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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.


Following Christ as Citizens of Heaven

Following Christ as Citizens of Heaven

© C. O. Bishop 3/17/2018 Cornell Estates 3/18/18

Philippians 3:17-4:1; 2nd Peter 2; Acts 20:17, 28-31

Introduction:

We ended, last time, on Philippians 3:17, where Paul had instructed the Philippian believers to be followers together of himself, and to take note of their other human leaders who lived in the same way as the apostles, so as to use their example and see the same fruits in their own lives.

17 Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.

Paul says that there are others (especially church leaders, we hope) whom we can imitate, but warns that we are to “be picky”—take note of those who walk as Paul and the other apostles did, and imitate that kind of individual, not those who live as counter-examples to that faith. He said, back in verse 15 that, if we are trying to imitate this pattern, and if there is a “glitch” of some sort, so that our walk is being misdirected in some way, the Holy Spirit will be faithful to reveal that fact to us, and re-direct our path. That is comforting to know.

But then he notes, parenthetically, that there are some bad examples, too: People whose lives we should absolutely avoid imitating.

The Parenthesis: Who Not to Follow

It is entirely possible for a true believer to be misinformed and misdirected. That is not what is being warned against, here. Our defense against such a thing is to be in the Word and in Prayer, specifically seeking to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, all the while recognizing that He, the Holy Spirit, will never lead contrary to the written Word of God, but that it is possible for us to misunderstand the scriptures. However, in this passage, he is talking about licentious behavior along with bad teaching…definite sin. He goes on to describe the false teachers who are a deadly danger to believers:

18 (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:
19 Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)

I don’t know who Paul is referring to, specifically, as he describes them only in general terms: no information specific enough to identify a group. Remember, however, that, while we are all described (Romans 5:10), as having once been the “enemies of God”, we were not described as being the enemies of the Gospel, or the enemies of the Cross. I believe the people he is referring to must be those who are deliberately false teachers, though they may be hard to define, except by observation. Not all who teach false doctrine are doing so deliberately, and not all who act as our enemies are also an enemy of the Cross. Paul gives some examples, elsewhere:

Unbelievers

Romans 11:28 definitely refers to unbelieving Jews as being “enemies” as regarding the gospel, but the enmity is a “one-way” enmity: The unbelieving Jews despised all the believers for the sake of the Gospel, and even were enemies physically, in that regard. Paul cautioned the Gentile believers that those unbelieving Jews were still precious souls for whom Christ died: that they were beloved for the sake of Israel, even when they were acting as enemies. They were still not enemies of the Cross, or enemies of the Gospel, as the false teachers were. They were simply responding as enemies because of the Gospel.

Unbelieving Gentiles were sometimes equally dangerous, but usually were less volatile, as, while the Gospel does indict the Gentiles as sinners, it does not tell them that they have crucified their own Messiah. That one is a pretty tough thing for the Jews to hear.

False Teachers

It is possible for a genuine believer to be sadly mistaken about something, but to teach it with a clean heart, because he simply does not understand a particular concept in the Bible. We don’t hold that against a brother, because there are bound to be things about which we are mistaken, too. We just keep honing our understanding of the Word of God, and bear in mind that it all has to agree with itself or else we are reading it wrong. These are not what the Bible calls a false teacher. It requires an unregenerate heart, and a corrupt motive for teaching the false doctrine.

All of the descriptors here in verse 19 seem to closely match those listed in 2nd Peter 2, (read it!) where Paul is definitely describing deliberately false teachers, and their habitual sin, along with their false doctrine. These are very heavily condemned for their lifestyle (“…whose God is their belly, and whose glory is their shame, who mind earthly things” (here in Philippians,) and “bringing in damnable heresies; …denying the Lord that bought them; …they that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness;” etc. (in 2nd Peter chapter 2))  Eternal judgment is predicted for them (“Whose end is destruction; who bring upon themselves swift destruction; whose judgment of a long time lingereth not; they shall utterly perish in their own corruption;” etc.).

They are said to be knowingly deceiving the believers: “…sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you…” It makes them feel smart to be fooling the believers around them. And, according to Acts 20:30, they will draw away followers after themselves. Some of you may recall a false teacher, Jim Jones, who led away 900 followers, and moved them all to Guyana…and there, in the jungle, he induced them all to commit suicide, and shot all those who refused. He was a classic false teacher, who began by using the scriptures, but finally threw his Bible down, and said “You don’t need the Bible; you need me!” Those who continued to follow him eventually died, as a result. It is a very sad story, but it was entirely avoidable.

Not all false teachers have such a dramatic end, but all result in souls being drawn away from Christ, either believing false doctrine that prevents them from being born again to begin with, or, in the case of those who are already saved, following teachings that can prevent them from living for God, and experiencing the liberty and peace of God.

It is these false teachers, in 2nd Peter 2, regarding whom the apostle says, “But it has happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog has turned unto his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.” (2nd Peter 2:22)

Notice that it does not say, “…The sheep has turned back into a dog, or a pig.” What it says is that a dog, who had, for a time, abandoned his ordinary canine ways, has returned to behaving in accord with his true nature. And, a pig, who had been outwardly washed, but who, at heart, was always a pig, has returned to her old ways. Why? Because given the opportunity, a dog acts like a dog. And a pig is always happiest when he or she is acting like a pig. Sinners are most comfortable in Sin. People who are pretending faith, but have never truly placed their faith in the Savior, will eventually go back to their real comfort zone, and follow their true nature.

So, Paul is warning us that it is possible for an unbeliever to deceive the believers, and finagle his way into a position of leadership. But a combination of bad doctrine that clearly sets aside the authority and holiness of God’s Word, and bad behavior, specifically moral corruption, is a “red flag” for us, warning that they are really a false teacher. Could there be a false teacher who lives a moral life? Yes, I think there can be, but it is uncommon. I think I may actually have known one: He claimed to be a believer, and he had good Bible and ministerial training. As far as I could tell, he lived a blameless life. BUT: he did not believe the Bible was the Word of God, and he taught such things from the pulpit. We confronted him, and he laughed it off, as though we were simple-minded, primitive believers, and that his unbelief was a mark of sophistication. I don’t know what to make of that. I don’t know if he was a genuine believer who was badly deceived by the enemy, or a false teacher who thought he was getting away with something.

Wolves Among the Sheep

Paul warned the elders of the church at Ephesus to be on guard against this very thing: He said that, after his departure, “grievous wolves” would enter in among them, “not sparing the flock;” and that, furthermore, some would spring up from among the leadership, teaching “perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:17, 28-31) The motive could be money, pride, lusts of various types, or just the desire for power and control.

We need to be careful, though, who we label as an “enemy of the Cross,” as that is a pretty heavy accusation. If it is really true, then so be it; but if it is not, then we may fall into the snare of Satan, becoming, with him, an “accuser of the brethren”. I really do not want to go there. Genuine believers can fall into the condemnation and the snare of the devil, according to the warnings in 1st Timothy 3:6, 7. We want to avoid that.

