sympathy and comments that sharpened his grief. He returned, later, and said how relieved he felt to be in a church without the distracting, rock-and-roll music, light-shows, etc. and with a calm, Christ-centered service, where the teaching was plain, Bible-centered, wholesome “sheep-food.”

I recall a church, years ago, which boasted a huge “youth-group”…but it was because they had a rock-and-roll band, basket-ball games, and free pizza, every week. It was a party! And, lest you think I am condemning some particular style of music (I am not) or (heaven forbid!) condemning basketball or pizza; the warning in Ezekiel 33:30-33 is clear, that even when you are preaching the “straight word of God,” there will be those who only came for the entertainment value, with no intent to draw near to God, nor any desire to see their lives transformed. We can’t fix that, but we can try to make sure that we only offer the Word…clean “sheep-food,” as it were, along with simple worship, prayer, and fellowship, so that if people are coming, and staying, it is because that is what they want, rather than some sort of emotional boost, or social “buzz.”

So, Why are you Doing This?

Paul’s conclusion of this topic is a very logical, pointed question: “Why are you doing this?”

20 Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,
21 (Touch not; taste not; handle not;
22 Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?

Paul reminds his readers that they are dead with Christ (Specifically, dead to those “rudiments of the World”), and complete in Him (without those things), and that they have been permanently separated from the World. So, then, he asks, “Why are you subjecting yourselves to legalism?” He used ceremonial “cleanness vs. uncleanness” for examples: “don’t touch this, don’t taste that, and don’t handle this other thing.” He points out that ALL those “things” (clean or unclean) are temporal, and are, by their nature, destroyed in the very using of them. He also says that such rules are according to the teachings and commandments of men (as opposed to being from God.)

23 Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body: not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

In the Old English, this sounds strange: But, the Living Bible paraphrase renders this verse: These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.”

A “show of wisdom” is not the same as real wisdom: people who practice ritualistic religion, and solemn observance of feasts and pageantry, or who practice strict self-denial, fasting, vows of poverty, etc., all tend to look quite holy and righteous. But, as we saw in the previous verses, these practices do not come from God, and also fail to change the heart, with its sinful desires, so that the person is neither satisfied, nor transformed.

God’s Answer

Over in Romans 12:2 Paul says that we are to not be conformed to (or, “pressed into a mold by”) the World, but rather we are to be transformed…how? By all sorts of self-works, and ritualistic maneuvering? No! We are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds! And how can that be accomplished? I very seldom refer to the Living Bible paraphrase, but this, too, is a good rendering, and quite appropriate:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

We are constantly pressed to be “more like those around us”, for a variety of reasons; some good, some bad. God does not address all the individual reasons the world claims to be worthy. He gives us a different directive: Allow God to change you from the inside, by changing your thought patterns. The only way I know to do that is through the direct application of God’s Word, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, and walking in constant fellowship with Him. (Psalm 119:9-11; 2nd Peter 1:4)

Lord Jesus, draw us along, by your Holy Spirit, to walk with you, in obedience to your written Word. Teach us to love You, above all others, and to choose to believe you above all others, even our own hearts. Allow us to serve with you, and to be empowered by you as we go.


Watch out for Robbers!

Watch out for Robbers!

Complete in Christ

© C. O. Bishop 9/14/18 Cornell Estates 9/16/18

Colossians 2:8-17

Introduction:

We have been studying through the Epistle to the Colossians, and have read of Paul’s concern for the churches to whom he was writing, and, by extension, his concerns for us, as believers. One of the things that he warns against is those who would rob us of our liberty in Christ: those who will try to convince us that God has not given us the whole truth, and that there is something else we need, in order to be in good standing with God.

Guard against Robbers

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

Notice the three-fold attack of the Enemy here, in verse eight:

  1. Through philosophy and vain deceit (Who is the deceiver? The “Liar and Father of lies”.)
  2. After the traditions of men (Human reasoning…appealing to my old nature, the “flesh”)
  3. After the rudiments of the world (elementary concepts, not embracing spiritual realities)

We are warned that, collectively, these three are not “after Christ.” Remember who our three enemies are? The World, the Flesh, and the Devil! And here they are again!

The fact is, we tend to like “philosophy;” in fact, the word “philosophy” means “love of wisdom”. But the problem is that there are many sources of such “wisdom,” and not all are from God. One of the three things that attracted Eve to eat the Fruit, was the fact that it was “to be desired to make one wise.” But that “wisdom” was not from God: it was a deadly trap!

James 3:13-18 points out the three other sources of “wisdom,” all of which are in opposition to God. He shows the “works” that are associated with such “Earthly, Sensual, or Devilish” “wisdom”, and then contrasts it with the “fruit” of Godly Wisdom.

13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.
14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.

(There are those three enemies again: The world, the flesh, and the Devil!)

16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

The wisdom we need must come from the only good source: In Proverbs 2:1-7, God says that His Word is the only reliable source. Do we have a teacher we especially like to hear? That is good; but we still need to read the scriptures on our own, as well, and measure his words against God’s Word. As did the Berean believers, we need to “Search the scriptures daily to see if these things are so.” (Acts 17:11)

Things that sound good, are not necessarily good teaching. Compare scripture with scripture. All scripture has to agree with all other scripture. If we are taught something that seems to contradict the rest of the Word of God, we need to stop and read carefully: something is definitely wrong.

Don’t underestimate Christ

Verse 9 is an important truth regarding the Deity of Christ. This is a crystal-clear statement that “in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead, bodily.” We have a very human desire to “reduce” God to a humanly understandable level. That is not a good thing to do: He is not a human, except as He has chosen to appear, in the person of Christ. He is the immortal, immutable, omnipresent, omnipotent Creator, and the God of all time and eternity! Why should I expect him to be something I can casually read about, consider for a moment, and grasp completely? There are so many comparatively small things within His creation, which we can study all our lives and still not understand: why would we expect the Creator to be simpler than His creation? Entomologists may give their whole lives to understanding a particular type of insect: Isn’t it obvious that the Creator of all things, including that insect, is more complex and harder to grasp than the insect, let alone the rest of creation, from silkworms to supernovas?

I can’t even grasp all the things that humans create: I use computers and cell-phones on a daily basis, but, when experts try to explain to me how they work, I only understand them in general terms. Regarding the specifics of why something doesn’t work, I have no idea what’s wrong.

Jesus encompasses all of who God is: He is God; and the entirety of the fullness of the Godhead was and is present in Him, in His human body. And, He says that we are complete in Christ!

You are complete in Christ!

10 And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:

This is an important truth, all in itself: You are complete in Christ! He is the head of all things, above all authority and angelic beings, whether holy or fallen, and He says we are complete, in Him!

So, what should I do when someone comes along to tell me, “No! You are not complete! You are missing this one little thing about which God didn’t bother to tell you!” What then? Doesn’t that comment sound remarkably similar to the Serpent’s temptation of Eve, in the Garden? “You shall not surely die! (Hisssss) God doth know that in the day that ye eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil!” (Hisssss)  (Genesis 3:4, 5)

Learn to recognize Robbers

Beware the voice of the Serpent in all such appeals! At minimum, this sort of suggestion calls into question the character of God! Any teaching that diminishes the deity of Christ, or questions the holiness or wisdom of God Himself, is ultimately from the pit. This is not meant as some sort of “knee-jerk, reactionary name-calling.” We simply need to be realistic about God’s Word: there is an Enemy, and this is one of the ways we perceive his hand. We see his character in the teachings of his workers: they seek to make us doubt God’s written Word, and to not trust Him.

We also must look to see God’s character in the teachings of His servants. God’s faithful servants teach us to understand and trust in the written Word of God, which draws us closer to the Living Word, Jesus! They confirm that God’s Word is complete, and holy, and that His character is Holy and Righteous, and Good, and that He is entirely trustworthy. The Holy Spirit never teaches contrary to the Word of God, nor does He cause us to doubt the character of God.

I have had people tell me that “there were things left out of the Bible, you know;” and that I, as a Bible-believing Christian, am living in ignorance, because I “don’t know the whole story.” Now: who is most likely to bring me such an idea; trying to convince me that “God is not giving me the straight story?” Is this a true “servant of light,” or is it, more likely, a minion of Satan appearing as an angel of light? (2 Corinthians 11:13-15 13For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. 14 And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.)

We need to learn our wisdom from God, by becoming so familiar with His Word that every false doctrine “sticks out” as having “something amiss.” In every such case, so far, I have been able, through God’s Word, to satisfy myself that the person bringing the message was not a servant of God; their message was utterly contrary to God’s Word, and contrary to Grace, as well. We are complete in Him. We simply need to feed on His Word, and become strong.

What is the result of our Position in Christ?

Verses 11-15 tell us some precious truths that are entirely due to our position in Christ:

11 In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:

12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.

The “circumcision,” here, as well as the “baptism,” have nothing to do with our physical body. Jesus, by His death at the Cross, has “put off” the flesh, once for all. We are no longer slaves to our old sin nature. It is still present, but it has been “put off” at the Cross, and we can trust in that truth, on a daily basis. This is entirely a “positional” truth: it is true because we are in Christ.

The baptism in question, here, is also not the physical baptism with water, but the Holy Spirit baptism addressed over in 1st Corinthians 12:13. Every believer has been “baptized” into Christ, whether they know it or not. Because of that baptism by the Holy Spirit, into the Body of Christ, we have been identified with Him in His death, His burial, His resurrection, and His ascension, with the result being that, from God’s perspective, we are already seated with Christ in Heaven.

Water baptism only reflects this “real” baptism. It is an outward symbol of a spiritual reality, just as circumcision was supposed to have been for the Jews. Again, these are true because we are in Christ. There is nothing for us to do, to obtain these things: they are already true of us, in Christ.

The next verse is in the same category: it is true for all believers, because they are in Christ.

13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;

Notice that this is all past-tense: I was “dead in sin:” I have been “quickened” (made alive—resurrected) with Christ. My sins already have been completely forgiven: all our trespasses have been forgiven; past, present and future. Remember: when Jesus died for you, all your sins were in the future! He died for all your “future sins,” because all of them were in the future when He died. You have never “surprised God” by your sins. He knew them all, from eternity past. He chose to include them in His sacrifice at the Cross.

14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;

The Law, which spoke against me, in my condemned state as a lost sinner, has been blotted out: erased, as it were, where it once condemned me. The condemnation of the Law was nailed to the Cross along with our sins. Is the Law still God’s Word? Absolutely! But it no longer condemns me: because I died with Christ, the Law has been fulfilled, as it applies to me. It condemned me to die, and I died: “End of story!” So, all of its judgment against me has been nullified, in death.

15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.

The word “spoiled” here, means “looted,” or “robbed.” In what way did Jesus “loot” or “rob” the demonic hosts at the cross? He took back the souls of all believers from the one who had long enslaved them! He purchased us, actually, with His blood, and through His death. But the key, here, is that Jesus triumphed over Satan at the Cross. This was the fulfillment of the “Seed of the Woman” prophecy in Genesis 3:15. This is where the “Serpent’s head” was “crushed.” What was expected to be a victory for Satan, and an ignominious death for the Son of God, turned out to be the Absolute Triumph of God, in Christ, and the crushing defeat of the Evil One.

How should we respond to this truth?

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

The result, then, of the final “setting aside of the Law, for righteousness,” is that we are also free from the trappings of the religious law adhered to by the Jews. (See Romans 10:4—“For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”) There are still people today who want to place themselves back under these Laws, though God tells them to not do so, right here in this passage.

