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Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson Six

Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson Six

© C. O. Bishop

Introduction:

We have been studying the book of Genesis, specifically looking for Old Testament evidences of the Person of Christ, just as Jesus taught in Luke 24:27. We have seen a few “pictures” or object lessons regarding the Christ, as well as at least a few personal appearances. We have also seen at least one clear prophecy regarding His coming Person and work. In Genesis 14 we see two pictures of Christ, I think. One is in Abram himself, the other is in the mysterious person called Melchizedek.

Genesis 14—Melchizedek

In Genesis 14 there is a small war. Four confederate kings attacked five neighboring kings (Each city was its own little “nation,” apparently) and captured them, along with Lot, who by that time was living in the city of Sodom. (Incidentally, these five little city-nations are the same five God proposed to destroy, in Genesis 19.) Abram heard about the raid and took 318 trained fighters from his own household, and went after them, in company with several of his neighbors, Mamre, Eschol and Aner. They caught up, and slaughtered the opposition, and recaptured all the people and all the loot.

In those days, the phrase “to the victor go the spoils” really meant something. If Abram and his associates had chosen to do so, they could have kept the people as slaves, kept all the animals and possessions, and released nothing. Nothing was said to indicate what their intent was, until the end of the chapter. But both the King of Sodom and the King of Salem showed up nearly simultaneously.

Salem versus Sodom

Melchizedek ( meaning “king of righteousness”), identified as the king of Salem, and as the priest of the Most High God (Hebrew, El Elyon) showed up and offered Abram bread and wine (which is interesting, all by itself.) Melchizedek blessed Abram, and blessed God for blessing Abram. Abram gave a tenth of the spoils (physical loot) to Melchizedek, evidently as a recognition that it was his God who had made possible the total victory over the enemy.

The king of Sodom (who had been conquered, and who had lost everything—his kingdom—his city, and his populace) also showed up and “offered” Abram all the goods, if he could have his people back. Abram didn’t owe him anything at all. In fact, had he been an opportunist, he could certainly have captured him on the spot and said, “One more slave!” But he flatly rejected the offer, not on the basis of its being invalid (it was), but because it did not honor God.

He said “I’m taking nothing! I don’t want you to ever be able to say that I “got rich” at your expense!” Further, he stated that he had already made a vow to God, to that effect. He was also careful to add that his decision did not affect his confederates, and that they would have to make their own decisions regarding the loot.

I think it is at least an interesting comparison, to see that, like Christ, Abram was offered a “short-cut.” Satan offered Jesus the worship and pomp of the World, in Matthew 4:1-11. Satan had very limited authority, as we can see in the Book of Job, and certainly did NOT have the “title to planet Earth,” as many commentators suggest—God does, and He always did.  Psalm 24:1 states that “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein!” Also, in Daniel 4:17, God says that “The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men and giveth it to whomsoever he will…”) God is the ruler on planet Earth, and always has been!

Satan claimed that the whole world had been given to him and that he could give it to whomever he chose. It was a lie, which should not surprise us: Jesus said that Satan is a liar and the father of lies. Satan offered that which was not his to offer. Jesus did not argue the validity of the offer, but simply rejected him completely. The king of Sodom offered Abram that which was not his to offer. Abram did not argue the point, but, rather pointedly, rejected him completely.

Remember, too, that Lot had been very rich when he left Abram, but he was one of the people kidnapped in the raid. He could have asked Uncle Abram if he could rejoin him, but evidently nothing of the sort was mentioned. Sodom went back to being Sodom, and Lot went with it. The next time it is mentioned is just before it was destroyed. And Lot lost everything in that destruction, but he himself was “saved, yet so as by fire”. Does that sound familiar? How “tight” is your connection with the world? See 1st Corinthians 3:11-16. We, as Christians, can be so tied to the world that we have none of the eternal treasures of God, and when our works are judged, we can lose everything, though we ourselves will be saved—yet so as by fire.

Abram rejected the offer of the King of Sodom, and seized upon the promise of God. I think we need to follow his lead, looking at our choices carefully as to whether they honor God, or serve self, in keeping with the World’s thinking.

Melchizedek himself

But, what can we learn about Melchizedek? Who is he? Where does he fit into history? Why is it that he is even mentioned here? What is the significance of this short passage? We find him referred to again, very briefly, in Psalm 110:4 and finally, more extensively, in Hebrews 6:20-7:22. He is either a very pointed picture of Christ, or, possibly, a true Christophany—a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ himself. Most scholars believe that he was simply a gentile priest-king, presiding over the city of Salem (meaning “peace”), and that he is is just a handy illustration of some things about Christ. Let’s look, though: what does the scripture actually say?

Psalm 110:1, 4 says “The LORD said unto my Lord…” (God speaking to God—God the Father speaking to God the Son) “…Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” That is the prophet David speaking, regarding the Christ, but also a statement by God about both Christ and Melchizedek.

Hebrews 6:20 quotes Psalm 110:4, and then sweeps directly into the only actual commentary we have from God about Melchizedek: Hebrews 7:1-22.

Facts about Melchizedek:

  1. King of Righteousness (meaning of his actual name)
  2. King of Peace (his office)
  3. THE priest of the most High God (his job)
  4. Without father (Really? Or just not known?)
  5. Without mother (Really? Or just not known?)
  6. Without descent (Really? Or just no genealogy listed?)
  7. Having neither beginning of days nor end of life (Really? Or just not listed?)
  8. Made like to the Son of God (At least very similar…maybe too similar!)
  9. Abideth a priest continually. (Present tense!)

That ninth fact puts a different perspective on who Melchizedek really is, in my mind. By the way, this is all given in what is called “indicative” mode…the assurance that all the statements made are definitely so. It is not allegory. It is not supposition or conditional, or anything like that. It says he “abides a priest continually”. In what sense can it be said that Melchizedek still is functioning as a priest? Where does he offer sacrifices, or prayers? For whom does he intercede before God? Give that some thought!

We are further told that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham, and that his priesthood is therefore greater than that of Levi who was a great-grandson of Abraham. It is stated that Levi paid tithes through Abram, to Melchizedek. Levi would not be born for maybe two hundred years yet, and God said he paid tithes to Melchizedek. Interesting.

God compares the two priesthoods, and says that because the priesthood of Levi (Aaron—Levi’s Great-g-g-grandson) is constantly interrupted by death (and that of Melchizedek is not), the final priest had to be after the order of Melchizedek, and not Aaron. Good logic: one priesthood was flawed, through death and human frailty; the other was not.

But if Melchizedek is still functioning as the priest of the Most High God, where does Jesus fit in, as High Priest? And why would we say that he was “after the order of” (under the auspices of) a gentile priest-king, who, though we know little about him, must have lived and died almost 4000 years ago? How can that be? Why would Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and the ultimate source of Righteousness, be listed as being “after the order of” a dead guy from 4000 years ago, who somehow is also still a priest…Unless they are somehow one and the same? Because it could also be said that, since Jesus is a g-g-g-g-great grandson of Abraham, that He also paid tithes to Melchizedek, and thus was also “lesser,” just like Levi…and he is certainly not. But he may be equal, in which case there is no problem.

If Melchizedek was The priest of the Most High God, in the strictest sense—the one and only—the eternal Priest (and it seems he apparently is), then all the rest makes perfect sense. And it rejoices my heart to think that before God brought judgment to Canaan, he had offered His Grace to that region. The King of Righteousness and King of Peace had actually visited them, lived among them, and offered them a way to God. And, in reality, that is all we know about Melchizedek. We also know that it was immediately after this that the land was again promised to Abram—specifically naming the places, borders, and current inhabitants—but it was another 400 years before God evicted the Canaanites and all the other “-ite brothers.”

I can’t say with assurance that “Melchizedek was definitely Christ”, but I tend to lean that way in my thinking. There are too many things that otherwise don’t add up. If he simply appeared among the people, and eventually disappeared, then the “no father, no mother, etc” makes sense completely. A christophany is not born, and does not die—he is Christ, the eternal Son of God, the Living Word, who shows up periodically in Old Testament History, and then simply vanishes, leaving only the memory of his presence, and some sort of message from God. If that is what happened in Genesis 14, then He was the most intense and Personal christophany of them all. If it is not what happened, there, and he really was just a “gentile Priest-King” who happened to form a very good picture of the coming Messiah, then the story is just somewhat puzzling and mysterious…which, given the source, is not terribly unusual: there are many things we don’t understand, in God’s Word.

Application

But, what can we do with all of the above? The most obvious thing is to remember that, no matter who Melchisedec turns out to be, we will constantly be offered choices that fall into the “Sodom versus Salem” category, and we need to watch for them carefully, so as to make decisions that honor God, even if they do not seem to offer us the same “profit-margin” as the World offers.

There are many examples of people in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, who had a similar choice, and grabbed for the profit. Lot, in this immediate context, was a prime example, and it eventually cost him everything he had, leaving a permanent stain on his progeny, as well. He was a believer, according to 2nd Peter 2:4-9. But he left a terrible legacy, as we will see in Genesis 19.

Abram made what seemed to be a costly decision, here in chapter 14, turning away from an apparent windfall; but it was ultimately a very wise choice. He honored God with his words and deeds, and he is remembered as “the friend of God.” And God eventually blessed him in return.

Balaam, on the other hand, in the book of Numbers, was a genuine prophet of God, and, initially, was at least superficially obedient. But he strongly desired the rewards offered by the enemies of God, and eventually, on his own, he went and suggested how the Midianites and Moabites might cause Israel to stumble and fall, and be condemned by God. Incidentally, both these tribes were cousins to Israel, but are also bitter enemies, in spite of the family link.

The rest of that story is somewhat of a mixed blessing. It is in Numbers 22-25, culminating in Numbers 31:8. As we read that account, we can see that Israel’s position with God was secure forever, and that only their condition could ever be changed. Yes, they got in serious trouble, because of Balaam’s advice to their enemies: but God chastened them and brought them through, as a nation…and they were later sent to destroy their enemies, including Balaam. Today, Balaam is only remembered for his treachery, and is frequently referred to as a “false prophet.” But the truth is, he was a real prophet who sold out! He “bargained with Sodom,” instead of Honoring God. It’s a sad story, for sure.

We need to maintain a close walk with God, reading His Word, and seeking to obey Him, so that when that sort of choice presents itself, we can see it coming, and be prepared to make a Godly choice. We don’t want to follow the “Doctrine of Balaam”, and make choices that dishonor God.

Lord Jesus, teach our hearts; correct our thinking, and draw us close to your side, so that when the World makes an offer, of options that look like great opportunities, we will see through the lies, and see the opportunities for the traps they really are. Help us to know the difference between your hand of sustenance and the hand of the enemy who seeks to ensnare us.

 


Introduction to Colossians

Introduction to Colossians

© C. O. Bishop 5/25/2018 Cornell Estates 5/27/2018

Colossians 1:1-8

Introduction:

The epistle to the church at Colosse is written by the Apostle Paul, as were more than half the books of the New Testament. It was written about the same time as the epistles to Philemon and to the church at Ephesus, evidently, as it was carried by the same messenger(s). We must bear in mind, though, that, while the human writer is Paul, the true Author is the Living Word, the Lord Jesus. So, this is the Written Word of God, and we will approach it with that in mind. All scripture must agree with the rest of scripture. Whenever we think we may have found a contradiction, we can rest assured that, with more careful study, we will confirm that the discrepancy was just due to our own misunderstanding.

Are there different styles of writing from one human writer to another? Certainly, there are, just as the marks left on wood by my hand-plane are different than those left by a drawknife or a scraper…or a saw, for example. But my hand was the one guiding each tool, and I can accurately claim to have “handcrafted” the resulting project, regardless of what it is. I’m the maker!

God’s Word bears the stylistic and vocabulary-related marks of his various chosen tools, the writers of the Bible. But it is truly all “One Book, by One Author.” And it has one central theme, the Person and Work of Christ. In fact, the entire Bible is structured around God’s redemptive plan for the fallen human race: and Jesus is that plan.

This epistle is not nearly so personal as the one written to the church at Philippi, as Paul did not know the people in this church as intimately as he did those at Philippi. He knew them mainly by reputation, evidently, through Epaphras, who, it seems, may have planted that church. The result then, can be seen even in the opening greeting: it is not nearly so tenderly, and passionately worded as is the letter to the believers at Philippi. The people at Philippi were his intimate friends and fellow-laborers. That church was his only regularly supporting church, even though, ironically, it was not his “home-church” He was initially sent out from Antioch, but his relationship with Philippi seems to be the closest he had with any individual church.

So, while the greeting to the church at Colosse is not “cold,” or impersonal: it is simply to a group with whom he had less close ties, so it is a little more reserved. Paul begins by introducing himself and Timothy to the believers at Colosse:

Sent From God –To You!

1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother,
To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul introduced himself simply as “an Apostle of Jesus Christ (a “sent one”) by the will of God (not self-appointed), and Timothy, our brother. No special accolades, no boasting about his great education, or his other credentials, nor even a list of all the churches he had personally planted (and there were many): He was “sent by God”…and that was it. The same was true for Timothy: He was just a faithful brother. Do you see the simplicity of service, here? It is a privilege to serve: just do it!

I think it is noteworthy that the letter is not addressed to the “Pastor”, nor to the “Deacons and Elders”, nor yet to the “Church Board of Trustees”, or any such thing. It is to the “saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse.” It is to the Church, proper. All the church epistles are addressed to the churches, not to the leaders, nor any sort of authority figures. By the way, the Bible knows nothing of friars, abbots, sextons, monks, cardinals and popes, etc. They are entirely invented by humans.

Position and Condition

The letter was to the “saints” (the word “saints” means “holy ones”…they were made holy by their position in Christ) and the faithful (believing) brethren “in Christ.” That is a key phrase: our position in Christ along with His indwelling Holy Spirit in us, is all that sets us apart from the World around us; just as Noah’s position inside the Ark was all that set him apart from his neighbors who were outside. Consider the end result of our position, and that of Noah. All in the Ark lived because of their position inside the Ark. All in Christ live (eternally) because of our position in Christ.

What does it mean, to say that the believers, the saints, the “holy ones”, are “holy” before God? It literally means that we are “set apart” for God’s service. It means that we are His private, personal property, and that we are for His service and His pleasure. We often forget this truth, and think that we are here to please ourselves. We forget that we are called to “be holy as He is Holy.” It does not mean we wander around with a halo over us, and our palms pressed together, or any such silliness: it means that we belong to Jesus Christ; and it makes perfect sense that we should actively seek to serve Him, as His chosen vessels for the Gospel; His ambassadors to the lost World around us.