Please note, too, that Paul said he was weeping for those who were enemies of the Cross, not despising them. Were you ever truly grieved for the eternal destiny of an enemy: someone who constantly torments you, or is deliberately dangerous to you? Personally, I find it difficult to care for their destiny: it is far easier to secretly be glad that judgment is coming, and ignore Jesus’s clear command (Matthew 5:44) to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, and to pray for those who treat us badly. That is what Jonah did! He ignored the command of God! It takes deliberate repentance, confession, and day-by-day obedience, for me to change that pattern.

Our New Citizenship

20 For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:

This is an interesting passage, partly because of the word “conversation,” here in the KJV. The Greek word usually translated “conversation” is “tropos” meaning “way of life.” But this Greek word “politeuma”, means “commonwealth”, or “citizenship”. In the case of either Greek root, the King James Bible word, “conversation,” has nothing to do with “two people talking together.” In the one case, it means our lifestyle. In this particular case, though, the statement is that because our citizenship is in heaven, we are to be imitators of Christ, who ultimately, Paul concludes, will completely change us into his likeness, both physically and spiritually. We will lose our tendency to sin, as we will no longer have a sin nature. We will see things from God’s perspective, and understand things that were mysteries before.

That is the living hope of the believer. Every one of us knows that we are a sinner: Every one of us grieves over our sin, and longs to be set free. And the day of release is coming. Paul rejoiced over that in Romans 7:24, 25, saying “…who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”, and again in Romans 8:21-23, saying that the whole creation is looking forward to that day, because they will be (mostly) freed from the curse, when the Kingdom age begins, during which time we will have our new bodies…and no sin nature.

In 1st Corinthians 15:51, 52, Paul says that, for those believers who are still alive, the first step of that time will happen in a flash: we will get our new bodies at the moment of the rapture. But the kingdom age will not begin until seven years later, after the rapture of the church. Here, in Philippians, he gives us a little insight about what those new bodies will be like:

21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.

I am really looking forward to that “change”. Although our physical body does not “cause sin”, it is still true that, so long as we are living in these bodies, we will still be subject to sin. Paul experienced this, too, and grieved over it, just as we do. There is coming a day when our old nature will be gone, and we will be free at last.

In the meantime, our freedom has already been provided for, and we are to stand fast in Christ. In Romans 6, we see that we are no longer enslaved to sin: we do not have to sin. We face temptation and we fall prey to it, but we have a choice: we can submit to Christ and obey His Word, instead of our old habitual submission to Sin.

Chapter 4

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

Paul considered this church to be the best of those whom he had led to Christ. They were a total joy to him, and a “victor’s crown.” The Greek word for “crown” here is “stephanos.” It is not the crown of a king, but the victor’s laurel wreath that was awarded to the winner in the Olympic Games. It is translated “crown”, but it always means a victor’s crown. Paul considered these believers to be his trophy…his “blue ribbon.” And, he says, on the basis of all that went before, for them to “stand fast”: To remain steadfast in the face of hard times, in the face of temptation, in the face of tribulations and persecutions. To remain steadfast against false teaching, and to steadfastly follow the leaders God had given, as those leaders steadfastly followed Christ.

That is what we are to do, as well! This letter is to us, as well as to those who first received it. All the epistles are to the churches, not to some high-ranking church leaders: the letters are to YOU.

We need to absorb these truths, and allow them to change our lives. Allow God to use His Word to remake you in His own image. Believe his promises. Obey His commands. Allow His love to flow through you to those around you. That is what it means to stand fast and to walk with God, Following Christ.

Lord Jesus, remake us in your own image: make us the men and women of God that you have called us to be. Allow us to follow you, and to serve faithfully as ambassadors of Christ, offering your love to the World around us, and living in the practical holiness you have assigned to us.

 


Closing Notes from Hebrews

Closing Notes from Hebrews

© C. O. Bishop

Hebrews 13:17-25

Introduction:

We are at the end of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and there are just a few, seemingly unrelated verses, left, as the writer gives his closing thoughts. He gives final instructions as to their response to church leadership, and then makes a personal request for prayer, as well as giving a closing prayer for his readers. Lastly, it is his greeting to the believers, and his benediction to all.

What about Church Leadership?

17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

This is specifically in reference to the leadership of the church. We could apply it to civil government, as we are also commanded to be in subjection to the civil authorities, but this specifically says “they watch for your souls”…and that is simply not true of the civil authorities. An unbelieving governor, if called to accounts by God, could not give account with joy, no matter what he had done, as he is still an enemy of God, just as we were, before we were saved.

Civil leaders have been chosen by a variety of means, down through history. Some simply seized power, and ruled by force. Some were chosen by popular acclaim, either by an organized election, or by mob popularity. (You may recall that the crowd tried that with Jesus, once…they wanted to take him by force and make him king. What an odd idea!) Some simply accepted the burden of government because it had to be done, and there was no one else available who was qualified. I believe that a few of our early American statesmen were possibly in that category.

Regardless of how a civil leader is chosen, as an unbeliever, they would not fit this verse. This is talking about church leaders. Church leaders, too, have been chosen by a wide range of means, and, sadly, pretty much exactly the same means by which civil leaders have come into power. Some wanted the job because of ambition: they enjoyed being the center of attention, or wanted to wield authority over others in some way. Jesus described those, in the Sermon on the Mount, and elsewhere. Some were simply lazy, and they chose it as a “clean” profession, where they could earn a living without doing much work. God describes bad shepherds of another sort, in Ezekiel 34, saying that they used the flock to feed themselves, but did not feed the flock as they were sent to do. This actually covers a lot of the different “bad shepherd” types.

Qualifications for Church Leadership:

I’m not going to go into the qualifications of Elders and Deacons in any depth, this morning, as we have taught them before, not too long ago, but God clearly gives us the qualifications of church leadership in 1st Timothy 3:1-8; Titus 1:5-9, 1st Peter 5:1-5, and other passages. You can read those on your own. They all have to do with proven character, demonstrated maturity and, in one case, (teaching) recognizable gifting.

God describes the job itself, with its responsibilities, in Ezekiel 34, as well as in Acts 20:28. If a church ignores any of this, and either appoints leaders who are not qualified, or those who will not carry out the responsibilities, then disaster surely awaits. Actually, if a man is not willing to carry out the responsibilities of leadership, then he also is not qualified, as that is the first qualification, in 1st Timothy 3:1. So, what is the job description for elders?

