Posts Tagged ‘Christ’

What Child is This?

What Child is This?

© C. O. Bishop, 12/22/2017 THCF 12/24/2017

(Comparing the lyrics of the hymn to the scriptural promises from which it sprang.)

Introduction:

One of the reason I really love the Christmas hymns is that they so frequently carry a pretty faithful representation of the facts of the Gospel, along with a fairly faithful representation of the facts of Christmas. Certainly, one may protest that there are facts overlaid by legend and mythology. That is true. We go to God’s Word to sort out the truth, and frequently still can see that the intent of the author was to honor God, and to reflect the truth of His Word. And, of course, there are glaring exceptions…but those are not the ones I am drawn to. A year or so ago, we took “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” as an example and found that, actually, the original words were quite accurate, and that the only questionable line in the lyrics was changed by a later hand (and, ironically, became the title of the hymn.)

This Christmas I would like to examine some of the core questions posed in a different Hymn: Today people try to recreate and re-invent The Jesus of the Bible. Even in his day, people denied that He was who He said he was, and within the first century, unbelievers were trying to change the Gospel to something more comfortable. It is not comfortable! The uncomfortable portions of the “Good News” of the Gospel are that way because of the unthinkable wickedness of the Human Race…because of our sin.

Today, as then, the appropriate question is “Who is this Jesus?” Zacchaeus climbed the tree because he desperately wanted to see Jesus, “who he was”.  Jesus, himself, asked “but who do you say that I am?”

A Little History: In 1865, in Bristol, England, an insurance company employee named William Chatterton Dix fell ill, and became extremely sick. He gradually recovered, and during that period of convalescence he went through some pretty deep depression, during which time, he read his Bible a great deal, possibly for the first time with comprehension. The result was that he went through what he called a “spiritual renewal.” I can’t say whether that was when he first received the Lord Jesus as his personal sacrifice for sins, or whether this is just the time when it deeply impressed him. He wrote a poem during that time, called “the Manger Throne”, from which three stanzas were later lifted when he wrote the Christmas Hymn, “What Child is This?

“Who do the People say that I am?”

Jesus asked the disciples this question, before asking them about their own answer to that question: They said “Some say that you are John the Baptist, and some Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets.” We can see that there was great controversy, even at that time, as to who Jesus really was. Each person was to be held accountable for their own answer to the question. Pilate later posed a similar, essential question: “What then shall I do with this Jesus, who is called Christ?” We are each held accountable to the answer to that question, as well.

Every year, for the last several decades, people have gathered for the “Jesus Symposium” or some similar name, where they essentially “reinvent” Jesus, according to their own tastes. But the Jesus of the Bible was a historical person, and is easily proven to have been so. What becomes more difficult is the fact that only the Bible gives us an accurate view of who He really is, because the whole rest of the world has “an axe to grind,” in that, the entire human race is antagonistic toward the holy God of the Bible. We want a God who is more to our taste…so we re-create God in our image, according to Romans 1:21-23.

When William Dix confronted this question from his sick bed, he asked

What Child is This?

We need to address the same question: Who is He really? So let’s look at William Dix’s approach:

What Child is this who, laid to rest on Mary’s lap, is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud, The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Why lies He in such mean estate, Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh, The Babe, the Son of Mary.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh, Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings, Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise the song on high, the virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born, The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Where was He to be born? In Bethlehem…fulfilling the prophecy of Micah 5:2. (read it!)

Where was he to be found by the Shepherds? In a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, fulfilling the word of the Angelic messenger to the shepherds as a group. And who were those shepherds told that the baby really was? “Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!” They were not told that he was the king, in that particular context, but, if they knew the Old Testament prophecies (such as the one in Micah 5:2), they would have known that the Messiah (Christ) was to be the Eternal King, as well. So they left their flocks and they hurried into Bethlehem; they made haste, the scriptures say, to go see the newborn king. And they found him just as the Angel had said, along with Joseph and Mary. They went back to their flocks with Great Joy. Did they understand it all? I doubt it…but, then, I don’t really claim to “understand it all,” either.

But, why was he in a manger, and not in some hospital ward or maybe in a palace? Philippians 2:5-8 sheds some light on this: “…he humbled himself.” He not only became part of His own creation, but he became a man, not an angel. He not only became a man, he became a poor man, in a nation that was already a slave-state to Rome, a cruel, ungodly, polytheistic nation. A place where life was cheap, and righteousness was foreign.

He came, not as a conquering hero, but as a tiny, helpless infant, enduring all the hardships of life with the people he had called his own. Did they bring him honor? Not so you’d notice. The shepherds were the only witnesses. But, in that manger bed, all the Promises of the Ages were being fulfilled. He came to save sinners…and his entire life was poured out to that single end.

Take it Personally!

The hymnist recognized what was happening, there, and it shook Him. He was moved to a Godly fear, and he became a true believer, if he had not been one before then. He pondered the fact that those tiny, curled-up baby hands would be the same ones later pierced by spikes, as he was tortured on the Cross. That this tiny, helpless body, when full grown, was the same one which would be pierced through by the Roman spear, as his blood was poured out at the Cross. And he knew it was for himself, personally. “Nails, spears, shall pierce Him through…His blood be shed for me, for you!” Take it personally!

He also realized that this was the fulfillment of John 1:14, where it said that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory…)” We, too, can either embrace that truth, knowing that the Word, which was God, is also the Word which became flesh…and thus we can see His glory…or we can go back to seeing Jesus the way the World sees him: just another dead Jew…or perhaps a tragic martyr…or, even just a myth.

He winds up his hymn, encouraging the listener to join in worshipping the God-in-flesh Savior. To say “bring Him incense” is a call for worship. The incense burned in the temple was only used for that purpose…it was not used to make the home smell nice, or any other common purpose. It was a picture of the prayers, and praises, and worship being offered by believers. How do I know? God says so! Revelation 5:8 says that the incense (odours, KJV) in the vials of the elders (the church) were “the prayers of saints”; saints are the “holy ones of God”: believers! If you are a child of God, God says you are a saint! You may not feel that way (nor do I), but our feelings are not an accurate reflection of reality. It is a fact. But he says “Bring him incense, gold and myrrh.” Who did that? It was the wise men. Why did they do it? Remember, they weren’t even there, that first night.

Later, within a year or two, the wise men came from the East, and sought “him who is born King of the Jews”. These wise men were not Jews—these were from the area we now call Iraq, most likely, near what was once ancient Babylon, and may possibly have been some of the last surviving disciples of Daniel, the prophet. He had become one of the head wise men (later called Zoroastrian seers) in Babylon, some 500 years earlier, and he had prophesied of the coming Messiah (Daniel 9:26). They did bring him honor, but later…not at his birth. And the things they brought were appropriate: they brought gold, which was an appropriate gift for a king (and which would be needed for their escape into Egypt); they brought frankincense, which was appropriate to a priest and a sacrifice. They brought myrrh, which was a costly resin, used in medicine and in embalming…appropriate to His death. They recognized him for who He was. We need to do the same thing, and not take lightly the story of the birth of Jesus the Messiah.

The hymn-writer says that the way is clear, now, for the lowliest of human slaves, to claim the Savior, as well as for any nobleman willing to humble his or her heart. Queen Victoria was one of those monarchs who humbled her heart and by her own testimony, she was saved. Jesus echoes this, and says, “Whosoever will may come!”

The issue, then, becomes “What will I do with this Jesus, who is called Christ?” That is what Pilate asked, in Matthew 27:22…but then he went on to condemn Jesus to death. He claimed to be innocent, himself, but he was not. He had the authority to do right, and did not do it. God says that is sin (James 4:17). “Therefore, if a man knoweth to do right, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” Pilate was guilty. We have to choose, as well, what to do with Jesus, the Messiah.

“Who do YOU say that I am?”

Jesus directed this question to His disciples. Peter answered: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” Jesus blessed Peter for that answer. But later, as you remember, Peter denied Jesus…and later still, he went back to commercial fishing…Jesus had to call him again. But God didn’t give up on Peter; He had a use for Peter’s life. And He has a use for yours and for mine.

So… just like Peter, I know who He really is, too …but what am I going to do about it?

The hymn-writer said, “The King of Kings Salvation brings; let loving hearts enthrone him!” Is that what I will do? Allow him to reign in my heart? Or will I just live life as usual, and let one day follow another for whatever is left of my life, not honoring The King much more than does the World: (“Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!”) But no real thought given to the reason we celebrate. Every day of my life, I wake up with one more chance to serve: one more chance to work with Jesus, offering my body a living sacrifice to His glory. Every day I have to choose how to spend my time, how to spend my money…and whether to serve Him, the King of Kings, or to just go ahead and serve my flesh, just doing what I want, to bring honor to myself. And, too frequently, I choose badly.

“Raise, raise, the Song on High!” When we sing together, do you really hear the words? Do you consider the importance of those teachings? Do you sing the words as a song from your own heart? If you do, then the last line says what should be the result:

“Joy! Joy, for Christ is born, the babe, the Son of Mary!” We can see Him as the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan and all of His promises to Israel and the World! We can see that the perilous times coming are not directed at us, but at the unbelieving world. We can see that our Savior is coming to take us home, to safety and eternal joy! We can experience, every day, the joy of knowing that He is truly in control, and that, regardless of how bad things look, we are headed for a good conclusion.

Lord Jesus, draw us along into Your Joy. Mature us through the teaching of Your Word, and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, re-shaping us into Your own likeness, that we can be able ambassadors of Your Grace and Love to a dying world. Please lift us up, as Your tools, Your hands and Your feet, and use us to Your glory.


Solid Food

Solid Food:

The Fourth Warning and our Eternal Hope

© C. O. Bishop 6/2/17 THCF 6/4/17

Hebrews 5:12-14; 6:1-19

Introduction:

We have been working our way through Hebrews for quite some time, now: we have seen the clear superiority of Jesus Christ over all the Old Testament “pictures” of Himself. We were able to see that He is the fulfillment of all those prophecies and all the prefigurings of Him who was to come. We also saw three warnings apparently directed to people who were not settled in their faith. Today we will address a fourth such warning, by far the most stern of all given so far.

It is important to read passages of scripture in the context in which they were given, so as to see who was talking, about what, and to whom. In this context, the writer had been addressing backslidden, immature believers, and scolding them for not moving on, and growing up into Christ. But he definitely addressed them as believers.

12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.

13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.

14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

1Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,

Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.

And this will we do, if God permit.