Paul focused on that one positional attribute that all believers share: We are in Christ. And, as we can observe in Colossians 4:16, this epistle was intended to be a “circular letter:” It was to be read in other churches as well. It is to us, as believers in Christ. We are in Christ, by the new Birth, through Faith, so this letter is addressed to us, personally. As we study, try to keep in mind that this is literally God’s letter to you! Take it personally!

Also, consider this: Paul’s position in Christ was more important than his specific task, as an Apostle. And, an Apostle was not more “in Christ” than any other believer. The first concern is our position. But once that position is secured (and it is a permanent change), our condition before the Lord becomes our first concern. Am I walking with Him? And, finally, am I exercising my gifts? Am I doing what He has called me to do? Part of being “faithful” is being committed, and reliable. Yes, the word “faithful” means “the believers”, but the kind of faith God calls us to exercise is also intended to produce “faithfulness”, in the sense of reliability. Can God count on you to obey Him on a daily basis? Can others count on you to be the man or woman of God you are called to be? Can they trust you to live a Godly example for them, both in words and actions?

Grace and Peace

In verse two, as in virtually every Pauline epistle, is Paul’s opening blessing, praying for God’s sustaining Grace in the lives of the believers, resulting in His abiding Peace. These two ideas always come in that order: Grace, then Peace. In Salvation, we received saving Grace, through faith, and it resulted in Peace with God. On a daily, living basis, we receive God’s sustaining Grace, again through daily renewed faith, and it results in the Peace of God. Both flow from the Father and the Son, to us. “Grace be to you, and Peace.” Always in that order!

Thanksgiving and Prayer—Faith and Love

Paul may not actually have known these people, personally: but he said that he and Timothy had been praying for them, and giving thanks for their walk with God ever since they had heard of their faith in the person of Jesus Christ, and their love for the believers around them.

We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,
Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints,

This is how we are supposed to respond to other believers, based on our faith in Christ, and our position in Him. Jesus gave us the commandment that we are to love one another as He loved us. These believers were doing exactly what Jesus said to do, and Paul and Timothy were overjoyed to hear of it. Keep in mind, too, that Salvation is a gift, not a reward. Faith in the Gospel brings Salvation, which gives us Hope. Obedience brings reward.

Our Hope and our Coming Reward

Paul and Timothy gave thanks especially because of the Hope that was secured for these believers, including the reward that was in store for them in Heaven. Paul reminds them that they (the believers) already knew about this, too.

For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel;

What is the “Hope that is laid up for us in Heaven?” Our hope is eternal life with Christ; being finally separated from our sins, and the trials of this life. We hope for a new body, free from the ravages of age and disease, and for the literal, physical presence of the Lord Himself, the fulfillment of all the promises of God. We look for a new heaven and a new earth, where the damage done by man is all in the forgotten past, and Joy surrounds us like the air and the sunlight.

All this and more is “laid up for us”…it is on deposit, credited to our account, since the moment we each trusted Jesus’s blood at the Cross as full payment for our sins. Eternal Life is already ours. Reward is accumulated as we allow God the freedom to use our lives.

I remember, when I had first trusted Jesus as my Savior, but still knew almost nothing about the rest of the Bible, a friend, who knew I was just recently saved, asked “Are you looking forward to going to heaven?” I replied honestly that I wasn’t even sure whether I believed in a heaven or hell; I only knew that I needed Jesus now! But as I began to read His Word, I soon came to see The Bible as “first and final authority,” in all things, so that I eventually saw that, “if God says it; that settles it,” whether I personally believe it or not. And, as it happened, it turns out that the Bible does have a fair amount to say about both heaven and hell, so that I gradually came to understand a few things about eternity. And, yes, I eventually understood that my “hope” had been “laid up for me in heaven,” immediately, when I first believed, though I knew nothing about it. Later, I learned that there was a reward involved, too, though I still don’t really feel I know much about that part.

The Gospel and the World

Paul also says that that Gospel had been going out to the whole world just as it had come to Colosse. The Gospel is for everyone, but not everyone has heard it.

Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth:

What is the “Gospel”? We hear the word used in a lot of ways, including the idea that “gospel” must mean “truth,” because people say, “No, really, that is the gospel truth!” when talking about things that have nothing to do with the Bible, but which they believe to be absolutely true. The Greek word translated “Gospel” is “euaggelion”, which means “Glad tidings”—good news. The Gospel of Christ, as it is presented in the Bible, has to include at least the following things:

  • The fact that Jesus Christ died for our sins, in fulfillment of scripture (fulfillment of God’s eternal promise.)
  • The fact that he was buriedreally dead, pierced through by the Roman spear, after dying on the Cross. Dead and buried, wrapped up like a mummy, and interred in a rock tomb with a heavy stone for a seal. This also fulfilled prophecy.
  • The fact that He rose from the dead after three days and three nights in the tomb, also in direct fulfillment of scriptural prophecy, and the fact that he was seen alive by many witnesses, over a period of forty days after his resurrection.

Why do I list these three things? Because, in 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4, Paul listed them in that order, as being the core truths of the Gospel of Christ: the “Good News” which, being believed in, has the power to save those who believe. (Romans 1:16) When I review, in my own mind, any recent conversation in which I attempted to share the Gospel with an acquaintance, I’m questioning whether I really offered that person “the Gospel:” Did I really include the death, and burial and resurrection of Christ, or did I just tell them “how wonderful the Christian life is?” (Sorry, that is not the Gospel…and not really even true, in many respects: Paul says, over in Philippians 1:29, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on his name, but also to suffer for His sake.” That doesn’t sound very “wonderful” to most people.)

The Gospel is the Good News of Eternal life in Christ, and how it was purchased for us by the death, and burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the Christ. The Messiah. And, being believed in, it is the Power of God to save sinners…and it is the only thing so described in the scriptures. If I leave out the necessary ingredients, is it still the “Gospel?” Can I still expect it to work to change lives, if I leave out those key points? The answer to both questions, is “NO!”

Faith and Responsibility

So, why did I mention that “not everyone has heard the gospel? Because Paul pointed that out, too, over in 1st Corinthians 15:34, saying “Awake to righteousness and sin not, for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.” Our faith brings responsibility.

Paul is only reminding these believers, at Colosse, of things they had already been taught: He says that Epaphras taught them these doctrines, earlier. And that he (Epaphras) was also the one who told Paul and Timothy about their vibrant faith:

As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ;
Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit.

So, evidently Epaphras is the one who led them to Christ, and who planted that church, and who had continued to serve them, teaching and encouraging and helping them mature in their faith…and the church was doing well. Notice that Paul uses Epaphras as an example: he calls him a “dear fellow servant” and reminds them that Epaphras has been a “faithful minister of Christ” to them. He was a faithful servant of Christ, bringing them the message of salvation, and training them up as men and women of God. The word “minister” means “servant.” It is not a special “religious” term. It was and still is used in many walks of life to mean a servant. Epaphras served Christ by serving them with the Word of God.

Now, he had the opportunity to report to Paul and Timothy what GOD had been doing in Colosse. He was not claiming personal credit for the changes in their lives. Only the Holy Spirit could make those changes happen. And Paul and Timothy were rejoicing with Him for God’s victory at Colosse.

Paul was very encouraged to hear of the inroad of the Gospel in that town. He wrote this letter to encourage them and to help them to become more established in their faith. He goes on to say that, ever since he heard of their new-found faith, he had been praying for them: Next time, we will see what sorts of things Paul prayed for, in the lives of these believers.

Lord Jesus, open our hearts to your word. Fill us with your Spirit, and let us grow in faith, as these believers were growing in faith. Teach us the meaning of practical holiness, and remake us all into your image. Allow us to serve as your ministers, bringing your Grace to those around us.

 


Paul’s Blessing to the Believers

Paul’s Blessing to the Believers

© C. O. Bishop 5/16/2018

Philippians 4:10-23

Introduction:

We have been studying through Paul’s epistle to the believers at Philippi: We have witnessed the close relationship between the Apostle Paul and this particular assembly of believers.

We have seen that, in spite of the epistle being quite a personal and tender letter to Paul’s dear friends, and fellow-laborers, it is also addressed to the believers in all ages: to us!

Paul has just concluded some pretty important directives as to how to experience the Peace of God (as opposed to Peace with God), and has concluded in Philippians 4:9 that if the believers would put into practice all that they had learned from Paul, and had witnessed in his living example, then the God of Peace would “be with” them. That he would sustain and uphold them through the hard experiences of life, and that they would live lives saturated with the Peace of God. They already had, permanently conferred upon them, Peace with God. They were learning to experience the Peace of God.

Now Paul changes the subject and blesses them for their recent gift.

The Supporting Church

10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity.

Evidently the Church at Philippi had lost track of Paul for a while, and, though they had desired to support him, they couldn’t, simply because they didn’t know where he was. He acknowledged that, and graciously relieved them of any feelings they may have had, that they had somehow let him down.

11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.

Paul says that he was not hurt in their absence…he had matured to the point that he was satisfied with little or much, and neither would distract him from the job at hand. This is an important point. I have had people tell me that if God would not support them, they would not serve Him. To be fair, I think their logic was that “God’s blessing comes in the form of support”, therefore a lack of (financial) support would indicate a lack of his blessing, and that they would take that as a signal to stop whatever ministry they were involved in. That is still poor logic: Every single child of God is called to be an ambassador for Christ. You serve, regardless of circumstances, and regardless of reward. The privilege is to serve, and the blessing was the Great Commission.

So Paul had learned the lesson of true blessing, and knew it seldom is dependent upon finances. This seems perfectly logical to me, but, if you recall, the people of Israel had sought a very mercenary relationship with God, often. “You bless us, and we’ll serve you!” (Witness Jacob at Bethel: “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme, and I will bring you back a tithe!” Really? If God just wanted the money, why would he bother giving it to you? He could just keep it! Jacob seemed to have things rather backward…but God taught him differently over the ensuing years. Jacob learned what it meant to put God first.)

But this little church, out of their deep poverty, had regularly sought the privilege of supporting Paul in his work. They gave far beyond their means, counting it a privilege, and he received it as a blessing from God. But he was not dependent upon their gifts.

12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

Paul says that he was completely satisfied to serve, regardless of the conditions, just as they evidently were pleased to serve. He had learned (been instructed) how to be full, and how to be hungry: to live with abundance and to live with poverty. And he was able to serve under either extreme:

13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

Notice how the context, here, changes the meaning of the verse? How many times have you heard someone “claim this verse” as their “promise” that they could do some hard task, or perhaps win a football game, or some similar application? This is a great case-in-point for learning to get the interpretation correct, and then look for application.

Do you see what the context is? It is the question of living with plenty or living with barely enough to survive: not “winning a game,” or lifting a load, or overcoming a trial, a disease, a court case, or whatever…it had to do with learning the peace of trusting God for everything….not worrying about where the next meal is coming from, etc., because Paul was doing what God sent him to do, and he was confident that God was meeting his needs according to His own plan. And Paul was satisfied with the plan!

There is no hint, here of “special empowering” for super-human tasks, though we know that Paul was used, on more than a few occasions, to bring about various miracles. I think it is really instructive to observe that, when Epaphroditus was sick (Philippians 2:25-30), and nearly died, Paul was not given authority for a miraculous healing, though God did eventually provide a rather ordinary kind of convalescence and healing. Further, when Paul himself was afflicted in some way (2nd Corinthians 12:1-10…I’m not sure exactly what it was, but it seems likely that it had to do with his failing sight) he pleaded with God for healing, and after three such prayers, God told him to drop it: that God’s Grace would be sufficient for him. So, it was Christ who strengthened him to endure hard times, not to do super-human stunts, nor even miraculous deliverances, as a rule.

But Paul wanted them to know that they had served well, in supporting him.

14 Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction.
15 Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only.
16 For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity.

Paul let the Philippian believers know that they had done well in sharing with him, and that he personally appreciated it…furthermore, that they were the only church supporting him. I’ll bet there was a great reward for them! They were literally part of the ministry of the Apostle Paul! And, over in 2nd Corinthians 8:1-5 we see that they were very poor. This was not a casual “giving of alms,” but a joining together in ministry. The churches in Macedonia gave to the believers in Jerusalem, and the Philippian believers (also one of the churches of Macedonia) supported Paul’s ministry.

Guess what! We do the same thing when we support missionaries who are taking the Gospel where it has not gone before, or who are part of a team doing so. Paul said, over in Romans 15:20, “Yea, so have I strived, to preach the Gospel not where Christ was named….” I think that is (or should be) one of the highest priorities of the church. And this little church was right there in the thick of things, working with Paul to get the job done! What a blessing, to see how they were serving right along with the Apostles!

And notice that Paul himself was not so anxious to get the gift…he was grateful that it was given, but especially because he saw it adding to their reward. Money had never been an issue with Paul. He says:

17 Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.

Worship in Giving

Paul was not in the ministry for money. Usually he was completely self-supporting, though he acknowledged elsewhere that this was not the norm among the apostles. He simply chose to work that way, so that no one could falsely accuse him of mercenary motives, and also so that he would not be a financial burden to any of the churches he served. He worked as a tentmaker on at least one occasion, to provide travelling expenses for himself and his entourage.

He was pleased that the believers in the Philippian Church were sharing, because it did them good—it brought fruit that is to their credit. They are being rewarded, now (today, and forever) for helping on his job. We have the option to join in the work of world evangelism, too, by praying for missionaries, and by giving to support God’s work.

18 But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.

Paul assures them that their gift delighted him, and it pleased God, as well. He recognized it for what it was—a worship offering to God, and their service to God. He assured them that he was personally blessed by their generosity, and he felt that he had more than enough of everything he needed. (Bear in mind that he said this from a Roman dungeon!)

Over in Romans 12:1, 2, Paul begs the believers in Rome, on the basis of the Grace of God they had already received, to present their bodies as living sacrifices to God. And he called it their reasonable service of worship. So these Philippian believers were doing just that: they were in extreme poverty, but they scraped together enough to send a gift to him and make his ministry easier.

The Sustaining God

19 But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

When we read this, we need to think carefully about the difference between “needs” and “wants”.  God does not say he will give us everything we want.

Recently I wasted a lot of time, idly thinking about buying a different (larger) vehicle, because certain items I thought Ineeded to transport would not fit in my small SUV. I have been very grateful to have this present car, and am very satisfied with it, but I was beginning to worry about “needing” a larger van, perhaps. After some time of thinking about it, I decided that I should not be worrying about that, yet, as the object I was concerned about transporting (a double bass) did not exist yet, and that, when it did materialize, God would see to it that our needs were met. At that moment it suddenly occurred to me that He had already done so!