Job Description for Church Leaders:

What does the Scripture say about Shepherds? Looking at the whole of God’s word, regarding shepherding, at least six things become clear:

1. Sheep need a Shepherd. Sheep without a Shepherd are in immediate and deadly danger, even if no predator is around—and the greatest, deadliest predator in the world is around, according to 1st Pet 5:8. Even apart from the issue of predators, we often don’t know the difference between good pasture and bad, still waters and treacherous, safe paths and dangerous ones, apart from our Shepherd leading us—(Psalm 23:2, 3).

This is a direct reflection on God’s determination to be the Shepherd of His Flock Genesis 49:24, Ezekiel 34). We need the Shepherd.

2. God has assigned human shepherds. These shepherds are “sheep”, themselves, as well. But they have been assigned the task of performing the work of shepherds. And they cannot do a faithful job apart from the direct leading and control of Jesus Christ, the true Shepherd. (John 15:5; Psalm 127:1) God holds them accountable for his flock. (Ezekiel 34, James 3:1; Hebrews 13:17) This is a huge responsibility.

3. The Work of the Shepherd has clear definition:

  • Ezekiel 34:1-16 says the shepherds are to:
    • Feed the sheep: (This means a steady provision of nourishment from God’s Word.)
    • Strengthen those who are diseased: (This may imply corrective teaching, or encouragement to change self-destructive patterns.)
    • Heal those who are sick: (very similar: promoting spiritual healing through Godly counsel.)
    • Bind up those who are broken: (This may mean promoting Forgiveness for past injuries by other believers, or acceptance of God’s Grace to heal those wounds.)
    • Seek out and bring back those who have been driven away: (Sometimes the wounded ones flee the flock, unable to bear the stress of being around the one who hurt them. Or, sometimes they simply were angry, and need to deal with the anger.)
    • Seek the lost: (refers to both evangelism and reconciliation of the backslidden)
    • Prevent them from becoming prey to predators: (Guarding is implied, but not stated in this passage; clearly stated in Acts 20:28-30.)
  • Acts 20:17, 28-30: the elders (17; also identified as shepherds and overseers) are to:
    • Guard themselves—recognize that they themselves are also in danger from the Enemy,
    • Guard the whole flock against predators (sometimes coming from among the leaders),
    • ‘Feed’ the flock (KJV), (actually, ‘shepherd’ the flock: the Greek word is poimainein)
    • Be overseers. (Greek episkopos)
  • 1 Peter 5:1-4 says that elders (Greek presbuteros) (who are also shepherds and overseers) are to:
    • Feed the flock (KJV): (here again, the Greek word is the verb poimanate—“shepherd”)
    • Take the oversight thereof (be an overseer)
    • Do so willingly, not grudgingly
    • Not for the sake of money
    • Not lording it over the flock, but
    • Leading by example,
    • Expect a reward from Christ, (the “arch-shepherd”) at His coming, for faithful service.

4. Shepherds face Judgment: Apart from faithful attention to God’s assignment, Judgment is coming, in one form or another…The Lord’s flock is precious to Him: He defends it against all enemies, even the enemies from within the flock. Ezekiel 34 is a discourse on this very issue: God is rebuking the shepherds of Israel for malfeasance and nonfeasance of their duties. He says he is going to take them off the job and do the job himself. James 3:1 and Hebrews 13:17 both address this issue as well. Revelation 3:14-16 tells the long range result of failure in this area: the local church can die or become so infected with spiritual disease that God closes it down.

5.  Clear guidelines are given, as to the Qualifications of the Human Shepherds: These are given in order to protect the flock from unstable, immature, or otherwise flawed leadership. We will discuss these again at a later date. If you want to read them ahead of time, they are found in 1st Timothy 3:1-8, Titus 1:5-9 and 1st Peter 5:1-3.

6. Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd—perhaps one could say, the only true shepherd (John 10:11-15, Hebrews 13:20, 1st Peter 5:4), and He is, by necessity, our example in all things: apart from Him, we truly have nothing to offer.

Hudson Taylor used to say “God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s provision.”  I believe that is a scriptural viewpoint. I also believe that unless we truly strive to adhere to the job description, and the instructions that come along with it, we are doomed to failure.

Following Church Leaders:

On the other hand, having good leadership and following those leaders are clearly separate concepts. In this passage, the writer assumes that the recipients of the letter do have good leaders, and he is exhorting them to respond to those leaders appropriately. The word translated “obey” is the Greek word, “Peithesthe”, from “Peitho”, meaning “to be persuaded”. We are always to search the scriptures, and to be sure that we are being led appropriately, but the ultimate question will be regarding our response to  appropriate leadership, not whether we “like” the leader.

Any elder of a church, who has faithfully labored in the Word, and poured himself out in teaching, and has consistently offered good counsel from God’s Word, would be grieved to see a flock behaving badly. He takes personal responsibility for their waywardness, though he has tried to turn them from it. Jeremiah wept over Israel, though he had faithfully warned them against their rebellion. It is instructive to note that, when the chips were down, so to speak, and he had the opportunity to leave them behind, with the blessing and support of the conquerors, he chose to stay with Israel and to continue his ministry, as frustrating and unfruitful as it had been. I think of Jeremiah a lot, whenever I feel discouraged. He was utterly faithful and had the least “fruitful” ministry of any of the Major Prophets. But he stayed on the job!

The writer is here asking us to not respond to God’s leading through the elders, in the same manner as Israel did to God’s Word through Jeremiah. They told him they wanted to hear what God had to say to them. He warned that they would not like what he had to say, and that they would not obey God, in any case. They protested that they would obey, and insisted that he speak what God told him. So he did…and they immediately rebelled, and did the opposite of what God commanded. God is asking us to not respond in that way.

We can see in Acts 17:11 that God approves a response that includes “searching the scriptures to see if the teaching is accurate and appropriate.” But in all the scriptures, we see that the response God ultimately expects is that we allow Him to change our hearts, as we submit ourselves to His Word and His Will. Did it come through someone you don’t really like to listen to? Too bad! Paul was repugnant to many who heard him, but God definitely sent him to preach and teach, and to lay the foundation for faith. Those who responded well, eventually learned to appreciate him for who he was. I have had teachers who, initially, I found hard to listen to. But they were completely faithful to God’s Word, and I grew to appreciate them for their faithfulness and the blessing they were to the church.

Knowing that the elders will be held accountable, and that we are also held accountable for our response, we need to pray for the leaders, and respond well to them, too.

Closing Requests and Blessings

18 Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly.
19 But I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.

I don’t know what was going on in the writer’s life that he should write such words…if it really was Paul (and I think it was), then it seems to make a kind of sense, as, several times, during his ministry, he was in bonds, one way or another, accused of things he had not done. Perhaps this was one of those times: it sounds as though it might have been. But he asked for prayer that he might be released sooner, as be able to rejoin the other believers.

20 Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,
21 Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

The writer’s prayer for the recipients, is that God would continue to perfect them so that their lives would be a continual honor to God. He reminds them of the source of their blessing, and the fact that Jesus himself is our great shepherd, as well as the fact that he has been physically, literally raised from the dead. But the bottom line is that our lives should be to his glory as well.

