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Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson Eight

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson Eight

© C. O. Bishop 2012, revised 2018

Genesis, chapters 16 and 17

Introduction:

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

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

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

Genesis 16: Faith can Stumble

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

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

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

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

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

The Consequences of Sin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genesis 17: God’s Plan Revealed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion: Final “Review” Questions

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

Answers:

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

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

Application: He does the same thing for us today:

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

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

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


The Credentials of Christ

The Credentials of Christ

© C. O. Bishop 7/12/2018 Cornell Estates 7/15/18

Colossians 1:15-23

Introduction: Concerning Believers

Last time we saw a long list of things that are true of every believer, regardless of how we are feeling or how we are functioning at the moment: they are true, unconditionally. They are based entirely upon our position in Christ, not our condition as believers. Thus, they are positional truths, not conditional truths.

All of the following are true of all believers, because we are in Christ:

  • He has made us fit (that is what “meet” means in old English) to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light (past tense.)
  • He has delivered us from the power (Greek exousia) of darkness (past tense.)
  • He has translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son (past tense.)
  • We have redemption through His blood (present tense.)
  • We have forgiveness of sins (present tense.)

Notice that none of the above list is just a potentially true statement. There are no qualifiers. There is nothing to detract from the full weight of the statement regarding our position in Christ!

Paul listed these truths (amongst others listed elsewhere) so that the believers can be secure in their faith, not wallowing in fear that the Savior will abandon them because of their own failures.

Concerning Jesus

Then he lists some things that are true of Jesus; these are the Credentials of Christ. All are describing who and what He is:

15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:
16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
19 For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;
20 And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.
21 And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled
22 In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:

Regarding Jesus, Paul says that:

  • He is the image of the invisible God. (In John 14:9, Jesus himself confirmed this, saying, “he that hath seen me hath seen the father!”, and in Hebrews 1:3, he is called out as the express image of the person of God.) I once thought he was simply saying that he was “just like” the Father. Then I read Isaiah 9:6, and I saw that the promised Son was to be called “the Everlasting Father!” At that point I gave up trying to bring the Trinity down to a level where I could understand it, and I simply accepted the fact that he who has seen the Son, has literally seen the Father!
  • He is the firstborn (eldest—the heir) of every creature (that is His “position”…not suggesting that He is a created being.) In Hebrews 2:11-13, Jesus introduces himself as the eldest of many brethren, referring to all believers, but especially the church-age believers. His eternal position in the Godhead, as God the Son, is not changing, nor are we becoming “gods” of any sort, but he has elevated us to sit in the throne with Him. This is utterly astounding to me.
  • He is the Creator! The Creator of all things, in Heaven and in Earth, visible and invisible, including the angelic beings of every kind…everything! (This is confirmed by God the Father, in Hebrews 1:10, saying, “And thou, Lord, in the beginning, hast laid the foundations of the Earth, and the Heavens are the works of thine hands.” John 1:3 says “All things were made by Him, and without him was not anything made that was made.)
  • He is preeminent above all things (Confirmed in Hebrews 1:8-12, among others.) One place where we could see His preeminence, is in John 1:1, 14 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father) full of Grace and Truth!”
  • He is the sustainer of all things…meaning, literally, that through Him all things “hold together.” Has it ever occurred to you to wonder what would happen if he just “let go?” He says that he is the one holding the universe together. And in 2nd Peter 3:10, he says that, at the end, the heavens and the earth will “pass away with a fervent heat and a great noise.” (Yeah, that might be an understatement!)
  • He is the Head of the Body which is the Church. This is a relational statement, from one perspective, but he also is using the human body as an object lesson. Over in 1st Corinthians 12, he uses it as an example, too, regarding the gifts; pointing out how each part of the body has a function, but that all are subject to the head. Many times in the New Testament, Paul points to Jesus as the Head, of whom we are the Body.
  • He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in ALL things He might have preeminence. Jesus is the first real resurrection…not just reviving the old body still as a mortal body, but raising the body immortal, never to die again, never to suffer any sickness or distress. We can count His resurrection as the guarantee of our own, since God says that we have not only been resurrected with him, but have ascended and are already seated with Him in Heaven. (Ephesians 2:6)
  • He is the physical embodiment of the entire Trinity. (see Colossians 2:9) There are numerous passages that demonstrate this fact. (For example, in John 14:16-23, he says that the entire Trinity will actually indwell the believer, in the person of the Holy Spirit, while in another passage we are told that it is Christ who lives in us. So the Trinity, while existing eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is not split into three separate parts. This verse alludes to the completeness of the Godhead in Christ, but in the next chapter (2:9) he spells it out clearly: “In Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead, bodily.