What is worse, is that, they usually want to place others under that condemnation, as well. They are not satisfied to be a slave themselves: they want you to be one, too. The cults all fall into this category, as they all (either explicitly or, by implication) deny the efficacy of the blood of Jesus, saying that we must work to earn salvation, or work to maintain a right standing before God.

They go out of their way to convince us, because they themselves have been convinced that, in order for them to be saved, or to receive reward, they have to draw others into the same bondage. The cults are not doing it out of concern for your soul, but for their own. A Christian may share his or her belief, too, but he or she has no obligation to do so, and, as a rule, nothing to gain by it. They seek to free others from bondage, not enslave them. They are not concerned, as a rule, with what church you attend, but, whether you receive the free gift of God: eternal life in Christ. They may also invite you to their church, of course; but, if they are faithful servants of God, the real issue is the salvation and freedom of your soul.

Is there anything “wrong” with keeping the feasts, or observing the Sabbath? No, there isn’t! If you enjoy the celebrations, that is fine, but we are under no obligation to such things. We are not to be placed under further bondage: instead, the Holy Spirit sets us free from the bondage of sin, and does not place us in bondage to the Law. He truly sets us free to live for God.

Finally, Paul points out that all the things of the Law (the feast-days, the dietary laws, etc.) were, collectively, at best, only a picture of the coming reality of righteousness in Christ. Jesus is the Reality! He asks that we not allow ourselves to be robbed of our freedom in Christ by others, who, themselves, have rejected it.

This is, unfortunately, an extremely common trait among humans: we don’t want others to enjoy something that we, ourselves, don’t have. So we judge one another, and try to make each other feel less content with God’s supply. Paul warns us to not allow this to happen to us, and (by application), we are not to do it to others, either! You are complete, in Christ. Rejoice in that truth, and don’t allow anyone to steal your joy, by causing you to doubt it.

Lord Jesus, please allow us to meditate upon the truth that we are complete in You, and help us to grasp the importance of clinging to that truth. Help us to learn contentment without falling into complacency. We do want to grow, but we do not want to be tormented by vain ambitions. Glorify yourself in us, in Jesus name.


Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 11

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 11

The Son of the Promise

© C. O. Bishop 2012; revised 2018

Genesis 20-22

Introduction:

We have been studying through Genesis, the “book of beginnings,” specifically looking for prefigurings of the person of Christ. In Luke 24:25-27, Jesus taught the disciples to see him in passages throughout the Old Testament. We are attempting to do the same thing, here.

Since we are looking to “see Jesus in Genesis,” I am tempted to just skip chapter 20; it doesn’t really deal with the imagery of the Messiah. It deals more with Abraham’s failure, and unbelief, which we have seen before, when he deceived Pharaoh, about Sarai, and again, in the conception and birth of Ishmael, by exploiting the slave-woman, Hagar. But I don’t like to leave out any part of God’s Word, so we will at least have a quick look at Genesis 20.

Genesis 20—Abraham with Abimelech.

Abimelech is a title, similar to Pharaoh. He was king in Gerar (a Philistine city). I have no idea why this whole thing happened…Abraham went into the land of Gerar, and again played the “she’s my sister” game, regarding Sarah. It just seems strange to me that when it came to Lot, Abraham went off to battle, whipped the enemies and brought him back, along with everyone else. Now, with (evidently) more servants and riches, etc., he is afraid to even admit Sarah is his wife, and he’s obviously willing to allow her to be taken from him. He has already seen that God will protect him: why not simply state the truth, and let the chips fall? I can’t answer that.

I don’t see anywhere in scripture where lying is approved by God. He points out that some of His people lied, and in some cases He makes no comment, beyond the fact that they lied. He does condemn lying, of course, in the Mosaic Law; and Jesus said that Satan was a liar and the Father of Lies (John 8:44.) Paul ordered the believers of Ephesus to “put away lying and speak every man truth with his neighbor.” (Ephesians 4:25) I’d have to conclude that God “hates a lying tongue!” In fact, in Proverbs 6:16, 17, He says so, in those exact words.

The fact that Abraham got richer, in the bargain, does not change the fact that he dishonored God in the process. Pharaoh and Abimelech were not “drawn to the Grace of God” by Abraham’s deception—they were offended and angry that he had very nearly gotten them into trouble with God by his lie. That sort of thing does not make for good relations with one’s neighbors. Paul (in Romans 2:24) rebuked the Jewish professing believers, saying “You have made the Name of God to be blasphemed among the Gentiles.” I’m sure it didn’t impress Sarah very much either: even though Abraham admitted that he had asked her to say he was her brother, for his safety’s sake, she was the one reproved by Abimelech. (“See, I have given your “brother” a thousand pieces of silver…”)

The only thing that might have changed how the Philistines felt is that Abimelech’s little kingdom had a “baby boom” right after the incident with Abraham. Evidently the whole chain of events must have taken quite some time; long enough that they knew that the women had all become barren, and that they had afterward all been restored to fertility. Maybe that made them happier. I couldn’t say for sure. It seems to have been a bad deal all the way around, in terms of testimony, though. Physical payoffs can’t fix everything…there will still be consequences.

In a way, this is an example of Abraham being a picture of believers, across the board. His position in Christ is perfect, and God is on his side—he will be blessed forever, and God no longer sees him as a sinner: these were all true of him, just as they are of us. The Bible gives examples of people who had a good ministry, and through whom God was doing great things; but who fell into sin, and it cost them dearly. Abraham’s sin cost him something, too. We will see what it cost him, and the grief he suffered, and the terrible results for the future of Israel. His position, like ours, was perfect; his behavior was not: though his behavior was perhaps better than ours, he was still “only a sinner, saved by Grace.” Remember too, that Abraham had a pretty important spot in history: so, the consequences for his sin lasted for thousands of years.

Genesis 21—Sarah has a son; Abraham loses one.

Sarah finally had her son, as God promised. She named him Isaac, as God predicted. The name “Isaac” means “he laughs”, and Sarah said it was because God had made her to laugh in her old age. But God ordered that name, because both Abraham and Sarah had laughed at the very idea they could have a son. And, as we will see, Isaac stands as a figure of Christ in several ways.

The problems began almost immediately: Ishmael was naturally resentful at the attention his new baby brother was getting, especially as he (probably) had been hearing, already, that this was the promised son…so that he himself was not. All we know for sure, is that when Isaac was weaned, Ishmael was seen mocking him. Sarah was furious, and wanted him and his mother cast out.
Abraham was heart-sick over it, because he really loved his son Ishmael. But God told him that in this case, just as he had listened to Sarah in the matter of taking Hagar as his concubine, he was to also listen to her in the matter of kicking her out. It’s a pretty ugly story. God promised that he would make a nation of Ishmael, too—and he did—but that nation has been an enemy to the people of God ever since. We call them the Arab nations. They all claim Ishmael as their patriarch, and they bitterly despise Israel, the true people of the Promise.

We can see a bit of the long-term relational result of Abraham’s earlier deceit, too; King Abimelech, and his top soldier, Phicol, came to Abraham to request an oath of him that he would not deal falsely with them. (Remember; Abraham had “dealt falsely” with them before.) They could see that God was blessing him, and that he was getting richer and more powerful, and they were beginning to be afraid of him. (That’s not surprising, given the circumstances.) It is interesting, too, to see that, at this point, the Philistines saw the God of Israel as the true God. Actually, Israel didn’t even exist yet…Abimelech simply spoke of “God,” with no qualifier: he was referring to Abraham’s God. He had earlier talked with God when God rebuked him in a dream, regarding Sarah, and he had protested that his was a “righteous nation”…and God evidently had agreed with him. Later in their history, they became idolaters.

But at this point, the Philistines had become afraid of Abraham, and there had also been friction between their herdsmen and those of Abraham (though Abimelech evidently had not known about it.) Politics were not stable, between Abimelech’s people and the people of Abraham; there was definite tension. It is easy to see why…Abraham had already “dealt falsely” with them once, and now he was gaining power in a way that made them very nervous, so they hoped to bind him with an oath before his God and theirs; and, Abraham readily agreed. There had been a dispute between herdsmen over a well that Abraham’s herdsmen had dug. It was eventually agreed that it belonged to Abraham, and it was named “Beer-Sheba”: the “well of the oath.” Beer-Sheba is an important city of over 200,000 people, in Israel, still today.

Genesis 22—Abraham’s Test

Please take note of the first sentence of this chapter: it was a test. God was not advocating human sacrifice. He never did and never will, except in the specific case of Jesus Christ. We are all sinners: none of us ever could be an acceptable sacrifice for another person. Jesus was not a sinner, so He could be…but no one else could.

Remember: back in Genesis 3, we saw the first example of a substitutionary sacrifice: one animal for one human, when God clothed Adam and Eve. In Genesis 2, the first Law had been given: “Don’t eat that tree; in the day you eat it you shall surely die.” That wasn’t a threat, it was a fact. They did die, spiritually: they were separated from God. Death always involves some sort of separation. In the case of Adam and Eve, they were separated from fellowship with God the moment Adam ate the forbidden fruit. Nothing happened when the woman ate, but when Adam ate, the eyes of both people were opened, and they saw that they were naked.

Next, they hid their nakedness with their own works, by covering themselves with leaves, sewn together as aprons. But when God showed up, walking in the garden in the cool of the day, they fled, and hid themselves. Fellowship was broken, and their own works (the leaves, in this case) did nothing to cover their sins. They were still naked! We can “cover our sins” in relationships between humans; but, between God and man, our works have no covering effect at all.

They were spiritually separated from God; so they were spiritually dead. Had they died physically, at that same time (their spirits and souls being separated from their physical bodies) they would have been eternally separated from God. Instead, God introduced a deeper law—the Law of the Substitute. God provided the Redeemer from the beginning of time. Jesus is called the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth.” (Revelation 13:8) In fact, we are told that he was “the Lamb slain,” before there were Humans to need a savior! All those sacrifices that covered the sins of all those believers, were so closely linked to Christ that they represented Him. I do not mean that Jesus “became a lamb, and died millions of deaths over the centuries”—that would be blasphemous. I do mean that all those sacrificial lambs pointed forward to the True Lamb of God, so that, when John the Baptist cried “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the World!” everyone knew exactly what he meant…some rejoiced in it; some rejected it. But, they all knew what he meant.

I suspect that Abraham did not know that this was “just a test.” What we do know is that he knew Isaac was the Son of the Promise. He knew that Isaac, and not another, was the son who would eventually produce the Messiah. Hebrews 11:17-19 says Abraham not only knew this, but he believed that God would raise him from the dead. (Wow! That is real faith!) But, what I would like to know, is: what did Isaac think? And, how did he pre-figure Christ?

Isaac and Jesus

Picture this situation: Abraham has a bad dream… a really bad dream. God says “Take your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and take him up on this mountain and offer him there as a burnt offering.” Abraham did not “dicker with God” as he had done in Genesis 18, begging for the life of Lot; he got up early and started splitting wood. Then he called Isaac, and two young servant men, and went off toward the mountains where God had sent him. Three days out, Abraham looked up and saw the place where he was to offer Isaac. He told the young men, “You stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go yonder, and worship, and return unto you.” Abraham gave his word that both would return. That supports Hebrews 11!

How old was Isaac? I don’t know, but he was big enough to carry a donkey-load of wood; enough for a burnt offering. He was not a “little child”—he was a big, strapping youth. But he was in complete fellowship with his father. And this is where we begin to see Isaac as the picture of Christ: “the Promised Son, in perfect fellowship with The Father:”

He was the Son of the Promise: he was born according to the promise of God; born by fulfilled prophecy to a woman who by all standards was far too old to bear children: in short, he was born by a miraculous birth. (So was Jesus…but even more so: He was born of a virgin!)