A few years earlier, my wife’s uncle had died, and she really felt strongly about buying his old, but well-cared-for pick-up truck, with a canopy, so we bought it. We have hardly driven it since then, except to carry gardening things, or firewood, etc., so I really hadn’t given it a thought, but the fact is that it will serve perfectly for the things I want to carry (upright basses.) It is not what I had in mind, but my needs had already been met. When I set aside the “wants” I had been entertaining, the facts were made clear to me.

Paul’s Conclusion and Benediction

20 Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

This seems to have been the underlying motive in Paul’s whole life. He wanted to bring glory to God. Like Jesus, he determined that “My food is to do the will of Him that sent Me and to finish His work!” Is that my motive in life? Is it yours? What is your core reason for what you do? How does it work out in what you do and say? Paul wanted to bring glory to his God. It seems to me that he lived up to that objective.

He made it inclusive, as well: he referred to God as “our Father”…he invited us to join in that purpose. We have been chosen to function as emissaries of God’s Grace, and ambassadors of Christ. As we step into the reality of those tasks, we find ourselves laboring along with Jesus Himself, and bringing eternal Glory to God by our service.

21 Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren which are with me greet you.

22 All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household.

It is always somewhat heart-warming, to me, to see that Paul does not forget the believers around him. In some cases he calls them by name: for example, he names the one (Epaphroditus) who acted as scribe in writing this letter, in the next verse. Paul was nearly blind, and had to have someone else do his writing, as he dictated. In other epistles, he only names a group, but it is clear that he valued each of them as individuals, and fervently loved the church as a whole. He prayed for them continually, and sought to bless them and strengthen them in every way.

It is also encouraging, to see that his personal testimony had made inroads into the very household of Caesar: There were believers in Rome, by this time, feeding upon the same bread of life that had been offered at Philippi, through Paul. And they felt the kinship shared among believers; they extended their greeting to their brethren in Philippi. It is interesting to me, too, that the believers in the household of Caesar evidently did not see themselves as being anything special, because of their position in life, in the household of the emperor. They were anxious to join in fellowship with this tiny group of poor, but utterly faithful and valiant saints in Philippi.

Living Grace

23 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. (To the Philippians written from Rome, by Epaphroditus.)

Paul’s final word is virtually always to invoke God’s Grace for the lives of the believers to whom the letter is addressed. I believe it is in keeping with the tone of the rest of his letters to assume that God’s Grace is what we are to look for as well—that this prayer, in fact, addresses the needs in our own lives, not just those in a tiny church in a Macedonian city, 2000 years ago.

We need God’s grace for salvation, obviously, but we also need it daily, in order to serve, and to live healthy, happy lives. We are not born again just to be left to our own devices: we have a Heavenly Father who watches over His children.

Jesus promised that He would not leave his people comfortless. And he has come, in the person of the Holy Spirit, to indwell each of them. He guides us, teaches us, blesses us, and directs our lives, so far as we are willing to allow him preeminence.

If we are satisfied to just have him reside within us, then our lives will not be much more fruitful than they were as unbelievers. But if we daily invite him to preside…to take the throne and reign, in our lives…then His Grace will fill our lives, and, though things may be hard (as they certainly were in Paul’s life), we will be able to see His hand of provision, and know that we are in the center of His will.

The Lord bless you all as you put the practical truths of the Book of Philippians into practical use in your own lives.

Lord Jesus, take the words of this epistle, and graft them into our hearts, by your Holy Spirit. Allow the Word to take precedence over all the various voices with which we find ourselves bombarded. Help us to listen more and more attentively to your voice, and learn to walk with you as your children, serving as your ambassadors, joining in your work.

Amen!


Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 5

Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 5

© C. O. Bishop 2012 revised 2018

Genesis 12-17—Abram, Man of God

Introduction:

We have been reading through the book of Genesis, with the specific intent of finding either actual, physical appearances of Christ, there, in the form of “Christophanies”, or finding foreshadowings of His coming, his ministry or his character. Sometimes He actually shows up in person, but frequently it is simply a “footprint or a fingerprint,” so to speak, that we find there. A trace of His presence, through which we can learn something of His character and person.

In chapters ten and eleven we saw the break-up of the super-continent, and the division of the languages. We also saw that Noah lived long enough after the flood, to have personally witnessed the beginning of the continental break-up, and that he was still alive when Abram was born, ten generations removed. That is hard for us to grasp, and some people flatly reject the Biblical history, saying it is impossible, or that people counted time differently, or some such thing. What we can see, is the rapidly diminishing lifespan in the first ten or twelve generations after the flood. The normal lifespans dropped from a peak of over nine hundred years, down to less than two hundred, in ten generations, and continued to drop until they stabilized at about 70 years as a norm. That is historical. God tells us of this, so that it is not just a mystery to us.

Abram: Called by God

Beginning in chapter 12, the narrative begins to center on a single man, and a single family. It is interesting, at least, to note that, back in Genesis 9:28, it says that Noah lived for 350 years after the flood. But, in the genealogies in chapter 11, we can see that Abram was born 328 years after the flood. So, he was 22, or thereabouts, when Noah died. Did Abram actually know the old ark-builder personally? I really don’t know, but it certainly was possible at any rate…if he even still spoke the same language! We don’t know at exactly what point the languages were divided.

So, almost all the things in chapters ten and eleven happened before Noah died. Peleg was born 137 years after the flood, and died 26 years after Noah died. But Genesis 10:25 states that the continental breakup occurred during Peleg’s lifetime. So, Noah saw it all happen, and Peleg died when Abram was 48 years old. Abram saw the immediate aftermath of all these things, at least. We don’t know how much he saw, but his elders literally had “seen it all.”  When I was a child, we travelled on steam-powered trains. At the time I had no idea of their significance, or that it was literally the “ending of an era.” Diesel locomotives were rapidly supplanting all the steam locomotives, so that, by the time I was grown, nearly all the steam-engines had been scrapped, or put in museums. But I only vaguely remember those changes.

The division of the languages may have happened when Abram was quite young, or possibly even before he was born. We know it happened between the end of the flood and the introduction of Abram, but not exactly when. However, it may partly serve to explain why Terah, in Genesis 11:31, took his little “tribe,” and left Ur of the Chaldees, and moved away, toward Canaan, If he was still uncomfortable with his “strange neighbors”, even years later.

But as we will discover, later, that Abram had been told to leave that little “tribe” behind, and that just he and his wife were called to go; not the whole family. But in light of the break-up of the super-tribe at Babel, and the continuing breakup of the super-continent, perhaps Terah just made up his mind that they would all go. Perhaps this fits into the general division that began at Babel—or maybe not: the division of the languages could have happened a generation earlier. But, since the motive for the tower of Babel was to prevent the scattering of the people, it seems that the breakup of the land had already begun, and they were trying to maintain a “reason to be,” in Babel. That would put the time about 100-200 years before Abram was born, at the very most. So, the division of the languages was probably quite recent, when Abram was born…or possibly even after his birth, but that seems less likely. In short, some incredibly important changes had just occurred in the years prior to Genesis 12, and Abram enters the picture just after these break-ups, but evidently long enough that they were no longer on his mind, as he never mentions them, perhaps for the same reason I barely remember the loss of the steam-locomotives.

Abram in introduced in chapter 12, and a “new race” is begun, in rudimentary form. The Jews, proper, did not yet exist, and Abram, though he is the father of the whole race, is not himself a Jew. He is a descendant of Shem, to be sure, but so were many of the folk in that region. Abram was just one of many, and not particularly special, in most respects. He was originally from what we now call Iraq. (That is where Babylon was/is, too: 53 miles straight south of Baghdad, and where the tower of Babel was, just before Abram’s time.) Abram and his father, Terah, and his nephew, Lot, left Ur of the Chaldees (which is also in Iraq, about halfway between Baghdad and the coast of the Persian Gulf…120 miles or so from the gulf coast.) and they traveled to Haran (in the south of modern-day Turkey, 140 miles from the northeast corner of the Mediterranean sea.)

Called: to Leave the Old Life Behind

Evidently God had told Abram to leave his Father’s house (Genesis 12:1) and follow God to a new land. Abram took off, but took his father’s household along with him. We can only assume that he must have told his father of the vision, or dream, or appearance of God. Terah evidently thought that was a great idea, and decided he wanted in on it, because in Genesis 11:31, 32 we see that Terah took Abram and Lot, and their wives and journeyed to Haran. Terah took the lead, and managed the migration. This was a journey of just over 700 miles, depending on which route was travelled (but west by northwest, as a general direction), and probably took nearly six weeks on foot, also depending on what flocks were brought along with them. It could have taken much longer. I don’t know whether Terah named the town “Haran” after his dead son, Haran, or not, but it looks that way. The whole family was held together and managed by Terah, until he died, and then God (The LORD) called Abram again. It is interesting to see that it wasn’t until after the “old man” (Terah) died, that God called Abram again, and said “follow me”. I don’t know how much we should read into that connection, but; it is at least interesting to note that, in Ephesians 4:22, we are told to “put aside” the Old Man, so that God can use us. I don’t know whether there is really a connection there; but it is an interesting parallel, at least.

We attempt to do so much, in the flesh, but, the fact is, when the Old Man (our old sin nature) is in control, even the “good things” we do (or attempt to do) will bear no eternal fruit. So, after Terah died, Abram tried again…he really wanted what God had to offer, but he was still clinging to what the World had taught him to be his responsibility. He was “bringing up his brother’s son”, so to speak. But Lot was a grown man, and Abram really could have left him behind…and he should have. Notice that it does not say “he took Lot with him,”, but that “Lot, his brother’s son went with him.” Both Lot and Abram had a choice, and Abram should have left Lot at Haran. We will see the resulting problems, as they arise. But we are really better off to leave behind our old way of life, and start anew, with God in control.

Called: to be Separate

However, at 75 years of age, Abram still took Lot along with him, which proved problematic, and it got them both in trouble more than once. It wasn’t until Abram separated himself from Lot, in Chapter 13, that God said (Genesis 13:14-18) “Now lift up your eyes to the north, the south, the east and the west. To you I will give this land.” (In other words, not to Terah, and not to Lot.) By the way, the Ammonites and the Moabites, who we will meet later, were all Lot’s offspring. And a good deal of the land that was promised to Abraham’s descendants is still populated by the Ammonites. We call them “Jordanians.” The capitol city of Jordan is still called Amman today. (Do you have any ideas what the fuss over the land might be about, today??)

Looking ahead, just a little, it is interesting to me that, in the latter half of chapter 12 and again in chapter 20, Abram was (correctly, as it turned out) fearful that others would seek to take his wife to be their own. In chapter 17 we find out that Sarai was ten years younger than Abram, and we have seen in chapter 12 that Abram was 75 when he left Haran. So Sarai was at least 65 when Abram headed into Egypt, and he was afraid that he would be killed for Sarai’s sake, as she was such a beautiful woman. That is pretty unusual, by today’s standards, at least. And it happened again when she was 90. Was this some sort of a miraculous rejuvenation brought about by God, so that she could mother a child at 90? I don’t know, but it is certainly unusual that a woman of that age was considered so desirable as a bride. I really don’t know what to make of that.

But, in both cases, Abraham begged Sarah to say that he was her brother (which was a half-truth, as she was his half-sister), so that they would not simply murder him to get his wife.  Also, in both cases, Abram (Abraham, by chapter 20) received material compensation for the error on the part of the men who tried to take Sarah. However, we should recognize that his saying she was his sister was an act of spiritual poverty. He did it out of fear, not faith. Abraham had his weaknesses, as we shall see. But he also had some tremendous strengths. One was a general tendency toward Faith. But he had his failures as well. It is good to remember that “hypocrisy” and “failure” are two different things. Abram was a man of great faith who sometimes stumbled and fell.

He was a man of great faith: He simply believed God! When God made a promise, Abram believed it. When God gave a command, as a rule, Abram obeyed. And He worshipped that one God: Everywhere Abram travelled, with few exceptions, he built an altar specifically for the worship of Jehovah-Yahweh-God: The LORD.

The Name of the LORD

Notice that, in Genesis 12:1, the word “LORD” (all caps) is used. This is the way the Bible translators usually treat the “tetragrammaton”—the YHWH from the Hebrew Scriptures. We do not know how to pronounce this name, because, ironically, the Jews forbade their people to speak that name, lest they inadvertently blaspheme: the result being that they have forgotten how to pronounce the name of their God. (How incredibly sad!) Isaiah 43:11 states that “I, even I, am the LORD, and beside me there is no savior.” They have forgotten the name of their Savior!

Toward the end of the 15th century, a Dutch monk named Erasmus suggested “Jehovah” as a possible pronunciation. (Actually pronounced “Yehovah” in his native Germanic tongue.) The Hebrew pronunciation of the Y and the W, are, respectively, “yuh”, and “vuh”… and the Germans pronounce a “J” the same as we Americans pronounce a “Y”. But, we really don’t know which vowels were associated with those four consonants. Modern scholars have suggested other such variations, such as “Yahweh” (which would still have to be pronounced “Yahveh” to be in keeping with Jewish pronunciation).

But it absolutely delights me to note that, in Acts 4:12, Peter said, “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” And he was referring to the name of Jesusnot the Old Testament name. So, the only Savior (the LORD) called Abram to leave his old life behind, and follow Him; just as today, the only Savior (Jesus) calls us to abandon our old way of life and learn to walk with Him. And it is the same Savior! This is the God to whom Abram built his altars: it was Jesus the whole time!

Called: to Worship

Abram, the Altar-Builder: 

In Genesis 12:5-7, we see that Abram journeyed (south) into Canaan, to the place of Sichem, and the plain of Moreh (in the north end of what is now Israel.) At that time this was all Canaanite territory. The Canaanites were the offspring of Canaan, the son of Ham. And, in verse seven, The LORD appeared to Abram and said that He was giving the land of the Canaanites to Abram and his offspring (though Abram had no children.) And Abram evidently believed God, because his response was to worship God there. He built an altar, for the worship of the LORD, who would thereafter be the God of Israel.

Then he moved again: I don’t know why. But he moved to a mountain, to the East of what would later be called Bethel (the house of God).  And He built an altar there, as well, and “called upon the name of the LORD.” This is a good pattern in Abram’s life. He was putting his relationship with God first, it seems. He was making a place of worship and a pattern of worship the predominant thing in his life. God took first priority. That is a good choice!

But a test came, and he stumbled: a famine began, and he left the land he had been promised and went to Egypt. Is it possible God sent him? Yes, but it doesn’t say that He did, and Abram also apparently did not build an altar there. My guess would be that this was a fleshly response, and he was responding in fear, not faith. All we know for sure is what is written: He left the Promised Land and went to Egypt, because of the Famine. (Not because God sent him.)