The Results:

Finally, Paul goes on to say that:

  • Jesus made peace (already) between us (we who are sinners) and the Holy God (absolutely separate from sin and whom we now serve) through His blood at the Cross. This passage is parallel to the passage in Ephesians 2:14. “He is our Peace, who hath made both one and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us.” (Thus abolishing the partition between Jews and Gentiles, creating something new: the Church!)
  • He did so to reconcile all things to Himself, both in Heaven and in Earth. It is interesting and important to note that God is not reconciled to sinners: sinners are reconciled to God. Our assignment, as His ambassadors, is to serve in such a way that He can reconcile the World to Himself through (2nd Corinthians 5:18-20) That is our job, as His ambassadors. Jesus said that we were to reflect His light and His love in such a way that those around us would see our good works and Glorify the Father…not us.
  • We, the Church, though we were once alienated and enemies in our minds (see Ephesians 2:11-13), through our own wicked works (compare Ephesians 2:2, 3), have already been reconciled to Him through his flesh (2nd Corinthians 5:18), so that
  • We are now presented holy, and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight. (See 2nd Corinthians 5:21; we have been made the righteousness of God in Him.)

What an amazing series of statements! Both the statements of our eternal position in and with Christ, and the supreme eternal status of the Son of God are mind-boggling!

I remember, as a new believer, thinking of Jesus in his human appearance, and having difficulty imagining him to be God in the flesh. (How could he be so exalted?)

But it would have been even more appropriate for me to have taken, as simple fact, the Deity of Christ, and the fact that he is the Creator, and the Eternal Master of the Universe (and beyond,) and then try to imagine how it was possible to condense him down to such a size and shape that we could relate to Him at all.

And yet, that is exactly what He did. He chose to become a human baby, grow up experiencing all the hardships of a life in poverty, in a nation enslaved to Rome, and to finally subject himself to being abused and tortured to death by his own creation. (How could He be so humble?) And why would he voluntarily undergo such monstrous and undeserved shame and agony? We are left to either accept the facts of the Gospel, and embrace the blood of the Cross as our only hope, or to reject it, for whatever excuse we may choose to entertain, and be left to our own devices…lost, without Christ.

Conclusion

23 If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;

The “If” in this verse is not questioning whether the readers are really believers, nor whether they will, in fact, continue in the faith. The truths he has just proclaimed are absolutely, eternally true of every believer, whether they continue to walk with God or not. (Witness Abraham and Lot: both were saved by faith, and God later confirmed that Lot was still saved, but Abraham lived in such a way as to usually receive the benefit of walking with God, while Lot did not.)

The fact is that the privileges of a relationship with God are not particularly useful when we wander astray from Christ (and Abraham had some times like that, just as David and others did;) for all practical purposes, during that time, we are living as if there were no relationship.

Yes, I am a child of God, and a “sheep of his pasture,” as the Psalmist says, but the sheep are in grave danger when they are away from the Shepherd. He will not lose us, but we can be attacked by the enemy, and wounded, and drawn into deep trouble, as was Samson. Remember that Samson served his own desires much of the time, and as a result, he ended up literally blinded, and working for the enemy. We can end up spiritually blinded by the World and our own sin, and working for our eternal enemy, Satan, because of bitterness and hard-hearted unbelief.