Isaac walked in complete obedience to his father, even unto death. (So did Jesus! Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me.”) They walked together. Isaac said, “My father?” Abraham answered, “Here I am, my son.” Isaac asked a very logical question: “Where is the Lamb? I see the fire, the wood, and the knife—but where is the lamb?” Abraham answered, “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering.” And they walked on, together.

Remember, now: however old Isaac was, Abraham was 100 years older. When they got to the place, Isaac evidently rested while Abraham built the altar and laid the wood on it. That makes sense—he had just completed a hard hike with that load of wood on his back. (Remember Jesus, initially bearing the wood of His sacrifice.) But then Abraham tied Isaac up! (What? A strong young teenager can’t escape a 118-year-old man? Or fight back…or just run away?) There is no record of any doubt on Isaac’s part, beyond the initial question he had asked on the way up the hill. Isaac was in complete fellowship with his father, and he made no resistance.

Abraham laid his big, strong son on the firewood, and picked up the knife. Evidently he actually lifted up the knife to kill his son…probably to cut his throat, just as he would have killed a sacrificial lamb. And, at that point God stopped him. Apparently God wanted Abraham’s attention right then, as he called twice, quickly (“Abraham, Abraham!”), whereas when he called him in verse one, he only called once. God said, “Don’t touch your son: don’t do anything to him at all! Now I know the extent of your obedience and trust. You didn’t hold back.”

Then it says that Abraham lifted up his eyes and behind him, he saw a ram, caught in the thicket by his horns. How did it get there? It must have been there all the time: but as Abraham had been moving around the location, gathering stones to build the altar, lifting his son, etc., he certainly had to have faced that direction before. But now, the altar was in front of him, as he prepared to kill Isaac, and any other direction was behind him, while he was facing the altar. Apparently the Ram (a prefiguring of Christ) was there all the time, but was hidden from his eyes until the proper time. (Incidentally, a ram’s horns are very hard and strong—the horns are the only way a ram could be securely caught in a thicket and not be damaged at all, so as to still be a perfect sacrifice.) And, what about the sacrifice of Christ? It, too, was “at the proper time.” Romans 5:6 says, “in due time” Christ died for the ungodly. Galatians 4:4, 5 says, “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”

It was announced by prophecy: the time was set by God. All the prophecies were fulfilled, and still the unbelievers missed it. In fact, the believers missed it, too, until God pointed it out: The disciples on the road to Emmaus certainly were not catching on, and Jesus reproached them for being “…fools, and slow to believe….” (Luke 24:25)

Then, God reiterated the promise he had made in Genesis 15, saying that the whole world would be blessed through Abraham’s seed…not just the elect—the whole world. Even unbelievers have been blessed through the Jews, and, more specifically, through Christ.

Think too, about the substitute: The ram was given as a substitute for Isaac, who was seen as a “figure of Christ” (in fact, some scholars believe that it was on the exact same place where Isaac was offered, that Jesus ultimately was crucified…I have no idea whether that is really true, but it would certainly fit, and it was, at least, in the right general area.) God provided a substitute for Adam and Eve. Abel brought a substitute for himself, as did every believer up until Abraham; but what about Jesus? Was there a substitute for Him? Only the offering for the firstborn—two doves were offered for him: but as a sin offering? No. There is no substitute for Jesus. That is an important point. He could bring no sin offering for himself, because he was without sin. But he could offer himself for us, for the exact same reason. There was no “ram caught in the thicket” to “bail him out” at Gethsemane, nor at Calvary. The cup did not “pass from him”…he had to drink it. All the prophecies had to be fulfilled. There is no substitute for Jesus!

How did Jesus feel about it? We can see one side of how He felt, in his prayer at Gethsemane. (Matthew 26:39O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”) There was definitely a human dread of his imminent torture and death!

We see the other side of how He felt, in Hebrews 12:2: “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith: who, for the joy that was set before him endured the Cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus had the foresight to see the joy beyond the cross. He endured well, because he could see the joy that awaits those who obey the Father. We can share that joy, if we are willing.

Conclusion

And, in closing, God says that “Abraham called the place Jehovah-jireh (The LORD will supply), saying ‘in the mountain of the LORD it shall be seen.’”
I think that there are several things we can learn, here:

  1. Faith, and the righteousness bestowed through faith, does not mean “sinless perfection:” It means “believing God, and walking with Him.” Neither Abraham nor Isaac were perfect: both had human failings, but both stood righteous before God, in spite of those failings. If you have trusted Jesus as your Savior, then, in spite of your failings, you stand righteous before God, in Christ!
  2. Jesus is our substitute in death, and as we have received Him in that capacity, we also have joined Him, in His righteous life, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, and His glorification. He is our substitute, in every way, and there is no substitute for Him.
  3. God is the provider, in every case: He is the Creator of all things. He literally created all things from nothing. He says that He is our sustainer: we are to look to Him in all things.

We are called to look away from our own devices, and to look to God. The Children of Israel, when bitten by vipers, in Numbers 21, were called to look away to God’s plan of salvation: the bronze serpent on a pole. Jesus compared that figure to himself, saying that “…as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:14, 15) Did they still have the “snake-bite holes” in their flesh? Probably, yes! But they did not die!

We still have our sin, resident in our flesh, as we were “bitten” by that “old serpent” in the Garden of Eden: but we are alive with Christ, and will not be judged for our sin. We have “crossed over from Death into Life,” and God will supply our needs as we walk with Him.

Lord Jesus, help us to understand your truth, and to apply it to our daily lives in such a way that we will honor you in all that we do. Allow us to serve as your ambassadors, and offer the gift of eternal life to all those with whom we have contact.


Thirteen Reasons for Believers’ Suffering

Thirteen Reasons for Believers’ Suffering

© C.O. Bishop 02/2018

 

Thirteen Biblical reasons for suffering (there may be more):

In the first place, let’s remember that God is Sovereign… He does not require our approval. His ways are just, even when we don’t like them. He defines righteousness. The evil that is in the world came there as a result of Human sin, not Divine caprice.

So, We Can Begin With “Consequences” (The first four points):

  • Consequences of Original Sin. There are bad things happening in the world, and the world got that way when Adam sinned. Romans 5:12—“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin.; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”
  • Consequences of Personal (past) Sin (or simply error, etc).—there can be (and usually are) consequences for sin, folly or error. This is not punishment per se, but simple consequences. Sometimes the natural consequences for an error are seen as punishment—but punishment implies wrongdoing, and some error is not wrongdoing, but just bad judgment, or clumsiness, or ignorance—all can have terrible consequences.
    I have a cousin who is missing an arm. He lost it because he fell out of a tree and broke it…and the attending physician did not realize the bone had pierced the skin, and plunged into the soil before pulling back into the flesh—thus infecting the flesh with bacteria that nearly killed him. They had to amputate the arm to save his life, and even so, they nearly lost him. Punishment? No—partly original sin—there are terrible bacteria out there; infections can kill. Partly error on my cousin’s part—he fell out of a tree. Partly error on the physician’s part—he was not careful enough in his diagnosis. But possibly, even had they known exactly what they were up against, they may have lost the arm anyway. No matter how you look at it, it is not punishment.
  • Consequences of Personal Sin. (current) In a believer’s life, God may institute chastening to turn us away from error. It is still not the same as punishment. God says the wages of sin is death—eternal separation from God in the lake of fire. That is punishment. Jesus said (John 3:18) “He that believeth in Him is not condemned; He that believeth not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten son of God.” We who are believers have placed our trust in Jesus’ shed blood at the Cross—where is our Judgment? At the Cross. Where is our sin? At the Cross. Where is our punishment, our condemnation? At the Cross. But God DOES chasten believers, to straighten them out. Do you think Jonah’s trip back to the beach was fun?
  • Consequences of Personal Righteousness. This is an odd one—we think that if we are doing right, everything ought to go well…and sometimes it does.
    There is a verse, (Proverbs 16:7) that states, “When a man’s ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him”. That is a general truth—in general, that is something we can expect. But if our enemies are God’s enemies, then at some point, we will be attacked for being good. 1st Peter 2:19 “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.”
  • Training, or testing, in the sense of an athlete, or soldier, or student. God still refers to this as “chastening,”  (Hebrews 12:3-15) but it is not punishment, nor even as a result of wrongdoing. It is a “workout” given so that we may profit thereby. Sometimes God allows us to go through hard times to develop our faith. See James 1:2-4 “Count it all Joy, my beloved Brethren when ye fall into divers temptations, knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” God loves us and subjects us to stresses to make us better able to serve, and better able to stand against the evil of the world.
    Another way to look at the same concept is “pruning”. John 15:2(b) states that a genuine, healthy, live, fruit-bearing branch of a vine may still be pruned to make it more fruitful.
  • Because it is simply God’s will for us at the time. Job did NOT know what was going on in his life, nor why he suffered the loss of all his possessions, and all his children in a single day. We were given a little peek into what was going on. God did have a purpose, and it had nothing to do with any error on Job’s part, nor, apparently, any need for correction, testing or training (though perhaps we could read that into the result.) God had his own purpose in Job’s life, and was not required to explain it all to Job. (And he didn’t, as far as we know, unless Job was the author of the book (it doesn’t say), and God gave him the revelation to know what all had happened behind the scenes.)
  • Suffering for Faith. Being subjected to threat from around us, and suffering rather than renouncing faith (this is closely related to #4: consequences of personal righteousness, but is a little different.) Under genuine persecution, a believer may be offered a chance to recant his faith in order to escape persecution. Refusing to recant, and accepting the suffering, is part of the believer’s lot. During the early days of the church, many lost their lives for that very cause. Philippians 1:29 “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake”
  • So that we may be a comfort to others. 2nd Corinthians 1:3-11 (read it) Verse 4. That we may comfort others with the same comfort wherewith we were comforted by God.
  • So that our consolation in Christ may abound. Verse 5. As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so may the consolation of Christ abound. We are called to join Him in the fellowship of his sufferings (Philippians 3:10). But we are to experience the reality of His consolation, as well. (Habakkuk 3:18)
  • So that others’ consolation may abound through us. Verses 6-7. We can learn from the experiences of those around us. We will not experience everything ourselves.
  • So that we will learn to trust God, and not ourselves (could be tied to #5). Verse 9. This is an important one.
  • So that we as Christians may learn to pray for each other. Verse 11.
  • So that Thanksgiving may be offered on our behalf. Verse 11.

If we can accept the suffering in our lives, and respond in faith, it will glorify God, and bring eternal blessing to us. 2nd Corinthians 12:1-10


Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 10

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 10

The Judge of All the Earth

© C. O. Bishop 8/25/18 THCF 8/26/18

Genesis 18: 16-33; 19:1-38

Introduction:

We have been studying through the Book of Genesis, with the specific intent of observing Jesus as the Creator, in the Old Testament, as well as seeing who He is, and what He is like, beyond what we can see in the Gospels. Last time, we saw God talking with Abraham, and promising a son, through Sarah. We read how both Abraham and Sarah responded with a chuckle, because of the apparent impossibility of the fulfillment. We saw how God named the unborn son “Isaac,” meaning “he laughs”, because of Abraham’s laughter. That was the good news of chapter 18, but there was bad news, as well.

