Posts Tagged ‘Creator’

Why We Celebrate Christmas

Why We Celebrate Christmas

© C. O. Bishop

(Explication of a Hymn) Luke 1, 2; Matthew 1, 2

 

The Christmas Song

by Don Francisco

The center of the ages, and the Lord talks with a girl
And by the words He speaks He gives a Savior to the world
The fullness of the time has come, and Mary’s Son is born;
The promise’s fulfillment lies asleep now in her arms.

He didn’t come to terrify, to judge or condescend–
To call us all His servants, but to lift us as His friends
To save us all from Satan’s power, to reign at His right hand
In the little town of Bethlehem, when God became a man.

Today the God of Majesty has given to the Earth
A gift of such magnificence we could never plumb its worth
And the rudeness of the setting just ignites the jewel’s fire
A pearl beyond the greatest price, the joy of man’s desire.

He didn’t come to terrify, to judge or condescend
To call us all His servants but to lift us as His friends
To save us all from certain death, to reign at His right hand
When, once for all eternity, God became a man.

Introduction:

 In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke we read the account of the birth of our Savior, and there is little question why we celebrate that birth, as it was the fulfillment of promises dating back thousands of years, all the way to the Fall of Man…and a plan from before the Creation.

We have all watched Christmas pageants, heard sermons, sung songs, and have read the scriptures, until we may become complacent about the facts of the Gospel. So, let’s review:

The Center of the Ages, and the Lord Talked with a Girl;

God actually could have chosen to carry out the crucifixion prior to the Creation, but it would have made no sense from our perspective, as we are locked in the sequence of time, though He himself is not. In fact, one of the pedigrees of the Gospel, in the Old Testament, is that God tells us the end from the beginning. No one else can do this. He let us know where, when and how, and by whom, the Savior was to be born, as well as what would characterize His life. The determination was made before the Creation, but the fulfillment had to wait.

So the first promise of the Savior was actually made the day the Human race fell into sin, in Genesis 3:15. And the fulfillment of that promise, along with hundreds of other, later promises regarding the Messiah, came about in the “Center of the Ages”, as the song says.

But the fulfillment began with a conversation between God (via the angel Gabriel) and Mary, a young girl in Nazareth; a small town in Galilee. It is interesting to read through the scriptures, looking to see how the spoken Word of God has affected our lives and our History. As it turns out, the creation itself was by the Word…the world was spoken into existence. All that we see around us was initially the creative act of the Word of God. So, it seems fitting that the spoken promise should give way to the Person called the Word of God, who would later assure His disciples that they were already cleansed through the Word He had spoken to them. By the Word of God, the Savior was given.

Mary was betrothed to a man (apparently much older, as was common) named Joseph. But when Gabriel appeared to Mary, announcing that she had been chosen by God to bear the Savior, she was initially shocked and probably a little dismayed, as to how it was going to affect her betrothal. As it turned out, she would have been right to be worried, but she had quickly recovered, and blessed God for the privilege. She accepted the assignment with joy, looking forward by faith to the fulfillment of the Promise.

Mary went to stay with her cousin Elizabeth for a while, as she, too, was bearing her firstborn, but in her old age (another miracle-child: John the Baptist), and the angel Gabriel had told Mary about it. Elizabeth was already six months into her pregnancy. When Mary arrived at the home of Elizabeth, she herself was evidently only a few weeks pregnant by the Holy Spirit, but Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, blessed her, and recognized that she was the mother of her Lord, and revealed that as soon as she had heard Mary’s voice, the baby in her own womb had leaped for joy.

When Joseph discovered that his fiancée was pregnant, he had sadly determined to quietly divorce her, not wanting any public disgrace to come on her. It did require a divorce to break a betrothal, in that culture and time, and he thought she had been unfaithful, so he was planning to break the betrothal. But the angel Gabriel appeared to him, as well, in a dream, and assured him that Mary had been completely chaste, and faithful, and that the child she bore was literally the Son of God. Joseph was instructed to carry on with the marriage. He arose in the morning, and did as he was told, but did not consummate the marriage until after her firstborn son was born.

In the Little Town of Bethlehem

Joseph was required by Caesar Augustus to register for a census, along with all the other inhabitants of the Roman world. Bethlehem was his ancestral home, so he had to return there for the census. He took Mary with him to Bethlehem. Remember that Nazareth was home to both Joseph and Mary. That is where they would have expected their child to be born. But the prophecy of Micah 5:2 said that the Savior was to be born in Bethlehem. Caesar “just happened” to make a decision that would force them to temporarily relocate to Bethlehem, about 80 miles away. (Now, that was a strange “coincidence,” wasn’t it?)