Don’t allow yourself to be “moved away” from the centrality of Christ. Don’t lose sight of the Hope and Security in the simplicity of the Gospel.

Notice that Paul claimed to have been made a minister of the Gospel. Consider this: the word “minister” just means “servant”. Every one of us who has trusted in Christ for salvation, have also been made a minister of the Gospel: a servant of the Person of the Gospel, the Lord Jesus.

If you are a born-again believer, you have become a servant of the Gospel, as well, and you have a responsibility to live in that reality. Pray for opportunities to serve, especially for opportunities to share that good news with others.

Sometimes the opportunity comes unexpectedly. I had a co-worker explain why he was living with a woman and not getting married, by saying, “Because I don’t believe in Christianity, or organized religion of any sort, and I don’t believe in marriage.” But, over the next fifteen minutes or so, I was able to comfortably share with him the central theme of the Bible, who is the person of Christ, and to assure him that God is not particularly a fan of “organized religion” either. (Who were Jesus’s worst opponents on earth? The priests!) I don’t know how he will respond, ultimately, but he went away understanding the Gospel, and I was grateful for the opportunity to have served!

Lord Jesus, open our eyes to our role as ambassadors, permanently linked to you as servants of the Gospel. Fill us with your grace and help us to reach the lost around us with Your love.


Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 7

Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 7

Genesis 15—the Promises Reiterated

© C. O. Bishop 2012: Revised 2018

Introduction:

We have been studying through Genesis with the specific goal of seeing Jesus there. Today we have a fairly special view, as we will see the particular passage that is cited in the New Testament as proof of how God saves sinners. There are some other things here for us to see as well, and some that are difficult to understand. But, as I see it, there are at least three things here we really ought to try to grasp:

  1. God Himself is the reward of the believer.
  2. God offers a righteous standing on the basis of faith alone.
  3. God’s Promise is entirely unilateral. There is nothing more for the believer to do, in order to make the promise sure. It is not a conditional promise, beyond faith.

Abram Met With God

After Abram’s encounter with Melchizedek, in chapter 14, God came to Abram again, and told him that He himself was Abram’s shield and “exceeding great reward”. Keep in mind that this was Jesus, the only Savior, who kept appearing to Abram. And here is an interesting thought: Are you satisfied, if God is your reward? Is Jesus alone enough for me? Or do I really say, “Well that’s fine, but, here’s what I want.”, and then list all the things I think ought to be in the mix?

Abram replied, “What will you give me?” Not, “Wow! YOU are my reward? That is really mind-boggling!” He missed the statement that GOD was to be the reward of Abram. It is hard for me to imagine the whole exchange, even though it is spelled out for us.

God: “I AM your faithful protector, and your eternal, super-abundant reward!”

Abram: “Yeah? What’s in it for me?”

Amazingly, God is not offended by Abram’s blindness and ignorance. He understood that Abram had no concept of the eternal glory of God, which was being promised to him. He could only see the temporal condition: He had no offspring.

So God listened to Abram’s complaint that he had no children, and that a servant of his was about to become his heir, but then God corrected his thinking. Evidently it was at night…God first said, “No, that person will not be your heir: your own son, begotten by you, will be your heir. And, by the way; let’s step outside and look at the stars. Try counting them…it will be just as hard to count those who will eventually be your offspring!”

And the surprising thing (when you consider all the other problems displayed by Abram) was that Abram simply believed God. Remember he was around 85 years old, and childless. But God promised him a son, and Abram believed him. (Incidentally, the name “Abram” means “high father”. I wonder how Abram had felt about the irony of his own name up ‘til now?) But this faith, expressed so simply, is the eternal example of faith by which we are instructed, still today. “Abram believed God, and God counted it to him as righteousness.” This is God’s means of imputing righteousness to sinners. (Keep that in mind when we look at Lot, later.) (See Romans 4:1-8) This is the only means by which God declares a sinner to be righteous: through faith.