Bad News

In this next passage, God tells Abraham that he is about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, for their extreme sin. To me, this is a very sobering passage, as I see that our nation (indeed, our whole modern world) is sliding deeper and deeper into the very kinds of sin that Sodom and Gomorrah were famous for, as well as the violence that covered the earth before the flood. How much longer can we expect the judgment of God to tarry? It may be instructive to compare the old judgment with what is to come (as both are in the scriptures: we are not assuming we have figured out the future of our country or any such thing) and see whether there are other parallels.

To begin with, it is good to see that Abraham, rather than saying, “Well, good! It’s about time you burned those nasty sinners out!” was immediately concerned for any righteous who might still be living there. We assume he was primarily concerned for his kinsman, Lot, but he started with the premise that there might be fifty righteous there. Apparently he had a pretty good idea what the city was like, if he thought fifty might be the maximum. He also recognized that God has the right to judge sin, and he did not complain that God was being “too harsh” on sin, but was simply fearful that those who were believers might be destroyed with those who rejected the authority of God. He addressed this visible, personal God as the “Judge of all the Earth.”

Bear in mind, through this entire exchange, that it was the Lord Jesus who was speaking with Abram. In John 5:22, Jesus confirms that He himself is, in fact, the Judge of all the Earth, so Abram was correctly addressing Him, and begging him to save the righteous. This was God the Son, receiving the prayer of Abraham. God (the Son) said “If there are fifty righteous, I will spare the whole place.”

Now, that is an astonishing thing, in itself! It would seem more efficient to “weed out” the unrighteous, and leave the righteous to start over with a good community.  But, as far as I can see in scripture, it is usually the other way around. The flood covered the whole earth, after God removed those he chose to save. Sodom and Gomorrah were completely destroyed, after God removed Lot and his family.  Jericho was completely destroyed after God had salvaged Rahab and her family. Give that some thought: how might that pattern apply, today?

But Abraham kept dickering, and whittling the number down, and even at ten, God said he would spare the whole place for the sake of ten righteous. But, at that point, God broke off the conversation, and left. God already knew how many were there who would respond to Him at all. That is why he sent two angels, rather than only one…one could easily destroy the condemned cities, but he needed to drag four people out, to salvage them from the destruction. (Two angels, four hands.)

We believers pray for our nation, our leaders, the various peoples of the World, and for Israel, knowing that judgment is coming. The fact that we know judgment is coming does not render our prayers ineffectual or hopeless. Abraham prayed for the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah. We can do the same. 2nd Peter 3:9 says that the reason God is taking his time about judging this world is that He is being very patient, and giving people the opportunity to repent. Sodom and Gomorrah apparently had run out of time, and judgment finally fell.

Judgment is coming in our world as well: we are supposed to be acting as God’s ambassadors, attempting to offer reconciliation and salvation to any who will accept God’s terms. We know judgment is coming, but we do not know when. We reach out to those around us, trying to offer them God’s chosen way to escape the coming judgment, but not many believe us. Sometimes that is an indictment against us, for not having a sufficiently stable and consistent walk with God that our testimony would be believable. Overall, however, it is an indictment against the World, as they have consistently rejected God, no matter who He sent to speak to them: even when He came Himself, in human form, as Jesus, the Messiah.

Genesis 19

At the beginning of this terrible passage, we see the two angels arriving in Sodom, at evening. Lot was sitting in the gate of the city. We think nothing of this statement, but the city gates were where the elders of a city, and the judges of a city would position themselves. It was not only a place of honor, but a place of responsibility. How was it that Lot had been put in such a position? He must have “fit in” somehow, in order to be recognized as a judge of any kind, it would seem.

Good News?

Lot saw the “men” as strangers, who needed to be protected from the men of the city. He met them courteously, and persuaded them (over their protests that they intended to spend the night on the street) to spend the night in his home, instead, and to plan to leave early the next day. This attempt is about the only thing recorded (along with his plea to the Sodomites to leave the men unmolested) where we can see that he may have been a believer. We are not told what he said to them, but he was very strongly pressing them to accept his hospitality and stay the night indoors. He knew they would be in danger at night on the streets in Sodom. Perhaps he warned them of the reason, perhaps not. We are not told what he said; just that he “pressed them greatly.” Apart from this, there is very little evidence that he was a righteous man, and without what we see in the New Testament about him, we could easily assume that he was a lost individual. However, he treated them with genuine hospitality, preparing a feast for them, which they ate.

But before any of them could head for bed, all the men of the city, young and old—all the people from every quarter—surrounded the house, demanding that Lot turn over to them the two “men” who had come under his roof; and they specifically stated their intent: homosexual rape. (The word “know” here was about carnal knowledge, not a formal introduction.)

Lot came out and argued with them, trying to dissuade them, stating that it was for this express purpose that he had brought them into his home; to avoid this crowd of rapists. He even offered his virgin daughters to the mob, as substitutes (what a horrible father he was!), but they insisted, saying that Lot did not belong there, anyway: that he had come there as a stranger; a sojourner, but now seemed to think himself to be a judge. They declared that they would treat him worse than the other two; then they moved to attack him, and to break down the door.

Apparently, up until this point, Lot had no idea who he was trying to shelter. But the two angels reached out and pulled Lot inside, and simultaneously struck blind the men of the city, young and old, so that they could not find the door. In fact, it says that they “wearied themselves trying to find the door.” What incredible single-mindedness! They only had one concern. The fact that they had been struck blind did not seem to bother them. They continued to search for the door!

Bad Testimony

The two angels instructed Lot to go and notify his entire extended family that the city was about to be destroyed. He did go out and tell his sons-in-law, who were evidently betrothed to his daughters (or, it is possible he had older daughters who were already married, but that would be guessing.) The sons-in-law did not take his warning seriously, and just thought he was joking.

When morning was beginning to dawn, the two angels told Lot that the time had run out, and that he had to leave. He protested, and lingered, and so they took him and his wife, and his two daughters by their hands and literally dragged them out of the city, then told them to get going, not to look back at all, but to flee to the mountains.

Lot was still protesting, and saying he couldn’t make it to the mountain. He begged to be allowed to flee to a small, nearby city, saying that he could get there, and live. They finally relented, and allowed him to flee to that location. The name of the city prior to this, was “Bela”. After this it was called “Zoar”, meaning “small.”

This whole account has a lot of things for us to learn: To begin with, we need to see that judgment is coming. There will come a time when the time has run out, and judgment has come. Even a believer can be affected by the coming judgment, even though we are eternally saved. Lot was a believer, according to God. But the judgment affected his life in terrible ways. It did not have to happen that way: He chose that outcome through unbelief, indecision, and inaction.

God knew how many he was going to save out of that city—there were not the fifty that Abraham hoped for, nor even the ten…there were four: they were dragged out of the city, unwilling to go, and even then, one of them was lost, by turning back. This story has often been held up as an example of someone “losing their salvation.” But: in the first place, we have no evidence of her salvation, in terms of belief, faith, repentance, etc. All we know is that she was dragged out of Sodom, along with Lot and their two daughters. Perhaps she was not a believer at all…and even if she was, believers have many times lost their physical lives because of sin…and it had no effect on their salvation. Consider Josiah, a righteous king, who for some idiotic reason (pride, perhaps?) decided to fight Pharaoh, king of Egypt, when Pharaoh was not even attacking him, but rather was attacking someone who was his enemy. What happened? Necho (the particular Pharaoh involved) warned him off, saying “Your God sent me to punish that king (of Assyria)…stay out of my way!” Josiah wouldn’t listen, and, sadly, uselessly, he died in the ensuing battle. It stands (or at least it should stand) as a lesson for us, today.

Lot’s life stands as a lesson, too. God says Lot was a righteous man (2nd Peter 2:6-8), but his life did not reflect it—he chose to be deeply associated with the wicked world—he was involved in their local politics, in fact, and his testimony was so shallow that when he tried to warn his prospective sons in law of the coming judgment, they thought he was kidding. He had a warning of sorts, a few years earlier, when Sodom was attacked, and he was captured: he probably witnessed the exchange with Melchisedec and Abram, as well as that between the king of Sodom and Abram. Abram set the example of the choice to follow God; but Lot returned to Sodom.

Bad Results

I could conjecture, perhaps, that he considered it a “mission field”…and so it may have been. But no one believed his message, if indeed he had one. And the long run result in his own family was that his daughters did not know God’s will, and he himself did not trust God for daily living, though he had evidently trusted him for salvation. In the face of judgment, he still chose the city of destruction (“Bela” means “destruction”), and then, when he saw the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, he no longer believed God would keep his word concerning that “small” city and he fled to the mountains, where God had ordered him to go in the first place. Ironically, that city still exists today, though the name has changed a little. God kept his word through all the ages, though Lot had none of the benefits: Lot left a place that God saved for his sake—simply because he spoke up for it—and he went off and lived in a cave, where his daughters, assuming that he was the only man left in the world, decided they had to “save the human race” by getting themselves pregnant by their own father.

The two girls got him drunk and crawled into bed with him while he didn’t know what he was doing. Each deliberately became pregnant by their father, Lot. Their two sons, born of that union, were named Moab and Ben-Ammi. Their descendants, called the Moabites and the Ammonites, are still with us today, and have been enemies of Israel from the beginning until now. Today we call them “Jordanians,” and the capital of Jordan is Amman, even today. They are still the enemies of Israel. The Palestinians themselves are actually Jordanians, too. The sons of Lot have been a source of grief to Israel for nearly five thousand years, now. They are still people for whom Jesus shed his blood, and we desire to see them saved…but what a mess!

Most ironic of all, I suppose, is the fact that, had Abraham simply left Lot back in Ur of the Chaldees, as he was told to do, or even in Haran, years later, then none of this would have ever happened. But God has used it to his glory, and He will continue to do so. Remember that Ruth was a Moabite woman, and she became the Great-g-g-g grandmother of Jesus!

Conclusion:

One thing I want to point out, here, is that ALL the men from every quarter, young and old, etc. surrounded the house with one intent: to gang-rape the two “men” who had come to Lot’s house. They did not know they were angels. They simply saw them as “fresh meat”. The immorality of that area had reached “critical mass.” They were unsalvageable. We look at our society today and think “Oh, it’s just like Sodom!” but we are far from 100% immoral, though it may seem we are fast headed that way. God grant us the wisdom and courage to turn the tide, if possible.

Oh: and, about that repeating pattern? The one where God removed the righteous (declared righteous because of Faith), and then destroyed the city? Can you think of a coming event in prophecy which may have been prefigured by those Old Testament patterns?

How about the fact that there is a day coming when the Church will be removed, and the entire World judged, in the Great Tribulation? Yes, I think that is the picture in the case of Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah. And, more specifically, Lot is also a picture of believers who are saved by faith, but live their lives in sin. When the judgment seat of Christ comes, and our works are judged, they will still be saved, yet so as by fire…they have escaped judgment but lost most (or perhaps all) of their chances for reward. Lot was literally dragged out of Sodom, and most (or perhaps all) the wealth he had gained was lost in the destruction of the city. What a sad, shabby story of ruin and waste! And it was all so avoidable, too.

But where does Jesus fit into this story? Keep in mind that He is the Eternal Judge of all the Earth! Remember, too, that He is the one who authoritatively declared Lot to be righteous by faith, and who sent the angels to rescue him. He is the Savior of the World and the Judge of all the Earth. We need to see Him that way, and worship Him as God.

Lord Jesus, open our eyes to your true identity, and teach us to walk with you, serving willingly as your ambassadors to a lost World.