Just as he feared, Pharaoh did take Sarah, and gave him lots of money, slaves and herds, etc…. (We don’t like it, but, yes, Abram was a slave-owner, like many others.) But God plagued Pharaoh and his household, because of Sarah, and Pharaoh knew he had been deceived. He confronted Abram, and rebuked him for not telling him that Sarah was actually his wife. Then he sent him packing, but allowed Abram to keep all the gifts, so that he went away a very wealthy man. Sometimes we may profit, in temporal ways, by our actions, even when those actions are not pleasing to God. Wealth is not a good measure of God’s blessing or approval of our behavior. I have known a Christian man who profited by tax-evasion…temporarily…but it caught up to him later, and it shamed him for the rest of his life. Evidently God graciously allowed Abram to prosper, in spite of the lapse in faith, but God never approves unbelief. I would imagine that every time Abram remembered how he had risked Sarah to save himself, he probably was ashamed, and grieved for his failure, in spite of the wealth that resulted.

Final Separation: and Service

Genesis 13—Separating Abram from Lot

Ultimately, Abram and Lot were both too prosperous to live together, as their huge flocks and herds were competing for forage; their herdsmen were beginning to quarrel, on top of the fact that the land was still inhabited by the Canaanites and the Perizzites. So, Abram suggested a peaceful separation: he gave Lot first choice of territory, and said that he, Abram, would move away from wherever Lot chose. And Lot chose the valley of the Jordan, richly watered and verdant at that time. Lot left, and headed straight for Sodom. We will see the result of that, later.

Remember that God had told Abram to leave his old life behind. Up until this point, the baggage of his old life and family ties had weighed him down and kept God’s full blessings from him. How do I know? Look what happened next: (Genesis 13:14-18)

Then the LORD said to Abram, after Lot was gone, NOW lift up your eyes…look North, South, East and West…to YOU and your offspring I will give this land.” God had to wait until Abram set aside everything else, before He could bless Him as He intended. And God told him (this time) to get up and walk through the land. Then Abram moved to Mamre, lived there, and built an altar to His God. Later, God met with him there, in Person. Later, too, we will see God’s description of the land set apart for the offspring of Abraham, and it is a very large piece of territory, many times the size of what Israel now holds.

Conclusion

How can we lay hold of the inheritance of God? I think we can emulate Abram, and separate ourselves from our old patterns, our old passions, and learn to walk with Jesus, so that He can reveal to us what He has in store.

Wherever God has called us to live, and feed, and work, we need to leave behind our old thought-patterns, and fears, and “build an altar,” at least in our own mind and life, at which we will worship, and bring the sacrifices of Praises, Thanksgiving, and Obedience. And there at that altar, we need to realize that our relationship with God is personal. We are to deal with Him personally, not theoretically. There is where He holds out His Grace and His blessing to us, not in some dream-place where we think we want to go. Not based upon a creed, or a ritual, or even a personal routine of piety, but on a personal relationship with the Savior.

Lord Jesus draw us to yourself, in a personal, obedient, faith-relationship that carries and supports us above the fears and turmoil of this world. Allow us to worship you there, and serve you in the world around us. Make us emissaries of your Grace and Love; ambassadors of the Cross.


Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 4

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 4

After the Flood

© C. O. Bishop 2012 revised 2018

Introduction: The Aftermath of the Flood

In Genesis 6:5-7 we see that God watched the world become increasingly filled with wickedness and violence. He made an all-inclusive statement in verse 5: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” What a stunning statement, coming from the God of the Universe! This is the Creator: all-knowing, all-wise, and all gracious, utterly condemning the human race, as only evil, and utterly wicked. We may think that this only referred to the human race prior to the flood, but there are other passages, statements made after the flood, that are similar in the wholesale condemnation of the human race. What are we going to do with those statements? And, on a personal level, are we going to admit that we ourselves are part of that condemned and fallen race, and that we, too, are in need of a savior?

We look around us at the ruinous state of some areas of the world, and, in sober moments, we realize that our own culture is only marginally separated from such things…that we could easily fall into that sort of corruption and evil. That perhaps the only thing that has preserved western culture against utter degradation, is the presence of the Person of Christ, central in our beliefs. And, as we watch, He is being excised from every facet of our western lives as if He were the source of the evil, instead of our only guard against it.

Let’s look, then and see what we can learn from the time of the flood, before and after:

Before the Flood

Remember, we saw that the land mass was one giant, fairly flat continent, with no divisions in terms of mountain ranges, or water barriers…no seaways to cross. All the land was accessible to every human and every animal. And, as we read through the genealogies between Adam and Noah, paying close attention to when each patriarch was born and when he died, we can see that the last patriarch to have been born during the lifespan of Adam was Lamech, who was 57 or so when Adam died. Noah was born 125 years after the death of Adam. All of them up until (and including) Lamech, could have known Adam personally, if they chose to do so. Methuselah’s life overlapped that of Adam by 240 years. Even if they never met until Methuselah was 100 years old, he would have had 140 years in which to absorb whatever Adam had to relate about the Fall, and of the few days after the creation before he and Eve were expelled from the Garden.

Every bit of Lamech’s life overlapped that of Methuselah…and the first 600 years of Noah’s life overlapped that of Methuselah. This is not what one would call “hearsay” evidence, nor is it just a “word-of-mouth” type thing. Adam was an eye-witness, and both Methuselah and Lamech knew him (or could have known him), personally, and Noah was well acquainted with both of them. This is a very short line of “tradition,” and very tightly connected. The final point is, as we read in the New Testament, that both Jesus and his apostles treated the account of the flood as fact, not allegory, or mythology. With that background, then, consider what God said about Man: that “every imagination of the thoughts of His heart is only evil continually! This is really what God said about the Human Race. And it is why he destroyed the whole race, to start fresh.

After the Flood

After five months, the ark was sitting on the top of a mountain, in a place now called Ararat. Evidently the earth’s crust was already beginning to fold, as that area is quite high, today (over 12,000’), whereas, before the flood, there were no real mountains; but, by the end of the flood there were at least some that are now recognized as real mountains. The obvious answer is that the crust was moving and folding during and after the flood. After ten months, mountains were protruding from the waters.

Noah could not see out onto the landscape, and it was almost a year before he even opened the one upward-pointing window and released a raven. The raven stayed out, flying around until the waters were dried up. He also sent out a dove, to see whether the land was dry. But the dove could not find a clean place to perch, and eventually came back to the ark, so Noah reached out and brought her back inside. (Just an interesting note: Ravens are scavengers, and the raven was probably quite content to be out in the ravaged world. Perhaps it was finding carcasses, still floating, and putrid: Prime raven food! Mud and filth were not a bad thing to the raven.)

A week later, Noah sent the dove out again. This time she brought back a leaf of an olive tree, showing Noah that things were drying up. He waited another week and sent her out, and she didn’t come back. It was a total of one year and seventeen days that Noah, and his family and the rest of the animals had been in the Ark. Then God told them they could come out, they and the animals. They were to breed abundantly, and fill the earth.

Noah built an altar to God, and sacrificed that “seventh individual” of every clean animal (those acceptable for sacrifice, and, later, for food, under the Law, still far in the future.)

God promised that he would never again destroy the world with a flood. He promised that when rain came it would always cease, and that the rainbow would be the emblem of His promise. The people started fresh with some new directives: They were free to eat meat, but not with the blood. And human life was sacred: whoever (or whatever animal) killed a human, was to be killed in turn, because humans were created in the image of God. Human Government was established.

So God was “starting over, fresh.” But he was not starting with people who were not sinners: God said (after the flood) “…the imagination of Man’s heart is evil from his youth;” This was when there were only eight people alive! And later, even when all the survivors knew him, they soon forgot who He was, and abandoned any attempt to walk with Him. They immediately leaned toward self-reliance, and ignored his directives.

Shortened Lifespan

We have several paragraphs of genealogies leading to Abram. The only thing I would like to point out about this genealogy is the diminishing lifespan with each new generation. Noah was six hundred years old when he boarded the ark. He died at 950 years of age. His son, Shem, was only 98 when he got off the ark, and two years later had a son. Shem lived 600 years and died. His son, Arphaxad, lived a mere 438 years. Shem’s grandson, Salah, only lived 433 years…and so it went. Peleg, a couple generations down, only made it to 239. His grandson Serug only lived 230 years. His son Nahor only lived to 148. But Nahor’s son Terah made it to 205. (That was Abraham’s Dad, by the way.) Abraham, the Friend of God, eight generations, or so, removed from the flood, only lived 175 years. His son Isaac lived 180 years, but the numbers, in general, were dropping rapidly. Later we find that 70 became the recognized norm, and that 80 was possible if you were in good shape, but that those last years might be hard years. Why the change?

Remember when we read that it didn’t rain, before the flood, but a mist came up and watered the earth? And later, we saw that the “windows of heaven were opened”, at the flood? It is conjectured that there was a water envelope, or canopy, that protected the inhabitants of the earth from harmful radiation. This is supported in Genesis 1:6-8, where God created an expanse (“firmament,” in KJV) between the waters—separating the water above the expanse from the waters below…and he called that expanse “sky”—(heaven in KJV.) What is above the sky? That is to say, what is above our atmosphere? Today there is the apparently limitless expanse of space. Evidently at that time, there was water out there, too. It’s something to think about.

That water canopy was removed in the process of the flood, and people’s aging process became much more rapid. We can’t prove that this is true, but it seems to make sense…especially since, during the Millennial Kingdom, people will once again live for around 1000 years. There is no terribly important doctrine, here, perhaps, but it is certainly interesting.

Bear in mind, as we read of these various judgments, that the “Judge of all the Earth” is unquestionably Christ himself.  We sometimes get the idea that the Judge is this “terrible Old Testament” figure, and that Jesus came as a Savior, to save us from His wrath. In John 5:22, Jesus stated that “…The Father judgeth no man, but has committed all judgment unto the Son….” Jesus is the Judge, and the amazing truth is that the Judge, himself, stepped down to die in our place, as the full payment for our sins. Confusing? Yep. But true, and it is supported by the whole of scripture. But in the middle of the genealogy, a brief comment was made; that the earth became divided. And the word for “earth”, here, always means the land, not the people.

The Beginning of Continental Drift

So we see, not only a world destroyed by flood, but the foundations laid for a divided land mass and the eventual continental drift. That must have been quite a sight—but the only record we have is the simple statement that it happened. God had more important things to address: things that affected human history even more than the division of the land.

I do find it relevant to note that the land mass began to break up in Genesis 10:25, and that the motive for building the tower of Babel, in Genesis 11:4, was specifically so that the human race would not be scattered. Peleg was born 101 years after the flood (see Genesis 11:10-16), and God says he was named Peleg (“division”) because in his days the earth was divided. So, either the earth was beginning to break up about the time he was born, or this was prophetic as to what was about to happen, during his lifetime (he lived to be 239 years old.) Either way, apparently the people could see that the continent was fragmenting, and, that, unless they did something to keep people together, they might soon be unable to reach one another, as the land mass was drifting apart in several directions. The blessing of God had included what seemed to be an assignment to multiply on the whole earth, so this passion to keep them all together may have been a problem all by itself. But the means by which they chose to try it was really a bad thing.

Division of Languages

The next thing God relates was the descent of man into false religion; and the subsequent division of the nations and families of the earth, as a judgment from God. We see in Genesis 11 that people gathered in a plain of a land called Shinar. There they built a city (now called Babylon, by the way) with a tower whose top was to be “in the heavens”—in the sky. They were building the first skyscraper, it seems. (So what is wrong with that? We have lots of them today.)

The particular type of tower they were building is called a “ziggurat”. It was specifically used as an observatory for astrology, and whatever other religious purposes, possibly including sacrifices. (The ones in South America, square-topped, stepped pyramids, are similar to the ones in Babylon, and they were used for human sacrifice.) But, regardless of their use, the stated intent was that they should not be “scattered abroad on the face of the earth”. God had told Noah that the people were to “replenish the earth” (Genesis 9:1)…probably that did not include “grouping up in one population center.” At any rate, God said that, collectively, if they were not scattered, there was no limit to what they might do. He apparently did not mean it in a good way. The mischief they might work is evidently what he was concerned about, and what he proposed to do about it just reveals his unimaginable power and wisdom.

It is interesting, too, that he stated his intent in the plural: “Let US go down, and confound their language that they might not understand one another’s speech”. He really did a great job of it! I have no idea how many people were there the day he chose to do his work, but today we have in excess of 6,500 known languages—closer to 7,000. What mass confusion must have ruled, the next morning, when, perhaps by families, the entire great city was filled with frightened people who could no longer communicate with one another! At any rate, God says they “abandoned the project.” (I love God’s use of understatement!) So they named the place Babel: “Confusion.”

And where did they go, to escape the madness all around them?  They fled from the “bedlam in Babel”, and scattered across the rapidly fragmenting continent, and, in some cases, apparently found themselves completely isolated. Scientists have concluded, through computer modelling of continental drift, that there was originally just one continent. But they assumed, for their model, that the drift had always been at a rate comparable to that which is observable today. Why would that be likely? Every other motion, except falling, tends to lose momentum, and slow down. So, very possibly, the initial movement was rapid enough to be alarming to everyone, and make them want to move to safer places.

The plain of Shinar had seemed safe, but God chased them out of there, and they were literally scattered across the land…and they rode those drifting land masses away, in some cases. Researchers have discovered recently, for instance, that what is now the United Kingdom was once a peninsula, and that there are ruins of towns, beneath the North Sea, where it was once dry land. Divers and other researchers, today, are trying to learn more about these civilizations.

We can only speculate how it all may have happened: Some, such as the Phoenicians, became seafarers, and they may have made travel between those drifting plates a regular thing.

But eventually, the plates were too far apart, and such voyages weren’t practical or common. Perhaps this is where legends such as “Atlantis” had their origin. Perhaps the “lost continent” did not actually sink, but simply moved too far away. Modern attempts to recreate such voyages have proven that the ancient sailors were pretty adept, and that they very likely crossed both major oceans regularly, as far back as 1000 years ago, and more, though it was a hard trip. Some of these ideas are, by necessity, the product of some speculation. But the evidence is limited for any conclusion, and, if I begin with the assumption that God is telling the truth about the flood (and everything else), then the evidence seems to point this way. That might explain the pyramids in South America, as well. We will likely never know for sure.

Conclusion:

What can we do with this information? All we know for sure is that the world is a great deal younger than the people of the world would have us believe: and that humans witnessed the break-up of the super-continent! Today we find earthquakes, avalanches, landslides and sinkholes both terrifying and fascinating: How much more, to watch the whole continent fracture, and the ocean sweep into the breach, roaring, foaming, and carrying away rubble and sand and trees? Possibly hot magma came welling up through the fractures as well, and steam and smoke boiled up to fill the sky, as the hot rock was submerged in seawater. People watched this happen!