The Fullness of Time

But, Mary was far along in her pregnancy by that time, so when they arrived in Bethlehem, along with the crowds of other people in the same circumstances, she was in critical need of a place to lie down and give birth. The only inn was full, and so they found shelter in a stable where animals were fed. The fullness of Mary’s time had come, as well as the fullness of God’s timing. Daniel’s prophecies had spelled out when the Messiah would come. (And here he was!) She gave birth there, in the humblest of circumstances, without a midwife, without her mother or aunts or older sisters to help her. So far as we know, only Joseph and she were there. God was in control. There was no need for other help. The baby was soon safe in her arms, and was subsequently wrapped in cloths, called “swaddling clothes.”

We always make nativity scenes with a variety of animals and the shepherds, and angels, and wise men. But at that moment, it was just Mary, Joseph, and the infant they would call Jesus, in obedience to the angelic messenger who had spoken to each of them separately. Animals very well could have been there, as the manger would indicate that animals were fed there; but the rest is all speculation on our part. Tradition has it that she rode there on a donkey, too, but we don’t even know that, for sure. It would make sense, but it is still just supposition and speculation. The wise men showed up perhaps a year or two later…not that night, for sure.

However, there were shepherds, in the surrounding fields, guarding their flocks by night. They got an astonishing announcement from God, via one angel, initially, soon joined by a multitude of angels, who appeared, telling them about the Savior’s birth, and praising and glorifying God. The shepherds were told to go and see the baby, and that they would find him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Then the angels disappeared into the sky. (By the way; every single time angels appear in scripture, they appear as men… fearsome men at times: not dainty little lady-angels…sorry.)

But why these particular signs? Swaddling clothes were a rather archaic way of clothing an infant, in which the baby was simply wrapped in strips of cloth. It was similar to the way they prepared a body for burial, and it was not terribly common, even in that time, so that was part of the sign, along with the fact that they would find Him lying in a manger—an animal food trough—not a common bed for a child, at any time in history. It was just a plain, elevated food trough, made so that the animals would not step in their food. But it served well as a baby crib, in this case. So, when the shepherds came to look, they found him there, exactly as promised. They told everyone who would listen, and went back to their flocks excited, and praising God for the fulfillment of His promise. In Luke 2:10, it says that the “good tidings” (also called the gospel– that’s what “gospel” means: good tidings–good news) would bring great joy. That was the immediate response of the Shepherds. They didn’t have the day off because it was Christmas; no turkey, no tree, no “stockings, hung by the chimney with care:” just…great joy, because the Lord, the God of Israel, was finally fulfilling the Promise of the Ages. It seems to me that we all could use a dose of that kind of faith and the resulting joy. Remember, these were not parishoners, pumped up by a good sermon. They were common, lowly shepherds, who had just experienced God’s Grace.

But, why did He Come?

Skip forward thirty years in time: Joseph, Mary’s husband, has evidently already passed away, so that the rest of the family (Mary, four half-brothers and at least two half-sisters) now look to Jesus as the head of the household. Jesus begins his earthly ministry, and it is not at all what the Jews were hoping for. They wanted a King, who would destroy the Romans, and elevate Israel to supremacy, as the prophecies in Isaiah seemed to indicate would happen.

They were not at all impressed with a poor, itinerant preacher who persisted in preaching Grace, and Righteousness, and Peace. He healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead, and, in general, proved that he was, in fact, the Son of God. But they rejected Him…He wasn’t what they wanted!

“He didn’t come to terrify,” as the song says: He didn’t come as a conquering emperor: He came “not to condemn the World, but that the World through Him might be saved.” He did not come to judge, but to offer salvation. He did not call us to be his slaves, but to free us from our slavery to sin, and to elevate us to be on friendly speaking terms with God: He even said “I do not call you my servants, but my friends.” He said of Himself, in Matthew 20:28, “…the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” He has already done what He came to do. He died in our place. And we who believe have already received the gift of eternal life. We have already been raised by Him, to sit with Him in the heavenlies. God says that we believers are already there, even while we are still in our lives here on earth. We have already been resurrected and ascended with Him to sit with him at the right hand of the Father.