Paul’s Concerns for the Churches

Paul’s Concerns for the Churches

© C. O. Bishop 8/25/18 Cornell Estates 8/26/18

Colossians 2:1-9

Introduction:

We have been slowly studying through the book of Colossians, and have finally begun chapter two: In it we begin to see some of the pitfalls for faith, and the concerns that Paul held for the infant churches. He addressed the church at Colosse, and the church at Laodicea as examples. We tend to think of the church at Laodicea only in terms of their eventual failure, as recorded in Revelation chapter 3, but the fact is, they began as a vibrant, healthy church, just as did the churches at Colosse, Philippi, and other cities. His concern for all the infant churches was that they grow strong and stable in Christ, and that they be the testimony of the Living Christ to the World around them, rather than being dragged down by that World. Paul gave us, in his prayer, a “prescription” to protect us from the design of the Enemy against our souls.

The Prescription of Prayer

1For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh;

There is an interesting word used, here: The Greek word “agona” is almost always translated “fight, or conflict” but frequently in the context of prayer, not a physical battle. We are told to labor fervently” in prayer, and this is the word used. In this context, I believe that is the intended application. Paul has not met some of the churches face-to-face, but has the same concerns for them that he has for the churches he actually planted. He is “fervently laboring” for them in prayer, for what things?

That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ;

Paul lists at least three things, here: (again, it is instructive to see the things on Paul’s prayer-list.)

  1. That their hearts might be comforted.
  2. That they would experience true unity, brought about through Agape love, and,
  3. That they would collectively experience all the riches in a full assurance of understanding, through the knowledge (Greek epignosin) of the Trinity:
    • The mystery of God
    • Of the Father, and
    • Of Christ.

 

These are not light, casual things: Paul is not just praying that they “have a nice day.” He is praying that they will be comforted by the Word of God, through the experiential knowledge of the Savior. The word “epignosin” has to do with a complete, full, experiential knowledge of a person, place, thing, or condition. It is not just being able to recite some facts about a person, a place, a thing, or a condition. It requires personal experiential knowledge.

The more we experience God’s Grace and Love in our lives, on a day by day basis, the better-equipped we are to deal with the hard times and the trials and temptations in life. Remember, back in Proverbs 2, we saw the source of wisdom and understanding to be the LORD (God’s personal name in the Old Testament.) And, through our study of the Old and New Testaments, we can see that the particular person of the Godhead who showed up in human form, to give personal attention to believers was none other than God the Son. (W will see more about His Deity, in the verses to come.) So it is literally true that the knowledge of the mystery of the Father and the Son, along with the indwelling Holy Spirit, is going to be the source of comfort, and unity, and wisdom, and understanding. Paul confirms this, in the next verse:

In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Jesus is the one we need to cling to, and to learn from, in order to have the comfort, unity, and understanding that we so badly need in life. Isaiah 40:11 says, “He shall feed His flock like a shepherd! He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead them that are with young!He is the one to do all these things! There is a reason Jesus declared Himself to be the Good Shepherd, in John 10:11.

I find comfort, seeing the Shepherd in the Old Testament; how he dealt with those who trusted in Him. I find great joy in the figure of Christ, in the book of Ruth: Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer for Naomi and Ruth, reached out to Ruth in grace, going beyond the scope of the Law, in directing his workers to “drop extra handfuls” of grain, when she was near. He spoke to her personally, inviting her to come and eat with his workers. She was overwhelmed by his grace, but accepted the invitation. And, as she sat to eat with the workers, it turned out that Boaz himself was there among them, and that he, himself, personally passed her the food. Ultimately, he turned out to be the kinsman-redeemer for Ruth and Naomi. (He and Ruth produced a son, the grandfather of King David, and the great-g-g-g-grandfather of the Lord Jesus, who is our Kinsman-Redeemer!)

Do you see the pattern there? Jesus reached out to us, as poor, lost sinners, in Grace, paying the price of our sins, by His own blood. He invites us, as believers, to come and be fed by his Word. And then, “Where two or three gather in His name, He himself is in the midst of us,” and He himself feeds us on His Word, and by His Spirit.

We need the knowledge of the Holy God on an experiential basis, not “just the facts”. The facts have to lead us to the Person. When I read the Scriptures, I could be looking for just the facts, and, sometimes I am. But, in reality, I am always trying to reach beyond the printed page, to see the Living Word, beyond the Written Word. How we respond to the Written Word, is usually a good indicator of how we are responding to the Living Word, Jesus. If we are not actively pursuing the relationship with the Living Word, then we can easily be swayed by the enemy.

The Purpose of Knowledge

And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words.

The World around us is one of the three enemies named in scripture. And the World produces countless sources of “enticing words”, through advertising, through false teachers, through political speakers, and, especially through the various mass-communication media. Television, radio, and the internet could be wonderful tools for Good, but, they have become terrible tools of Evil, as they have largely been taken over by those who are enemies of the Gospel.

How did the Serpent beguile Eve? Through enticing words! And we are still susceptible to the same temptations, today. We are easily confused, and easily persuaded to follow bad leaders. We desperately need to know the Savior, well enough to recognize when the “voice” calling us is not that of Christ.

It is interesting to me (and I have confirmed this with bank tellers) that bank employees are trained to recognize counterfeits, not by looking at the various counterfeits, but by being trained so thoroughly in the recognition of the genuine currency (or real identification cards) that a false bill, or fake I.D. card is immediately seen as false. I knew a young woman who worked as a bank-teller, and she excitedly told me, one day, how she had “caught” a bank-fraud in progress. She noticed that an identification card simply “looked wrong”, and she excused herself while she took it to her supervisor. The supervisor also spotted it as false, and she had her keep the “customer” busy while she called the police. The police arrived in a few minutes, and blocked the thief’s car from front and back, and made the arrest. (Good catch!)

We are supposed to be growing in our understanding of God’s Word, too, so that a false teacher will stand out immediately, as being suspect, and we will listen carefully to see where the doctrine is leading. We then compare scripture to scripture, to check our intuition.

The Progress of Faith

Paul was impressed with all he had heard about this church, and prayed that they would continue to learn to walk by faith.

For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ.
As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him:

How did you receive Christ? Through works? Through intensive study and learning? Or was it by faith, because you heard the Gospel and chose to place your trust in Jesus as your Savior? Of course, each of us, as believers, share that testimony in common: regardless of how we arrived at that point of decision, each of us eventually had to make a choice by faith.

Having made that choice, and having received the Savior by faith, we are now exhorted to learn to walk by faith. Growing in Christ does require learning and growing and being built up in our faith, through the continual application of God’s Word to our lives. Psalm 119:9-11 says, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto, according to thy Word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy precepts! Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee!

Nothing has changed, regarding God’s Word, and the feeding of God’s Flock. We are strengthened and stabilized by applying God’s Word to our own lives, personally. This is something I have to do myself: no one else can do it for me. They may help me along, through good teaching, or by sharing with me, personally, but I do have to respond, personally, in faith.

The Product of Faith

Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.

We are called to be rooted and built up in Christ. We are called to be established (stabilized, and solid) in the faith as we have been taught, abounding in the faith with thanksgiving.  We build on the foundation of scripture. Once in a while, especially when we are new believers, we may have a misconception, and, if we are committed to the truth of God’s Word, then He, by the Holy Spirit, will quickly correct the error, and help us to see how things “fit together”.

A sister recently shared with me how she felt that she was like a child, trying to put a puzzle together, under the supervision of her Father: once in a while, she tries to force a piece into place, where it does not belong. He quickly lets her see that it is not a good fit, but that does not mean that she immediately can see where it does fit. So she is learning to trust God to show her in His time, how things really do fit together, within the framework of sound teaching.

I have had to do the same thing, as, occasionally, there were passages by which I was so frustrated, that I had to stop reading them; confessing that I could not understand, them, and waiting on God to bring me to a point of maturity wherein they were understandable to me. Had I tried to force the issue, I likely would have come up with some wrong conclusions. And, sometimes those wrong conclusions are the deliberate work of an enemy:

The Pedigree of “Wisdom”

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

Notice that the three-fold attack of the Enemy here, is through

  1. Philosophy and vain deceit (Who is the Deceiver?)
  2. After the traditions of men (Human reasoning)
  3. After the Rudiments of the World (elementary concepts, not embracing spiritual realities)

And he says that, collectively, these three are not “after Christ.” They are not from God.

We tend to like “philosophy”…in fact, the word means “loving wisdom”. But the problem is that there are multiple sources of such “wisdom,” and not all of it is from God. Remember that one of the things that attracted Eve to eat the Fruit, was the fact that it was “to be desired to make one wise.” But that “wisdom” was not being offered by God, and it was a deadly trap!

James 3:13-18 points out the three other sources, all of which are in opposition to God. He lists the “works” that are associated with such “Earthly, Sensual, or Devilish wisdom”, and then contrasts it with the “fruit” of Godly Wisdom.

13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.
14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

So, the wisdom we are looking for must come from the only good source: God says that His Word is the proper source. Do we have a teacher we like to hear? We still need to read on our own, and measure his words against God’s Word.

Just because things sound good, they are not necessarily good teaching. Compare scripture with scripture on a daily basis. All scripture has to agree with all other scripture. If we are being taught something that we think is in contradiction to the rest of the Word of God, it is time to stop and read carefully, as something is definitely wrong.

The Primacy of Christ

Verse 9 is an important truth regarding the Deity of Christ. This is a crystal-clear statement that “in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead, bodily.” We have a very human desire to “reduce God” to a humanly understandable level. That is not a good thing to do: He is not a human, except as He has chosen to appear in the person of Christ. He is the immortal, immutable, all-present, all-powerful Creator, and the God of all time and eternity! Why should I expect him to be someone I can casually read about, consider for a moment, and grasp completely? There are so many small things within the creation itself that we can study all our lives and still not understand; why would we expect the Creator to be simpler than His creation?

I can’t even grasp all the things that humans create: I use computers and cell-phones on a daily basis, but, when technicians have attempted to explain to me how they work, I can only understand in the most general terms. When it gets to the specifics of why something isn’t working, I have no idea what is wrong.

We have to recognize the Deity of Christ in our daily lives: He is not just our “Best Friend”…He is God! He is the Judge of all the Earth! We owe Him our Love, surely, for the relationship’s sake, but we owe our faith and obedience, because He is the Master…He is the Creator: He is God! We must turn to Him for all things, whether sustenance, wisdom, guidance or protection. Remember who Jesus really is, and respond to Him accordingly! Read His Word with that in mind, and treat His Word with the proper respect and reverence. Read for understanding, for comfort, and to experience true Worship and obedience.

Blessings upon you all as you seek to know the Lord better every day.

Lord Jesus, grant us your wisdom: we see you as the only sure source, and we desire to know you day by day, as our Master and our shepherd. Lead us to green pastures, and Still waters, and allow us to serve you faithfully as your ambassadors.


Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson Nine

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson Nine

© C. O. Bishop 2012; Revised 2018

Genesis 18

Introduction:

We have been working our way through Genesis: In this chapter, there are several amazing points for us to consider:

  • One is that God and his angels can show up in human form, indistinguishable from normal humans: they can walk, talk, eat, etc., and pass for humans without question.
  • Another is that Jesus, God the Son, is the only member of the Godhead to show up in visible, human form, and He usually is soon revealed for who he is. He has not come to deceive us, in any way, but rather to communicate on the level of a human.
  • Jesus is the Communication of God…the Word, incarnate: He “declares God.”
  • Jesus is also the Judge of all the Earth, not just the Savior of the World.

Genesis 18

“The LORD appeared to Abraham in the plains of Mamre.” This clearly says Abraham was talking to God. We may feel a slight problem with that, because when Moses asked to see God’s face, God said, “No man can see my face and live…” and the Gospel of John (John 1:18) confirms that, but explains briefly, by saying “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared him.” So we conclude that this was God the Son, declaring and revealing the Father, as he has done throughout all the ages.