22 And I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation: for I have written a letter unto you in few words.

The Writer begs them to receive this letter of encouragement properly. (It seems an odd thing, however, to see that the Writer considered this to be a short letter.)

23 Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you.

Timothy was one of Paul’s close companions…which also gives me to believe that Paul was the writer. Evidently Timothy had also been held, somewhere, but was set free already, and the writer hoped to meet with them all and with Timothy too.

24 Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you.
25 Grace be with you all. Amen.

This closing is typical Pauline benediction. Notice that, whoever the recipients were, they were told to greet the leadership, as well as the other believers. All the letters to the church are just that: Letters to the Church! They are not, as a rule, to some sort of hierarchy of leaders, but to the believers themselves. This letter is to us. If you are a believer, it is to you.

Learn from it! Believe it! Study it! Make use of it in your life. Don’t just let it gather dust.

Allow God’s Grace to rule in your life.

Lord Jesus, make us able ministers of your Word, and faithful ambassadors of your Love and Grace. Help us to both lead and respond to leadership. To tach and be teachable. Make us the Men and Women of God that you have called us to be.


The Priesthood of the Believers

The Priesthood of the Believers

© C. O. Bishop 2/24/18; THCF 2/25/18

Hebrews 13:10-16; 1st Peter 2:5; Revelation 1:6, 5:10

Introduction:

We have been studying through the Epistle to the Hebrews, for several months, and we are finally in the last chapter, where the writer addresses a number of issues, and gives instructions to believers. You may recall that the book had seven comparisons to Old Testament figures, or “pictures,” each showing that “Jesus is Better.” In fact, that seems to be the central theme of the entire epistle.

There were also seven stern warnings, evidently to those dabblers in the faith, who were not fully committed to the truth of the Gospel, nor to Christ as their only hope for salvation. These warnings were dispersed throughout the first twelve chapters. However, most of chapter twelve and all of chapter thirteen has moved on from that theme, and is addressing only instructions and encouragement to genuine believers.

Verse nine of chapter 13 was an admonition to not be “carried about by strange doctrines,” and it briefly addressed the problem of the Jewish (or other) dietary laws, as an example, where legalism is the broader concept. But, moving on from that idea, the writer ties together the specific dietary laws and privileges of the Levitical priesthood, with its limits and the total privilege of the Christian believer.

The Old Testament priesthood offered sacrifices for Israel, some of which also, subsequently, became the food of the priests and their families. But the sin-offerings brought by the high priest were not to be eaten: not by anyone; they were taken away and burned outside the camp, or outside the city walls, in the times of the temple. But many of the sacrifices were definitely eaten by the priests.

Jesus made one sacrifice, forever: He was executed outside the city, and buried outside the city. He fulfilled the prophetic pre-figure of the sin-offering for the people by the high Priest. And he is now our high Priest.

He has stepped beyond the picture, so to speak, into a reality that transcends what all the animal sacrifices could do. They could only cover sins, as the believers looked to God in Faith. The blood of Jesus takes away the sins of those who look to him in faith. We look, and live!

But something that many people miss is the fact that in bringing us to the Father through his own blood, and opening the way to the Father, (through the veil, which, it turned out, was a picture of his flesh, torn at the Cross); in doing so, He has ordained us as Priests, as well. We bring sacrifices to God, and we make intercessions for one another, and for the lost.

We now serve that altar, as well. But the Old Testament priests, who served the tabernacle or the temple, could not transition from the old, physical altar, to the real altar, unless they also received their Messiah by faith. So they have no privileges at all, in this, the true temple.

A New Altar

10 We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.

Remember that the priests were fed from the sacrifices (not all of them, but many.) And no one else could eat that food. They alone had that privilege. But this situation is reversed: those priests cannot feed at our altar. He goes on to explain why:

11 For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp.

The priests did not eat the carcasses of the animals brought by the High Priest, as sin offerings—those were burned outside the camp. The priests had no right to eat those sacrifices.

12 Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.
13 Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.

Jesus died as our sin offering. The altar we serve does not include animal sacrifice. It included one Solitary offering for sin, forever. Our worship and service is continually brought to him, but He remains “outside the camp” so far as the unbelieving world is concerned. So that is where we serve Him. We recognize that the genuine service of Christ will never be popular with the enemies of God. Bear in mind, when I use this phrase, the fact that all humans start off as “enemies of God”. Romans 5:10 states that “…while we were enemies, Christ died for us…”

So, to the unsaved, unbelieving World, the service of Christ, at any level, is a repugnant thing. They want it to be “outside the gate”…rejected from “polite society.” We need to embrace that as being simply appropriate. They see us as worthy of rejection: we need to see ourselves in Christ, and recognize that if we are living like him, and not offending by our human follies and sin, but are definitely being rejected because of the Cross, then we must joyfully accept our position in Christ, and understand that our proper place is “outside of polite society,” though those who consider themselves the “polite” ones are actually those who despise Christ.

A New City—our true home.

14 For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.

We know that our citizenship is elsewhere…that our home is elsewhere. We sing “This World is not my home…” and it is literally true. We are just passing through. We are “…pilgrims, in search of a city.” It isn’t comfortable, but it is reality. Embrace reality! This is where we live! We are in Christ, by God’s Grace, and if we want to walk with Him, then we must go where He goes. For the time being, it means we are to be excluded by our co-workers, our neighbors, etc., as “Bible-thumpers, Religious fanatics,” etc. But, for all time, it means we are in Christ. We go where He goes. If he is rejected (and He is), then we should expect to be rejected, too.

In the future, we will no longer be “outside the city.” We will be those inside…with Jesus, in the New City…our new home.

A New Priesthood.

15 By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.
16 But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

Who is it that offers sacrifices, as a part of his job? A Priest does! We are called to be a “holy priesthood” to God. (1st Peter 2:5) Notice that our sacrifices are not only those of praise and thanksgiving: He calls us to do Good, and to share. He counts those things as sacrifices, too, and specifically warns us not to forget the practical side of Christianity. James says similar things, questioning how a genuine spirituality can even exist without a practical outworking of it in one’s life. The answer is…it can’t. The genuine activity of God in a believer’s life always changes the life of the believer, and it always positively affects others!

1st Peter 2:5 says “Ye also, as lively stones are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”

What kind of spiritual sacrifices? “…the sacrifice of praise to God, continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.”

Over in Romans 12:1, 2, Paul exhorts us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice…and he says that it is a reasonable service. We are priests, and all we have to offer is our selves. Jesus already made the only offering for sin. We bring ourselves as a worship offering.

Kings, or “a kingdom?”

