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Watch out for Robbers!

Watch out for Robbers!

Complete in Christ

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

Colossians 2:8-17

Introduction:

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

Guard against Robbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t underestimate Christ

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

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

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

You are complete in Christ!

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

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

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

Learn to recognize Robbers

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

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

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

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

What is the result of our Position in Christ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How should we respond to this truth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 11

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 11

The Son of the Promise

© C. O. Bishop 2012; revised 2018

Genesis 20-22

Introduction:

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

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

Genesis 20—Abraham with Abimelech.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genesis 22—Abraham’s Test

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

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

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

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

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

Isaac and Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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


Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 10

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 10

The Judge of All the Earth

© C. O. Bishop 8/25/18 THCF 8/26/18

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

Introduction:

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

Bad News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genesis 19

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

Good News?

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

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

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

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

Bad Testimony

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Results

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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


Paul’s Concerns for the Churches

Paul’s Concerns for the Churches

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

Colossians 2:1-9

Introduction:

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

The Prescription of Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Purpose of Knowledge

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

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

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

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

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

The Progress of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

The Product of Faith

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

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

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

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

The Pedigree of “Wisdom”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Primacy of Christ

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

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

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

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

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


Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson Nine

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson Nine

© C. O. Bishop 2012; Revised 2018

Genesis 18

Introduction:

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

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

Genesis 18

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

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

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

God Incarnate; the Living Word

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

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

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

The Omnipotence and Omniscience of Christ

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

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

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

Judgment is Coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad News and Good News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

 


The Mystery of the Church

The Mystery of the Church

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

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mystery Revealed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Macroscopic, versus Microscopic

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

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

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

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

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

Paul’s Assignment: and Ours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are questions we have to address personally.

I pray that will we all take these truths seriously.

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


Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson Eight

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson Eight

© C. O. Bishop 2012, revised 2018

Genesis, chapters 16 and 17

Introduction:

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

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

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

Genesis 16: Faith can Stumble

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

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

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

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

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

The Consequences of Sin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genesis 17: God’s Plan Revealed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion: Final “Review” Questions

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

Answers:

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

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

Application: He does the same thing for us today:

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

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

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


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.