This concept is called a “Christophany”—a pre-incarnate appearance of the Christ: God the Son. There are others…the one who most frequently appears, though, is the individual called “the Angel of the LORD.” In every case, when the “angel of the LORD” (not “an” angel of the Lord) appears, it turns out to be the LORD himself…when he speaks, it simply says, “The LORD said…” That is what happened in this particular case, too:

Abraham was sitting in the doorway of his tent, in the shade, as it was hot out. Three men appeared on the road. Abraham saw them and ran to meet them. He was courteous and hospitable toward these three strangers, and he begged them to accept his hospitality: he offered to feed them, and they accepted his offer. Then, as they ate, he stood by them and served them. He offered them freshly cooked beef with freshly baked flat-bread, cooked beside the fire, and butter, and milk…possibly other things, but we are only told those four items. And they ate…which is interesting to me, considering who they turned out to be: Then they spoke up and he began to find that he had literally been entertaining God, and, evidently, two angelic beings as well. Let’s see how Abraham responded to them (watch the changing pronouns, here, too):

God Incarnate; the Living Word

(v.9, 10) They said “Where is Sarah, thy wife?”  He (Abraham) said, “…in the tent.” Then, HE (God) said, “I will certainly return next year and your wife, Sarah shall have a son.”

From that point on, it is this spokesman, alone, who speaks with Abraham. Bear in mind that, in John 1:1, Jesus is referred to as the “Word.” It says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” A few verses later, in John 1:14, it says “and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the father, full of grace and truth.” Finally, in John 1:18, he says, “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the father, he hath declared him.” What a powerful revelation concerning all the appearances of God in the Old Testament!

Jesus is, and always has been, the communicator of the God-head: the one who “declared” God. So, this is Jesus, speaking as God, and declaring His Divine intent for Abraham’s life. He is the incarnate God, God-in-the-flesh, and he has appeared periodically throughout human history. It was He who walked in the Garden in the cool of the day, and met with Adam and Eve. It was He who wrestled with Jacob, and met with the parents of Samson. He is the One who fully communicates God to man, and, according to the book of Colossians, in Him the entire Godhead dwells in bodily form. (Colossians 2:9)

The Omnipotence and Omniscience of Christ

Notice, too, that Sarah also heard the voice of God, promising that she would soon be pregnant with her only son, and, (just as Abraham had earlier done, openly) she laughed inwardly at the thought, thinking “After I am this old, and my lord (husband) is even older, I’m going to have a son?”  Notice that she evidently made no sound! But God heard it anyway: He spoke and challenged her, saying “Why did Sarah laugh?” She was afraid, and tried to deny it, saying “I didn’t laugh!”, but God (in the Person of Christ) said, “No, you did laugh!” Knowing her thoughts shows that Christ is all-knowing: Omniscient. The fulfillment of the Promise (later) demonstrates that he is all-powerful: Omnipotent, as well as Trustworthy: He keeps His Word.

It might seem a small thing, but this is actually why Isaac was named Isaac! Isaac means “He Laughs!” It was God’s little “the joke’s on you!” response to their temporary unbelief. I like this because it shows that God has a sense of humor. Every time they called Isaac’s name, for the rest of their lives, they would remember why he held that name. I also like the fact that they were not rebuked for their initial response. God knows our limitations.

This is a good reminder for us, that The Lord has no trouble reading our thoughts exactly. Every thought is open to His observation, examination, and appraisal. What kind of thought-life are we practicing? This is the reason why, over in 2nd Corinthians 10:4, 5, he says that we have been equipped (as believers) to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” It is something to think about, isn’t it? Maybe we ought to take that more seriously.

Judgment is Coming

(v.16-33) The three “men” got up from the meal, and headed toward Sodom. Abraham, gracious host to the end, walked with them to see them on their way. The LORD (remember, this is Jesus) volunteered to share His plan with Abraham, saying “I know that Abraham will keep my word, and will teach his children to keep my word.” Jesus wants us to know His will and His plan, but it may depend upon our being willing to obey Him, and follow His will for us.

God told Abraham that he was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, for their extreme sin. To me, this is a very sobering passage, as I see our nation (and indeed, our current world) sliding deeper and deeper into the very kinds of sin that Sodom and Gomorrah were famous for, as well as the violence that covered the earth before the flood. How long can we expect the judgment of God to tarry? It may be instructive to compare the old judgment (the flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, etc.) with judgments yet to come (The Great Tribulation, Armageddon, etc), and see whether there are other parallels. (Both texts are in the Bible: I am not suggesting that we have “figured out” the future of our country or any such thing.)

To begin with, it is good to notice that Abraham did not say, “Well, good! It’s about time you burned those nasty sinners out!”, but rather, he was immediately concerned for any righteous who might still be living there. We may assume he was primarily concerned for his kinsman, Lot, but he started with the premise that there might be fifty righteous there. Apparently he had a pretty good idea what the city was like, if he thought fifty might be the maximum. He also recognized that God has the right to judge sin, and did not complain that God was “being too harsh” on sin, but was simply fearful that those who were believers might be destroyed with those who had fully rejected the authority of God. Meanwhile, the two other characters (angelic beings, who simply looked like humans, at this time) took off toward Sodom, and the LORD was left alone with Abraham.

It is interesting to note, in verse 25, that Abraham addressed the LORD as “the Judge of all the Earth,” and protested that destroying the righteous with the unrighteous was not something he would expect from the righteous Judge. Let’s stop a moment and be reminded of just who the Righteous Judge, the “Judge of all the Earth” had to be: Turn to John 5:22, and see that Jesus said “…The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son….” Jesus is the Eternal Judge, as well as the only Savior! He truly is “God in the flesh!”

God said “If there are fifty righteous, I will spare the whole place!” Abraham kept “whittling” the number down, and even at ten, God said he would spare the whole place for the sake of ten righteous. But at that point God broke off the conversation, and left. The fact is: God already knew how many were there who would respond to Him at all. That is why he sent two angels, rather than only one: one alone could easily have destroyed the cities, but they had to drag out four people, to salvage them from the destruction: so, one hand for each human: two angels!

Bear in mind, through this entire exchange, that it was the Lord Jesus who was speaking with Abraham. Abraham was correctly addressing Him as the Judge, and begging him to save the righteous. Think back to Genesis 15:6, and remember that God declares a person righteous, only on the basis of faith! Abraham was praying for the believers!

We believers pray for our nation, our leaders, the various peoples of the World, and for Israel, knowing that judgment is coming. The fact that we know judgment is coming does not render our prayers ineffectual or hopeless. 2nd Peter 3:9 says that the reason God is taking his time about judging this world is that He is being very patient, and giving people the opportunity to repent. Sodom apparently had simply run out of time, and God’s judgment finally fell.

Judgment is coming in our world as well, and we are acting as God’s ambassadors, attempting to offer reconciliation and salvation to any who will accept God’s terms. How do we do it?

Bad News and Good News

The word “Gospel” means “good news,” but we need to remember that part of the Gospel is the Bad News: the bad news of sin and the coming Judgment. Virtually all “good news” is predicated upon at least the previous possibility of something “bad” that either did not happen (hence the good news) or which did happen, requiring that we hope for Good News of a remedy of some sort.

I frequently cite the example of the “Good News” from a number of years ago, when Australian medical researchers had developed a “catch-all” antivenin, which would serve as the antidote for 85 different varieties of venomous snakes on that continent. So what was the bad news, obviously? They have at least 85 different kinds of venomous snakes in Australia! (Yow! Yes, that’s bad news!) Actually, I looked it up more recently, and, it turns out, that if we count sea-snakes, they actually have 140 varieties of venomous snakes there, but that “only” about a dozen of ‘em are regularly a hazard to humans. (Oh! Well, then, that’s not so bad, right?)

If we hear that the “…huge fires over in the wheat fields have been brought under control,” that is good news, but only because it is predicated upon the bad news that there were “huge fires in the wheat fields!” Do you see what a completely foolish thing it is, to attempt to preach the “good news” of the Gospel without also explaining the “bad news” of our sin, and the coming judgment of God upon sin? Why would someone who believes themselves to be righteous see any need for a savior?

The entire message of the Bible is this one central theme of God’s redemptive plan for fallen mankind: The Person and Work of Christ. If it were not for the fact that we are a fallen race, there would be no need for a Savior; no need for a Redeemer!

The story began back in Genesis 3, and continues through the entire Bible, culminating in Christ, both in the Gospels and in the Revelation. The last plea for the lost is made in the last few verses of the Revelation, inviting “whosoever will” to freely come. But all the way along, God makes it clear that we are a lost race, because of sin, and that no one is excluded from that condemnation. Our only hope, to be freed from our lost position in Adam is to be transferred into a safe position in Christ. Just as we saw Noah, safe, only because of his position inside the Ark, we are invited to receive God’s redemptive plan, and take up a new, safe position: in Christ.

I don’t usually feel the need to tell someone that they are a sinner: very likely they already know that. But I do tell them that I am a sinner, so they know I am not looking down on them in any way; that I am just a beggar, telling another beggar where to find free food. I am just one sinner, saved, and telling another sinner where to find the Savior.

If they fail to see themselves as a sinner, and they actually verbalize that idea, I can outline the sort of thing that God calls sin; every little selfish motive or angry thought is a symptom of the fatal disease called Sin. I can show them, from God’s Word, that every single human is a sinner, and needs a Savior. He says, “All have sinned and come short of the Glory of God.” I can tell them the rest of the bad news, that Judgment is coming: God says, “The wages of sin is Death.” But I can finish with the Good News that Jesus Saves! “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” I can explain that we are “saved by Grace, through Faith”: specifically, “faith in His shed blood at the Cross.” We trust in His finished work, for our salvation.

If they are at all interested, then, I can share with them Jesus’s promise that “he that heareth my Word, and believeth on Him who sent me, hath everlasting life (now) and shall not come into condemnation (ever), but has crossed over from death into life.” (It’s a done deal!)

Conclusion

That is really all I have to offer. Paul said, when he arrived in Corinth, that he was determined to “know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” He had seen how all the philosophical preaching he had done in Athens had really accomplished very little. So: in the next town, which was Corinth, he simplified his message, and went “back to the basics.”

I think that we need to take a similar approach, and not muddy the waters with our clever ideas, but just try to share the simple message of salvation from Sin, and the promise of eternal life, directly from God’s Word.

Lord Jesus, open our hearts to the lost around us, and give us the compassion and courage to share with them the Bad News and the Good News of your salvation. Make us a light to those around us, and let us serve you faithfully.

 


The Mystery of the Church

The Mystery of the Church

© C.O. Bishop 7/28/18 Cornell Estates 7/29/18

Colossians 1:24-29; Ephesians 2:11-20; 3:3-11

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the epistle to the church at Colosse. Paul has introduced himself, explained the nature of his relationship to that particular assembly of believers, and outlined the pedigree of all believers, who are the “Body of Christ”, as well as the Credentials of Christ, the Head of the Church…the Head of that Body.