This is evidently what Paul considered “baby food”. He says “Let’s move on! You should understand all this by now!” The “principles” means the primary teaching—the foundational studies. If you don’t have the foundation secure you can’t build. But: once the foundation is in place, you don’t keep “re-working the foundation”…you start working on the structure of the building, if I may use that analogy. So, Paul says, “Let’s move on unto perfection (maturity)!” He is moving on from milk to solid food. But as we move forward, let’s pay close attention to the pronouns: details that allow us to correctly discern the meaning.

Moving On

The following passage is the most commonly used passage to argue that a believer can lose their position in Christ, and be lost. Even if there were not contextual evidence to the contrary (which there is), there are dozens of passages elsewhere that flatly contradict the notion that one, having been truly born again, can ever be lost. But, in reading this passage, those who want to believe they can be lost again (because they do not understand the character of Grace) do not read the whole context: they read verses 4-8 and ignore the background in chapter five, but, most specifically, they do not read what follows, in verses 9-12. And, of course, they ignore the clear promises to the contrary, which state that those who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ will never be lost, will in no wise be cast out, and will never perish.

Let’s read the whole passage, bearing in mind that the writer has been talking to believers (albeit immature believers) in chapter five, and is continuing his discourse, here. In chapter five he was using the pronoun “Ye” (KJV second-person plural) to address the believers, and “We” (first person plural) to refer to the writer, and possibly his colleagues. He only used the third-person when he spoke of an unspecified other person, saying, “…he is a babe…”

Here in verse 4, he changes the pronouns to third-person references. He no longer says “ye”, but rather “those, they and them”. These pronouns are terms of reference, not terms of address. He has changed who he is talking about. He was quite sharp in his rebuke to the backsliding believers, but now he is talking about another group to whom he is referring as a matter of comparison. We will read the whole passage and then come back to address specific verses.

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,

And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,

If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God:

But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.

But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.

10 For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.

11 And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end:

12 That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

Notice how the pronoun switches back to second person, in verse nine (“you”), and he specifically addresses the hearers as his beloved. That word is a relational term of endearment, and confirms that they are believers. He also states that he is convinced that in their case, the above five verses do not apply, because they are saved. He says that things pertaining to salvation are what will apply to them.

So, we conclude that the people in verses 4-8 are not believers, but are the “hangers-on”, the “dabblers” who have never claimed Jesus’ blood as their only hope for salvation. They have never been born again. They are not “baby Christians”, nor even “backslidden Christians”—they have not been born yet! They are still “in Adam”, not “in Christ.” (See 1st Corinthians 15:22…positional truth, as opposed to conditional.) And, this is one of the sternest warnings to that sort of person; that they are truly teetering on the edge of Hell. They are flirting with eternal disaster, and not seeing themselves as being in deadly danger.

But, one may ask, how can the person described in verses 4 and 5 not be a believer? This person:

  • Has been once enlightened,
  • Has tasted of the heavenly gift,
  • Was made a partaker of the Holy Ghost, and
  • Has tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the World to come!

How could such a person not be born again? Well…let’s consider a single example:

Consider Judas Iscariot:

  • Was he once enlightened? He had better have been! He sat under Jesus’s personal teaching for three years! He heard and saw everything the other Apostles heard and saw.
  • Had he “tasted of the heavenly gift?” YES! He was sent out with the other apostles, two by two, and was preaching, teaching and healing…even casting out demons.
  • Was he made a partaker of the Holy Ghost? To the same extent that the others were, prior to Pentecost, yes! I think we can demonstrate that he was. How else was he casting out demons and healing people? That was the Holy Ghost at work in his life. None of the apostles were indwelt by the Holy Spirit until the day of Pentecost. But the Holy Spirit was at work in their lives.
  • Did he taste the Good Word of God, and the powers of the age to come? Certainly! He had Jesus, the Living Word, right there, and he studied the Written Word with the other apostles, and preached the Word of the Kingdom along with them.
  • Was he a believer? NO! Jesus said so. Compare John 13:10, 11, where he specified that “ye are not all clean” and John 15:3, where he told the eleven, “Now ye are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you.” The difference? Though all twelve apostles had heard the Word, only the eleven had believed (compare John 5:24.) Judas had known the full truth of the Gospel, but had never applied it to his own case.

We must carefully study the Word to be sure of what it says, and to whom, before we make application to our own lives. These verses are a prime example of a passage that can easily be misapplied.

Consider Abraham:

The Writer goes on to use the patriarch Abraham as an example of someone who continued to believe God, in spite of the fact that what he saw sharply conflicted with what he had been promised. Keep in mind that he definitely had a promise from God; this was not a “feeling” he had. He was spoken to in an audible voice…there was no “imagination” at work, here. Read Genesis 15:1-21, in context with Genesis 14.

God responded to Abraham’s statement of faith by making two promises:

  1. The promise of a seed (this was partially fulfilled in Isaac, and later, through Christ); and
  2. The promise of the land. Again, the promise of the land was only partially fulfilled even in the time of David, 500 years later. Final fulfillment will come during the millennial kingdom still to come.

13 For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself,

14 Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee.

The account in Genesis 15 records both the “counsel” (the original promise…verse 17) and the oath: God had first made the promise, and Abraham asked for a token he could cling to: a sign, if you want to call it that. In those days when two people took an oath, they made a sacrifice to God, and, to invoke God as a witness, they walked together between the pieces of the split sacrifice. So, God commanded Abraham to set up the sacrifices, and divide them, preparatory to the two of them walking between them, as Abraham apparently expected. But when the time came, God put Abraham into a deep sleep, so that he could not move, but only watch, as God, in the form of a lamp and a furnace, passed through between the pieces of the sacrifices. I don’t know the significance of the lamp and the furnace, though I am sure there has been much speculation over it. The point I do understand is that God made the oath alone—Abraham was only there as a witness to, and the beneficiary of, the promise.

15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.

Abraham had already been waiting for some time when God made this promise. He was an old man. It was still a few years longer before God chose to begin fulfilling the promise. Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born. And Isaac was just the beginning of the fulfillment. Even the hundreds of millions of Jews that have lived and died over the last 39 centuries are only a partial fulfillment. All those born again through Jesus are the full fruit of the promise.

16 For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife.

17 Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath:

18 That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us:

19 Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil;

Notice that though the promise was to Abraham, we are told here to anchor our own souls with the same hope Abraham had. We are not told to take the promise of the land for ourselves; it is not a promise to us. We are told to place our trust in the same God in whom Abraham believed.

And that hope is the “anchor of our souls, strong within the veil.” What veil? We could spiritualize it and say that “our faith reaches into the Holy of Holies (true), and clings to the Mercy Seat of God (also true).” But; over in Hebrews 10:20, we see that the writer gets much more specific: he says that the literal veil in the literal temple was a prefiguring of the literal body of Jesus. Our hope is in the shed blood of Jesus. We enter in “through the veil, that is to say, His flesh.” And that is where our anchor of the soul—our hope—finds solid ground as well. Jesus said “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me”…and that is literally the truth. The torn veil was the only passageway to the dwelling of God on earth: Jesus’s body on the Cross—His shed blood—is the only entrance to God Himself. And it is in him that we find our security.

So, where is our hope?

Our Hope is in the Person of Christ and His Completed Work at the Cross

Let’s review some of the Promises of Jesus to see where our hope really resides.

  • John 3:15, 16 each state “that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life”. “Whosoever believeth” leaves it open to you and to me. This is a “bearer bond”. It has full value to whoever has possession of it. If you will personally place your trust in Jesus then this applies to you.
  • John 5:24 is another general invitation. It says that whoever hears the word of Christ and believes on (places his trust in) Him who sent him,
    • Has everlasting life (present tense)
    • Shall not come unto condemnation, (future tense), but
    • Has passed from death unto life (Perfect tense…it’s a completed, finished issue.)
  • John 6:35 says, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” This is faith in Jesus as a person, his character and all He claims to be.
  • John 6:37 “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me, and he that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”
  • John 6:39 “And this is my Father’s will which hath sent Me, that of all which He hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.”
  • John 10:27, 28 “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”
  • 1st John 5:11-13 “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you who believe on the name of the Son o God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”

In this study, I have concentrated on promises given through the Apostle John; but there are countless others, some plain, some obscure, beginning in Genesis, and scattered throughout the entire Bible. The Redemptive plan of God, through Jesus Christ, to save the lost Human Race, is the central theme of the entire Bible. The security of the believer, because of the faithfulness of God, not our own behavior, is a theme that parallels that central theme, all the way through God’s Word. To a person who is looking for such promises, they are literally everywhere.

This passage, Hebrews 6:4-9, far from teaching that a believer can be lost, is teaching the opposite: “God is not unrighteous, to forget…” God knows our frame, that we are dust…he knows that we are failures by nature. Jesus said, in John 15:5, “…without Me ye can do nothing.” That is literally true. We are encouraged to move on to spiritual adulthood, allowing God to work through us, and to produce fruit in our lives. My prayer is that each of us will submit to Him in love, and allow Him to do just that.

Lord Jesus, once again, we ask your blessing and mercy, as we seek to follow you. Teach us to walk in the reality of your love and the truth of Your Word.


Our High Priest (Part 1)

Our High Priest (Part 1)

© C. O. Bishop 3/21/17 THCF 4/2/17

Hebrews 4:9-16

Introduction:

We spoke last time about the rest that God offers: we saw a serious warning to professing believers that they recognize what is being offered and not fail to enter the salvation-rest through unbelief. We also saw that the rest has two parts…one part is a gift, offered to unbelievers on the sole condition of faith. When a person chooses to believe that Jesus’s blood is full payment for his or her sins, specifically, then they become a believer in Jesus, and that “salvation-rest” is given as a gift: they are no longer under the curse of God’s Law. This is a positional truth. Since the believers are now “in Christ”, their new position frees them from the law of sin and death.

But, the rest has a second part: the second part is conditional upon continuing, day by day, in an ongoing relationship with Christ on the basis of faith. It is a relational rest, and is available only to the believers, and only as they continually choose to enter into His rest, by faith.

There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.

The writer concludes that neither the Sabbath-day rest nor the Canaan rest were the actual fulfillment of the rest offered by Christ. Notice that he says that this specific rest remains “for the people of God”—believers. What is the “rest”, then? And why is it offered after faith has come? If salvation itself is not the “rest”, in this case, then what are we talking about?

10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.

11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.

What rest? How do we labor to enter into rest? It is actually pretty difficult, in some ways, to accomplish what is being taught, here, because it goes against our flesh. We all want to believe that we can do something to earn a right standing with God. Even though we know we were saved by Grace through Faith, we still want to think that, at some level, we “deserve” God’s Grace. But the word “deserve” means to “have earned”…if you can earn God’s favor, it is no longer Grace but wages.