The Rudeness of the Setting

Why do we find the story so compelling? Precisely because the setting was so completely plain. Jesus could have been born a royal heir, and lived in luxury, as do the heads of most of the world’s religions, but he chose to come as the son of a very poor girl, with a poor man for his adopted father. He emptied himself of all the trappings of deity and royalty, to become a man, living as a servant, not a king, owning nothing but the clothes he wore, and walking the roads of the tiny nation of Israel, reaching out one last time to a people who had mostly rejected his advances for almost 2,000 years.

His name was “Jesus”, meaning “Jehovah is Savior.” The angel Gabriel told Joseph that they would name the child “Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” His name is “Jehovah is Savior” because He shall save us from our sins! The deity of Christ is made clear, in the scriptures. John 1:1-14 says he is The Word, and that he is the Creator, as well as being God the Son. We can’t hope to understand such things. But all of them are facts!

And the gift God gave to us truly was magnificent beyond our comprehension. The cost was beyond our understanding, too, as we cannot even begin to imagine what it cost the God of Eternity to bind himself in time and space, specifically so that He could be tortured to death by his own creation, and to become sin for them, so as to endure for them the curse of His own wrath toward sin, and save them from certain destruction. 2nd Corinthians 5:21 says that “he who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” It boggles my mind to consider such a thing. We have been saved from our sins, saved from wrath, and delivered from Satan’s dominion over us. We could ask for no greater gift. We are now sons of God, and joint-heirs with Christ, for eternity.

God became a Man

 Philippians 2:5-8 tells us of the “kenosis”—the self-emptying of Christ. He set aside all his prerogatives as God, and chose to be born a human child, in harsh circumstances. He came for a single purpose: to die for our sins. He taught and demonstrated His Grace and Wisdom on the way to the Cross, but he was headed for the Cross from before the World began. Revelation 13:8 says that He was “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the Earth.”

And it could only happen when and if…once, for all eternity, God became a Man. And that is the heart of the Christmas story!

Lord Jesus, help us to grasp and value the gift you have given, and to share that gift with those around us. Awaken our hearts to the need, and allow us to be your hands and feet and mouth, so that you will be free to love the World through us.


Hebrews: Jesus is Better!

Jesus Is Better

© 12/6/2016 C. O. Bishop THCF 12/18/2016

Hebrews 1: 1-3

Introduction:

Today we will begin a study through the book of Hebrews. This epistle has endured controversy over the years regarding the identity of the writer. The consensus over the centuries has mostly been that the writer was the Apostle Paul, and most Bibles have that printed as part of the title.

However, unlike every other Pauline Epistle, there is no introductory line stating that Paul is the writer, and greeting the recipients with “Grace be unto you, and Peace…” etc. Some have therefore attributed this epistle to Apollos, or some other writer. I tend to think it is Paul, anyway, because of some internal evidence: comments that seem to uniquely fit Paul’s life. There is no clear proof either way, so I will drop that issue, and leave it for others to haggle over. The book was clearly written before AD 70, as a good deal of it regards the temple in Jerusalem, and its service, and there is no mention made of the temple’s destruction (which happened in AD 70). So, most historians tentatively place it at about AD 64, but we can’t be certain.

The general theme is the idea that “Jesus is Better”. The writer shows the infinite superiority of Christ, over seven key aspects of Judaism. He also issues seven warnings to “dabblers” who seem to be believers, but who evidently are just “along for the ride”, and not actually “entering in” by faith. The warnings grow more and more serious, throughout the book. There are forty exhortations of one sort or another, and a great deal of teaching. It is not an easy book to study because there are passages that can be easily misunderstood, if not carefully compared with the rest of the Bible. We will try to address those problematic passages as they arise.

It is interesting, to me, however, that there is almost no teaching in the book of Hebrews on how to be saved, only multiple warnings and exhortations to not miss out on it. Evidently the writer knew his audience, and knew they were aware that salvation was offered as a gift, and of how it must be received. There is also very little teaching on “what the Church is”, or “how it is to function;” only on who Christ is, compared to the Earthly or Heavenly “star-players” of the Old Testament. So, Jesus is better than:

  1. The Prophets (Hebrews 1:1-3)
  2. The Angels (1:4-14; 2:5-18)
  3. The Prophet and Lawgiver, Moses (3:2-6)
  4. The Sabbath (4:1-16; 5:1-10)
  5. The Priesthood (7:4-28; 8:1-6; 9:11)
  6. The Old Covenant (“He is the mediator of a better covenant.”) (8:6-13; 9:1-28)
  7. The Old Testament Sacrifices (He is a better sacrifice) (9:11-14, 23, 28; 10:1-12)

In every case, Jesus was demonstrated to be far superior to whomever or whatever he was to be compared…hence, the thematic choice, “Jesus is better.