In Revelation 1:6, the apostle John states that Jesus “has made us kings and priests unto God and his Father….” (KJV) I am not sure why they do it, but many newer translations render this “a kingdom of priests”. The Greek word “basileis”, used here, is also used over in Revelation 17:12, where it talks about “…ten kings which have received no kingdom as yet…” The word there for “kings” (Greek, basileis”) is identical to that in Revelation 1:6, while the word for kingdom is different: it is the Greek word, “basileian”.

The wording in the first chapter (also in Revelation 5:10) makes it clear that our placement as kings and priests (not a “kingdom of priests) is past-tense. It is a done deal. Jesus has already made us kings and priests in Him, and we shall reign (future tense) on the earth. The “reigning” part is evidently future, or at least partly future, but the priesthood portion is current. It is now! We have already been given the dual-duty of serving as an ambassador, reaching out to the World, in the name of the King of Kings, while also serving as priests, offering sacrifices and prayers to the Holy God to whom we belong.

In case you haven’t thought this through, we are the only body of believers in history who have been so described. The Jews in the Millennial Kingdom, living in Israel, are to be called “holy unto the LORD”, and are said to be “a kingdom of priests”. That fits! Israel has always been a nation; and a kingdom is what they have been waiting for. But the Church has never been a nation, and is not looking for a kingdom, but the Bridegroom. The Church is the Bride of Christ. And Jesus, though He is certainly “King of Kings”, is not said to be the “King” of the Church, but the “Head” of the Church. The Church is also the “Body of Christ.” We are not a kingdom of priests, but kings and priests. Romans 5:17 says that we shall “reign in life”. We need to think about that one! Will you choose to “reign” in life, or still be a slave to your old nature?

A New Assignment

We have been given the spelled-out task of being ambassadors of Christ, reconciling the World to God through the person of Christ. Paul says that the job is to be accomplished by the preaching of the Cross…evangelism and discipleship. This is not a slick “sales-job,”, but an honest task of clearly, simply presenting the King, both by our words, and our living example.

Paul pointed out the folly of trying the “Madison Avenue” approach: “…not with wisdom of words, lest the preaching of the Cross be made of none effect” (1st Corinthians 1:17)

This is not about “clever” approaches, and persuasive presentations. It is about living the truth of Christ in your life, constantly, and speaking the truth of Christ when an opportunity is given. It is about looking for those opportunities, and praying in advance for the opportunities to come. It is about anxiously watching for the chance to share, and yet offering no offense by sharing in a wrong context, or a wrong time.

It is also about being courageous enough to go ahead and take the risk of rejection: we know that the majority will reject the Lord, and likely reject us with Him, but that does not mean we are not to share with them. Jesus died for the sins of the whole World. He said that was what he came to do, and that is what He did. If we have any doubt about that, we need to turn to 1st John 2:2 where it says, “…and He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole World.”

This is why the Apostle Paul stated that he was “…debtor, both to the Greeks and to the barbarians; both to the wise and to the unwise…” He knew that his job was to present Jesus to a world of lost sinners for whom Jesus had already died! Jesus, whose blood had already paid for their sins. Jesus, who, being believed in, is God’s only offer of redemption.

Don’t we have that same debt? Since you know that the price of redemption has already been paid, but that, for lack of faith in that blood-sacrifice, people are doomed to a Christless Eternity; don’t you have an obligation to be looking for opportunities to turn people away from destruction?

In the news lately, we heard of a mass-shooting, at a school in Florida. An unarmed security guard confronted the shooter, and put himself between the shooter and the children at whom he was shooting. He died in his task. Meanwhile, it turns out that there were one or more deputies, outside the school, armed, and sworn to protect, who refused to enter the school, but stood outside, listening to people being killed inside.

Which of those fellows would you rather emulate? When they stand before their judge, in whose shoes would you rather be?

We know people are dying for lack of a voice from God. We have to choose whether to be that voice. That is our only job. Will we do it?

A New Future

Our future has already changed. We are secure in Christ. We will be with Him for eternity, regardless of our current failures. But: our eternal reward (not our salvation: not eternal life)– our eternal reward depends on how we respond to Him as our Master.

We will be where He is. We will live through the Millennial Kingdom in our new bodies, and will be given tasks with which to honor the King. However, the kind of tasks we are given (as nearly as I can understand it) will depend on how we respond to our assignments in this life.

We have many tasks, in this life: some big, some small, some seemingly insignificant. But the assigned job, of every believer, great or small, is “Ambassador for Christ”. You may feel that you have been assigned the ambassadorship to the worst hole-in-the-wall, insignificant dump on the planet. But if you are faithful to serve there, then you are honoring God with your life. He doesn’t miss anything. He knows our hearts.

Remember the poor widow, regarding whom Jesus said “She has given more than all the others, for out of her deep poverty, she has given all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4) Jesus knew exactly what was going on in the hearts of each of the worshippers. He knows our hearts today, as well.

Proverbs 11:30 says, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he that winneth souls is wise.” Daniel 12:3 states that “…they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars for ever and ever.”

We knew an elderly woman at Cornell Estates, some time ago, who was confined to a wheelchair, due to a stroke and extreme age (100+ years), but she was still actively seeking to lead people to Christ. As we got to know her, we discovered that, when she was younger, she had hosted “good news clubs” in her home…and that today, all the deacons in her home church had been led to Christ in her home as young children, and today are the leaders of her church. Do you suppose she qualifies for these passages? How about someone who has never aggressively preached the Gospel, but who has faithfully lived it, and demonstrated the practical righteousness, that ultimately turned many to righteousness?  I think the same passages apply.

I really do not want to be like those deputies in Florida who stood outside and listened to children being murdered, without attempting to confront the gunman. I want to go ahead and take the risk, and do the job I was called to do.

 

Lord Jesus, give us clear minds to think through our life circumstances, and the courage to face our environments with the mind of Christ. We are not our own masters, and you have given us a job. Give us the Grace, day by day, to be faithful to that job.


That I May Know Him

That I May Know Him

© C. O. Bishop 2/16/2018

Philippian 3:9-17

Introduction:

We have been studying through Philippians together: When we last met, we ended on Philippians 3:9, where Paul concluded his statements as to having lost the things that were once important to him, but having found himself “In Christ.”

9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

Now Paul, having found himself “in Him”—in Christ—was positionally perfect. His standing with God was made forever secure. But his condition—his state—could change drastically, just as our state, or condition, changes when we sin. This difference, between the two concepts, “Position” (Where I am, and Who I am, in Christ), and “Condition” (How I am doing, and What I am doing) has been the source of much bad teaching, and misunderstanding in the church, for centuries. Paul’s old condition, from human perspective, was quite admirable. Lots of great credentials and accomplishments. But his old Position (still in his sins…still “In Adam”) was terrible—he was headed for destruction!

When he embraced the redemption provided at the Cross, he lost his social standing, and his accomplishments were no longer respected. He lost them because of the Cross, but gained something new at the Cross, at the same moment. He gained a new Position. He is now no longer “in Adam”…he is “in Christ.” This is in keeping with 1st Corinthians 15:22 And all his own efforts do not add to that position, nor does a failure on his part detract from that position. His works can only affect his condition, not his position.