And yet, Abram had his doubts…When God continued, and said that Abram would inherit the land, he said, “How can I know I will inherit it?”

A Contract with God

Elsewhere in scripture (Jeremiah 34:18-20) we find that when two individuals had to make a binding contract, they made a sacrifice, and split the sacrifice in two pieces, then, together, they walked between the pieces of the sacrifice, thus binding both of them, with the authority of God behind the oath, to the terms of what was in the contract. And God held them to that covenant.

God commanded Abram to prepare just such a sacrifice. Abram prepared the sacrifice, and then he waited. He waited all day, and kept the birds off the carcasses. After the sun went down, God caused a deep sleep to fall on Abram, and a horror of great darkness (must have seemed to be a nightmare), and then God alone walked between the pieces of the sacrifice: All Abram saw was a smoking furnace and a burning lamp. But God walked between the pieces by himself. He bound Himself to His promise with an oath, and there was nothing for Abram to do but watch. In this, also, Abram is an excellent picture of the believer: God offers grace—we receive it by faith, and there is nothing we can do to add to God’s promise. We will not make His promise more or less sure by our interaction. But we will affect the relationship for better or worse.

Give it some thought: Who was dealing with Abram? And, who do the sacrifices actually represent? When two men called one another into account on the basis of a sacrifice before God, it was binding…not to be broken…because of that sacrifice! Now Abram has prepared a sacrifice, and God bound himself alone to the promise, on the basis of that sacrifice.

We Meet With God

To what is this picture alluding? If we read Genesis 22, we see Abraham obediently moving to attempt to sacrifice his son, Isaac. This story is an echo of the promise made in the Garden of Eden, regarding the Seed of Woman, and it will be echoed even more specifically at the Passover, five hundred years later, with the blood of the Lamb saving the believers through faith. But in this specific case, in Genesis 22:16-18, God again swears by himself, on the basis of the sacrifice. All these are looking forward to the Cross! Jesus, God in the flesh, offered Himself as a sacrifice, and God the Father bound Himself to an eternal promise on the basis of that sacrifice.

When we compare Abram and Lot, in scripture, we find that Lot was declared righteous too: evidently through faith, as that is the only means by which a sinner is declared righteous; but how did his life turn out? He did not go on to interact with God on a personal basis, and his life turned out to be quite a wreck. But God later reminds us (2nd Peter 2:7, 8) that Lot was a righteous man. We see that, while God kept His promise to both Abram and Lot, so that they were equally saved, their rewards were quite different. Because of disobedience, unbelief and neglect, Lot lost everything. Abram had some failures, as well, it is true, but he had a general pattern of faith and obedience, and he reaped a great reward.

So, in the New Testament, we can also see that a believer is saved by Grace through Faith, just as Abram and Lot were saved: but rewards are a separate issue. We can live lives that are barely different than that of an unbeliever, and our every thought and ambition may be the same as the world around us (similar to Lot), and the wreckage that he reaped can be our own, as well. Lot was a saved man who lost everything, because of unbelief, neglect, and disobedience. Abram was a saved man who earned rewards through a life of faith and obedience, though he had some serious flaws as well. Those patterns hold true today.

Abram kept building altars, wherever he went. A pattern of worship and sacrifice was established, early, and even after his failures, he kept coming back to God. When God met him in the person of Melchisedec, he responded in worship and thanksgiving. When God met him that historic night in Genesis 15 and promised a great number of offspring, he believed God, in spite of the fact that he was a very old man already (mid-eighties, at least), and God declared him righteous, on the basis of that faith.

When God promised the land, Abram initially had doubts about it; but he then acted in obedience and brought the sacrifices as commanded. Much later, when God called him to sacrifice Isaac, the Son of the Promise, he did not waver, nor even ask questions, but simply moved to obey, and God had to stop him. In Hebrews 11:17-19, God explains that Abraham (his name had changed) believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead. But God had a substitute for Isaac. A ram was there, prepared as a substitutionary sacrifice. God’s chosen sacrifice died in Isaac’s place.