An Abrupt Beginning

The opening lines of the Epistle to the Hebrews actually form one of the problems that make people wonder who the author is: All of Paul’s other epistles begin with a fairly consistent greeting; blessing the recipients and identifying the writer.

The Epistle to the Hebrews dispenses with formalities, so to speak; it makes no “introduction” as to the writer or the recipients, nor even to the theme, but simply slams right into the theme itself. It is interesting to me that the Old Testament Hebrew writings sometimes do the same thing. (Genesis 1:1, for example.) Possibly the reason this book is so different in style is specifically because it is the only epistle Paul wrote for a non-Gentile audience. In Romans 11:13 Paul cheerfully identifies himself as “the apostle to the Gentiles”. So, all of his writings to the Gentiles followed Gentile formats. We have another example by an unbelieving Roman centurion, (Acts 23:35, ff,) and it follows a similar form. So, I am comfortable with the differences between this epistle and the others written by Paul. Most, if not all, of the differences can be attributed to the difference in the intended recipients.

By verse two we can see that a comparison is being made between the Old Testament Prophets and Jesus, with Jesus being shown to be so far superior that no further comment is made. No argument is offered: He is simply shown to be God, while the prophets were simply the mouthpieces or spokesmen for God. In the same short chapter, the angelic hosts are shown to be a servant-class creation, while Jesus is shown to be their Creator and Master; but we will pursue that subject at a later date.

Though the majority of the epistle is written to genuine believers, there are seven warnings to professing believers (sometimes intermingled with exhortations to believers), scattered throughout the whole book:

  1. Don’t neglect the salvation that is being offered. (2:1-4)
  2. Don’t harden your heart. (3:7-4:1)
  3. Don’t fail, through unbelief, to enter in. (4:1)
  4. Don’t fall away, despising the sacrifice of Christ (6:1-9)
  5. Don’t attempt to fall back on the sacrifices…they no longer work. (10:26-31; 35-39)
  6. Don’t opt out for temporal gain. (12:16)
  7. Don’t refuse to hear (respond to) Him. (12:25-29)

There are also about 40 exhortations to believers, which we will address as they arise.

I will be quoting from the KJV. You are welcome to read along in any translation you like.

Hebrews Chapter One: God Speaks to Man

The writer begins with the “Author of all things”—God. Both Genesis and John begin with the same individual. I think it is an effective approach, especially in dealing with an audience of professing Hebrew believers, to begin with the central person of all Eternity: God.

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,

Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
In various ways and at various times, God has approached Man. We cannot approach Him unless He first reaches out to us. Think about it: He is invisible, so that we don’t know where to look; and He’s absolutely Holy, so as to be completely separate from the fallen race of Man. We can only see the effects of His power, and marvel from a distance at His obvious wisdom and splendor. We have no real way to approach God: God had to approach Man.

Even in the Garden of Eden, God called to Adam, “Where art thou?not the other way around. All through the Old Testament, God reached out to Mankind, meeting us where we lived. And it has continued so today. God says in Psalm 14, and reiterates in Romans 3, that “…there is no one who seeks after God.” We have a hard time with that idea: we insist, “Oh, yes we do!” But the fact is that we only seek after that “missing something”, in each of our lives; perhaps motivated by a longing for meaning and direction and Peace; but, most certainly not seeking the Creator and Judge of all the Universe. We fear Him; we flee from Him, and we reject him at every turn, until He comes and confronts us. (E.g. John 1:11, 12; Acts 9:1-6)

God had sent prophets, many times, throughout the centuries, but they were usually rejected, and were frequently murdered. So, God himself changed the game. After thousands of years of sending prophets, judges, and deliverers at various levels; speaking unto the Fathers (the patriarchs) by the prophets, He finally sent “God in the Flesh:” God the Son. He spoke to the prophets in a variety of ways: out of the air, from a burning bush, from the glory in the tabernacle, and from a towering column of thundering smoke at Mount Sinai… but the prophets were sent to speak to the patriarchs. Who did He send to us? Jesus!