The God with whom we are attempting to become better acquainted caused all this change, the division of the land, and the scrambling of the languages. He caused the physical and linguistic fractures, to avoid the spiritual depravity that was otherwise imminent. It was Grace, once again, and Wisdom and Compassion. Separation was, quite literally, for our own good!

We don’t always like the things God does (or allows) in our lives. We need to accept, by faith, the sovereignty of God, and, knowing both His goodness and His Wisdom, to trust that the things that happen are also for good. Remember that Jesus is both Judge and Savior!

Lord Jesus, inspire in us a trust of your character, your sovereign authority and your compassionate Wisdom. Help us to turn to you in faith, every day, for our sustenance and safety, with guidance for service. Make us an honor to your Name.


Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 3

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 3

The Coming Redeemer

© C. O. Bishop 2012, (revisited and revised 2018)

Genesis 3-9

Introduction:

The Bible is not “the history of God.” The “history of God” would be impossible to encapsulate in a book, or even millions of books, as He is Eternal.

It is not the history of Man, as it leaves out the vast majority of human history. It is historical, but in a very limited sense. In Genesis we can see one aspect of the beginning of earth’s history: specifically, it is the history of God’s redemptive work toward the fallen human race. It tells us how we began, how we became sinners, and what God has chosen to do about it. We will discover, as we read the Old Testament, that Jesus is “Plan A”, and there is no “Plan B”. We can see God’s wisdom and his saving Grace, from the very beginning.

The Fall and the Promise

When Man fell into sin, in Genesis, chapter three, we see the first prediction of the Person who would be the Savior. In this passage he is referred to as the “Seed of Woman”. The masculine gender is applied, and the singular personal pronoun is applied—it is not a group of people that are called the Seed of Woman, but one male Child. And only one such child in history could accurately claim that title, because all the rest had a human father—they were NOT the Seed of Woman, but the seed of a man and a woman. This is the first Prophecy of the Christ, and it predicted the destruction of Satan, and the reinstatement of fallen man. The prophecy was given as part of the curse on the Serpent (and Satan), but God continued on, to lay out the consequences of sin for both the Man and the Woman, as well. The only Good News in this passage is the Seed of the Woman. And Adam believed that “Good News” (the Gospel, in its earliest form.)

The Sacrifice and the Safeguard

Adam placed his trust in that promise (Genesis 3:20, 21), in that he named his wife “Eve”, which means “mother of all the living”…and, on the basis of that Faith, God clothed him and his wife in the skins of slain animals: this was the first blood sacrifice, and it signified the covering of sin by means of that sacrifice. God’s chosen sacrifice for sin in the Old Testament was invariably blood, and it resulted in the “atonement” (Heb. “Kophar”, or covering) for sins. Every single one of the God ordained blood sacrifices in the Old Testament looked forward, by faith, to the one sacrifice that would be offered at the Cross. Revelation 13:8 refers to Jesus as the “Lamb slain from the Foundation of the world…and, indeed, the Apostle saw him on the throne (Revelation 5:6) as a Lamb, having been slain. We look back to that one sacrifice, when we take communion. We are not asking that he die again, nor does that wine become blood. His sacrifice was once for all time, to take away sin, but his death was pre-figured, or pictured, countless times throughout the Old Testament, in animal sacrifices that could only cover sin.

Finally, God moved Adam and Eve out of the Garden…not as punishment, or banishment, but as protection, so that they would not eat of the tree of life, and gain eternal life in their fallen state, thus becoming like the demons; unsalvageable, and lost forever, soaked in evil. This was Mercy, pure and simple. It was a safeguard for the human race.

Consider this, as well: Who was it that came walking in the Garden, in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8)? Who was the judge that listened quietly to the plea of each of his guilty human subjects, then dispensed Justice and Mercy and Grace? Who is the “Judge of all the earth?” These are just some things to consider. I hope we will find answers as we move through Genesis.

In Genesis 4, we see that Abel brought “of the firstlings of his flock”…a blood sacrifice, and he was accepted by God. How did he know to do that? Possibly Adam told him…possibly God told him, because we see that God himself reasoned with Cain regarding his rejected sacrifice, saying “if you do right, you will also be accepted.” Evidently Cain knew what was required, and refused to comply. Hebrews 11:4 recalls this passage, and specifies that it was the sacrifice that was the issue, not just the heart-attitude. Cain brought a vegetable offering, which would have been fine as a worship offering, after the sin issue had been dealt with. But God called for a blood sacrifice for sin, before worship could be accepted. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the LORD will not hear me.” We can’t approach God in our sins. Abel brought a sin-offering. Cain did not.

Throughout the Bible, we see faith being demonstrated as “an obedient response to a revealed truth”. Faith is not a feeling, or a power, or a gift, in general, (though there does seem to be a special gift of faith.) Faith is simply taking God at His Word. Faith believes God enough to do something about it. Sometimes that “something” is just to believe God. (John 6:28, 29) Sometimes it requires some real shoe-leather. In Cain’s case it simply meant that he had to recognize himself as a guilty sinner, and accept GOD’S remedy for sin…not his own. God’s remedy involves the shedding of blood, whether we like it or not. And Cain rebelled. He “had his own religion”. That is a common problem today, isn’t it? We think our way is better than God’s way, and we can’t understand why it isn’t.

The Flood

In the following chapters we read about the decline of the human race into violence and wickedness—we aren’t told much about the specifics, only that the whole human race was corrupt. (Whoa! That’s news, huh!? We must have a good dose of that left around today!)

In Genesis 6:8, God says that “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” It does not say that he was not a sinner—in fact, the use of the word Grace necessitates that he was a sinner. Grace is unmerited favor—unearned favor. And, sure enough, after the flood, Noah proved he was a sinner, by getting drunk.

But, what about the flood? Was that a picture of Christ, too? No, it was a demonstration of God’s judgment on all sin…and the Ark was the picture of Christ—God’s grace to mankind; God’s power to save those who believe him. (Read Genesis 6:5-22)

Please remember that Jesus treated this as history, not legend: this is fact, not fiction. In the account of Noah’s Ark we see that, ultimately, there are only two places one can be in relation to God; in the ark or outside it. One can be in Christ, or in Adam. (1st Corinthians 15:22)

Similarities between Jesus and the Ark:

  1. Everyone started off outside the Ark…including Noah and his family. (We all start off in Adam…outside Christ…we are born that way.)
  2. Only Noah and his family looked forward to the completion of the Ark. (Only believers looked forward to the coming Messiah)
  3. Only Noah and his family saw the Ark as God’s means of deliverance. (Only believers see Jesus as their hope for salvation.)
  4. Only Noah and his family responded to the call to repentance. (Only believers respond to the Gospel call.)
  5. Only Noah and his family responded to the call to enter the Ark. (Only believers heed the call to enter into Christ.)
  6. Noah and his family entered by faith—God revealed that they were to get on board, and they believed, and entered by faith. (We do too!)
  7. I think it is interesting that (in KJV) God said “Come into the Ark”, not “Go into the Ark”.
    1. We see that God was there among them! His hand guided that craft, as it had no sails, no oars, no rudder…He controlled its destiny from beginning to end. (This is also, even more, true for the believer. Jesus said “Come unto me”, and God controls our destiny in Christ—and, beyond our imagination, we are already seated with Him in the Heavenlies.)
  8. Everyone who was aboard the Ark was safe with God. All outside were lost without him. (All in Christ have been made alive…all still in Adam are lost…though in our case, the door is still open for them to enter.)
  9. The Ark was sufficient to save all who trusted in it. (Jesus saves all who call upon His name.)
  10. The Ark was built according to the Word of God. (Jesus came in full accord with the Prophecies, fulfilling them all to the letter.)
  11. The Ark took the brunt of the judgment that fell on the earth (the water of the Flood) but rose above it. (At the Cross, Jesus took upon himself the full weight of the wrath of God for the sin of the World, but He rose from the dead, in triumph over the grave.
  12. The Ark was coated with pitch, outside, to make it immune to the judgment without, and coated with pitch inside, to make it immune to the contamination within. (Well? What would you expect to happen in a 450-foot floating barn full of animals, on a year-long cruise, with no way to clean the stalls?) (Jesus’ righteousness made him ultimately immune to the judgment for sin, and makes Him completely immune to our continuing sin as well…we cannot “torpedo the Ark” through our unworthiness… we were unworthy before He saved us, and guess what? We still are! Our sins were all paid for in full at the Cross…the fact that ALL of them were still in the future when he died should tell us something about the completeness of his redemption.)
  13. The one window of the Ark, possibly for ventilation, either looked upward, or was positioned in such a way that Noah could not really see out—he could not see the destruction that was all around him, nor could he tell when it was time to get back out onto the land. He could only look up and wait on God. (Does that sound familiar? “Look up, and wait on God.”)
  14. All those aboard the Ark were there for the duration. Nobody got off before the Ark was safely aground and the earth was dry enough to be safe and habitable. (No one gets out of Christ, either.) In some ways this could seem to be a parallel to the Tribulation as well, though not a very tight parallel…Only Noah and his family survived the flood, but there will be many who survive the Tribulation, who are saved during the Tribulation, and live through its horror. BUT—it does seem to me that the Church, having been taken away for the duration of the Tribulation, will come back to a cleansed world, just as Noah and his family emerged from the Ark to enter a cleansed world.
  15. Finally, after the only ones left alive were Noah and his family, God said “the imagination of Man’s heart is evil from his youth”. (Don’t get the idea that Christians are not sinners. We are sinners, who admit it and want to do something about it. Christians are saved sinners. We are beggars, who have been fed, and who have been reborn as children of the King. We are the recipients of Grace, and Grace cannot be earned.)
  16. Grace was the thing that saved Noah—and it is what has saved every person who was ever saved in the history of this planet. God offers Grace—we respond by faith. From Genesis to Revelation, that is the message. Notice, too, that when Noah was on dry land again, he offered that seventh animal of every clean variety, as a sacrifice. God’s chosen sacrifice is always blood, for a sin offering. We come by the Blood of Jesus. In reality, so did Noah, Abel and Adam.
  17. To stretch things, just a bit: when God gave the rainbow as a sign, it was a promise that He would not again destroy the world by flood. We look back to the Cross as God’s promise that he will no longer condemn us for our sins. Romans 8 states that “there is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And it is because of the Cross. I do not think the rainbow is a picture of the cross, but I do think the promise is a picture of the security of the believer today.
  18. One final note: The Ark was God’s only provision for the salvation of the human race from destruction in the Flood. Jesus said, “No man cometh unto the Father but by me.” Jesus is God’s only provision for the salvation of the human race from eternal damnation.

Lessons from the Ark

We should also remember that the experience of the Ark was not a “pleasant cruise on a calm sea.” It was a violent ride on tumultuous seas, with swells and breakers, raging uncontrolled, over the surface of the whole earth. The Christian life is not easy, for most believers. It is a tumultuous ride through a World that is violently opposed to the message of the Cross, and the raging surges of human sin that cover the whole earth. There is no “safe haven,” except in the person of Christ.

The Ark was the only safe place, but it was not comfortable. There was the overwhelming smell of thousands of animals, unless God miraculously cleared the air (which He may have done.) There was the darkness of an entirely enclosed wooden ship, or barge, unless God supernaturally provided light (which He may have done.)  There was the rolling and pitching, and the groaning of the ships timbers, as the storm raged. They were in that Ark for a year and seventeen days; seven days before the flood began, and a year and ten days from the beginning of the flood until they disembarked.

Sometimes we may feel that we are enduring hard times, and we are doubtful about our future. How doubtful must Noah and his family have felt, during that experience? But consider this: if they were doubtful, did it take them out of the Ark? If they were afraid? If they were angry, and resentful? If they were seasick, and despairing of ever seeing the light of day again? No, the fact is, regardless of their condition, their position was perfect! They were safe in the Ark. In fact, the only thing that made a difference between those inside, who may have been uncomfortable and frightened, and those outside, who were dead, and eternally lost, was their position inside the Ark.

I am not necessarily a better person than any particular unbeliever. In fact, I suspect that the reverse is likely true. The only thing that makes me different than those in the World, is the person of Christ, and my position in Him: and He is the only Hope we have, to offer to the World.

We offer the only provision God has ever made for the salvation of sinners: If they are hungry, we offer the Bread of Life. If they are thirsty, we offer the Living Water. If they see that they are in darkness, we offer the Light of the World. If they are open at all to the Person of Christ, then He is all those things to them. We hold out Jesus, the Living Word of God, to those around us.

We need to live in such a way as to not diminish the light of the Gospel. God needs clean vessels through which to pour His Grace. He asks that we present our bodies, daily, as living sacrifices, so that He can offer His Grace to the World around us. Each of us has that responsibility before God, and He points out that it is our “reasonable service.” And it really is, isn’t it? After what He has done for us, how can we offer less?

Lord Jesus, teach us to see your face in the scriptures, as well as in the world around us. Help us to see the people of this world as precious souls for whom you died, and to count them as priceless in our eyes. Enable us to reach them with the good news of eternal life.


Finding Joy and Peace

Finding Joy and Peace

© C. O. Bishop 4/16/2018

Philippians 4:1-9

Introduction:

We have been studying the book of Philippians, and we have finally arrived in chapter four: Paul is beginning to sum up his teaching, and is offering encouragement to the believers at Philippi. The first thing he says is to “stand fast in the Lord.” But he says it, completely wrapped in his love for them, as his “offspring” in the Lord.

Stand Fast

1 Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.

Paul was so pleased and satisfied with the Christian lives of the people in the church at Philippi, that, in this passage, he comes the closest he ever came with anyone, to saying “I’m SO PROUD of you!” But this is a clean joy at the work of God in their lives. He was taking no credit for them, though he did lead them to Christ and teach them virtually everything they knew about Jesus and their new life with Him.

He actually referred to them as his “Crown”—he felt so honored to have been a part of their beginning. The Greek word he used here is “stephanos”—a victor’s crown. It has nothing to do with kings, or rulership, but rather a prize for excellence: the “blue-ribbon.”

When my students excel in the steel-fabrication industry, it is because they studied hard and did the necessary work to excel; they earned their credentials…but I am thrilled to have had a part in their training. They took the risks, and paid to take the exams, but when they passed their exams, I was thrilled for them. Paul felt that way toward these people, as they stood fast in Christ.