God had a substitute for you and for me as well. In fact, He had a substitute for the entire human race. Jesus is the chosen sacrifice: the One who died in our place. He is the substitute for us…and there is no substitute for Jesus.

So; What About The Promised Land?

It is important to see, here in Genesis 15, that God not only labeled the boundaries of the Promised Land, but identified the time involved. Fourth generation…four hundred years in Egypt…sins of the Amorites is not yet full, etc. I don’t understand the “fourth generation” statement. C. I. Scofield points out that there have been three dispersions, and that the fourth time they come back into the land will be in the Millennial Kingdom, but I am not really sure that has anything to do with this. But it cannot be simply the fourth generation from Abraham, as that would be Joseph’s and his brother’s children, and they did NOT go into the land—in fact, the four hundred years of affliction began just as that generation came to adulthood. So, I am not sure about that verse. Incidentally, they were in Egypt for 430 years, to the day. But the affliction evidently began thirty years into their time there. Maybe there is something else here that I am missing. That could easily be the case. But Abram was clearly given to understand that the fulfillment of the promise of the land was far in the future. He embraced it by Faith.

The physical boundaries of the land were given as the Nile River on the West and the Euphrates River on the East. Evidently the northern and southern boundaries were known to them by the tribal names, but they seem to include Syria in the North, and well into Arabia in the South. Only once, during the reign of King David, Israel held nearly all that land: and even then, they only had military garrisons along all those borders. They had not actually inhabited the land.

These boundaries are called out again in Joshua 1:4, so there is no question that it was specifically to the Jews, and not to “all the sons of Abraham.” He had seven other sons by two other wives: one by Hagar, Sarai’s slave, and six by Keturah, a woman he married after Sarah died. But he had only one by Sarah. And, it bears repeating: all the natural sons regarding whom we have any further information turned out to be bitter enemies of the Sons of Promise. The nation of Israel, today, is completely surrounded by those natural sons of both Abraham and Lot. And all of them are adamant that Israel has no right to exist, nor the Jews any right to live.

But part of the promise (Genesis 12:3) was that those who bless the seed of Abraham will be blessed, and those who curse him will be cursed. So Israel has literally been under the protection of God for 4000 years. The nations who choose to be allies to Israel join in the blessing of God. Those who count Israel as an enemy fall under the curse of God. And, God further promised that, through Abram, all the families of the earth would be blessed.

If nothing else, the Lord Jesus came through the stock of Abraham: He has blessed the entire earth with the hope of eternal life. But there is also the overall testimony of the history of Israel, and the treasure of the Word of God, as well.

Pastor Pat James told me that his mother, an avowed atheist all her life, became a believer in her last few years of life, specifically because she saw the survival of Israel as a miraculous intervention by God. As she considered all the enemies that had attempted to destroy the Jews over the last four thousand years, and whom, each time, had failed to do so, she concluded that there must have been Divine protection: she believed that the only plausible explanation for their survival was Divine intervention. That small, initial step of faith led to more inquiry, and more faith, and she ended up believing in the Savior of Israel as her own Savior as well.

Thus, the promise to Abraham continues to find fruition today. People are still hearing the history, hearing the promises, and joining in the faith of Abraham, by simply believing God.

What About You?

The same three lessons are there for us to learn:

Is Jesus really reward enough for you?

This is something to seriously consider: what do you really want in your relationship with Christ? Jesus himself said, in John 4:34, “My food is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work!” Do you share that passion for the lost, and for the service of God? I don’t think I really do: I am more like Abram, saying, “Yeah? What’s in it for me?” That is a sad truth, and one would think that, after 45 years of service, I would be better focused on God’s will for my life. I think I am growing in that area, but I certainly do not claim to have arrived.

What about the next point of God’s lesson to Abram?

Do you really believe that the righteous standing God offers is entirely His own work, and is offered on the basis of faith alone?