Paul said that he counted all those things as garbage! Why? Because they could not enhance his position at all, and possibly could prove a snare to him, in terms of the practical outworking of his relationship with God. He said that those things have been willingly set aside: why? So that he could focus on growing in an experiential knowledge of Christ

That I may Know Him

10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

“That I may know Him?” What can he mean by this? Didn’t he already know Jesus? He met Him on the road to Damascus… he was commissioned by Jesus for service. How could he not know Him?

The word Paul chose to use, here (Greek “gnonai”, from “gnosko”), means to have experiential knowledge—not merely acquaintance, or knowing a fact, or even figuring something out. I may “know” something because of careful reasoning. I may “know” something as a fact about which I have been told. I may even “know” a person because I have met them once. I sometimes tell people about famous violinmakers that I happen to have met. I could say, “I know him.” But I have to qualify that remark, by saying, “He wouldn’t remember me. I only met him once.”

To know someone in an ongoing relationship which is growing in depth and closeness is the kind of continuing knowledge Paul sought. And all the things he once took pride in would detract from that relationship if they had any affect at all. If he set them all aside in terms of value or importance, they could have no negative effect. But if he clung to any of them as being “vital to his identity”, they would surely detract from his identity in Christ, as a distraction, if nothing else.

This can be true in our own lives as well: If it really is central to my self-view that I am part of some trade (a welder, in my case, or a violin maker, or a teacher or pastor), or that I belong to some political party, or a particular church, or even a particular nationality,  or ethnic group… then how central is my relationship with Christ? To the degree that “something else” is central to “who I am”, Jesus has been dethroned in my life.

What do we call it when “something else” has taken the place of God in my life? The fact is, this constitutes idolatry. Perhaps Paul avoided using that word in order to underscore the relational issues, but we do tend to elevate such minutia to ridiculous levels of importance. We have our little “in” groups of people who drive a certain kind of car, drink a certain kind of beverage, follow a particular sport, or a specific team within that sport, or who are alumni of a specific school. Our society promotes this kind of thing, and says we ought to have “pride” in the school we attend, etc. We even argue over which kind of shoes to wear. Proverbs states that pride is the root of contention. And if it ruins human relationships, how much more would it limit our relationship with a holy God? We need to think clearly about what is important to us, and why…and, to what extent.

Grammatically, Paul applied that same word for knowledge to the whole list he enumerated: To Know Christ, and (to know) the power of His resurrection, and (to know) the fellowship of his suffering, being made conformable to his death.

To experientially know the power of the resurrection in my life is to see the new life in Christ take hold and transform me from the inside out. I began “knowing” that power the day I first trusted in Christ as my savior. But it is an ongoing transformation, and I want to see it increasing continually. We are to live “as those alive from among the dead.” We can’t have our old perspective on life anymore. We have been resurrected with Christ.

To experientially know the fellowship of His suffering: fellowship means “sharing in”—“partnership”. How can we be partners in the suffering of Christ? He did say that we are to take up our cross and follow him. That we are to count our own life as a thing of the past, and join him in his passion for the lost world. Do we personally share in having nails driven through our flesh? No, not as a rule. But we can at least recognize that His suffering was for a purpose, a testimony, etc., and we can join him in in enduring whatever is set before us as a way to demonstrate his Love and faithfulness to others. I think that would at least be a start. Jesus poured himself out to meet the need of a lost world. We can pour ourselves out daily to serve, as He gives us opportunity.

What does it mean to “be made conformable to His death?” Over in Hebrews 12:4, Paul commented to the believers that “ye have not yet resisted unto [the shedding of] blood, striving against sin.” In their particular case, the suffering for Christ had taken no serious turn, though it certainly had, in the lives of the many believers who had been tortured and killed for their faith. Could they have borne such a burden? Perhaps not, because these are the same believers he rebuked for having backslidden into babyhood, in Hebrews 5:12.

Is it possible then, that the issue in becoming “conformable to His death” may have to do with becoming committed enough that, if called upon, he could follow Jesus in death? Maybe. That would be some serious growth, as a believer. But that is exactly what eventually happened to Paul. And, yes, he was ready!

“Arriving”

11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.

What is he saying? Does he mean that the way to be resurrected is to do all the things he just listed? Why then, would he say, in Romans 6, that as many as have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into his death, and his resurrection? (By the way, that baptism is not in reference to water, either.) Why would he say in Ephesians 2:6 that I have already been raised up with Christ (resurrection) and have already been seated with him in the heavenlies…in fact, that I am there, now? (Not only already resurrected, but already ascended!)

So, we can be sure that he is not saying one is to earn the resurrection from the dead. In fact, he did not say “earn”—he said “attain.” The Greek word is “katantiso”, meaning “arrive”. It is only used 13 times in the New Testament, and in all but two cases it is translated “come to”, in the sense of “arrival”. So, in what sense could Paul question his “arrival” at the resurrection? According to his comment in Ephesians 2:6, he is already there. So he cannot fail to be resurrected. Some commentators suggest that he only wants to live to see the rapture. In that case the next sentence would make absolutely no sense, as he said he “isn’t there yet”. That would be a silly statement, as the rapture, obviously, still hasn’t happened. Incidentally, the word in verse 12 for “attained” comes from yet another Greek root: “elabon”, which comes from “lambano” which is usually (133 times) translated “received,” meaning to “take for oneself.” So, whatever Paul is talking about, it is something to be received, not earned, and it is not something that everyone receives at the same time. It is individual in nature, and something at which to “arrive.”

So, there have been a variety of possibilities suggested, each having some problems. But what if the issue is only that he wants to live out the reality of the resurrection in his own life? That he wants to live like one risen out from among the dead (the Greek word, here, for “Resurrection” is “ex-anastasin”—resurrection from out of”…and this is the only time in the New Testament where this specific word is used.)

What if the real issue is that he wants to live in such a way that Christ’s new life will be the only thing other people see? That would be something to “attain to”, wouldn’t it? Something worth striving toward? If that is what he means, then all the following comments make plain sense, too. And, as it happens, we have another admonition from Paul that says exactly that—Romans 6:13 says that we are to live “as those alive from the dead”. I believe Paul was “leading by example, and saying that that was his goal as well.

12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

The Greek word translated “apprehend”, here. Is “katalambano.” It is translated several ways, but it seems to mean, in general, to “seize something, with the purpose of making it one’s own”. So, Paul knows that he himself has been “seized upon” by Jesus, and made the “personal property of Christ.” He, in turn, wants to “seize” the relationship with Christ, and make it a living reality in his life, so that Jesus is all people will see in him. And he concludes that he, personally, has chosen to “press toward the goal!”