So, he says that “he who has entered into rest has ceased from his own works.” It requires constant attention for us to break the cycle of legalism, by which we hope to impress God with our behavior. We have to learn to submit ourselves daily to God, to allow Him to live through us. The result is that we quit worrying about whether we are “doing enough”. We simply do what He calls us to do.

How does this bring about “rest?” For one thing, I quit wondering whether I am really saved. Having placed my faith in Jesus’ completed work, there is nothing for me to add, nor can it be diminished. Jesus said “it is finished!” And it is! But we need to consider who He really is!

Who are we dealing with?

12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

13 Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.

It is odd that this verse begins with the word “for”—it would seem to indicate that we are to labor to enter into His rest, because God’s Word is alive, etc. It certainly says that all these things are true of the Written and the Living Word. Remember that it is truly God’s Word, not Man’s. (1st Thessalonians 2:13)

The issue is that, regardless of what we say we are doing, and why…the Lord knows our hearts. He knows our real motives. We may fool others, and we certainly often fool ourselves, but we don’t fool God. He says that the Word of God is alive and powerful. (The old English word “quick” means “alive”, not “fast on its feet.”) Incidentally, the word translated “powerful”, is the Greek energes, which is usually translated “effectual”—accomplishing something. The Greek word looks like “energize”, and it is tempting to grab that English word as a meaning, but that is not what it means. It means that Jesus, the Living Word, is alive and still working today. And…He sees things as they really are.

He further says that the Word is sharper than any two-edged sword…it can be used for a weapon or for surgery, apparently, as he says it separates between soul and spirit, as well as joints and marrow. However, there are only two words in the New Testament that are translated “sword”—this one is the Greek word “machaira”, which comes from the verb “to fight”, and means, specifically, a fighting weapon. I am not sure why this specific picture is drawn for us. Perhaps it underscores that this is the believer’s offensive weapon, but that it can be used in discipline against us, as well. Bear in mind that it is two-edged: whenever we think it is applying to others, it is also applied to our own lives, at one level or another. Every honest preacher knows that every sermon applies to himself.

I don’t know whether you have ever noticed, but inside any bone there is a substance called “marrow”, which has a vital part in our survival, as that is where blood cells are made. But, in a cooked soup-bone, for instance, we can see that at the end of each bone, approaching the joint, there is a transition between marrow and bone, where it seems to be a mixture of the two, and it is hard to tell which is which. God says He can see the difference, and can separate the two.

In similar manner, though we may have a hard time explaining the specific differences between soul and spirit (some people even denying that one or the other exists), God not only recognizes both but is completely clear on the differences. It is only from God’s Word that we even know for sure that a spirit and a soul are definitely two different things, and that a human is a three-part being, having Body, Soul and Spirit. God is clear on all of it. He knows what our real position is, and is never in doubt.

He meets us with compassion, but no human has ever “pulled a fast one” on God. We have never succeeded in “pulling the wool over the eyes” of God. It is tragic that we even try. But, if you think about this regularly, and use it as a measuring-stick against your thoughts and motives, it may help you to set aside self-effort, and enter into His rest.

Nothing I can do can add to my salvation or my security in Christ. And nothing can detract from it. It does take labor to enter into the rest offered to believers, because our flesh constantly wants to doubt it. The labor we exert, then, as members of Christ, is only an effort to be His hands, feet, heart, and voice, here on Earth. We are already part of Him…we serve because we are a part of him, not to become part of him.

He knows our hearts completely, understands our weaknesses and conflicts of interest and is completely tender toward us…which is a good thing, because he is also our High Priest!

Jesus is Our Great High Priest

14 Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.

The phrase, “Great” High Priest is not a reference to Jesus being “great” at the job, though He certainly is. It means that He is high, and lifted up, far above all the other high priests of the history of Judaism…just as He is called the Great Shepherd, because He is the Master Shepherd, and high above all the human shepherds of the history of the flock of God. Remember that because the human shepherds have human failings, and, in some cases, have abdicated their responsibilities, God has declared that He is taking over the job (Ezekiel 34). It hasn’t happened yet, in its final fulfilment, but I personally believe that the final fulfilment is coming soon.

The High Priests of the time during which Jesus served in his earthly ministry (Annas and Caiaphas) were completely corrupt, and were his worst enemies. Though we don’t know their identities, the priests at the time when this book was written were the last to claim that title, as the temple was destroyed about five years later. Jesus is the Great High Priest, today and forever.

I have no doubt that there will be some sort of priesthood during the tribulation period, but it will be very brief, and will be cut short by the Antichrist. So the priesthood of Jesus is really the only one left. He is not only “our” great high priest; He is THE Great High Priest, for all eternity. His sacrifice stands forever, and his intercession for us is continual. The writer tells us that in light of this fact—the eternal priesthood of Christ—we are to hold fast to our profession.

This does not say we should hold on to Christ, or hold on to salvation, but to maintain a life that honors Him…our profession—our testimony. Since OUR high Priest (in contrast to that of the Jews at that time) has passed into heaven, and is not in danger of dying, now (as theirs was), nor is he corruptible, or vacillating, let us press on! Let us live lives that honor Jesus…adjusting our priorities to match His. We are secure in Him, and we can live in that security. We can walk confidently in the reality of His presence and His continuing ministry on our behalf.

Remember: this was written before the destruction of the temple (which happened in A.D. 70), but not much before…maybe four or five years. So, the system of faith within which they had grown up (which was God-ordained; not man-made) was about to be literally destroyed. Perhaps some historians know what happened to the priesthood of that day. Perhaps some even survived the destruction…perhaps none did. But the temple and all of its trappings were gone for good.

The Hebrew believers to whom this epistle was written did not know what was about to happen. The writer, here, was warning them of the need to make a full transition from Law to Grace; from the human-built temple to “a Temple made without hands.” Part of that transition means recognizing that Jesus is the replacement for every aspect of what they were about to lose. In fact, he had already replaced them all, but they, the Jewish believers, simply had not yet seen it.

The Gentile believers had never experienced any of the things written here. They were new to all of it. And, in spite of the fact that I have been a believer more than two thirds of my life, I am still nearly completely ignorant of the inner workings of Judaism. I cannot know it from the inside, because I am not one of them. The writers of the whole New Testament were primarily (if not exclusively) Jews; but this epistle makes a special outreach to the Jews who already had embraced Jesus as their Savior Messiah, but who were still living within Judaism. He is telling them that it is high time that they all step all the way into Christ. Not to become Gentiles, in any way, but to transfer their loyalties and dependencies to the Risen Christ.

15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

We should keep in mind that Aaron, the first high priest over Israel, was not born a priest: he was Moses’ younger brother. He was reared as a Hebrew slave, after Moses was taken up to be reared by Pharaoh’s daughter. He knew what it was like to grow up under the thumb of the Egyptians. He knew what slavery was like, and what hard work was like. He had travelled in the desert, as had all the other children of Israel who escaped under Moses. He knew the taste of manna in the morning, and quails in the evening. He had drunk water from the rock as they all had done. He had seen the judgment of God upon the disobedient. He had looked to the blood of the covenant for salvation. He could completely relate to all the experience of the Jews at that time. But he sinned and failed Israel in many ways. And, finally, he died.

There was never again a High Priest like Aaron, who had grown up under the exact same life as the rest of the Jews. The later priests all grew up in the home of a priest, and had lived a separate life…a somewhat privileged life. Consider, then, that the “great high priest” that Aaron was, even with his flaws, could never have been repeated, until Jesus stepped into that role. Why? Because he did live out the life of a poor, ordinary Jewish man, and yet is the High Priest.

Jesus has experienced all that the Jews of that time experienced, and did not sin. He lived under the hand of God the Father, though he, along with the whole nation of Israel, was subject to Rome. He was tested in every way, and still honored God with every breath he took, every decision He made…every Word He spoke. So, when I am tired, discouraged, or feeling under attack, and in pain, and want to give up, I frequently remember how tired He must have become during his ministry on earth, being exposed to every sort of hardship, and deprivation. His friends abandoned Him. His enemies sought to kill Him. But He pressed on, in faith and obedience. He is our Great High Priest! And, unlike Aaron, the prototype High Priest, he cannot die, leaving us to start fresh with another, lesser priest. He is alive forever—immortal: and forever unchanging: immutable. He is incorruptible, and holy. He is compassionate and wise.

So where does all this leave us? These things are all true…we see them in God’s Word, and not in just a few remote, obscure passages…these are all major doctrinal themes: The lostness of man apart from God; the Deity of Christ; the Holiness of God in the Person of Christ; the efficacy of the Blood of Jesus at Calvary, the preaching of the Cross, Salvation by Grace through Faith, and the eternal priesthood of Jesus, the Messiah. So, where does that leave us?

The Conclusion is in Verse 16

16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

On the basis of all those truths, the writer encourages his readers to draw near to the throne of Grace in full assurance that the High Priest is a friend, a companion, who truly, completely understands and accepts us, and is not secretly condemning us as hopeless sinners. He died to clear the way for us to approach God freely, and now calls us to do just that.

The review of these eternal truths leaves us with an open invitation…in fact, a standing command…to enter into the throne room of God on a regular basis. In fact, to make it our dwelling, as the Psalmist suggests (Psalm 15:1): “LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?”

We are invited to enter that tabernacle, and to abide there. Psalm 91:1 says, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the Shadow of the Almighty.” And that is where we are to approach the Throne of Grace, to obtain mercy, and find grace, to help in time of need.

God invites us to change our priorities. To read the Gospels and see the priorities of Jesus. To adopt His priorities as our own. He invites us to enter into His rest, and abide under His shadow.

Lord Jesus, teach our hearts to abide in you, to rest in you, and to live under the constant awareness of your intercession on our behalf. Let us serve beside you, as priests in the Body of Christ. Make us your hands and feet, reaching to the lost world. Make us a blessing to those around us.

 

 

 


What Were They Doing on Christmas?

What Were They All Doing on Christmas Morning?

© 12/25/2016 C. O. Bishop THCF 12/25/2016

Hebrews 1:6; Luke 2:1-20

Introduction:

I took some time off from work, to spend Christmas with my family. When I get back to work, people will greet me in friendly fashion, and several are sure to ask, “Did you have a good Christmas?” It is almost a rhetorical question, since the expected answer is always “Yes”, though qualifiers are acceptable. Expansion on what was good or not so good are also acceptable. We are expected to, at most, tell “What we were doing on Christmas Morning.”