Maintain Unity, and Labor together

They were still human, and they had their failings. But they had a good enough walk with God that there were no rebukes or corrections, at all, in the entire letter. Philippians 4:2 is as close as he comes to a correction; he asks that they maintain unity and that they labor together:

2 I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord.

3 And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life.

There is some small problem being addressed here: He begs Euodias and he begs Syntyche, to be of one mind—to be in accord with one another—to not bicker. We can only assume that these two women were at odds with one another, at one level or another, and he knew about it. He begged them to drop the contention, and choose Love…choose peace. And he asked the person to whom the letter was primarily addressed (un-named, but blessed) to help them do so; to be a peacemaker, a healer of rifts, a gentle voice of reason. He says that these women already had a track-record of faithful service, with Paul himself, and with Clement (we don’t know who that is, either), and with others who shared in the work of the Gospel. Interestingly, the Greek word for “labored with” is “sunathleo”…it means “strove alongside”. The word for strive is “athleo”…the word from which we get “athlete.” They were on Paul’s team, and he considered them valuable assets to the team. These women were two soul-winners who had evidently had a falling-out. Paul begs them to restore peace, and begs the others to help them do so, so as to “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of Peace.” (as it says in Ephesians 4:3)

I also treasure the phrase “true yokefellow”, here…(Greek, “suzuge gnesie”) It was once common to place a yoke across the shoulders of a man, so he could lift more, pull a heavier load, etc. And, if two men, closely matched in height, were yoked together, they could move very heavy loads as a team, just as a “yoke of oxen” means a team of oxen, matched for size and strength, which, if trained to work as a team, have tremendous potential for work accomplished.

When Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me,” he was inviting the believers to join him in double-harness, and learn obedience from him, as a young draft animal learns from an older animal. We are invited to become “true yokefellows” with Jesus, and we are encouraged to work together in the same manner. We encourage one another, and bear one another’s burdens, and together, we accomplish more than we could do separately.

Rejoice!

4 Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.

I have to confess, this one is hard for me. As one who has suffered from depression for nearly 50 years, it is a hard thing, for me, to see in the Scripture a clear command to rejoice: but there it is! It is a command, too, not a suggestion, or a request. In Nehemiah 8:10, the command was given that the people not weep at the sound of the Word of God, but rather rejoice—in fact, they were told to go have a party and come back for more, because the “Joy of the LORD is your strength!”

The people were weeping in grief for the lost years of lost fellowship and the lost glory of the lost Kingdom of Israel…all lost because of the sin of Israel. They had gathered to rebuild the temple and the city walls. They wept in grief and in repentance. It was not that they were sad that the scriptures were being read. They were sad for all they had lost. But Nehemiah commanded them to stop mourning, and stop weeping. He did not tell them to stop being sorry for what was lost, but he did tell them to refocus on what was currently regained: They were being restored to fellowship with God, and were free, once again, to worship Him. He told them to throw a national party, and make sure and include any among them who had nothing. They were to change their thinking (repentance is a “change of mind”), and take heart in the grace of God.

Now: I think this is where the problem lies: When I hear “rejoice in the Lord!” I think it means “feel happy”. But it doesn’t: to “rejoice” is to express joy regarding something or someone, not to “feel happy”. It is something we can choose to do, in praise and thanksgiving for all the blessings we KNOW we have. (How about eternal life? Is that enough cause to express joy, and relief? How about people in whose lives you have seen the Spirit of God at work? Is that something you can rejoice over? Answered prayer? Your daily food and health? Safety?) Gratitude, expressed in word and deed, can lay the foundation for Peace and Joy. Dwelling on the truths of God’s provision in our lives, and His proven character, instead of how we feel about things not having gone the way we wanted, can relieve us of the anger and fear we feel, and allow us to begin to experience a genuine joy; one that is not dependent upon circumstances.

Maintain your Testimony

5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.

The word translated “moderation”, here, is the Greek word “epieikes”—it is only used a half a dozen times, but in every case except this, it is translated “gentleness”, or “clemency”… a sweet-spirited reasonable character. If that is how people see you, then your testimony will not be damaged by the opposite, which would definitely render your testimony valueless. Christians who are constantly griping, or criticizing, or arguing, or who are frequently angry, are daily undermining their own testimony, and, regardless of what they say, their actions outweigh their words. Paul commands us to maintain an active life of gentle interaction with those around us. He punctuates the idea with the fact that “the Lord is at hand”. The time is short! You don’t know how much time is left! Besides, He is also our Judge, not just our Savior, so perhaps we should be careful how we deal with others. He is right there, watching, in every situation.

Repent of Worry, and Embrace Peace

What about anxiety, though? Some of us are worriers. Do we get “special treatment?” No! Paul makes no accommodations for us. He says to stop it! He says that we DO have a choice:

6 Be careful [anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

That is the command: it has both a positive and a negative clause. The negative comes first: Be anxious for nothing. Stop the worrying! How? That is the positive side: Replace it with prayer, faith and thanksgiving. If we are faithful to pray, and to believe that God hears, and that He has our best interests at heart, then we can “leave in his lap” the things we have brought to him in prayer, and go away in thanksgiving and peace. If not, then the fact that we “pray” means nearly nothing, as, effectively, instead of “placing the issues in God’s lap and leaving them there”, we snatch them back and take them away to gnaw on them some more, in fear and anxiety. That is not the same as what he has commanded. How can I tell the difference? The results tell the tale: if I do what He actually commanded, I will experience His peace. I do have a choice!

7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Notice the word “shall”: Today, when a legal document, a building code, or any other such thing, uses the word “shall”, it means that it is mandatory—it must happen. It seems that if we are truly faithful to handle life the way he said to do it, then peace must follow.

Psalm 119:165 agrees with this idea: it says “Great peace have they which love thy Law: and nothing shall offend them.” (Nothing shall cause them to stumble.) I really can’t diminish this and make it say, “Great peace have most who love thy law, and it takes a lot to offend them.” It simply says that those who love God’s Word find great peace. Can they fail from that peace? Yes, they can…but only because they fail to focus on God’s Word, and His promises.

8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

One commentator suggested that, since all these things were supremely exemplified in Christ, therefore, the passage must be telling us to meditate on the person of Christ. I could live with that, because it is certainly true that all these things (truth, honesty, justice, purity, beauty, good news, virtue, and praise) are exemplified in Jesus…but…it says “whatsoever things”—which is

  • all-inclusive, and
  • plural

Jesus is not plural, and he is not the only place we find those things…He is the author of it all, however, and it makes sense that, as we are giving thanks (verse 6) and looking for the various good things to think about, we would see those things and give thanks for them, honoring the Author of Goodness, not seeing “good” as potentially separate from God. He created the whole world as “good,” originally. Sin has corrupted it to a horrible extent. But what “good” is left in the world, at the very least, is the remnant of the “Good” that God proclaimed at the Creation. And much of it is “good” that he has inserted since the fall into sin: mercy and blessings in which we recognize His hand. In either case, we are exhorted to choose what we will dwell on.

We do have a choice about what we think about. 2nd Corinthians 10:4, 5 tells me that we are to take every thought captive for the obedience of Christ. I am not given the option to say, “Well, I can’t control what I think about!” God says that “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal” (it really is a war, you know!) “…but are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds”. (Do you think maybe worry has a stronghold in our lives?) “…casting down imaginations” (What else can worry be called? I am imagining and fearing the possible results of events beyond my control!) “…and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.” (Has it occurred to you that worry exalts itself against the knowledge of God? That it presumes to know the future when it cannot possibly know it, and it even supposes that “God’s will is a terrible burden to bear, and something to fear?”) Finally, He says, “…bringing every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” (And that is why we are told not to worry! Every thought is to be subjected to Him, and worry is not from God! Fear is not from God!)

9 Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.

Paul concludes the passage on peace, by saying that if they would carry out the things they had seen in him, learned from him, and gladly received from him, they could expect the pleasant consciousness of the presence and the support of God. That the God of Peace would be with them, supporting them in their obedience to Him. Jesus said that He would manifest Himself to those who love Him. (John 14:21)

Since He is omnipresent, He is always “with” every person, believers and unbelievers, but that is not the sense in which the word is used, here. This is not just talking about location, but also his abiding Grace and Blessing, which unbelievers do not have.

It is also in reference to His fellowship, which even sinning believers do not have. How do I know? In 1st John 1:5, 6, He tells me so!  He says, “This is the message, which we have heard of Him, and declare unto you; that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all! If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we do not the truth!” So, the phrase, “the God of Peace shall be with you” has to do with the conscious fellowship with the living God, and the enjoyment of His peace, His blessing, and His grace for living, on a moment by moment basis.

That is why it is worth learning not to worry: it is a part of “Standing Fast in the Lord.” We can choose to rejoice, and we can choose to experience God’s Peace.

Lord Jesus, allow us to feed on your Word and grow strong, believing your Word, so as to Stand fast against the Enemy, and to experience your Peace. Teach us gratitude, so that we can have both peace and Joy.


Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 2

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 2

© C. O. Bishop 2012, (revisited and revised 2018)

Genesis 1:11-3:19

Introduction:

Last time, we saw the Creation of the earth, up to the establishment of the dry land, as a single, fairly flat continent, surrounded by a single body of water. We learned something about God’s authority and His triune nature, and his spiritual character. We learned something about God as the source of all light. We will move on from there, today.

The Plants (Genesis 1:11-13)

I love this particular passage, not because I love botany, but because I see that there was still no sun, to “create life” as naturalists insist is necessary. God created the plant life before creating the Sun. The other thing we see is an underscored pattern of order, here: He says that each plant “has its seed in itself…bringing forth seed after his kind.” “After his kind!” There is no changing of species, here. I plant wheat, and do not expect a field of pumpkins springing up. (This does not exclude the plants which propagate without seeds…they still obey the same principle.)

This is the Law of the Harvest: the law of sowing and reaping: “Like begets like.” This is an eternal principle, and it applies in all spheres. Also, Spiritually speaking, “like begets like:” God’s Holy Spirit, allowed free rein in our lives, reproduces the likeness of God in our lives. Any other spirit, allowed to rule, produces a different likeness: Anger begets anger; sin begets sin, but righteousness begets righteousness. You reap what you sow.  This principle is repeated in the New Testament, and reiterated throughout scripture.

What does this do to the theory of evolution? Well, at the very least, it calls it into question, as we can see the truth of the law of the harvest, borne out in the whole of the natural world. But we are still expected to believe that there is a giant exception to this rule, which only works when no one is looking. That, somehow, the various species don’t breed true, and that this anomaly is so common that, in spite of the fact that we can’t ever see it happening, the entire biosphere evolved from a single original one-celled life-form. (Hmm… Seems like a bad guess, to me.) But the real question is, “What do I believe about God and His Word?” If I reject Him and His Word, then I have to choose all my world-view from the options that are left. And, from that perspective, evolution may seem possible at first glance… and, if you don’t look too closely.

The Heavenly Luminaries (Genesis 1:14-19)

God placed the heavenly luminaries for a list of seven specific purposes:

  1. To divide the day from the night (they became the light-holders.)
  2. For signs (God has used them at various times to get people’s attention.)
  3. For seasons (we still recognize the seasons, by where we are in relation to the sun.
  4. For days (obviously)
  5. For years (we still count our years by the revolutions around the sun.)
  6. To be lights in the firmament (lights in the sky…for navigational purposes?)
  7. To give light upon the earth (so we can see clearly, as well as providing energy for life.)

We still use them for all those things. But notice that reasons 3-5 say that they are a time-piece for us: a celestial clock. When time ends, they will also lose that importance, as God will again be the only source of light, and His light will again permeate the universe. This is hard for us to imagine, because we are created entirely within the limits of time and space. Time and space (as we know them) were both created before humans, but we will outlast them. That seems very strange, from the perspective of one who knows his earthly days are numbered. But God exists independent of time and space, having created both, and has only temporarily limited His light.

The Animals (Genesis 1:20-25)

The marine and avian life were created first, and God again reiterated the law of the harvest: “Like begets like.” He said that each animal, whether fish, bird, or whatever kind, reproduced “after his kind.”

Then he continued the pattern with the land-creatures. This included all the creatures we are familiar with, and all those that are now extinct. (Incidentally, over in the book of Job, we will see that God claimed credit for the creation of a couple of specific animals that humans in this age have never seen…and which may, in fact, be types of what we might call dinosaurs. We won’t address that right now, but it is interesting that it is God, talking to a human about those animals, not a man waxing poetic about something imaginary.)

But all animal life was said to reproduce “after his kind.” It is interesting to me that He uses this phrase, “after his kind” ten times, before creating Man. It seems He may be trying to teach a spiritual truth, in order to prepare us for what comes next:

Man (Genesis 1:26-30; 2:20-25)

“And God said, let us make Man in our image, after our likeness…” Do you think it was accidental? God has used the phrase, “after his kind,” ten times, and culminates in the statement that humans (male and female) are created in the likeness of God. That “Man, Incorporated” is, in some way, created in the likeness of God. It can’t be just physical appearance, as there are myriad differences in appearance, between most individuals, so much so that artificial intelligence has been developed only to a point where a computer can nearly recognize an individual human face, out of thousands of possibilities. But the differences are so subtle (in some cases) that a computer fails where virtually any human could unfailingly make the correct identification. Yet we are collectively said to be made “in the image” (singular) of God.

Like begets like! In what way can it be said that all humans are “made in the image of God?” What do we alone possess, among all the animal life on earth? What sets us apart?

One thing may be that we are the only ones regarding whom God says that we are “a living soul.” (Hebrew word, “nephesh) Animals apparently do have a spirit of some sort, (Hebrew word, “ruach”,) as in Ecclesiastes 3:21. But there is a difference, as no animals are invited into a living relationship with the Living God. God also says that we have more value to Him than do the animals. Jesus told his disciples, “fear not…ye are worth more than many sparrows.”

Perhaps it is a certain “God-consciousness”…so that we are capable of having fellowship with God, in an intelligent relationship, whereas the animals can only be what they have been created to be. Beyond that, I can’t say.

Whatever the practical or Spiritual differences, humans alone are said to be created in the likeness of God, and Jesus reflected upon this truth, when his detractors had challenged him about whether they should pay taxes to Rome: He referred to a Roman coin, and asked, “Whose image is this, and whose inscription?” The people said, “Caesar’s!” Jesus responded, “Then, render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and render unto God that which is God’s!”

The implication is crystal clear: the Jews, to whom He was speaking, knew that they were made in the image of God. They also knew that the Word of God was supposed to be inscribed upon their hearts, their hands, and their minds. They, personally (individually, and as a nation) belonged to God and were accountable to Him. We—all humans—are made in His image, and we are supposed to be like Him.

The Sabbath (Genesis 2:2, 3)

So: the stage was set. All the players were in place, and God called a holiday—a “holy day”—the Sabbath. (The Hebrew word is “Shabbat”, meaning a rest; a pause; or “taking a break.”) God established it as a holiday, calling it holy, forever; though to most of us it has been lost for millennia. Thousands of years later, God reestablished the Sabbath with Israel, but not simply as a great day of joy and commemoration; rather as a legal requirement, regarding which the people of Israel had no choice, and they frequently saw it as a burden, rather than a blessing.