Paul says that his whole goal is to draw close enough to Jesus that nothing else is visible in his life. Have you ever heard a plane coming, overhead, but when you looked up, it turned out that they were so close to being lined up with the sun, that all you could see was the sun? You could still hear the plane, so you knew it was there, but all you could see was the sun, until the plane moved to a position further out of line with the sun.

If your life is so “lined up with” the Son of God, that when people look at you, He is all they see, you are “apprehending” that for which Christ died to provide. Follow after! Press on, toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ.

Paul clearly says that he has not arrived at that point in his life, but that it is his goal to continually strive toward it. And there is a reward for the striving; a prize. God knows the heart…He will reward the striving, the consistent attempt to “get out of the way” and allow the resurrected Christ to live through us.

Examples to Follow

Paul goes on to say that we are to follow his example. This is good leadership. “Follow me!” is something you can only say from “out in front.” Paul was definitely out in front. In this passage and other similar passages, he says “follow me as I follow Christ” or “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1st Corinthians 11:1) Paul was leading by example. He could literally say, “Do as I do!”

15 Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.
16 Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.

The word for “rule” here, is “kanoni”—a standard; not a law. This is not a suggestion that we need to set up “rules to live by”. The “standard” that Paul had just erected was that he personally sought to follow Jesus closely, hoping to “arrive” at a level where only Jesus would be visible in his life. That is the standard…the living reality of Christ.

We have the same example for us to follow, then. We are not left to wonder how we should live. We have a written command, and a living example. Paul says we can look around us, and take note of those among us who follow his example, and imitate what we see in their lives. And, we are to learn to set such an example ourselves.

17 Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.

We are not to follow blindly: we are to read our Bibles, then compare what we see with what the Bible says, and, as our leaders, pastors, teachers and fellow believers follow the example of Christ, we can also follow their living example.

Lord Jesus, open our eyes to see you in the believers’ lives around us. Help us to learn to walk by faith, but to see the reality every day, in the lives of the men and women of God around us.


What Examples do We Follow?

What Examples do We Follow?

© C. o. Bishop, 2/9/2018 THCF 2/11/2018

Hebrews 13:7-9

Introduction:

We have been slowly working our way through the Epistle to the Hebrews. We have finally reached the last chapter, and we are reading the writer’s instructions to the Hebrew believers. The epistle has presented a series of comparisons, where Jesus is compared to the Old Testament figures of the Messiah—foreshadowings of the real person who was to come. There were the Prophets who spoke the living Word to the people…and were usually ignored, and eventually killed. There was the Temple and the tabernacle, each of which was loaded with pre-figures of the redemption that the coming Messiah would deliver to the World. There were Angels, revered as the messengers of God, above whom the Messiah is recognized to be not only their Commanding officer, but their actual creator…God himself!

A total of seven such comparisons were made, and, in every case, Jesus was shown to be infinitely superior to the Old Testament pictures, just as virtually anything we can see is far superior to a grainy, scratched, black and white photograph, from an old-time “Brownie” camera.

But the writer in making no more comparisons.

A total of seven warnings were also given, evidently to those unsettled in their faith… specifically, to those dabbling in faith, but convinced in their own minds, that, “If things don’t work out”, they could still go back to the Jewish religion of the Law. The writer makes it clear that, if they reject the real Lamb of God…the fulfillment of all the Old Testament sacrifices, then there was no animal sacrifice they could turn to, for redemption.

They must either make a clear “step” from believing in the old sacrifices as being God-ordained (and they were!) to placing their faith in Jesus as the fulfillment of all the prophecies and pictures, or…they would have nowhere to turn. Seven such warnings were given, becoming more stern and serious as they progressed.

But the writer is offering no more warnings.

He is only offering instructions for real believers, now: He began in Hebrews 12:1, and continues to the end of the epistle. We are in Hebrews chapter 13, now, and considering just three verses, today; Hebrews 13:7-9.

The Example of the Church Leaders and Teachers.

Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.

This in an admonition to look to the local church leaders and teachers—the elders, or overseers—the shepherds or pastors—as examples of how to live our lives. We are to learn from them a living faith, not just a head-knowledge of appropriate doctrine. The writer says to consider the results of how they live. I take this as a warning, personally, that I am to live in a way that will not lead someone else astray. Peter also said that the elders were to live as examples for the flock. (1st Peter 5:1-3) Quite honestly, I find that command very intimidating. I don’t know whether I can fulfil that command. All I can do, again, is to throw myself on the mercy of God, and seek his guidance daily.

Have there been shepherds who did a good job? Certainly, there have been. Moses was an excellent example. Was he perfect? Nope. God never said he was. But he did say that, among all the people of God, “Moses was faithful!” That is quite a testimony, coming from God.

Joshua, whom Moses trained, was also an excellent example. There were only two times when he should have asked God’s direction and failed to do so. The first was disastrous, the second only a continuing burden for Israel. But there was not a single recorded instance of his disobedience to God. Joshua was the first (and best) of the Judges.

Samuel was the last of the Judges, and was right up there with Joshua. There is no record of any disobedience on his part…only that he failed to raise his sons in a godly manner. (Actually, only that they turned out rather badly. God does not say, (as He did in the case of Eli) that Samuel had done a bad job. Most of the Judges had some personal problems, in spite of their faith and service.

Moses followed God. Joshua followed Moses’s example, and learned, in his own life, to follow God. That is the kind of example God calls the elders to provide. In fact, he gives a peculiar assignment, to the elders, to go along with the command to live as examples for the flock: he tells then to find reliable men and deliberately disciple them, training them to follow along and feed the flock as well. (2nd Timothy 2:2) The elders are to produce other elders, as well as shepherding the flock.

Leaders are not “made by” seminaries and Bible colleges, though such institutions can help with schooling. Many men and women, however, who completed theological training subsequently have fallen prey to the enemy, through temptation of one sort or another, and become shipwrecked…a castaway: still part of God’s flock, but no longer able to serve. Church leadership is trained up within the church. Human credentials are neither part of the qualifications nor part of the responsibilities.

He says we are to consider the “end” of the lifestyle of the elders: does it honor God, as a general result? Then it is a good thing to emulate. Does it consistently point you to the Bible for authority, rather than itself? Does it always point you to a better walk with Christ? Then it is a good example to follow.

The Example of Jesus

Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. 

I’m not completely sure why this verse is here…the only thing I know to do is to connect it with the previous command, “…consider the end of their conversation”. The result of a consistent walk with God should be that an observer sees the person of Christ in the believer’s life. And Jesus has not changed, throughout the ages. The character of the believers’ lives in the time of Abraham was the same as it is supposed to be, today. Godliness is not just a matter of piety, but rather the Agapé love of God, along with His righteousness, and holiness, flowing through a believer into the World around them. He hasn’t changed.