So: let’s ask the same question regarding those persons who were present the Night of the Lord’s birth. What were they all doing on Christmas Morning?

We sing, Angels we have heard on High, sweetly singing o’er the plain! Were they? Really? We talk about “We three kings of Orient, etc.” and we usually forget that they were two years away on Christmas morning…not part of the show at all. We say “Shepherds quaked at the sight”, and sing all manner of songs about drummer boys, and donkeys, and Mary and Joseph, and…most of it is very pleasant fiction. Let’s set all that aside for just a few moments and ask, seriously, “What were they all doing on Christmas Morning?”

What were the Angels doing?

What were the Angels really doing? (“Sweetly singing o’er the plain?” Nope…sorry!) Let’s read and see: Luke 2:9-14 The Angel of the Lord appeared (Think about that one! We’ve done a bit of Old Testament study: Who is the Angel of the Lord?) The Glory of the Lord shone around the Shepherds. The Shepherds were terribly afraid. (I’ll bet they were!) And the Angel of the Lord told them to not be afraid, “because He was bringing them good news (Glad tidings—what is the word we usually associate with “Good News?), of Great Joy which shall be (future tense) to all people. (the Gospel)” He went on to announce the birth of the Savior; Christ the Lord. He told the shepherds to go and find the baby (Not Mary; not Joseph: the baby!) and told them where to look, and how to recognize Him.

Immediately there appeared a multitude of other angelic beings (the heavenly host—heavenly army) praising God, and saying (not singing…sorry!) “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth, Peace, Good Will toward Men!”

And then they were gone!

But what were they doing, by God’s command? Let’s read Hebrews 1:6 “…and when He (God) bringeth forth the firstbegotten into the world, He saith, And let all the angels of God worship Him (the baby!)!”

The Angels were worshipping the baby! (Not Mary, not Joseph, or anyone else.) Now: who is the only one (according to God) that can rightfully receive worship? It is God himself! So this is part of the recognition of, and the teaching of the deity of Christ.

The Angels, who worship no one but God, were worshipping Him. In fact, that is what we were seeing over in Luke 2:13, 14…they were praising God…the one in the Manger. They knew Him for who he was.

They were not distracted by His infancy, or his appearance of helplessness. They knew who he was, and worshipped Him as their own creator! (Hebrews 1:7 confirms this! “He maketh His Angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire.”) They were not impressed for better or worse, by the surroundings, nor the other people present. They were there for one purpose: to Worship the Newborn King!

What was Mary doing?

What should she be doing? She was a young (probably teen-aged) mother, who had just had a baby. She was terribly tired, but probably very happy with her little Baby. She was with her husband, and was probably pretty overwhelmed by the events of the last nine months. We are not told that she even saw or heard the angelic host worshipping her baby. She evidently heard about the events through the shepherds, as we see in Luke 2:19 that she “kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart”.

How did she feel about the surroundings? We aren’t told…but even in that culture, a woman wanted other women around when they gave birth. An aunt, or a mother or a sister, usually…a midwife, if you could afford one. Hospitals weren’t an option, at that time and place, but a stable wasn’t exactly optimal or normal.

How do we know the manger bed and all the rest were not normal? The Angel of the Lord gave those facts to the shepherd as being the signs by which they would recognize the baby. Why would he give the shepherds things that were completely common, as signs by which to recognize the savior? The manger and the swaddling clothes, while not unheard of, were unusual enough that they were the signs given by the angel by which to recognize the savior! If they were that unusual, how did Mary feel about it all? We aren’t told.

Mary probably spent the next few hours alternately sleeping, and tending to her baby. And the visit by the shepherds was probably a surprise. She and Joseph were huddling together in a dark stable, trying to stay warm, and trying to re-group; figure out what they were going to do next, when these grubby shepherds burst in the door, looking for a baby dressed in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger. And there he was! Did they give Mary special attention? Probably so. Most people give special attention to new mothers. But they were there to see the baby! They saw Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the manger, just as they had been told. But the baby was who they had been sent to find, and was the One with whom they were primarily concerned.

What was Joseph doing?

We really are not told, but, consider: He was evidently an older man, as we see him apparently gone before Jesus began His ministry. He was freshly out of work, as he had been forced to travel away from Nazareth, in Galilee, which is where he had lived and worked, because of the new rule from Caesar.

Joseph was probably thinking ahead, wondering what he was going to do for work. He may have also been thinking back to the visit he had had from the Angel Gabriel, telling him that his fiancée had been chosen by God to bear the child who is the Savior. That has got to have been a hard time, as the neighbors were looking at him and assuming that he had committed fornication, and gotten his fiancée pregnant…or worse, that she herself was immoral and he was just choosing to cover for her. The stigma was there, and would not go away. Think about it: they were in the city of his family, of his ancestry, but there was no one he could turn to for a place to stay. How else did they end up in that stable? Why were no doors open to him and his bride? I would guess it was because he was an embarrassment to them. Perhaps they even ostracized him. We don’t know. All we know are the facts.

What were the Shepherds doing?

That is one we are told a fair amount about: They were minding their own business, caring for flocks at night, in the open field. Possibly having a bit of a chat, to stay awake, or walking around the flock to keep them safe from predators. But they were just carrying on business as usual, until the Angel of the Lord dropped in for a visit. When God steps into the picture, everything changes!

That line about “Shepherds quake at the sight!” is probably one of the most accurate in all the stories. They were scared to death! Isn’t it interesting that all the people who really saw angels or met the pre-incarnate Christ, or saw the Lord in his glory, were not all happy and blessed: they were afraid! Why is it that today all the folk who claim to have seen the Lord say what a wonderful, peaceful experience it was, just flooding their souls with Joy? My guess is that they really didn’t experience what they said they experienced. The ones who really did were terrified, pretty much without exception.

The disciples in the boat, when Jesus calmed the storm didn’t look around and say, “Way cool, Jesus! I didn’t know you could do that!” They had been afraid they were all going to drown. These were seasoned commercial fishermen, who were masters at small boat handling, and had been in storms before. But they were seriously expecting to die, in this storm. But when they woke up the Lord, and asked him to take a hand, he calmed the storm, and far from being overjoyed and relieved, they were more afraid! They said “what manner of man is this, that even the wind and waves obey him?” They were more afraid of the very presence of God than they were of death itself.

When the Angel of the Lord appeared, the shepherds were terrified. They had dealt with jackals, bears, and lions by night all their lives (How would you feel dealing with wild predators at night, with only a stick or a sling, or some other rather primitive weapon to protect yourself and the flock?) But they were terrified at the sight of the Angel. His first words were to set aside their fear, so that he could communicate the Joy of Christmas. And that Joy was in the person of Jesus.

The shepherds left their flocks in the field, which is not normal! If you leave the flock, you are a bad shepherd! But they were commanded to do so, and they did. Maybe they figured that the angels could take a turn watching the flock.

They went to Bethlehem, and hunted through stables until they found the Lord and Joseph and Mary. They told others around the area what had happened, about the angelic messenger, and the child…and finally went back to the flock, leaving an amazed village behind them, and having great Joy in themselves, at the privilege they had shared.

They were glorifying God, and Praising God for all that they had heard and seen, and that all had been as they were told to expect. They thanked him for fulfilled prophecy, in other words. I don’t know whether they had thought through all the other fulfilled prophecies, yet. Micah 5:2 comes to mind, though: The Lord had promised, 400 years earlier, that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. They were the witnesses to the fulfillment of that promise. If they had expanded from that beginning, and considered who that was, and what else was prophesied about Him, they might not have wanted to go back to the flock, at all. I don’t think they put it all together, though…we seldom do today, really.

What are You doing on Christmas?

We have been conditioned to think of Christmas as a time of joy and peace…and we want it to be so. But we also tend to focus pretty much on family, rest, children, gifts, and food…lots of food. I don’t see a problem with most of that. When God commanded his people to throw a party, and have a national feast day, they focused on all those things, too. But they remembered what they were celebrating.

I think it is important that we give some time to considering who Jesus really is, and the fact that, right there in that manger, wrapped up in rags, he was the Creator … He was God! When we sing that song, “Mary did you know”, I have to tell you, I don’t think she could have known! We are looking back from the vantage point (and safe distance) of 2000 years, and we still don’t really comprehend it. If she had seen him as the disciples saw him when he calmed the storm, do you think she would have been snuggling him in her arms and crooning a lullaby? She couldn’t have seen Him that way. But I feel it is imperative that we do! That we experience the utter amazement of the fact of the incarnation, and be blessed by the Grace God has extended to us. We cannot grasp it all, but we can reach out by faith and receive it as a gift. We can place our faith in His Grace, and know the Peace of God in an eternal relationship. We are not dragged in as a waif, and simply called his child: we are born into His family by the new birth, and live eternally as his child…his real child, born of His Grace.

When we think about Christmas, we need to be looking beyond the “manger scene”, and look far enough to see the Cross, and the tomb, and the resurrection. We need to look even further, and see His soon coming, and His eternal reign. We should look beyond the manger, and find Peace and Joy in the fact of the Savior. Mary pondered these things in her heart. It seems good that we should do the same. Think about these things: ponder them in your heart. Consider the enormity of what was going on that first Christmas.

The Christmas story was not about Mary. It was not about Joseph or the shepherds. It was not about the angels…they knew that better than anyone. They worshipped the newborn king: They guarded his humanity (though He certainly needed no help), but they worshipped Him as God.

We can do the same. Christmas is about Jesus, our savior; God in the flesh, our only advocate with God the Father. To the World, He is the Judge, though He offered Himself as the Savior. To us, He is the Savior, though He is still the King, and the Judge and the God of the Universe. Relationally, the fact that He is our Savior, takes precedence over all the rest. We no longer have to fear God’s wrath. We have His Grace.

The Shepherds told others about what they had seen and heard. We can do that, too. But especially because we know who He really is. He is the source of all things, and the key to the Joy of Christmas.

Lord Jesus, allow us, momentarily at least, to see you in your Glory, and to worship you as God. Allow us to love you in your humanity, but to look beyond your humanity and to worship and love you as the faithful Creator. Allow us to serve as witnesses to your glory, as did the shepherds. Allow us to continually ponder these things in our hearts.

 


What Do We Know About Death?

What Do We Know About Death?

© C. O. Bishop 10/13/15 THCF 10/18/15

Romans 5:12.
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

Introduction:

We have already seen our old condition and our old position as lost sinners, separated from God; and we have seen how God saved us. We already have seen that we were once enemies of God by nature: But how did we get that way? How did the world get to be such a mess?