Knowing, then, that God blessed this day, and sanctified it, and that there was no sin in the world, so that no one would see such a day as burdensome, I believe it gives us a clue as to how much time may have elapsed between the end of chapter two, after the creation of mankind, and the beginning of chapter three, where we find the fall of mankind into sin:

There is no record of God celebrating the Sabbath with his people…so, I conclude that, in less than one week from the Creation of Man, the enemy struck, and the entire human race was plunged into spiritual darkness. Could I be mistaken? Certainly, I could. But, especially in light of the fact that, in the New Testament (Hebrews chapter 4), we discover that Jesus is our Sabbath…our Rest; I think it is fitting that only in Him does any member of the human race approach God and enjoy the rest He offers.

The Garden, and the Law (Genesis 2:8-17)

The creation of Man is revisited in chapter two, and God makes it clear that Man was created with a purpose. We don’t see the real purpose until much later, but at the very beginning, God gave the man a job to do, with a responsibility attached. We have a physical description of the land, with its unusual river—a single source splitting into four major rivers—three of which are still in existence today, and a fourth we don’t know about. We see Ethiopia called out as a nation, thousands of years before it existed, in the description of the river that waters it.

Finally, it says that God established a garden, in a place called Eden, and put the man there to dress and keep the garden. He had only one Law: he was not to eat of the one specific tree, the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. This is the origin of law, and, specifically, “the Law of Sin and Death.” He was told, “In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.”

The Woman (Genesis 1:26-30; 2:20-25)

God says that the Woman was formed afterward, and as a part of Man. The Man and Woman, together were “Man, Incorporated.” God says (1:27) “So God created Man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; Male and Female created He them.” The whole human race is created in the image of God, and subdivided into male and female. It is important to note that the woman cane from the man, as it explains what happened in chapter 3. The man was given the authority to make a decision that affected everyone who proceeded from him; including his mate.

The Fall (Genesis 3:1-7)

Much has been made of the fact that Eve first ate the fruit. I would like to point out that, when the command was given, forbidding the consumption of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, Eve had not yet been created. Adam evidently told her of the command, and, either he added to it, saying “don’t touch”, or she, being extra cautious, added that phrase herself. At any rate, she was not clear on the concept, and, most importantly, she was not the one given the responsibility. Adam alone received the command, and Adam alone could violate the command. Nothing happened when Eve ate. When Adam ate, the eyes of both of them were opened, and both of them were separated from fellowship with God. They were both spiritually dead, the moment he ate the fruit of that tree. This is reiterated in the New Testament, in Romans 5:12, where it says “…through one man, sin entered into the world, and death by sin…”

There are some important truths, here, that we should not miss: Their first response, when they saw their own nakedness and guilt, was to sew together aprons of fig leaves, to cover themselves. Our response to guilt, as humans, is to attempt to cover our sins with our own “good works.” We either deny our guilt, pointing to our good works, or, we claim that our good works should, in some way, make up for our sin. That seems logical, and it appeals to our flesh; our sin nature. But, look what happened the moment God stepped into the picture: They fled and hid! Why? They said, “Because we were naked!” Their works did nothing to cover their sins before God. Their works served fairly well, as a covering between themselves and other humans, but not at all, when God stepped into the picture. (Here is another eternal principle: our good works cannot take away or cover our sins. Only God can do that.)

The Serpent (Genesis 3:1-7, 14, 15) And the Curse

Yes, it was a physical snake, but, yes, also, Satan used the serpent, and it had permanent results on both Satan and the snake. The curse on the serpent involved how it moved and what it ate. But the curse on Satan involved his ultimate defeat at the Cross. This is not allegory. This is history. This is not myth. This is fact. Jesus treated it as fact, and so did the apostles. It is history, and a key point in the specific history that the Bible contains.

The Coming Redeemer (Genesis 3:15-19)

Remember: The Bible is not “the history of God.” The “history of God” would be impossible to encapsulate in a book, as He is Eternal. It is not the history of Man, as it leaves out the majority of human history. It is historical, but in a very limited sense. In Genesis we see one specific aspect of the beginning of earth’s history: the Bible is the history of God’s redemptive work toward the fallen human race. It tells us how we began, how we became sinners, and what God has chosen to do about it. We find, as we read through the Old Testament, that Jesus is “Plan A”, and there is no “Plan B”. We can see God’s wisdom and his saving Grace, from the beginning.

When Man fell into sin, in Genesis three, we see the first prediction of the person who would be the Savior. In this passage He is referred to as the “Seed of the Woman”. The masculine gender is applied, and the singular personal pronoun is applied—it is not a group of people that are called the Seed of Woman, but one male Child. And only one such child in history could accurately claim that title, because all the rest had a human father—they were NOT the Seed of the Woman, but the seed of a man and a woman. This is the first Prophecy of the Christ, and it predicted the destruction of Satan, and the reinstatement of fallen man.

Adam placed his trust in that promise (Genesis 3:20, 21) and God clothed him and his wife in the skins of slain animals: the first blood sacrifice, and the covering of sin by means of that sacrifice. God’s chosen sacrifice for sin in the Old Testament was invariably blood, and it resulted in the “atonement” (Heb. “Kophar”, or covering) for sins. Every single one of the blood sacrifices in the Old Testament looked forward, by faith, to the one sacrifice that would be offered at the Cross. Revelation refers to Jesus as the Lamb slain from the Foundation of the earth…and, indeed, the Apostle saw him on the throne (Revelation 5:6) as a Lamb, having been slain. We look back to that one sacrifice, when we take communion. We are not asking that he die again, nor does that wine become blood. His sacrifice was once for all time, to take away sin, but his death was pre-figured, or pictured, countless times throughout the Old Testament, in animal sacrifices that could only cover sin.

Consider this, as well: Who was it that came walking in the Garden, in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8)? Who was the Judge, listening quietly to the plea of each of his guilty human subjects, who then dispensed Justice and Mercy and Grace? Who is the “Judge of all the earth?” These are just some things to consider. We will find answers as we move through Genesis.

We will review these passages in greater detail, next time, but this introduction is the foundation for the rest of our study.

Lord Jesus, use your Word to correct our thinking: teach us to think your thoughts, and believe you in all things. Make us able workmen, rightly dividing your Word, and sharing it without fear.

 


How Does the Resurrection Affect the Church?

How Does the Resurrection Affect the Church?

© C. O. Bishop 2018

In the Context of John 14:3That, where I am, there ye may be also

Ephesians 1:13, 14; 2:6; 1st Corinthians 12:13; 15:3, 4; 15:22, 15:16-19;
Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 3:1-4

Introduction:

We often hear (or write) Easter messages that completely immerse us in either the horror of the Cross, (hence, the enormity of our guilt and sin that necessitated the Cross), or the mystery of the burial and resurrection, the fulfilled prophecies, and refuting the various false myths that have sprung up from those who reject the validity of the scriptures…or even immersing us in the joy of the resurrection itself; the effect that it had upon Mary Magdalene, the other disciples—Peter in particular—and on the newborn Church, at Pentecost. Those are all good things.

All of these approaches are valid; all have appropriate results in the hearers, and all have reasonably good grounding in the scriptures themselves, as a rule. (Some may wander a bit, but most are pretty solidly grounded in the Word of God.)

But: What about today? What effect should the Resurrection have upon believers, today?

The Promises of Jesus the Messiah:

Jesus made an important promise in John 5:24: He said that whoever hears his word (regarding himself, and God’s redemptive plan), and believes on Him who sent Him (Places their trust in His redemptive work at the Cross), has everlasting life (present tense) and shall not (future tense) come into condemnation, but has passed over (past perfect tense) from death into life.

He also stated (John 14:3) that he was leaving Earth, to prepare a place for his followers, that where He was they should also be. He also stated (John 14:16) that the Holy Spirit, whom He was sending in place of Himself, would be with His disciples forever.                                                                  

In the light of these explicit promises, let’s examine the historical facts:

The Historical Facts:

1st Corinthians 15:3, 4;

Paul stated the bare facts of the Gospel here, but prefaced the facts with a reference to their result. He stated the results of faith, first (we have received the Gospel, and believed it, and our standing with God is dependent upon its truth.) Then he simply stated the facts, as follows:

  1. Christ died for our sins, according to (in keeping with…in fulfillment of) the scriptures.
  2. He was buried (also fulfilling prophecies), and that
  3. He rose again the third day, also in keeping with Biblical prophecies.

None of these things were “just happenstance.” All were called out, far in advance, by prophecy; some of them by a multitude of prophecies. The fact of the “three days and three nights in the tomb”, for example, was in fulfillment of two very explicit prophecies, and perhaps others not so plain. The facts of the crucifixion and resurrection, however, were in fulfillment of scores of clear prophecies and more or less clear Old Testament figures…pictures of the coming Christ.

1st Corinthians 12:13;

This one—the fact of the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”; the Act of the Holy Spirit, placing each believer (us) into our respective places in the Body of Christ— is only dependent upon us being believers: When any sinner sees his own need for the Savior, and trusts in Jesus’s finished work at the Cross—Jesus’s shed blood—being full payment for his sins, the Holy Spirit immediately places him permanently into the Body of Christ. We remain there forever. Jesus said that, of all the souls given to Him he will lose not one, but shall raise them up at the last day (John 6:39).

Ephesians 1:13, 14;

This one, too, is only dependent upon a person’s one time choice, to believe in Jesus as their only Savior and only Hope. It says that those who heard the Word of truth, the Gospel of our salvation (and who trusted in it), after they trusted in Him, were immediately sealed in Christ by the Holy Spirit of Promise who is the Earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession. Several important points are made, here, for us to cling to.

  • This promise reiterates the promise of Jesus: that those who heard the Gospel and believed, have eternal life now: (Not waiting to see if they were “among the chosen.”)
  • Another is that we are “…sealed in Christ”: It says “in Whom, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of Promise”
  • Finally, it says that we are sealed in Him “until the redemption of the purchased possession to the Praise of His Glory.” We will not be lost. We have been sealed in Christ by the Holy Spirit…how long? Until the redemption of the purchased possession (the Church) unto the praise of His Glory. We are secure in Him.

This is a stated fact: not just a promise of things to come. All of it is stated as a “done deal”—past tense fact—not dependent upon events still to come. Nothing is hanging in the balance.

Ephesians 2:6

Here’s another “historical fact” which we can’t see, but which God says is already a done deal, as well: Paul says, here, that the believers have already been raised up (resurrected) together with Christ, and have already ascended with Him, and are already seated with Him in Heaven! (This is absolutely beyond my comprehension, but it is clearly stated as a “past-tense fact.

The Personal, Current Facts: (On the basis of the historical facts)

Romans 6:2-5; Three things:

  1. We are Dead with Him. (v. 2, 3)
  2. We are Risen with Him. (v. 4, 5)
  3. We are Ascended with Him. (implied, in v.4; stated in Ephesians 2:6)

We have been baptized (not by water baptism, but by the real baptism; the Holy Spirit having placed us into the body of Christ); we have been baptized into his death and his resurrection, and (Ephesians 2:6) we are currently seated with Him in the heavenlies. These are each stated as being current realities, not future possibilities.

I am not exhorted to “Die to sin;” I am stated to already be dead to sin.
I am not encouraged to “be risen with Christ” I am informed that I have already risen with Him.
I am not commanded to “seat myself in the heavenlies,” but I am told that I am already there.

What astonishing statements! How can God say that I am “already dead with Christ?” Well…the fact is, it is true! In the Scriptures, Death always has to do with separation of some sort: Adam was separated from fellowship with God, the moment he ate the forbidden fruit. He was spiritually dead. He died physically, 930 years later, when his spirit and soul were separated from His body. A person who is still separated from God, spiritually, never having been reconciled to Him, and who dies physically, is then permanently separated from God. (God refers to this as the “second death”, in Revelation 20:14.)

So how am I “dead to sin?” My old sin nature (the only nature I had before re-birth) was and is entirely committed to self; to sin. God says that it cannot be repaired, cleansed or redeemed. It cannot become subject to God’s righteousness. (Romans 8:7; Ephesians 4:22)

So, all God could do to save me was to give me a new nature; one that was in harmony with Him. Ephesians 4:24 says that my new nature is created, after God (in His likeness) in righteousness and true holiness. That, too, is a “done deal!” I have been separated from my old sin nature to the extent that I am no longer enslaved to it, and I have a choice: I can obey God, with a clean heart, because I have a new nature. God does not propose to “fix” my old nature: as far as He is concerned it is dead…it is irretrievably corrupt. And, he sees Me as separated from that old sin nature. He says I am dead to it. I do not have to submit to its desires any more.

In keeping with that fact, He says that we are also risen with Christ: His death, burial and resurrection became ours. God sees us, eternally, only in the person of Christ. Over in Ephesians, we saw that His ascension is also ours. We are already safely at home with Him, in God’s eyes: all we are doing, here, in our earthly lives, is living out that reality, and, both by word and deed, demonstrating to the lost world around us, the truth of the Good News of Christ.

How should those facts affect the way we think?

Since these things are true, and if we are willing to accept them as fact (the Gospel and all that God says about it); how should it affect our thinking and our response to the people and circumstances with which we live?

Can I genuinely exhibit the Love of Christ, because He lives in me, and not be offended by the petty offenses people or circumstances may bring? They truly are petty, in comparison with the absolutely criminal abuse that was heaped upon Jesus, by the Human Race. (And, yes, all of us are guilty: our sins made it necessary for Him to go there.) Considering the abuse that he endured, both on the way to the Cross, and in the Crucifixion itself, is there anything in our experience that can be considered worth losing sight of the Promises and Peace of the Savior?

Can’t I see my tormentors as precious souls, for whom Jesus died? Can’t I grieve for their lostness, and pray for their salvation? Can’t I choose to be a blessing to them, in hopes of turning them away from eternal condemnation? Or must I secretly feel satisfaction that “Well, they will surely pay for that!” What an incredibly selfish response! I am equally guilty before God, and His Grace was extended to me, a completely lost sinner: Can’t I extend my feeble grace and forgiveness, as an act of Worship to the God who first loved me?

How should those facts affect the way we live?

Can I stop acting as if everything revolves around “how I feel about things?” Can I literally put others first, as Jesus did? Or will I continue to concern myself primarily with my own comfort, my own safety and my own future security?

God calls us to offer our bodies a living sacrifice to Him, so that our lives will be lived out in a manner that honors Him. He calls this our “reasonable service” of worship. (Romans 12:1) That offer has to be renewed often: the problem with “living sacrifices” is that we keep crawling off the altar! We don’t just “die, and get it over with.”