Once, when I was in Bible School, I was struggling with the concept of having a love for God. He still seemed too abstract for me to love, not to mention the fact that I still had no concept of what the Agape love really was. I was looking for a feeling of “loving God.” As I was pondering this lack in my life, I was praying while I studied the scriptures, and it occurred to me to say, “I have a hard time loving what I can’t see!”  (Actually, that is quite Biblical, though I didn’t know it!)  But as I prayed, it suddenly occurred to me that I could see Jesus in a somewhat older fellow student who had kindly taken me under his wing, and was lovingly drawing me along to a more stable walk with God. He offered no condemnation for my worldly, foolish former life, but just encouraged me to move forward. The man’s name was Bob Mulloy, and he has served for nearly 40 years now in Indonesia, as a missionary. That memory is still precious to me, because I am now aware that his loving example was what drew me along, specifically because I could see in him the living Christ.

On a personal level, I think it is important to constantly self-examine: 1st John 1:5, 6 says, “this, then, 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 lie and do not the truth.” If I am not walking in the light, then I am not in fellowship with God. He goes on to say, in verse seven, “but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” This is something to strive for and to maintain.

Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein. 

This is a warning, peculiar to believers; there will always be those who teach “strange doctrines”. They come up with odd, obscure references and interpret them in such a way as to bring believers into bondage regarding food, clothing, and rituals of various sorts. None of those things have any real effect on the believer’s life. Grace, not external trivia, is to be the core issue for us. The writer points out, in passing, that the Jews had the dietary laws, and kept them, but it did not profit them. That is important to see: it did not profit them! None of their self-efforts were profitable. Maybe the Jews didn’t do a great job of obeying God’s Laws, but they surely did it better than I do: And it did NOT have a good result! It was NOT profitable!

Most frequently, when a cult adds legalism to the Grace of God, it draws its treasured trinkets from a limited understanding of the Jewish Tabernacle and Temple rituals. Remember, those were only a foreshadowing of the reality to come, which is Christ. We have the reality, now and forever; why do we need a grainy, limited-quality photograph, when we have the living Christ?

Think for a moment about who the people were who gave Jesus the worst trouble during His earthly ministry: It was not the common people, with their goofy, misguided thinking about things in general. It was not the Gentiles, as a rule, though they got involved at the end. It was not even the blatantly ungodly sinners among the people who gave him the fierce, consistent resistance: It was the religious leaders! Specifically, it was the religious leaders within Judaism, which was truly ordained by God.  They had all of God’s Word at the time: the whole Old Testament. They had the Temple, and the memory of the tabernacle. They were conscious of the miraculous history of God’s relationship with the Jewish people. They knew the prophecies of the coming Messiah…but had locked in on one aspect of His coming that they really liked, and were ignoring all the rest.

Their doctrine had begun correctly, but had become nothing but legalism. And it was not profitable, either for individuals who attempted to live it, or for the nation. It resulted in their utterly rejecting the Messiah when he finally came.

Later on, both Peter and James (see Acts 15), when confronted with the demand from the Judaizers, that the Gentile believers should be forced to become Jews, responded by saying “Neither we nor our forefathers were ever able to carry that burden: why do you suppose the Gentiles would ever be able to do so?”

Jesus has not changed, and humans have not changed. He is still holy, and pure, and is still holding out the gift of eternal life to anyone who will receive it. We, as humans, still want to add to it, take away from it, twist it and deny it. So, how can we avoid the traps of false teaching?

The Example of God’s Word:

Avoiding the Snares of False Doctrine

There are a couple of keys, here: One is the command, back in verse seven: “Consider them who have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the Word of God.” What kind of doctrine are they teaching? As we asked before, “Are they turning your eyes to the Bible for answers?” That is a good place to start.

Within that answer, though, is a caveat, a “beware sign”. The writer says your heart should be strengthened by Grace, not what you eat. He used “diet” as a single example of the kinds of wrong focus that bad teaching produces. Jewish dietary laws are one of the things that many cults latch onto, because they think they can do it! “Here is something I can do to make God approve of me: I don’t eat this, I do eat that!” But that is characteristic of all legalism, not just the dietary law of Judaism, which was specifically for them, no one else.

Any teaching which tends to point me away from God’s Grace (even when it seems to be coming from God’s Word), and which makes my relationship with Him dependent upon outward “trappings of faith,” or “acts of piety” instead of an actual, active, living Faith in the Grace of an actual, active, living God, is likely to provide a snare for my soul. Such teachings turn us away from the actual source of living water, the Person of Christ, and encourage us to “dig out cisterns” (our own works) in which to store our own supply of “water.”

Please turn in your Bibles to Jeremiah 2:12, 13

12 Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord.
13 For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.

Two Evils!

  1. They forsook the LORD—the God of Israel—who alone is the source of righteousness, and eternal life…and
  2. They turned to their own works, as a replacement.

The Lord calls Himself the fountain of living waters. Compare this to John 7:37-39 where Jesus said that those who came to him in thirst would receive an indwelling fountain of living waters…and it goes on to say that he referred to the Holy Spirit, which at that time was not yet given. The Holy Spirit is God! And, God is the one who offers the living water! In the desert, Moses was told to command the rock, and it would bring forth water for the nation. Paul says in 1st Corinthians 10:4 that “…that Rock was Christ.” (Wow!)

So, in Jeremiah, we see Jehovah God as the source of living waters. In John, we see the Holy Spirit as the indwelling source of living waters. And in 1st Corinthians, we see that even back in the desert, 1500 years before the first advent, the Rock—the source of the water—was Christ!

So: humans ignoring God’s command to allow him to provide, and to guide, and to bless, is a pretty major abdication, to begin with. But having the total audacity, and arrogance to suggest that “…my water is better, anyway”, when we can’t even produce water, let alone store it, is beyond imagination. It is utter insanity! And yet we do it! We choose to look away from God and His Spirit, and His Written Word, and His final eternal payment for sin, at the Cross…and look to our own works, our own philosophies, and smugly say, “I have my own way!”

Jesus said that He himself was the only approach to the Father, and that He himself was the only sacrifice for our sins.

So…any teaching that wanders away from those central ideas, and turns us away from Grace, to legalism, is something to be avoided. Any teaching that turns us away from God’s written Word, which he says we are to focus on, as unto a light in a dark place…is to be avoided. Any teaching that tends to marginalize or minimize the preaching of the Cross, is to be avoided. These things are all central to a relationship with God. And the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says for us not to be “…carried about with strange doctrines.” We can only obey that teaching by deliberately choosing to follow the teaching of God’s Word…learning from the examples of our teachers, and remembering that Jesus himself has never changed! He is the same yesterday, today, and forever!

Lord Jesus, we are utterly dependent upon your immutability—your unchanging goodness. We know that you have never changed, and we ask that you teach us to follow your Word, so that we are not drawn away by false teaching, or odd practices. Teach us to rely upon your Grace.