Paul continues, in verses 24-29, speaking of his own ministry; his own service, and he says that he rejoices in the sufferings that have come to him because of that service, knowing that Jesus himself had promised that he, Paul, would suffer for the sake of Christ. (Acts 9:16)

24 Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church:

Paul rejoiced to see that the prophecy was literally being fulfilled, and that there evidently were things left for him to do; because he said he was “filling up that which was lacking,” in the afflictions he was to experience. It would be an easy error, in English grammar, to read this as saying that Jesus had not suffered enough on the Cross, and that Paul was completing the suffering. But it would be a ridiculous supposition to assume that a sinner could add to what Jesus accomplished at all, thus suggesting that Jesus was mistaken when he said “It is finished!”  This was definitely suffering that Paul experienced as a fulfillment of Jesus’s prophecy. Paul not only recognized that truth, but he saw that it was for the sake of the Body of Christ, the Church, that he was suffering. And he rejoiced in it, even knowing that it was not over yet. Incidentally, in case you are thinking we have “gotten off the hook,” read Philippians 1:29, where he says, “Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” Suffering is normal experience for the saints of God, like it or not!

25 Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God;

Paul knew that he was specifically called to serve as an apostle, laying down the “foundation of Christ,” wherever he went. 1st Corinthians 3:10-16 speaks to this issue as well, saying that he, Paul, as a wise master-builder, had laid down the foundation, which is Christ, and that others were building upon it. Paul had a vital part in the formation of the Church, proper. And it was a concept that had never even been revealed to the most far-seeing prophets.

The Mystery Revealed

26 Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints:

This is a pretty big mystery! None of the Old Testament prophets knew anything about it. There is a gap of 2,000 years between the 69th and 70th “weeks of Daniel”, in Daniel 9:23-27. This is the “70 weeks of Daniel” passage, in which God gave Daniel the timeline for all the rest of Israel’s history, up until the Kingdom age…but He left out the church age. The first 69 weeks of years (483 years) take them all the way to the Crucifixion, and then he describes as the last “week” (the last seven years) what can only be the Great Tribulation. Some have tried to say that it was fulfilled in Antiochus Epiphanes’ having sacrificed a sow in the temple in 167 BC. The problem with that idea, is that Antiochus Epiphanes did not make any sort of seven-year treaty with the Jews, and break it after 3-1/2 years. Also, Jesus, 200 years after the action of that ancient, wicked, Greek king, predicted the “Abomination of Desolation” standing in the Holy Place (Matthew 24:15), and saw it as being in the distant future.

So, something other than the old defilement of the temple under Antiochus Epiphanes is at work here: 2nd Thessalonians 2:3, 4 tell us that a “man of sin” is coming who will establish himself in the temple as being God. The Revelation tells us of a seven year tribulation, and how things will suddenly change for the worse, at the 3-1/2 year mark. Also, the Daniel 9 account says that the temple will be “rebuilt in troublesome times.” Israel is desiring to rebuild the temple, today, but is having trouble because the traditional temple mount (assuming it is the correct location) is presently occupied by the “Dome of the Rock”; the Mosque of Omar, a sacred Islamic place of worship. So, evidently, that current building is going to be destroyed, or, perhaps they will decide that that is not the right location anyway, and the temple will be rebuilt without having the mosque disturbed. Either way, Israel is surrounded by her enemies, and supported by very few allies. It certainly seems as though “troublesome times” are upon Israel.

But the point is that, though that prophecy in Daniel is one of the most far-reaching prophecies in the Bible, there was no mention of the Church. All the other Prophets did the same thing: they could clearly see the future of Israel, and all the nations around Israel, but they saw nothing about the Church age. Paul confirms that it was not revealed to them. It was hidden from them.

Over in Ephesians 3:3-11 (read it!), Paul addresses the same idea, saying that it was only revealed after the crucifixion. It fits into the collective ideas of many rather odd prophecies in the Old Testament, where the Gentiles are mentioned as receiving the blessing of God, but the actual mystery of the Church, the joining together of Jews and Gentiles into one body of believers, was not revealed at ALL in the Old Testament.

Compare Ephesians 2:11-20, where Paul clearly lays out the change:

11 Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;
12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;
16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:
17 And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.
18 For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.

A habitation of God, through the Spirit! The Church, collectively, is the Temple of God, on Earth! Because of the fact that the entire Holy Trinity indwells each individual believer, in the Person of the Holy Spirit (Compare John 14:16-23 (read it!)) the Church is literally the dwelling-place of God, just as He promised Solomon that the temple in Jerusalem would be His dwelling-place, at that time. That old stone temple, made with human hands, is long gone; but God is building a new one, supernaturally using us as building-blocks.

I used to read the passage in 1st Peter 2:5  Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”, and I would think “But, I don’t want to be a piece of rock in a big building!” I was simply misunderstanding God’s Word: the comparison, there, is being made between Jesus, who is the foundation of that Temple, and the individual believers, who are the building materials: we are not (future-tense) going to be such living stones: we are living stones now (present tense), wherever we are, and whatever we are currently doing with our lives.

So, the Church began, from God’s perspective, with the sacrifice at the Cross…that is what made it possible, at least. The Church, proper, from our perspective, began at the day of Pentecost, in Jerusalem, because, for us to be a habitation of God, through the Spirit, He had to “move in, and dwell there!” The arrival of the Holy Spirit began the unique relationship that the Church has with God. So what was the big secret? He had promised something of that sort back in the book of Joel: He promised to pour out His Spirit upon all flesh.

But He made no mention of His binding together in one of Jewish believers and Gentile believers. Notice in the verses we just read, in Ephesians, that Paul definitely recognized the Gentiles as a separate gene-pool and not somehow secretly linked with Israel. He says that we were at that time (prior to the Cross) Gentiles: without Christ, without God, and without Hope.

But, he also says that Jesus, through His once-for-all-time sacrifice, broke down the wall between Jew and Gentile, forming a “new Man,” and we have become fellow-citizens with the saints, and part of the household of God. This was never predicted in the Old Testament, at all!

27 To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:

So, the Indwelling Holy Spirit, and the fact that the Messiah would indwell each believer in the person of the Holy Spirit, was relatively unknown, although Joel 2:28, 29 could be taken to predict that truth. But the Jews still (probably) would have been convinced that that promise only applied to the people of Israel, in spite of the fact that it actually says, “all flesh.”

The revelation that the Blood of Jesus would take away (not cover) the sins of the whole world (not just Israel) was a stunning statement, when John the Baptist made it in John 1:29. And, the revelation that the Gentile believers would be joined with the Jewish believers in a new creation, a New Man…not Jew, and not Gentile, but the Church, was even more stunning!

Paul was the one first given the job of teaching that concept, and, though Peter was the first to actually take the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts chapter 10—the story of the Roman centurion, Cornelius), he himself did not understand the concept, and was still struggling with it years later, at Antioch (Galatians 2:11-14). Many believers today are still struggling with this concept and mistakenly believe that we believers (Jews or Gentiles) are to go back and attempt to practice Judaism. Nothing could be further from the truth: The holiness in the Law, though laid out by God, and fully valid, was still just a “photograph,” for lack of better term, of the true holiness of God, in a form we could somewhat grasp. The whole purpose of the Law was to direct us to the reality of Christ. The old stone and gold Temple of Solomon, glorious though it must have been, was still just a very grainy, dim picture of the true temple of the living God. Ironically, we ourselves are being built together to form that true dwelling-place of God (which was never said of Israel.) We don’t often see the Glory of God in the living stones around us, because we are always distracted by the human limitations of each individual member of the body of Christ.

Macroscopic, versus Microscopic

Consider for a moment, some gorgeous “super-model” (only as a concept—I am not promoting voyeurism of any sort): we may see such a person (male or female) as the epitome of human grace and beauty and strength, and, perhaps we would be right. But: if we were to select a single living cell from that beautiful body, and examine it under a powerful microscope, none of the beauty would be apparent. That cell would appear an ugly, misshapen blob, just exactly as utterly unattractive as an amoeba! And yet (believe it or not) every bit of the genetic code that describes the potential for that beautiful model we had seen is completely included in that single cell!

In similar fashion, each of us, because we are each indwelt by the Holy Spirit, has the “code” for the whole body of Christ. All of us, collectively, once the Church is complete, will make up the whole Body of Christ, though none of us can see it yet, any more than that single cell we selected has any idea of the whole structure of the rest of the beautiful model from whom we took the sample.

We struggle with the idea, because, to us, a “temple” is a giant edifice, completely inert, and stationary, never doing anything, never going anywhere, but passively occupying space in a single location, for as long as the stones stay in place.

But God has chosen to use the believers of this age, Jew and Gentile, as His eternal dwelling-place: truly a living temple, completely holy, and completely in harmony with one another as well as with Himself.

Don’t be so distracted by the microscopic view that you miss the macroscopic view, and the eternal truth of the Church, the Body of Christ.

Paul’s Assignment: and Ours

28 Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:
29 Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.

This is the task that was given to Paul: to present the truth of Christ, and the teaching of the Church to the world at large, and to lay the foundation of that one Church, faith in the Person of the living Christ, in as many places as God gave to him. As a result, he also was given the privilege of writing fourteen of the books of the New Testament: more than half, by count, though many were tiny letters, of only a few pages, each.

He preached the Bad News of Sin and Judgment, and the Good News of Christ, Grace and Forgiveness. He taught the difference between Law and the Grace of God; what each was for, and why both were necessary. He strove to refine the Church’s understanding, wisdom and knowledge, through clear teaching, so that it would grow straight and strong as it grew in Christ.

He continued to “fight the good fight”, laboring for that single goal of building up the church, until the day he died, executed by Rome. We have inherited the task, though at a lesser level. The Word of God is complete, and the Foundation is laid. But there are still millions, many even in our own vicinities, who have never had the opportunity to consider the claim of Christ on their own lives. No one has taken the opportunity to “introduce them to Christ.” Isn’t that a shame? That’s what Paul said, too! (1st Corinthians 15:34) “Awake to righteousness, and sin not, for some have not the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.”

The Lord may come soon, and, besides; any person may die and face judgment at any time. We knew a Godly young woman who slipped on ice, and fell, smacking her head in the process… and she died! She was a believer, raised in a Godly home, for which we are grateful. But unbelievers die, too, in just the same manner, and they face a Christless eternity. Do you care?

Give this some thought: Where are your priorities? Jesus said (John 4:34) “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work!” What is your “food?” What makes you “tick?” Those are just some things to consider.

If you understand that you, personally, as one who has been born again as a child of God, are also a living part of the Temple of God, the dwelling-place of God on Earth, shouldn’t that motivate you to behave with that in mind? To not bring shame on the dwelling-place of God through bad behavior or harsh words? To honor Him at all times, and to draw the attention of those around you to the Builder, Jesus Christ? To introduce others to Him, in fact?

These are questions we have to address personally.

I pray that will we all take these truths seriously.

Lord Jesus, re-mold our hearts into your own image, and shine through each of us, individually and collectively, as we seek to serve you and honor you with our lives. Train us to be your ambassadors, reaching out to the lost World around us.


Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson Eight

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson Eight

© C. O. Bishop 2012, revised 2018

Genesis, chapters 16 and 17

Introduction:

There are many ugly histories in the Bible: God doesn’t pull punches when telling “what happened,” and “who did what.” Actually, that is one of the things that helps convince me that this actually is God’s Word, and not the word of man: God does not put his “heroes of the faith” on pedestals: he lets us see exactly what kind of flawed individuals they really were, and then shows us what He can do with such shabby, unpromising raw materials. We saw the sin of Adam, the drunkenness of Noah, and the foolishness of Lot: but all were saved individuals.

Virtually all the patriarchs, judges and kings also had deeply flawed lives; some far worse than others. But God chose them because of what He could do with them, not because of what “wonderful people” they were. He is still choosing that way today. He deliberately chooses “losers” through whom He will bring about victories. He leaves the “self-sufficient” to be just that…self-sufficient, self-satisfied, and self-centered. They feel no need for a Savior, and they see themselves as great people. (Perhaps they are, in fact, from strictly a human perspective.)