We are called to “die to self:” to “take up your cross, daily, and follow” Him. Notice that we are not called to “die to sin”…that has already been accomplished. We are called to continually renew the conscious setting aside of sin, and to live in the newness of life:

  • To live out the resurrected Life of Christ, not just continue in our own self-centered way.
  • To become the living “Love of Christ” in the unloving world around us:
  • To become the living “Light of Christ”, in this dark world in which we live.
  • To become a clean source of the Living Water, to any soul who is thirsty.
  • To become a clean source of the Bread of Life, to any soul who is hungry.

Colossians 3:1-4 calls us, as those risen from the dead, to set our affections on things above: We are to change our priorities. He says that, since we are seated with Him above, we should see things from his perspective, and count his priorities to be our own. He reiterates that we are dead, and that our lives are “hid in Christ.” God only sees us there, in Christ. He concludes that, when Christ Himself appears, we shall appear with him, in Glory. It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus!

We are Ambassadors of the Risen Christ. That is the confidence that we have in Him: it is the assignment that we have in Him, and it is the direct result of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

Lord Jesus, we thank you for the clear news of your death, and burial and, especially, your resurrection. Please use these truths to shape us into your likeness, and to transform our lives into your own image. Make us profitable servants of God.


Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 1

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 1

© Chet Bishop 2012, (revisited and revised 2018)

Old Testament Foundations for New Testament Faith

Genesis 1:1-10; Luke 24:13-35

Introduction:

In Luke 24:13-35, we find the account of how Jesus met two of his disciples as they walked the seven or so miles down from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They did not recognize him, and when he asked what they had been discussing, they told him how distressed they were over the events of the last few days, including the trial, crucifixion, death, and burial of Christ…(and maybe the resurrection, though they weren’t sure what to make of that just yet.) He gave them an astonishing rebuke, saying “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into his glory?

The disciples must have been flabbergasted to get that sort of response from this “Stranger, on the road to Emmaus,” but he didn’t give them time to respond…he just went ahead and taught them, beginning at Moses and all the prophets, specifically what the Old Testament had to say about himself. The scriptures he taught them were not new to them at all. These were adult Jewish men who had passed their “Bar Mitzvahs” and were “sons of the book.” They knew the written word fairly well, for non-Levitical men…not scribes or priests. But they had never tied the whole of scripture together with the single central theme of the Person of the Messiah. Following this line of thinking, we would like to attempt to do just that. We are not the first, by any means, but it seems profitable to follow the Lord’s example, and teach the way He taught.

We will begin by pointing out that the Person we see in the Gospels did not originate there. We see that the “Life of Christ” is only “the account of his physical life as a human being on earth.” The rest of the Written Word of God reveals Him as the Eternal Living Word of God, pre-existing His Creation, because he is the Creator, and superseding the importance and glory of the whole creation, because He is God. So, with that in mind, let us proceed, beginning at Moses.

“Beginning at Moses”

Moses is the writer of the first five books of the Old Testament. Genesis is the “Book of Beginnings”, so we will start there. To begin with, it seems fair to point out that the phrase, “In the beginning, God…” uses the Hebrew word “Elohim” for “God.” The Hebrew language seems peculiar to us, because we English-speakers think of nouns as either singular or plural, meaning ONE of something, or MORE than one (two or more). In the Hebrew language there are singular, dual and plural: one, two and more than two (three or more.) Guess which type the word Elohim turns out to be? Yes! It is a plural noun, designating three or more!

I don’t want to put more weight on this point than is fitting, since that word is also used for the false gods—the pagan gods; but, you see, they were plural; there were lots of them! The religion of Israel is strictly monotheistic. (Deuteronomy 6:4) “Hear O Israel, the LORD our God is One God!” In the King James Bible, the word “God” (Capital “G”, lower-case “o-d”) is always a translation of the Hebrew word Elohim. It is the office of deity, not His personal name, nor even a title reserved just for Him. It is applied to false gods, too, though it is printed in all lower-case, when that is the context. We will see several other names of God, as we progress.

In Isaiah, God says he is the only God that has ever existed, and the only one that ever will exist. In fact, after declaring his singularity, he also points out (Isaiah 43:11) that apart from him there is no savior. So…why would he use the plural word for himself, unless there was something about himself that He wanted, thereby, to reveal? There’s something here, to think about, at least: possibly a hint of the Trinity. In light of that, let’s consider the first four words:

“In the Beginning, God…”

This four-word fragment is a profound statement about the rest of the scriptures, the whole creation, and life itself. In the beginning, (before anything else) God…. (Yes, “in the beginning, God created,” but that isn’t all.) In the Beginning he was God. Before anything else, HE IS! “In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1) “Before Abraham was, I AM! (John 8:57) This speaks of the Eternality of God, and the Preeminence of God! We will discover later, that, in full agreement with Genesis 1:1, God not only pre-existed His creation (which only makes sense), but He himself has no beginning. He does not have a starting-place. He exists outside of time and space, so that all time is “now,” to Him, though he can also address time from human perspective. He has no beginning and no end. “From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God!” (Psalm 90:2)

The Order of the Creation

It is important to consider the order in which God says the earth and its contents were created. There are several things here, which point out the stark contrast between the Naturalist’s world-view, which assumes everything “just grew there”, by random chance, and cosmic caprice, versus the Biblicist’s view, which sees through the eyes of scripture. The first contrast is in the fact that God says the Earth was created three days before the Sun, Moon and stars. From the naturalist’s point of view, this is considered laughable. So, we are faced with a decision, here, in the very first chapter of the Bible: “Will we see this as the Word of God, and take it at face value, or assume that it is merely a “primitive world-view,” thus not to be taken seriously?”

If we take the former stance, then we can begin to learn and understand who the Author really is, and what He has planned for us. If we take the latter stance, then the Bible becomes increasingly a “closed book” to us, as we assume God to be a liar, or at least a very questionable authority. Assuming, then, that we believe this to be God’s Word, let’s take this verse by verse:

The Earth

“God created the heaven and the earth, and the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”  He created the physical Earth, but he left out the light, initially. We see elsewhere in scripture that He himself is the light, so perhaps he is showing, here, what the world is like without God. If so, it is only a glimpse, so we can’t build much upon it. But another thing we see is the immense, unimaginable, unmeasurable power of God: we call this “Omnipotence,” meaning “all-powerful.” God is omnipotent. We have already seen His eternality and preeminence. Now we see His unlimited authority and power.

The Spirit

“And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (KJV)  Other translations render this as “was brooding over the face of the deep.” Either way, we can immediately see that either God is a Spirit (true), or, God has a Spirit. Also, in either case, the omnipresence of God is in view, as He is hovering over the entire face of the waters. The Spirit of God is not a created being. He is God, as we will see much later. He is omnipresent: He is everywhere at once. Also, He is active. He is dynamic, and vital: not just a presence, like gravity.

The Light

It is interesting to me to see how God handled the light and dark. He says “God said, Let there be light, and there was light, and God saw the light that it was good, and God divided the light from the darkness.” Now, there are several things we can observe, here:

  1. The first is the fact that God speaks. Why is that so important? Only persons speak, as a rule. Parrots can be trained to mimic human speech, as can a few other birds and animals. But within the natural realm, pretty much only humans speak. That does not make God human, but it does make Him a person, not a force. (By the way, in Acts chapter 13 we see the same about the Holy Spirit. He is a person, not a force; not a “breath of God”, or the “active force of God,” or “a feeling,” or any such thing. He is a Person, and specifically, the Person of God… usually the third person listed of the triune Godhead.) We refer to this as the “personality” of God. He is not “impersonal”
  2. God said “Let there be light” and there was In the New Testament we read a parallel passage—“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…all things were made by Him and without Him was not anything made that was made.” The Apostle John introduced “The Word:” the “spoken (and living) communication of God.” How was the world created? By the Word of God. And Who is that Word? “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His Glory…” John 1:1-3, 14
  3. We also see that “when God speaks, things happen.” This reflects the total authority of God. In Hebrews 11:3 we are told that, “by faith, we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God.” We could take that in several ways, I suppose, but, the primary way we are to understand Scripture is to allow God’s Word to explain God’s Word. Thus, in John 1:1-3, when I read “In the Beginning was the WORD, and…the Word was God…” and that, “all things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made that was made,” I have to see it as a direct parallel to Hebrews 11:3. When it says they were “framed by the Word of God,” it doesn’t simply mean that the worlds were made “under the authority and auspices of God.” It literally means He (the Word) made Jesus is the Creatorand He is God!

    We see it proven, in the life of Christ: When Jesus said to the storm, “Peace, be still,” it instantly became a great calm, rather than a deadly storm. He is the true Master.God said “Let there be light”, and the light sprang into being. Eventually we are told that God is not only the source of light, but that He himself is that light. But when he commanded it, the light evidently filled the universe. How do I know? Next verse:
  4. “God saw the light, that it was good, and God divided the light from the darkness.” Three things:
    1. God sees! God observes! He is not “way out there, somewhere,” indifferent to what is happening here on earth! He knows exactly what is happening here on earth. He is Omniscient–all-knowing!
    2. He made the judgment that “the light was good,” but made no such judgment about darkness. (God has the authority to judge His own works.)
    3. Then it says that he “divided the light from the darkness.” (He makes executive decisions about the physical universe.) But, why would he need to do that? We know from God’s Word that the very character of light is to dispel darkness. That is what light Ephesians 5:13 says “Whatsoever maketh manifest is Light.” It shows us that which is otherwise in darkness. Darkness is nothing more than the “absence of light.” Darkness has no substance of its own. Light has existence, and attributes: it is both a wave and a particle. It is measurable. It has an effect on its surroundings. Darkness has none of these. I can go buy batteries for a flashlight, but no one has ever invented a “flash-dark!” In order to “produce darkness,” all we can do is shut out light. You may have noticed a growing tendency in our society to do just that: to deliberately “shut out light”…to make it socially unacceptable to speak God’s Word, or to testify of its truth. By speaking God’s Word, we “make manifest” the things that the World would rather keep in darkness. So they strongly desire to “shut out the light,” and maintain their own darkness.Therefore; for God to “divide the light from the darkness,” he had to limit the light: He had to reduce the light to a single source, making it come from only one direction. Prior to that, the light evidently permeated the universe, as He is the light, and He himself fills the universe and beyond. How do I know that he had to reduce it to a single source? Because the very next verse says that “And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night, and the evening and the morning were the first day.”

This was the beginning of time, for us. The rotation of the earth, ticking off the days, one by one, has been a faithful clock, ever since. But a Day is coming, which will be the last natural day: after that, there will be no night. The light will once again be unlimited; permeating all things and all places. But even at that first day, God himself was the only source of light. Notice that the heavenly luminaries were not created until three days later (v. 14-19.) They then became the time-pieces for Mankind, who were yet to be created.

The Heaven, or “Sky”

We may think of the sky as “just being there”, as part of the earth, but there is a very peculiar statement, here: He says, “Let there be a firmament (KJV: other translations say “expanse”) in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” And God separated the waters below the “expanse”, or “firmament” from those above the “expanse”, or “firmament”, and He called the expanse “heaven” (KJV), or “sky.”

Unfortunately for translators, in both Greek and Hebrew, there is only one word for “heaven”; and in both cases, it simply means “heaved-up things”…and the same word is used to describe:

  1. “Sky” where the birds, wind and clouds move (the atmosphere,)
  2. “Sky”, where the sun, moon and stars exist (outer space,) and
  3. “Heaven, proper”, which is seen as the throne-room or habitation of God.

I wish it were otherwise, but that is just a fact. Only the context can tell us which “heaven” is in view. In this context, the King James Version translators assumed that the readers would not be confused, and simply translated it (quite correctly) as “heaven”…meaning “Sky, where the birds, wind and clouds move,” as that was common usage in 1611. The modern translators saw that the language had changed and that modern readers were very likely to be confused, so they (also quite correctly) translated it “sky”, meaning “Sky, where the birds, wind and clouds move.”

We can sort it out logically, and understand that the Sun, Moon and Stars certainly do not exist “between the waters”, nor is it likely that God’s throne is situated there. So we correctly see it as the nearest “sky.” But this raises another question: What is the water above the sky?

This is not the clouds, as clouds actually are only in the lowest levels of our atmosphere.  When we study the Flood (chapter 7,) we will see what apparently existed as three separate sources of water:

  1. The fountains of the great deep were broken up, and
  2. The windows of heaven (sky) were opened and
  3. It rained.

There was evidently a water-barrier cloud around the earth, in ice-crystal form, which may have shielded the earth from harmful radiation. It apparently collapsed, as part of the flood.

I remember reading, about 30 years ago, in Time magazine, or Newsweek, that some scientist had spent 20 years trying to convince the rest of the scientific community that there were thousands of immense snowballs, the size of two-story houses, entering our atmosphere daily, from outer space. They did not show up on telescopes and they melted and evaporated virtually instantly when they hit the atmosphere, just from friction. He had finally developed equipment with which to detect such snowballs, in a manner that satisfied the other scientists, but they did not see it as a “significant” discovery, so the news simply disappeared in a matter of weeks. No one cared. It was a very disappointing response. But those snowballs may be the remnant of that old water-barrier, still falling to earth, and still adding to our supply of water.

At the flood: the majority of the water from above the sky was released, adding to the flood. Water from under the ground and within the ocean was also released, adding to the flood. And, here is the clincher: the Rain only continued for forty days and forty nights…but the floodwaters continued to rise for five months. After that time the waters began to subside. It is something to think about, for sure.

The Dry Land

The next passage seemed odd to me, when I first read it, as I had always seen the world as a solid mass with a certain amount of water in certain places (plural.) But the fact is, there is a great deal of water on the Earth (mostly salt, now,) and so deep that it could easily cover the whole earth, were it not for the huge variations in surface elevations. It requires places like the Challenger Deep, and the other great deep abysses, to contain the water. What we miss, here, and elsewhere, is the fact that the original creation had no mountains as we see them today…it was a single, low land-mass; one giant, fairly flat pancake of a continent. We see the proof of that, in Genesis 7:18-20, where a 15 cubit increase covered the “mountains,” and over in Genesis 10:25, where, after the flood, we see the breakup of that  huge, flat continent.

So, in verses 9 and 10, when he says “let the waters under the heaven be gathered together in one place,” he literally meant one place…not thousands of bays, lakes, oceans and gulfs. There was one body of water, and one land mass. And God saw that it was good. We will see later where the rivers and the mountains came from, and why the geology looks the way it does, today.

Next time, we will continue to read, to see

  • How Man came into being,
  • How we became sinners, and
  • What God has chosen to do about it

Lord Jesus, give us Grace and Light, to believe your Word; to understand your Word, and, by your Spirit, to apply it to our lives. Make us lights in the dark world around us. Help us to serve you faithfully, and with Joy.