Or are you trying to “improve upon” Jesus’s finished work at the Cross, fearing perhaps, that if your works are “not good enough,” then God eventually will reject you? This is an area in which you will have to examine your own heart. Each of us has an inborn tendency to think that we are somehow “earning God’s favor.” His favor was freely bestowed upon us in the person of Christ. That is what Grace means: “un-earned favor!” As born-again believers, we serve out of love, and in the confidence that He will reward our faithfulness. We cannot add to the work Jesus finished at Calvary, on the behalf of sinners.

Finally,

Do you really understand that the Promise of God is unconditional?

There is no part of the “contract” waiting to be fulfilled by humans. Jesus poured Himself out as an offering for sin, on behalf of a race which was, at that very moment, rejecting His Grace, spitting on His Holiness, mocking His Majesty, and condemning His Righteousness to death, as if He, and not they were the criminals. We have completely deserved the condemnation of God, and, instead, He has offered us Mercy, Grace, and Blessing, on the basis of Faith alone!

As Gentile believers, we have no inheritance in the physical land promised to the physical offspring of Abraham. But we have a greater inheritance in the Person of Christ, as we, along with all Church-age believers, whether Jew or Gentile, are the Bride of Christ! The whole Earth is ours, along with all that is His. And, yes, it is worth waiting for it. As Abraham waited for the land, we wait for our eternity with Christ. As Abraham lived in the land, knowing it would all be His, we are to live in our relationship with Christ, experiencing now the spiritual life that is ours eternally. It isn’t always easy, but it is already ours! We embrace it by Faith.

Lord Jesus, feed your Flock on your Word: draw us along beside you by your Holy Spirit, and let us serve you in Joy. Use us to reach the people around us, and draw others into your Grace.


Prayer and Pedigree

Prayer and Pedigree

© C.O. Bishop 6/23/2018

Colossians 1:9-14

Introduction:

Last time I was with you we were introduced to the book of Colossians, as Paul addressed the believers at Colosse. We also saw that it was intended to be a circular letter, to be delivered to all the other churches, as were the other epistles.

We ended in Colossians 1:8, where Paul affirmed that he did not know most of these believers, but had received a report of them from Epaphras, who evidently had led many of them to Christ, and continued teaching them. Epaphras had told Paul of the faith and love of the believers at Colosse. Paul was thrilled at the news, and gave thanks for them.

In verse nine we see Paul praying for the recipients of the letter…and, his prayer can include us.

Paul’s Prayer—Conditional Truth

For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;

10 That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;

11 Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness;

12 Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:

Paul prayed for quite a list of things, here. He prayed:

  • that they might be filled with the Knowledge of God’s will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding
  • that they would “walk worthy” of the Lord, unto all pleasing
  • that they would be fruitful in every good work
  • that they would increase in the knowledge of God
  • that they would be strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power
  • that it would result in all patience and longsuffering, in them, with joyfulness, and
  • that they would be giving thanks to the Father.

So: seven items on Paul’s prayer list at that point in time…but he applied it to a lot of people. Notice that none of the seven included financial security, physical health, or safety and comfort. It all had to do with their walk with God: our condition as believers. Shouldn’t that tell us something about God’s priorities?

Doesn’t this give some clues about the sort of things we should focus on in prayer? It is fine for us to ask for the things that concern us the most, but, perhaps we need to re-focus our concern, so that we pray for the things God wants for us.

Paul listed seven things:

  • He wanted us to be filled with the experiential knowledge (from the Greek epiginosin) of God’s will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. Not just to “know facts,” but to experience the reality of God in our lives. The only way that can happen is if we are focused on the Person of Christ as the central figure in our lives. And the next thing it should affect is our behavior:
  • He wanted us to “walk worthy” of the Lord unto all pleasing. To behave ourselves in a manner that is fitting for the children of God, one which will honor the Lord, and please Him. There are many times when believers behave poorly, and bring shame to the name of Jesus. That should not be our experience. We are to “live up to” the Name of the One we have been called to serve. Will we fail? Surely we will, but the result of “Christ in you” should be obvious even to those who consider themselves our enemies. The fruit of the Spirit should be so prominent in our lives, that even when we fail, people will tend to remember the general trend of good
  • The result of the inward change in our lives is to be a continually increasing fruitfulness, in a life spent doing good, rather than self-centered behavior.
  • The other predictable result is that, as we continue in right behavior, we will also continue to get to know God better, experientially, through Bible Study and Prayer, and through an obedient walk with Him.
  • He prayed that we would be strengthened with all might, according to God’s Glorious power. I’m fairly sure this is not talking about physical strength, but rather spiritual strength, with which to serve God, and stand against our spiritual enemies.
  • He wanted this strength to result in patience, and longsuffering with joyfulness. We are to be strengthened in such a way as to endure the hard times of life, with joy, not collapsing in fear or despair.
  • And the overall result of that miraculous change in our lives should be that we are equipped to give thanks to the Father in all circumstances.

The Pedigree of the Church—Positional Truth

12 Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:
13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:
14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:

Here, Paul begins to list some facts about them and us, which are completely true about us simply because we are in Christ. But notice he has changed pronouns, here. He now says “us”, not “ye” (“ye” is the plural “you” in old English.) All of the following are true of all believers, because we are in Christ:

  • He has made us fit (that is what “meet” means in old English) to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light (past tense.)
  • He has delivered us from the power (Greek exousia) of darkness (past tense.)
  • He has translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son (past tense.)
  • We have redemption through His blood (present tense.)
  • We have forgiveness of sins (present tense.)

Notice that none of the above list is just a potentially true statement. There are no qualifiers. There is nothing to detract from the full weight of the statement regarding our position in Christ!

From the moment you placed your trust in Him as your savior, God has already made you completely worthy to be a partaker of all that he has in store, along with all the believers in the history of the world, in the kingdom of light that is yet to come. Do we “feel worthy?” I can’t speak for you, but I surely don’t feel worthy. This is a prime example of the fact that our feelings are not accurate representations of reality. God’s Word is Reality. He says that we have been made worthy—fit—to be partakers in all that Heaven and eternity holds for the believers of all ages.

God has already delivered us from the power (the Greek word is “exousia”—meaning “authority”) of darkness. Here, again, I don’t feel “delivered.” I still see the effects of the darkness of this world in my own life, my thoughts, my desires, my words, and my actions. Are they better than they were 45 years ago? Certainly! But, the fact is that I was just as “delivered” from the power—the authority—of darkness at the moment I first believed, as I am today. I am still being delivered from the ongoing power of sin, but the darkness that bound me and in which I was once lost and blind and helpless, has no further authority over me at all, unless I choose to disobey God and go back to “running my own life”. The enemy has no further authority over me, but he can intimidate me into submission, and persuade me to sin.

God has already translated us out of the darkness into the kingdom of his dear Son. The word “translate,” here, could mean to transfer, or to move over, from one place to another. It is used three times in Hebrews 11:5, regarding Enoch being taken to heaven without dying. Here, in Colossians, God says that we have already been moved over into God’s Kingdom, as well. In Ephesians 2:6, he makes it even more specific, saying that we were resurrected with him, and have ascended with Him, and are seated in the throne with Him…already! These are positional truths, all true about us simply because we are in Christ.

We already have redemption through his blood…present tense. We are not waiting, hoping that somehow the redeemer will count us worthy. He did it all at the Cross. As we have noted before, there are three Greek words used, collectively, to communicate the idea of redemption:

  • Agorazo, meaning “bought in the marketplace.”
  • Exagorazo, meaning “bought out of the marketplace”…taken off the market.
  • Lutruo, meaning “bought for the purpose of being set free.”

All three of these words are used in the New Testament, and are translated “redeemed”, or “redemption”, because that is what Jesus did for us, at the Cross: He paid the price for us in the marketplace of sin, where all of us were enslaved, and He took us out of the market, permanently, for the purpose of setting us free. And all of this was completed at the Cross. We have only to step into that reality by faith, knowing that we have truly been set free, and that Sin has no more dominion in our lives.