We can see the beauty of the creation in the world around us, but there is a cruel reality hidden in all that beauty: virtually every living thing depends on the death of some other living thing, in order to survive. In fact, with the exception of green plants, which are capable of photosynthesis, thus making food from sunlight and water and mineral nutrients, all living things are utterly dependent upon the death of others to survive; in fact, even those green plants grow better with some dead things under their roots. And there are even carnivorous plants, which, though they can carry out photosynthesis, still consume insects as part of their diet.

Death is simply a stark reality for every living thing. Everything dies. We try to avoid death as long as possible, clinging to life, calling it self-preservation: in fact, every living thing strives for self-preservation, some more vitally than others. There are some plants, which, if cut off, both the root and the upper plant will die—neither can survive without the other, and neither can regenerate the lost part. Others may spring up from the roots, but the upper part, once severed, will die. Still others will aggressively seek to create roots, if they can reach the ground.

Years ago, I was given some willow logs, with which to make violin blocks and linings. A large limb had fallen during a storm, and the homeowners were happy to have me take it away. I didn’t have time to process it immediately, so I cut it into sections a few feet long, and tossed it on the ground, near my shop, expecting to get back to it soon. This was not a pile of green twigs; it was heavy sections of log, perhaps 10-12” in diameter, with rough, thick bark. But a few weeks later I noticed that it looked as though grass was growing all over those logs, so I went to see what it was. Every square inch of the upper half of each log, exposed to air and sun, had sprouted tiny willow leaves, processing sunlight and water. And when I turned the log sections over, the whole underside of each was covered with white roots, reaching for the soil. That is real vitality! The plant was doing its best to survive the twin catastrophes of the storm and my chainsaw.

But, if life is so precious, and if every living thing strives to stay alive, how did death come into the world? And why? Perhaps we need to answer some general questions concerning death, before addressing the specifics:

What is Death?

 

What is Death? (And what is it not?)

We have seen earlier, that spiritual death is the separation of the human spirit from God, and that physical death is the separation of the human spirit from the body. That is a nice, clinical definition, but it doesn’t really answer all the questions surrounding death. Besides, there is a third kind of Death, called “the second death”: it is eternal separation from God in eternal judgment, in the Lake of Fire. We don’t like talking about that, or even thinking about it, but that is separation, too…of the permanent sort. Now, let’s consider what Death is not:

  1. Death is not “cessation of existence.” We tend to see death as the “cessation of life”…and in some sense, that is true…but in reality, the human spirit does not cease to live, any more than the angelic spirits cease to live. They, like we, are created beings, and, like them, we have a beginning point somewhere in time, but no real end…just a destination in eternity. We have a choice about that destination…they did, too. Some chose to rebel, and are eternally separated from God. Everything that was good in them withered away, leaving only the sin. We call them fallen angels, evil spirits, or demons. They were not offered the grace of God, because they sinned while knowing God face to face. We sin ignorantly, never having seen God, and knowing virtually nothing about Him. That does not relieve us from responsibility; it only makes us eligible for God’s Grace, if we choose to accept it. Grace is a gift from God. It cannot be earned, and is never “deserved”. But it can be actively sought, and willingly received.

 

  1. Death is also not “natural”. It was not God’s original intent, nor was it a necessary part of the “cycle of life”, as the popular saying is today. We were created to be with God and like God throughout eternity, in fellowship with Him. Our real nature is eternal…and we can choose to be eternally with God, transformed into His likeness; or we can choose to flee from God, deny His existence, or even to actively, deliberately rebel against Him, maintaining our separation at all cost: and that can become our eternal state—separated from God.

 

  1. Death is not a “friend”. 1st Corinthians 15:26 says Death is the last enemy that God will destroy. But, for us, Death is a powerless enemy: God says “Death has lost its sting.” For believers, Death is “graduation day”…we leave our body and go directly to be with Him. The Grave has no victory over the believer’s life. We do not go down to “dusty death”, as Shakespeare wrote. Death, for us, is a shadow, at worst. Psalm 23 speaks of “walking through the valley of the shadow of death”…Notice: walking (not “falling”) through (not “into”) the valley (not “the pit”) of the shadow (not the “harsh reality”) of death. Death is not a friend, nor is it comfortable, but it has lost its ability to harm the believer.

So: How did Death Begin?

Romans 5:12 is a critical doctrine because it clears up several errors in human thinking:

For one thing, there are folk who believe that there was an earlier creation in scripture, before the one detailed in chapters one and two of Genesis, and that it was destroyed by God. They claim that to be the origin of all the fossils. They use this notion to try to reconcile what they think is scientific evidence with what seems to be scripturally obscure truths. They are saying that there was once a whole world of animals and people that all died before Adam was created, and that world was destroyed, so that the Creation we read about in Genesis 1:1-3 is a “start-over” rather than a real “Beginning”. But, if that were so, then Romans 5:12 is not true. Do you see why?

Romans 5:12 states unequivocally that Death came into the world through the sin of one man…Adam. That one man, a created individual (with no parents, just a Creator), was given the authority to make a decision, in Genesis 2:17—he was told that he must not eat the fruit of a certain tree, and that if he did so, then he would die on that day. He did eat, and he died spiritually that very moment—fellowship between God and Man was broken…Man was spiritually separated from God. Later, his spirit was separated from his body, as well, which is what we call physical death.

I am reasonably certain that he did not understand (nor do we) the incredibly diverse and horrible results that would spring from his decision to disobey. The whole human race was plunged into sin, and Death entered the world, as a part of the curse. Prior to the curse, there was evidently no necessity for death at all.

But, how could all the death that supposedly happened in the destruction of the earlier creation have occurred, if there was no death in the world until Adam’s sin? The two ideas cannot be reconciled. There either was death before Adam, or there was not. There cannot be a world full of dead things, and the fossils of dead things, etc., and never have been any death.

But: if the “old world” that was overthrown in 2nd Peter 2:5 was specifically, and simply, the world before the flood (which is exactly what it says it was), then it all makes sense—and the fossils everywhere are the result of that cataclysm, not a separate, much older creation.

As a race, we are far too anxious to try to “reconcile the Bible” to modern science. Why should we do so at all? Why not do the reverse? Recognize that God is true and every man a liar by nature, then try to reconcile the science to the Bible. The people who study geology and paleontology with that idea in mind consistently discover that the Genesis Flood answers the questions of the Geologic Clock very satisfactorily. People who go with the reverse in mind have already decided the Bible is not true, and are looking for “proof”, so of course, they will find it.

There will always be those who reject the account of the Genesis flood out of hand, but, as a rule, those same individuals consistently reject ALL Biblical truth as fable. Unfortunately, the fact is that a “natural, random-chance, evolutionary, Mother Nature and Father Time” world-view and the Biblical Creation view, with a sovereign God and a fallen Creation are mutually exclusive. They cannot both be true…they could both be false, or the first could be true and the second fable or the first a lie and the second the truth. But they cannot both be true. You have to choose.  It has never been a case of the “geologic clock” lying…it has only been a case of people consistently (and/or deliberately) misreading the “clock.”

Why did Death happen?

One thing we find out in Ephesians 3:10, 11 is that God had a purpose when he began the creation…actually, probably several purposes; but one thing we are told is that the entire “human experiment”, for lack of better term, is specifically intended to demonstrate the manifold Wisdom of God to the angelic hosts, for all eternity, and (Ephesians 2:7), throughout eternity,  to show the riches of God’s Grace to all created beings, in his kindness toward us through Christ.

Perhaps to some folk that won’t mean much, but it did, to me. Knowing that God is using my life to demonstrate His own Wisdom to the angelic beings all over the universe makes all my inept muddlings seem a little more worthwhile. It seems to somehow add some eternal purpose to life.

We see the tragedies in life, and they are very difficult to reconcile with what we know as the Goodness of God. But we are less than toddlers, in terms of comprehension: we have no idea what is really going on in life. The harder things get on this Earth, the more important it becomes to know the God who holds the future, and to not lean to our own understanding, desperately hoping that we can somehow stave off disaster.  God clearly says that disaster is coming. For example, we are commanded to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem”, and yet we are told that at the end, when Jesus returns, Jerusalem will be under siege as never before, and ready to be destroyed, overrun by its enemies.

We are commanded to spread the Good News of the death and burial and resurrection of Christ—the Gospel of salvation through His blood…but we are also told that few will believe it, and that the majority will choose to ignore the message or attack the messengers.

We can see, both scripturally and experientially, that the World, as a whole, is an Enemy of the God who created it. We can see that things have not improved over the ages—that the crucifixion would be just as likely today as it was 2000 years ago.

The coming Judgment is completely just and righteous…as a race, we deserve the coming destruction. As a race, we have emulated the sin of Adam, and followed in the steps of Cain, Esau, and Balaam. And, true to form, sin never affects only the sinner—there are always those who suffer the consequences of our sins, who were not the perpetrators…collateral damage, if you want to call them that. Our children, though guilty of their own sins, will also suffer the results of ours. A drunk driver doesn’t destroy only himself, but people in other cars, or pedestrians, or his own children, who are in his car and are destroyed with him. This is an eternal principle: while no one is punished for someone else’s sin, we are all affected by it.

The fact of the matter is that, spiritually speaking, the whole race was “in Adam” when he chose to sin. We all sinned with him. We didn’t just inherit his sin nature; we fell into sin with him, and have proven it on an individual basis, ever since. “Death passed upon all for that all have sinned.”  Notice that the sentence is past tense: “…for all have sinned….” It does not say (present tense) “for all sin…”, though that is also true. The fact is, we sinned with him. But, what else can we learn from this passage? (There is a good side to this story:)

It was Adam, not Eve!

The other (less important in some ways, but still common and destructive) doctrine unseated by Romans 5:12 is the idea that Eve brought sin into the world: She absolutely did not. Was she involved? She absolutely was. But did she have the authority to make a decision for the whole human race? No! Only Adam had that authority. This passage, along with others, states clearly that Adam’s sin, not Eve’s, brought the destruction we see around us. (So don’t blame women!)

In fact, if we go back and read the record in Genesis 3:1-7, we see that nothing at all happened until Adam ate the fruit. It does not say that Eve sinned, and ran off to cover her nakedness with leaves, and then Adam followed her example. It says that after Adam ate, “then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they saw that they were naked”…etc. Why is this important?

Two Races of Man: “In Adam”, and “In Christ”

Perhaps it is a small point, to some, but Adam became the father of a fallen race—the whole human race. It was strictly his doing that brought about the fall. The theological term for this idea is called the doctrine of “Federal Headship.” Adam is the “Federal Head” of our fallen race. Jesus eventually headed up a new Man. The old Man is fallen: the New Man is not. So those who are born again through Christ are part of that “new Man”. And the new man did not come through the old man, but through the Woman.