This story is about a couple of “failures, and losers,” living in the midst of a culture of failure, idolatry, and slavery, where life was cheap, and “human rights” were scarce, or even unheard of. We don’t like these subjects, as they make us uncomfortable, at least, and sometimes angry.

Genesis 16: Faith can Stumble

Back in chapter 15, God had made a promise of offspring, but Abram and Sarai were evidently tired of waiting. So Sarai had a “brilliant idea,” which was evidently a common “cultural norm.” She suggested that Abram impregnate her servant, Hagar, and she herself would simply claim the child. Abram, a typical man, apparently thought that was a great idea.

We would be horrified, today, in our culture, to even hear of such an idea, let alone to hear of someone attempting to carry it through, or, worse yet, actually doing such a thing. But there are actually more slaves today than ever before, and we simply are unaware, because it is mostly hidden, or in particular parts of the world. And, in those places, such a plan would be taken as a matter-of-fact solution, not a gross moral violation (which it certainly is and was.)

We will eventually see how Hagar felt about it all, but not in detail. However, this little scheme produced deep, serious trouble of the “fatal” kind, which continues still today. All the Arab peoples claim Ishmael (and Abraham) as their forefather, and believe that they are the chosen people of God (the Q’uran tells them so).

This incident occurred about ten years after Abram had moved into Canaan, so he was at least 85, since he left Haran at 75 years of age. The end of the chapter says he was 86 when Ishmael was born. We are not told how old Hagar was (much younger, evidently), but I can sympathize with her in this matter—as a slave, she was given no choice. She was being treated as a thing, an object…a possession; she had no more self-determination than did a domestic animal. She probably was not in favor of the plan, being forced to sexually serve her mistress’s husband; to be a surrogate mother; not even being allowed to claim her own son. She was not exactly a sex-slave, as that was not the intent: it was strictly for procreation, but when forced upon a woman, it isn’t much different. Whatever her initial feelings had been; once she was pregnant, she felt some satisfaction, or vindication, knowing that she could bear a child, while Sarai could not.

Sarai saw Hagar’s satisfaction (and the smugness and disrespect that followed it) and blamed the whole plan on Abram (how quickly we forget!) She called on God to judge him for his sin. But Abram said, in effect, “Hey, she’s your slave; you take care of it”. So Sarai physically abused Hagar (we don’t know how: the text just says “dealt hardly with her”), and Hagar ran away.

The Consequences of Sin

The story could have ended there, with a poor, lone, pregnant woman lost in the desert. But God met with Hagar in the desert at a spring where she had sought refuge, and He told her to go back. He further told her that she would have a son, that her son would be called Ishmael, and that he would be the father of a multitude…also, that he would be a “wild man” (some translations say “a wild donkey of a man”), whose hand would be against everyone, and against whom everyone else’s hand would be raised. (Does that sound familiar? The Arab nations all call Ishmael their father (whether he was or not), and they are at odds with the whole non-Arab world. The current pattern of worldwide Islamic terrorism has been deliberately exerted against all parties, in the attempt to start a world war, and bring about some particular prophecy in the Q’uran. Their stated desire is to wipe Israel off the face of the earth…in fact, to kill every single Jew.)

We should really think carefully about this whole story—it could sound simply like a tawdry tale of sin and abuse; the sad story of a very dysfunctional family, in a primitive, brutal society… and it is all of that. But the underlying lesson, it seems to me, is that sin always has an ongoing effect. Sin has consequences. I can’t go back and undo my errors: the hurts I have caused in the lives of others will have ongoing effects in their lives as well as my own.

Sin always affects more than just the ones sinning. The long-range results in this particular case are several nations of people who are deadly enemies to Israel—who openly state that their fondest dream is to wipe Israel off the map. I have no way to know which failure of mine will have far-reaching consequences—nor how severe. (Probably none as severe as this one, simply because I am not Abraham.) But all sin has eternal consequences: at the very least we will lose potential for eternal rewards. But we also dishonor God; we destroy our testimony, and we “…make the name of God to stink, among the Gentiles.” We drive people away from Jesus.

How many times have you met an unbeliever who has become embittered against Christians in general, and Christianity as a concept, or even against Christ as a person, specifically because of offenses committed by people claiming to be Christians? In fact, for the sake of argument, I will assume they really were Christians. Why would I assume this? Because Christians are perfectly capable of virtually every sin, if not absolutely every sin, commonly committed by unbelievers. We are supposed to be living holy lives, noteworthy for the Agape love displayed in us, and for the unity we enjoy with one another, and the general pattern of good behavior seen in all circumstances. Jesus told us to live in such a way that others will see our good works and glorify God. Unfortunately, none of the above is what the World tends to see. They capitalize on the failures, and assume failure is the “real” norm, and that all the “piety” was just hypocrisy.

I asked an unbelieving co-worker, recently, if, as his children were learning to walk, he had yelled “hypocrite!” at them, every time they lost their balance and fell. He replied that, of course, he had not. I pointed out that failure, especially among untaught or immature believers is quite common, and not necessarily a mark of hypocrisy. He thought a “hypocrite” is someone who says they believe one thing, and then do something else. I corrected his thinking, pointing out that the Greek word “hupocritos” only means an actor: a pretender; a fake. A failure and a fake are two different things. A fisherman who catches no fish is not a fake, but a frustrated failure. A runner who fails to finish a race is a failure, not a fake. Such examples are unlimited in number.

What we saw in this story was a prime example of a total failure of faith. They didn’t even think they were doing wrong: they simply assumed that “cultural norms” were OK with God, and they just didn’t think to ask His opinion. They ran ahead of God (a bad idea) with their own means of “implementing God’s plan.” This is certainly not the only example in the Bible of such choices by believers, but it is one that has incredibly severe long-range consequences.

I encountered a modern-day example of this assumption recently, through a friend in another state: his church is planning to hire a pastor, and they are following the “cultural norm” of soliciting résumés, and reading letters of recommendation. This is a classic abandonment of God’s command to not “lay hands on” (ordain) someone too soon, as it is patently impossible to get to know someone in just a week’s time, and it is therefore impossible for the congregation to know and respect that individual as an elder in that assembly. But the western churches have nearly universally chosen to go with the World’s way of thinking, and have reverted to the pattern of having one hireling, like a CEO, set over a church, with abnormal authority to rule, and an impossible task to accomplish as a servant, even if he is a perfect servant…and he isn’t!

God does give instructions as to how to find, produce, train and select church leaders…and they are always plural. But very few are willing to follow those instructions, and the results are frequently disastrous. Will that church survive the error? Very likely it will! Does the fact that it is a cultural norm make it a good replacement for God’s stated plan? Absolutely not! God says for us to trust in the LORD with all our hearts and to not lean unto our own understanding. Disobedience always has consequences.

Abram and Sarai replaced God’s plan with their own ideas, based upon cultural norms, and they assumed it would be fine. But they were wrong! We are always ill-advised to assume that our “cultural norms” are a good replacement for God’s stated will. I realize that this is a troubling idea, and I have no desire to stir up controversy, but it is important that we carefully examine our practices, traditions and beliefs, in the light of all of God’s Word (not just a pet “proof-text”), to see whether they are actually what God says to do.

Genesis 17: God’s Plan Revealed

When Abram was 99 years old—and Ishmael was 13—God met with Abram again, and reiterated his original promise, and, in the process, changing Abram’s name (which meant “exalted father”) to Abraham (meaning “Father of many nations”). But God also added a condition that was to be met by the recipients of the promise. The mark of the covenant was to be circumcision. Remember that this was before the giving of the Law…it was a provision that whoever was to receive the promise was to be marked as a son of the promise. In the New Testament, we see that it was a picture of discipleship—of the “putting away of the flesh.” And it is only a picture. There were countless Israelites (and millions of modern day Gentiles) who were circumcised as babies (or even as adults) but had no heart for the God of the Covenant. The flesh does not profit, at a spiritual level, unless the Spirit is driving the flesh…the physical body, in this case. But both the Jews and the Arab peoples still practice this, in the belief that they are complying with God’s demand, and that they thereby gain an entrance into the promise of God.

God went on to say that Sarai’s name would now be Sarah (meaning “princess”), and that she would bear a son, and that they would name him Isaac (meaning, “he laughs”, because Abraham laughed at the thought of a 99-year old man fathering a child.)

Abraham had his heart set on Ishmael as his heir, but God overruled: He said that, though Ishmael would be a great nation (and the father of many nations), Isaac was the son of the promise, not Ishmael. In Galatians 4:21-31 (read this), we see the explanation of what happened in Genesis 17 and 21. In Genesis 17 God told Abram that his son of the flesh (Ishmael) was not the son of the promise…in chapter 21, he was finally told to send Hagar and Ishmael away…and it deeply grieved him to do so. Abraham sincerely loved his son, Ishmael.

But God set up this picture, using the circumstances, so that we could see, almost 4000 years later that Law and Grace do not dwell together. The Law brings a curse, and Grace brings life. Does the Law have a purpose, today? Certainly, it does! The Law lets us know that we are a condemned sinner and in need of a Savior. Grace joins us to the savior.

“Doctor Law” diagnoses the need for a new heart. “Doctor Grace” is the surgeon who gives the new heart, and binds the believing heart immutably to Christ. They do work in the same clinic, but they never set foot in one another’s offices. Doctor Law always sends his patients to Doctor Grace—if they will go—and Doctor Grace never sends them back. They work well as a team—but always separately!

So, Isaac was a picture of Christ, in the sense that he was the Son of the Promise (and it showed in his life-story in a couple of places). Jesus is the Eternal fulfillment of the promises of God.

Chapter 17 ends with the circumcision of all the men in Abram’s extended household. (In chapter 14, remember, Abram had led into battle 318 fighting men from his own household. By this time there were undoubtedly more, as it was thirteen or fourteen years later. There must have been a lot of grief in that camp that week. That particular “surgery” is not a light thing for adults.

But: the result of obedience is blessing. Abraham continually received God’s blessing and protection. And, every time God gave him a command, Abraham got right in there and did it. We especially see this in Genesis chapter 22, where God tested Abraham.

Conclusion: Final “Review” Questions

  • Which came first, Faith or Obedience?
  • And, based upon which of those, was Abraham declared to be righteous, by God?
  • Which showed him as “righteous” to his fellow humans?

Answers:

  • Abraham believed God, and God declared him to be righteous on the basis of that faith.
  • Afterward, Abraham obeyed God, and, because of that, all of us can see the reality of his faith. He “put his money where his mouth was.” He put “shoe-leather” on his faith.

We already had discovered that this was Jesus, personally dealing with Abraham. After declaring Abraham righteous, on the basis of faith alone, Jesus made some demands on Abraham’s life, which we see as works.

Application: He does the same thing for us today:

  • He declared us righteous on the basis of faith in His blood at the Cross.
  • He then declared us to be his personal possession, as well as his offspring, and set us aside for His service, His purpose, and His blessing.
  • Finally, He says there are some things he wants us to do in response to faith, and in a personal response to Him as our Savior and Master. He wants us to walk with him and commit ourselves to His service.

Are you truly willing to follow him? Or is your faith going to be more like that of Brother Lot? Though he was truly saved, Lot was never really willing to make his relationship with God a priority in his life. As we will see next time, the results were not so good.

Lord Jesus, change our hearts and let us step forward in faith, breaking free from cultural norms, and doing what does not come naturally to our minds. Make us tools in your hands, to accomplish your will.