Finally, He says that we already have the forgiveness of sins…present tense. In 1st John 1:9, where we are told to confess our sins to God, and that he is “faithful and just, to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” the issue is the restoration of fellowship: this is conditional truth, which has to be dealt with on a moment-by-moment, day-by-day basis. The forgiveness referred to, here in Colossians, is the positional truth that we have already been completely forgiven of all sins; past, present and future, thus securing our position in Christ.

Do you see the difference? The one act at the Cross could only happen once, and had to be sufficient for all sinners, for all time. The forgiveness we seek daily, in confession, has nothing to do with our position in Christ, but only affects our fellowship with God. He says, “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, cleanses us from all sin.” Fellowship is what is in question, there, regarding our walk. It affects our “condition”, as a believer.

What do we do with this concept?

If I have believed the Gospel, trusting in the once-for-all price that was paid for my sins (as well as those of the whole human race) then my position is secure. I have been born again, as a legitimate child of God. I am forever in Christ.

But I am expected to grow in that relationship with Christ, learning to walk with him in a manner which honors Him, and which attracts others to Him. As I live, day to day, I will certainly (frequently) stumble and fall, especially as a new believer. I should be growing more stable, and less likely to fall, but the possibility of failure is always there. I still sin.

What happens when I stumble, and fall into sin? Am I “un-born again?” No, that is just as impossible as my being “un-born” as a natural human. But I have become soiled…I need cleansing. So I go to God and confess my sins, and He cleanses me. It is that simple. Then I go back to learning to walk with Him.

In fact, the seven things for which Paul prayed, regarding us, in the previous verses, are all part of that growing process. Review them, and put them into practice!

Lord Jesus, fill us with your Grace, and the knowledge of your will. Teach us to walk in a way that pleases you, and draws others to you. Fill our lives with the good fruit you desire in us, and make us able ministers of your Grace.


Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson Six

Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson Six

© C. O. Bishop

Introduction:

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

Genesis 14—Melchizedek

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

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

Salem versus Sodom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melchizedek himself

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

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

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

Facts about Melchizedek:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Application

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Introduction to Colossians

Introduction to Colossians

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

Colossians 1:1-8

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

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

Sent From God –To You!

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

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

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

Position and Condition

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

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

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

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

Grace and Peace

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

Thanksgiving and Prayer—Faith and Love

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

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

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

Our Hope and our Coming Reward

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

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

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

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

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

The Gospel and the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith and Responsibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Paul’s Blessing to the Believers

Paul’s Blessing to the Believers

© C. O. Bishop 5/16/2018

Philippians 4:10-23

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

The Supporting Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worship in Giving

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

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

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

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

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

The Sustaining God

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

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

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

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

Paul’s Conclusion and Benediction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen!


Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 5

Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 5

© C. O. Bishop 2012 revised 2018

Genesis 12-17—Abram, Man of God

Introduction:

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

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

Abram: Called by God

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

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

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

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

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

Called: to Leave the Old Life Behind

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

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

Called: to be Separate

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

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

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

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

The Name of the LORD

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

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

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

Called: to Worship

Abram, the Altar-Builder: 

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

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

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

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

Final Separation: and Service

Genesis 13—Separating Abram from Lot

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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


Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 4

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 4

After the Flood

© C. O. Bishop 2012 revised 2018

Introduction: The Aftermath of the Flood

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

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

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

Before the Flood

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

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

After the Flood

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shortened Lifespan

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

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

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

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

The Beginning of Continental Drift

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

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

Division of Languages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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


Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 3

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 3

The Coming Redeemer

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

Genesis 3-9

Introduction:

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

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

The Fall and the Promise

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

The Sacrifice and the Safeguard

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

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

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

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

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

The Flood

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

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

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

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

Similarities between Jesus and the Ark:

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

Lessons from the Ark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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