The woman was physically separated from man before the fall…and, though she was affected by the fall, and involved in the fall, the “Seed of Woman” (from Genesis 3:15) was to be the Savior of the World. I don’t know whether that connection is theologically important, but it is there, and it seems worth pointing out. Jesus, as the only human without a human father—truly virgin-born—is the “Seed of Woman”, in the fullest sense.

In 1st Corinthians 15:22, the distinction between the two races is made clear: “all in Adam died…all in Christ shall be made alive.” The issue of position—location—is before us again. There are two possible positions for a human: to be still “in Adam”, where they were born, or, having been born again (also called “born from above”), to be “in Christ”. If they are in Adam, they are still dead in their sins, and separated from God: if they have been born again as a child of God, they are “in Christ” and alive forever. That is a pretty sharp separation, there! It is literally the difference between life and death.

What about You?

If you have chosen Jesus as the blood-sacrifice for your personal sin, and placed your faith in His finished work at the Cross, then you are “in Christ”. The facts of Romans 5:12, though completely true in you, have also been set aside forever. God has imputed to you the righteousness of Christ, you are sealed in Him, and you will spend eternity with Him.

If you have doubts about where you stand with God, please speak to anyone here in the church. The Scripture is abundantly clear: you do not have to wait until you die to find out whether you have eternal life: You can know today.

Jesus said, “He that hears my Word, and Believes on Him who sent me, HAS everlasting life!” You can choose to place your trust in His blood this moment, and know that you have eternal life, because He promises that it is so.

Please choose life!

Lord Jesus, give us Your Grace for salvation; Your Grace for living; and Your Grace for day by day Service: for the sake of your Glory. Amen


To Whom is the Promise of God Given?

To Whom is the Promise Given?

© C. O. Bishop 2/28/15 THCF 3/1/15

Galatians 3:15-18; compare Genesis 13:15-16

Introduction:

We have talked about the Promise of the Spirit, and our need to embrace that Promise. One thing that has always bothered me, in the following few verses, is that, from my human perspective, it always seemed that Paul was playing a little “fast and loose” with the grammar of the promise of God to Abraham, in Genesis. But I know that this is God’s inspired Word…Paul was doing exactly as he was directed. I also know that God is God, and He certainly has the right to comment on His own Word. So how can I resolve the question?

The Septuagint vs. the Masoretic Text

It recently occurred to me that, in modern times, we have always only had two real sources for the Old Testament scriptures: The Masoretic text (which is Hebrew and Aramaic, and the most recent example at about AD 200)— and the Septuagint (a Greek translation from about 140 BC.)

We might think, “Well…maybe a lot was lost in the Translation!” (as is frequently the case in translations), but this question was checked by hundreds of scholars over the last several hundred years, translating (again) the Hebrew into Greek to see if their translation matched the Septuagint; and, the reverse: translating the Greek Septuagint back into Hebrew, to see if it came close to the original language. All these exercises were done for two reasons:

  1. Believers earnestly want to know what God’s Word really says, and because
  2. Attacks are frequently made by the enemy and we feel forced to defend the Word of God.

Yes, the translation exercises showed the reliability of the two texts. And, in 1948, when the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the caves at Qumran, the scholarly elite were filled with Joy; some because they were sure that these texts (including most of the Old Testament, in Hebrew and Aramaic,) would prove the unreliable character of the Bible, and others—believers— because they hoped exactly the opposite. As it turned out, over the years, as these scrolls were painstakingly opened and preserved for posterity, but carefully studied, as well, the scrolls strongly supported the accuracy and reliability of the Bible.

So, What Did Jesus Read? What Did He Quote?

Perhaps the strongest support for the Septuagint is the fact that virtually every single Old Testament quotation in the New Testament, whether quoted by an Apostle or by Jesus Himself, is quoted from the Septuagint… word for word. That is the reason the New Testament (for example) says “a virgin shall be with Child”, when they could have translated the Hebrew to mean “a young girl”. The Hebrew word (“alma”) does mean, “young girl”, but is usually used to mean a young girl who is not married and not sexually active. The translators of the Septuagint understood this, and chose to use the Greek word “parthenon”, which specifically means “virgin”, when they could have used the word “korasion” which simply means a “young girl”.

In light of that, one could either say, from the perspective of an unbeliever, that the translators (all 70 of them) had made a serious error, trying to prove the virgin birth (this was completed 140 years before Jesus was born: the translators had never heard of Jesus), or, still as an unbeliever, that Jesus and all his disciples deliberately chose to use a flawed translation, trying to prove it. Either response relegates the entire New Testament to the trash-heap, as one has to prejudge the translation to be false and prejudge Jesus to be a deceiver.

To a believer, though, this is powerful evidence that Jesus fully approved the Greek translation of His own Word…He quoted it! And so did Paul.  If Paul was the only one who used the Septuagint text, we might be tempted to think he was manipulating the meaning, here. But Jesus was very consistent in its use as well, and with similar results. My conclusion is that there are doctrinal points that were not specific enough in Hebrew, and God has made it clear in Greek. It might, in fact, be evidence that the Septuagint is an “inspired translation”. But all we know for sure is that Jesus used it constantly, as did his Apostles.

So, what is the difference? Does it matter which “Bible” Jesus quoted? I think it probably does! Let’s see what Paul had to say:

The Covenant—the Promise

15 Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.

Paul is appealing to human law: he says, if a contract has been signed—an agreement made—you can’t start “adding things later”, or changing the terms of the agreement. Much more so, the covenant of God: God will not change it, because He is Holy and Righteous, and because it is His Word. We cannot change it because we have no authority to do so. Paul points out that it would violate both the principle of Law and of Promise, to alter a covenant after the fact.

16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.

To whom was the initial promise made, in Genesis 13:15? It was made to Abraham, regarding the land. And, in response to Abraham’s faith, it was extended to a lot of people. But the first giving of that promise was made to Abraham “and his seed”. In normal English, I would have interpreted that to mean his offspring, however few or numerous they may have proven to be. In Hebrew that would seem to be true as well—the words in Genesis 13:15 and 13:16 in Hebrew are identical (“zera”…seed.) As far as I can determine, the Hebrew word for “seed” is used the same as the English word—it could be singular or plural, depending upon the context. But in Greek, there are at least three different forms, and just as Jesus did, Paul was quoting the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.

But:  in the Septuagint, the word for “seed” in verse 15 is specifically singular! I looked up the Greek word used in Genesis 13:15 in the Septuagint, and, as a matter of fact, it is the exact same word that Paul used in Galatians 3:16 (“spermati”). I never would have understood this point without God bringing it to light: in English, the plural for seed is not always “seeds”—we say “I set aside 100 pounds of wheat for seed.” And we would mean that this wheat was being saved for planting, not eating. But Paul points out that, at least in this case, God meant the singular—the promised “seed”—the person of Christ.

But the word used in Genesis 13:16 is a different form of the same word, and is commonly used as a plural or substantive, meaning a large quantity (“sperma”), meaning “seed—and lots of it”. The particular promise of the land and blessing, then, was not initially to the whole family of Israel, but to one single offspring: Christ. The specific promise regarding Abraham’s offspring being so numerous uses a different word form.

There is a third form of the Greek word for seed (“spermasin”) that is specifically plural, referring to a numeric plural. That is the one Paul pointed out that God had NOT used. There is no question that Paul was making a valid point; again, because he quoted the Septuagint.

Why does this matter?

To Whom Was the Promise Given?

The initial promise, of course, was to Abraham. But the portion that said, “…and thy seed…” used the specifically singular word for “seed”, and, as we see in Galatians, that particular seed was not in reference to Isaac (who wasn’t born yet), but to Christ.

Since I do not easily read Greek, but rather have to look up every word, as a rule, I would not have caught this detail. And since I don’t even own a copy of the Septuagint, but had to find a copy on the internet that I could read and compare to the Greek New Testament (which I do own), I definitely never would have known that there was a detail I was missing without God commenting on His own Word and showing us something special.

So why is that so special? Because, if the Jews had been correct in assuming that all of the promises were to them because they were Abraham’s offspring, then those promises could not be applied to me unless I became a Jew. In fact, even then they would not apply, because I am not his offspring at all, by nature, and becoming a Jew would not change that. But…if, as Paul states, the promises were to Christ, then they can be applied to me, if I am in Christ.

The promise is both narrowed and broadened in that one explanation: it is narrowed from “all the Jews” to “just the Messiah”. It is broadened from “only the Jews” to “anyone and everyone who places his or her trust in the living Christ.” Paul underscores this “positional truth” in another passage; 1st Corinthians 15:22—“all in Christ shall be made alive”. If you are “in Christ” then the promises will be to you.

Are there specific promises given only to the Jews? Yes, I believe there are. I do not believe that the Church has “replaced” the Jews in the plan of God. Their promises are virtually all physical, earthly blessings. Ours are, without exception, spiritual, heavenly blessings. And a Jew who embraces Christ steps into a new relationship. Just as the Levite, who had no inheritance in the land, but whose inheritance was the person of God and the priesthood of God, the person whose life is hidden in Christ trades the earthly and temporary for the heavenly and eternal.

So; the question Paul is exploring here continues to be the relationship of Law to Promise—Law to Grace—Law to faith. His answer comes in the form of a question: “Which came first?” The answer is that the Promise came 430 years before the Law. His conclusion is that the Law could not change the Promise. By choosing to trust in Christ and his finished work at the Cross, we sidestep the curse of the Law, and embrace the eternal Promise of God. Paul goes on:

17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.

Paul argues that, if the Law changed the promise in any way, then the promise is broken. But God does not break his promises, and the Law, coming far later, has no authority to change or set aside the promise.

By the way, remember that the Promise was an entirely one-sided covenant made by God…there was nothing for Abraham to do: no further conditions to meet. He had already been declared righteous by God. How? By Grace, through faith; and God made the unconditional covenant of the Promise, with no way for Abraham to fail.

Remember we have talked about how a serious, binding covenant between two Jews was made? The two parties brought a sacrifice, and split the pieces of that sacrifice, and together walked between the pieces of the sacrifice, calling God as their witness that they were bound by the terms of the contract.

But in Genesis 15, God did not allow Abraham to walk with him between the pieces of the sacrifice. He allowed Abraham to see, but not participate, as He himself walked alone through the sacrifices. Does that sound at all familiar? Doesn’t it strike you as significant that Jesus walked alone through all the trial of Gethsemane, the trial and the Cross? Alone, into the Grave, alone in the Resurrection and the Ascension…but invites us to join Him there, by faith? He has invited you to see, but not to participate, beyond faith. You do NOT earn your salvation in any way.

God bound Himself to the Covenant…there was nothing for Abraham to do, to fulfill “his part of the agreement”. It was entirely one-sided! There was no way that Abraham could fail, somehow negating the promise. The condition (Faith) had already been met. Abraham had already been declared righteous, and the Promise was secure. Does that sound familiar? We have already been saved by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8, 9). Peace with God has already been established (Romans 5:1) and the promise is eternally secure.

Paul’s Conclusion

18 For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.

If the inheritance was somehow switched over to being accessible through the Law (instead of promise) then the promise would have to be set aside…and it was not. The Law and the Promise are not working at cross-purposes. They are working together.

Paul first points out what is common knowledge—that the Promise was given apart from Law. He pointed out that Abraham had the promise nearly half a century before Law was introduced. Then he concludes that inheriting the promise is also not connected to Law, but to Grace and Faith, just as it was in Abraham’s case.

If you want the promise of God to be applied to your life, look to the one who inherited them all…Jesus! If you have received Him as your savior, then the Promises are already yours, because you are in Christ. But, how do we experience them?

On a day-by-day, moment-by-moment basis, we experience the full blessing of God through faith and obedience. We regain fellowship through confession (1st John 1:9), and maintain it by simply walking by faith (1st John 1:7). As the Holy Spirit points out things in our lives that He wants to change or eliminate, we can say, “Amen, Lord”, and give those things to Him as an act of Worship, or we can scream, “NO! That’s my favorite!” and cling to our own way. As we give our lives over to Him, bit by bit, we grow closer to Him; we understand more of His perspective, and we learn to walk more consistently.

A baby learning to walk is very unstable. But eventually he or she learns to walk reliably, and seldom stumbles. This happens through practice, as the child grows stronger and gains a better sense of balance. We can do this, too! We can:

  • Practice confession and obedience—that is how we regain fellowship and walk with God. And it takes perseverance and practice.
  • Feed on the Word of God to grow stronger and healthier.
  • Pray for God’s leading, so that we will be sensitive to His Word.
  • Fellowship with other believers. This is how we learn the joy of walking with God.

Press on, my friends! It is worth it, every step of the way!

Lord Jesus, we ask that we may partake in the Divine Nature through the Promises available to us in You, as we fellowship with You and with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Make us the Men and Women of God you have chosen us to be. We pray these things so that we might be to your honor and glory.


Christmas Carol

The Christmas Carol

(Hark, the Herald Angels Sing!)

© C. O. Bishop 12/17/14

Introduction:

275 years ago, this month (in 1739), a new Hymn appeared in English publishing houses: Charles Wesley, by that time 32 years of age, had produced yet another hymn honoring the God of the Bible, and carefully teaching the doctrines of Christ. During his 81 years he wrote and published in excess of 6,000 hymns…some sources say 7,000.

In nearly the middle of his life, at 31 years of age, on May 21st, 1738, he experienced what evangelical Christians call “conversion”. His elder brother, John Wesley, had the same experience a few days later.  It is also interesting to note that Charles was the one who originally began a methodical Bible study at the college they both attended, and John joined it (and ultimately took it over) about two years later. They went on to minister together, though they did not agree on all things…for example, John left the Anglican Church; Charles stayed with it all his life. But when John preached, Charles wrote Hymns to teach the same doctrines. I have no idea what John Wesley’s Christmas sermon was, a year and a half after his conversion, but I do have the following hymn, written by Charles Wesley, 18 months after his conversion: The Hymn we call “Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Except for the fact that there is no Biblical record of the angels “singing” at the birth of Christ, this hymn is one of the most doctrinally pure songs in existence, and is rich with meaning. Ironically, though the title and first line as we know it are now permanently a part of that song, those are not the words that Charles Wesley wrote—he had written, “Hark how all the Welkins Ring!” (“welkin” being an old English word for heaven) So even that line could originally have been called more or less accurate, as at least the angelic host said from the sky “Glory to God in the Highest!” And: who knows? Maybe they sang, too. We know they sang at the creation. God says so in the book of Job.

At any rate: if I may be so bold as to try some “reverse engineering,” let me attempt to reconstruct what John Wesley may have taught, which prompted such a Hymn from brother Charles.

He began with the Christmas story itself, and worked outward from there, demonstrating how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies and promises of God throughout History.  Though the song is written in such an order as to rhyme and be memorable, I would think that John may have begun at the beginning…so that is where I will begin.

In the Beginning:

Christ, by highest heaven adored, Christ, the everlasting lord

Psalm 90:2 states “From Everlasting to Everlasting, thou art God.”  Psalm 41:13 agrees, saying “Blessed is the LORD God of Israel, from everlasting (eternity past) and to everlasting.“ Micah 5:2 gives us a hint as to whom it might refer: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephrata, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from old, from everlasting.” Isaiah 9:6 says, “Unto us a Son is given…and His name shall be called (among other precious names) The Everlasting Father!” And in Hebrews 1:6, God the Father, referring to God the Son, commanded his angelic hosts, saying, “Let all the angels of God worship Him!” and again, in Hebrews 1:10, Still referring to the Son,  “…Thou Lord, in the beginning, hast laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of thine hands!”

He is the Creator, the eternal God, and the Judge of all the earth. Yes! He is the everlasting Lord…in fact, the Jehovah of the Old Testament, who appeared to Israel and to the world, is the Jesus of the New Testament. I do not pretend to understand this truth, but the scripture is absolutely clear about it, and all I can do is preach it faithfully. He was (and is) worshipped by the angels in heaven…and there will come a day when every knee shall bow—even of those who are his enemies.

Rise, the Woman’s conquering Seed, Bruise in us the Serpent’s head.

You remember how, in the Garden of Eden, when Adam sinned, God’s curse fell on the serpent, the woman, and all the earth for the Man’s sake. We fell with Adam—all of us were born in his image. But the promise of God (Jesus, as we now know; Genesis 3:15) was that the “Seed of the Woman” would eventually “bruise” (or, in our language, “crush”) the Serpent’s head—He was to undo the fatal work that Satan had accomplished in causing the spiritual death of the entire human race. This was the only promise of hope in the judgment that came because of sin. Adam believed that promise, and God clothed him in the skin of a slain animal—the first blood sacrifice—a substitute for the sinner, looking forward to the Cross. The promise was made then and there. The promise was believed then and there. Atonement was made—the sins of Adam and Eve were covered by the blood of God’s chosen sacrifice. Jesus is the only person in History who can be accurately called the “Seed of Woman”…everyone else has a human father. Jesus did not. He alone has the capacity to undo the evil work of Satan in each of us. Incidentally, as we have stressed before, the old sacrifices could only cover sin. The blood of Jesus removes it—takes it away.

Looking Forward, in Faith

Come, Desire of nations come,

Not all people have looked forward in faith to the coming of Christ. Job knew what was coming, though he had no Bible to read: he said “I know that my Redeemer lives!” He understood that he had been bought out of the marketplace of Sin, and had been set free. Among the people of Israel, not everyone was looking for the Savior, either, but some were: Simeon recognized the baby Jesus as soon as he saw him: he took Jesus in his arms and blessed God, saying that this child was to be a Light to the Gentiles and the Glory of Israel. The Roman Centurion, Cornelius, was living in Caesarea and was a believing Gentile; he was longing for the God of Israel. The Apostle Peter was sent to Him with the Gospel of Christ. Cornelius eagerly received the Promise of God, and was gloriously born again. Jesus has been the hope of those few that believe, in every nation throughout all ages.

The believers who were in Israel (and any believer who joined himself or herself to Israel) placed their hope in the Passover Lamb. And that Lamb was a pre-figuring of Jesus. Boaz blessed Ruth, saying “A full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.” Boaz knew what it took to be saved.

The Fulfillment of Promise

Late in time behold Him come, Off-spring of the Virgin’s womb

From our perspective it was a long time coming…but God says it was “at the right time”—in due time. He says it was “in the fullness of time”—when the time was ripe. He wasn’t early—and he wasn’t late.

And, while a lot of people balk at the virgin birth, if you study your Bible you’ll find that, if He was to be the savior, the virgin birth was absolutely necessary. It was not just extra proof, or anything like that. If He had a human father, he was not the Seed of Woman. And if Joseph was his father, then he was banned from being king of the Jews, because Joseph was a distant descendant of a cursed king. Only God could bring about the virgin birth, and it had to be done.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see: Hail, the incarnate deity

Colossians 2:9 states that “in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead, bodily.”  John 1:1 says,“ in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John 1:14 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.” We are expected to see the eternal God, walking in human flesh, and recognize that seeming impossibility as the eternal Hope of the Human race. We are not expected to understand it—just to accept it by faith.

Pleased as Man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.

One of the prophecies called His name Emmanuel—“God with us” (Matthew 1:23, quoting Isaiah 7:14). And that is exactly who he was, but he came and lived as a man: not a “super-man” or a demigod; just a man. He was specifically assigned to live in humility and poverty, and to suffer all the normal vicissitudes of life at that time. How do I know he was poor? The sacrifice his parents brought—the two doves—were a substitute for the Lamb that was ordinarily brought, and was specifically called out as the correct sacrifice for a son born into a family that was “very poor”. Another interesting idea, to me, is that he did not have a Lamb that redeemed him, personally. He celebrated the Passover, but, in my mind, it is somehow fitting that since He was the Lamb of God, no four-legged lamb should be his substitute. Perhaps a minor point, and possibly even mistaken, but it caught my attention. He lived a holy life—entirely without sin, though in all other respects, completely normal to the time and place. He lived as a man.

Receiving the Promise

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace,

That line is a command, actually: We are called upon to receive this emissary of God; Hail him! Greet him as a king! Greet him as God!  Believe His Word. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But to as many as received him, to them he gave power (authority) to become (Greek, “gennesthe”—to be born) sons (children—teknon) of God.

Isaiah 9:7 states that he shall be called the “Prince of Peace”. He is the author of our Peace with God—truly the Prince of Peace. We can either receive him as he is presented by God, or we can “re-invent” him (as many do) and only serve our imagination. The Biblical Jesus is the God of the Universe—not just an exalted man or a powerful spirit being. If he is not God, he is not the Savior, because Isaiah 43:11 states that apart from the LORD (Jehovah) there is no Savior! Jesus stated the other half of that equation: John 14:6 “I am the Way, the truth and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father but by Me!”

Hail, the Sun of Righteousness, Risen with healing in His Wings!

Malachi 4:2  says, “…but unto you who fear my name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with Healing in His wings!” Light and life to all He brings, John 1:4 says “In Him was life, and the Life was the Light of Men.” These are direct quotes from the Word of God! This is not someone’s imagination running wild.

Mild, He lays His Glory by,

Philippians 2:5-8 says that He laid aside his position as deity, his prerogatives as God, and lived life as a man; even as a poor man, and a servant—not a royal hero, or a shining warrior-priest, or any of the things we might find attractive. And, in that same passage we are told to lay aside privilege and position, and emulate His humility, offering ourselves as servants.

Born that man no more may die. Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.

Jesus said that he had come to give his life a ransom for many. He told Pilate, “…for this cause am I come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.” He bore final witness to the truth of Man’s sin and God’s Judgment and Grace at the Cross, just hours later, dying to pay the price of the sins of the lost Human Race. He told Nicodemus “ye must be born again”, and that whoever believed in him would not perish. He told the Jews to whom he gave the bread and fish, “He that heareth my Word, and believeth on Him who sent me, has everlasting Life, and shall not come into condemnation, but has crossed over from death into life.” In Ephesians 2:6 we find that those believers have already been “raised up”, and seated in Heaven with Christ.

Come, Desire of nations come, Fix in us Thy humble home;

Those who believe in the Jesus Christ of the Biblical record receive him as their savior…and He, in the person of the Holy Spirit, comes and takes up residence in the body of each believer. We invite him to do so, by faith. We affirm our trust in Him, taking him at his Word…and He takes us at our Word and claims us as his own.

Adam’s likeness now efface: Stamp Thine image in its place;

Each of us has been born in the likeness of Adam; rebellious, doubting, self-centered…and lost. Each of us who has believed the good news of Jesus has been born again. Our old sin nature—the Adamic nature—has been defeated, dethroned, and deposed…and will eventually be deceased …and gone.

Second Adam, from above, Reinstate us in thy love.

Jesus is called the “second man”, “the last Adam”, in 1st Corinthians 15:45, 47.  Adam was the head of the natural race, and, as the head, when he fell into sin, he took the entire race with him. In the sense that he was the head of the race, he was a prefiguring of Christ: Jesus is the head of the new man, the Body of Christ… and as its head, when he walked in righteousness, died in obedience, and was bodily resurrected; he took with him all those whose faith is placed in Him. We have been redeemed by His blood, accepted in Him as the beloved of God, and completely enveloped in the Love of Christ.

So…What Now?

Joyful, all ye nations, rise. Join the triumph of the skies.

Now we are free to serve Him. How? A host of opportunities present themselves but the one task we are all assigned is representing Him and His love to the World around us. We are called to be his ambassadors. All the nations in history who rejoiced in the savior also rejoiced in missions, at least for a time. And that is how we join in the triumph of the skies—we proclaim his birth, and, more specifically, His death, burial, and resurrection to the dying world. We offer the hope and Joy of Christmas every day of the year.

With th’ Angelic Hosts proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

That is our job, friends; and it is intended to be our passion and our Joy! Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him that sent me and to finish His work.” Do you remember that context?

John 4:34 Jesus was waiting outside Sychar, a city of Samaria, and could see the people flocking to see him, on the testimony of the woman at the well. The disciples knew he had not eaten for a long time, and were trying to persuade him to stop working and eat. He said, “This is my food!” In the context, he was talking about evangelism: the joy of bringing other people to saving faith.

Peace on earth, and mercy mild: God and sinners reconciled!”

Heavenly peace and the reconciliation of God and Man were promised by angelic messengers, speaking from the sky on that night in Bethlehem. We know from our Bibles that the full promised peace will only come when Sin is finally gone. There will be great peace during the Millennial kingdom, but it will not be permanent. After the New Heaven and New Earth are introduced, there will be eternal peace and harmony between God and Man.

As I mentioned earlier, I can’t say for sure whether the angelic host actually sang that night. But I know that they sang at the creation, and this event, the birth of the Savior, was greater than the creation. So perhaps they did sing. Either way, we are called to respond to the message:

Hark! (Listen!) The Herald Angels Sing: Glory to the Newborn King.

Glorify him in your life, by word and deed; by thought and attitude. Serve with Joy, not grudgingly, as if it were a chore. We have the very temporary privilege of serving with him, to spread the joy of Christ in the World in which we live.

This is our one opportunity to serve: Let’s do it!


Comfort through Christmas–all Year

Finding Comfort in Christmas Throughout the Year

© C. O. Bishop


To those of us who have lost loved ones, as well as those who suffer from depression, or the loss of a job, etc., Christmas is not the most wonderful time of the year. It’s the worst. Our society has taught us to expect sunny feelings of joy and happiness, and to expect to give and receive wonderful gifts, and that everyone will love one another, and politicians will all tell the truth… and that Santa Claus is coming

To those of us who hurt, or who have suffered loss, all of the above seems a cruel hoax. And in some ways it is, even if those responsible meant no harm. We have been given false expectations, and have been taught to turn our eyes away from the real truth. Let’s see if we can turn that around, just for a moment, today…

The First Christmas

Consider the first Christmas…the real one…the one no one really noticed except some farmer types…shepherds, actually. It happened in a barn; a stable, if you want to be specific. No tree, no tinsel, no eggnog. “No crib, for a bed”…the only “gift” in sight was a baby. “For God so loved the World, that He gave his only begotten son…” (We don’t think of it often, but the wise men showed up quite some time later—not that day…probably not that year. But when they did, they brought gifts to HIM, and not to one another.) But those who were there—those shepherds— were overwhelmed with joy. Why?

Why The Joy?

How is it that without any of the things we think ought to be there, the partakers of the first Christmas were filled with joy? Mary was having her first baby…do you think maybe she would have liked her Mom, or an Aunt, or someone to help her? How do you suppose Joseph felt about the accommodations? And the shepherds still had to go back to those sheep, and the smelly, hard job that was their whole life. No day off for Christmas…no bonus; no free turkey, or ham, or whatever. Just… great joy.

Do you suppose they understood a little about what had happened? They were all orthodox Jews, and they, with their forefathers, had been waiting for the Messiah for thousands of years. The promises were there, for anyone to read. And the angels that showed up clearly told them that this was it: The real fulfillment of God’s real promise. Did they understand it all? Nope. They almost certainly did not. In fact, they may have had some real disappointments a few years down the road. They thought he was come to be a king (He was!), and a deliverer (he was!). But they thought he would throw the Romans out of Israel, and reign there in Jerusalem in their lifetimes. (He did not, and He never said he would.)

Their disappointments were based on false expectations, just like ours. But those who remembered could look back with wonder and recall the voices of the angels, praising God, and announcing the Holy birth. They did not cease to believe in the goodness of God, and his faithfulness.

Remember the Promise

We have forgotten what was really promised, and more specifically, how we are to take part in it. There is no promise that we will live lives free of pain. Quite the opposite…we are told that it is given unto us “…on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on His name but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29) That’s not what we really wanted to hear, huh?

So what really was promised, and how do we take part in God’s real Christmas? How can we find Comfort in Christmas?

To begin with, immediately after Adam and Eve fell into sin, as recorded in Genesis, God provided a plan of redemption. He said that a person would come, called the “Seed of Woman”, and this person would undo Satan’s work, done through the serpent.

The promise was repeated, with more and more details, until just before the time of Christ (actually, the last detail was given 400 years before his birth), when they pretty much knew all that was to happen regarding the Messiah. They did not understand it all, any more than we can claim to understand it all today.

But the believers, mostly Jews, had come to believe in the character of God, and they believed His Word was true. They believed his promises. When he told them to place their trust in His redemptive plan, and it involved a blood sacrifice, they brought that blood sacrifice, as directed. Did they understand it? Did they really know that all those little Lambs were pointing forward to the True Lamb of God? Somehow I doubt it.

The Promises Were Fulfilled

When Jesus was introduced by John the Baptist, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” some people may have understood the intent; most folks probably did not. But many believed that He was the fulfillment of God’s Promise. We can look back and see that they were right. He fulfilled God’s Word to the letter…even that thing about the “Seed of Woman”. (Who else in history has only one human parent?)

Jesus was born in obscurity, with shepherds rejoicing, and precious few others even taking notice. He preached in a tiny nation for three years or a bit more. He had twelve devoted followers, about ten times that who were part-timers, and thousands who claimed allegiance to him. But he was betrayed by one of those “inner-circle twelve”, Judas Iscariot, and he died a criminal’s death, condemned by Jew and Gentile alike. He was attended at His death by only one of his twelve disciples, and a few women, including his mother.

He was lent a tomb by a rich man who secretly believed. It turned out Jesus only needed it for three days and three nights, just as predicted. He was physically resurrected that third day, in spite of efforts aimed at preventing such an occurrence, and he showed himself to all his disciples, on one occasion to 500 people at once. He ascended back to God, physically; bodily, and promised to return in the same manner: Physically…Bodily.

Believing the Promise

We, who do find comfort in Christmas, whether Jew or Gentile, do so because that day was the beginning of all that was to follow. We find hope in the Christ, in the Cross, and in the empty tomb. We find hope in his resurrection, and in his promised coming again.

We find hope in His written Word, where He promised personally, that “Whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16)

We look back to that first Christmas and the unspeakable gift of God’s Son, and we find comfort in the Goodness of the God who gave the Gift. When we suffer losses, we look back to what our redemption really cost our Lord, and our Heavenly Father.

How can one take part in God’s real Christmas? Jesus said “He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed over from death into life.” (John 5:24)

Notice the tenses there—he covers my present, saying that because I have heard his word, and believed the promise of God, I have eternal life now…I don’t have to wait ‘til I die to see if I got “good enough grades”. He covers my future, promising that I will never be condemned by God. He covers my past (perfect tense), saying that I have permanently crossed over from being spiritually dead, to being spiritually alive.

Finding Comfort in Christmas

This is the hope of all believers. And those of us who believe, and who have lost one or more believing loved ones, have the sure hope of seeing them again. Some we are not sure of, because we can’t see their hearts, but God knows, and His justice is perfect. He loves them more than we ever could; and we rest assured that he has done right by them.

Christmas, the way the World presents it, can be very depressing, quite honestly. But the way God presents His gift it is a never-ending source of joy—not seasonal at all.

If you would like to know more about how to experience God’s joy, I’d be happy to chat with you.

To each of you, in the name of the Christ of Christmas, I wish a truly joyous Christmas season that will last throughout the year.

Blessings upon you all.