Jesus is Better Than the Prophets

He says that, “in these last days”, he has spoken to us by His Son. But not just any son… the only begotten Son—the heir, “whom He hath appointed heir of all things”. And, lest we forget just who that Son really is (not just a Jewish Carpenter), he reminds us that it is Jesus who carried out the creation of the universe. (Greek “aeonas”—the ages…this is not the Greek word “kosmos”, which can mean a world or a world system. But we see in Genesis that the “time-pieces” (Sun, moon, and stars) were created after the creation of the earth that we inhabit. So, if Jesus is the creator of the ages…all time as well as the whole earth, as we will see, then he is truly the Creator of the universe.) Also; though we see things from the perspective of those locked in time and space, God sees from Eternity, the eternal “Now,” and He decreed before the foundation of the Earth that the Only Begotten Son was to be the means of our salvation. Jesus is “Plan A”—and there is no “Plan B.” (Ephesians 1:4; 3:8-11; 1st Peter 1:20)

He goes on to describe the person and work of Jesus Christ in astonishing ways, so that any reader can see the unquestionable superiority of the Son, but in ways that are especially tailored for Jewish readers:

Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high:

What Does He Say?

  • He says that Jesus is the brightness of the Glory of God. (Think about the tabernacle! Remember how the Glory of God shone out from the Tabernacle so brightly that no one could go in? That was Jesus, personally showing up to bless the new structure, though it was just a tent at that point! Later, in the great Temple of Solomon, the same thing happened: The “Shekinah” Glory shone out. Jesus is the Brightness of God’s Glory!)
  • He says that Jesus is the exact manifestation of the Father. (Compare John 14:8-11) We have a hard time with this, because it exceeds our imagination, but the Jews had an even harder time, as they denied that it was possible for a man to be God, or for God to become a man. And yet, had they thought it over, they would have realized that God had many times appeared in the form of a man in their history. He had eaten with them, fought for them, and wrestled with one of the patriarchs! If they read Zechariah 12:1-10, they should have even seen that the one that was pierced was Jesus…and Jehovah!
  • He says that the Word of Jesus is what is “upholding all things”…maintaining the Universe… (Compare Colossians 1:15-17: “holding everything together”.)
  • The Greek word for “Power”, here, is “dunamis”, not the word for authority—“exousia”. This refers to the sheer magnitude of His ability. And yet, he does it by His Word.
  • He says that Jesus himself purged the sins of the human race…he alone did it. There is no other work to be done. The sinner can add nothing to the completed work of Jesus at the Cross. His blood stands for eternity as the full payment for the sins of the Human race. His work is finished!
  • He further says that when Jesus had accomplished that task, he sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high. (Note—in the tabernacle, or the temple (our only glimpses into the “arrangement” of the throne room of God) the Ark of the Covenant was the only piece of furniture in the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies. If Jesus completed his High-priestly duties, where could he sit? Especially, how could he sit down “at the right hand of God?” The answer is that he is God, and has the right to sit between the cherubim, on the Mercy Seat, in the place of God. Consider John 5:22) Further, the Old Testament high priests could never sit down. Their work could never be completed, even had there been a place to sit.

To me, these are mind-boggling premises. And the writer did not ease up on the ideas, or even try to “build a case,” culminating in the explanation of these facts. He simply, bluntly stated them, and allowed the Jewish readers to draw their own conclusions. The Jewish believers, then and now, were pretty awed by the prophets…and rightfully so. But the writer of the book of Hebrews immediately points out that Jesus surpasses the Prophets in every way.

Conclusion

If we haven’t already caught on to the identity of Jesus Christ, we need to open our eyes and see it! Paul spoke to a mixed audience: not all of them really knew the enormity of who Jesus is/was. Some still had the idea that he was just the most recent in a long line of Jewish Prophets. Some may have thought that he was some sort of exalted spiritual being, along the lines of an angel. The writer gives no room for such thoughts.

Who do you say that he is? Jesus asked that question of the disciples, and Peter responded, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” That turned out to be a great answer.

But there are those who are uncomfortable with it. John 1:1-14 reveals that Jesus is God in the Flesh, and Hebrews 1:1-14 reveals the same truth in more stark terms. We cannot relegate Jesus to a lesser status than who he really is. He has to be one of the following:

  1. The Almighty God, the Creator, who became a Man, so that He could die in our place,
  2. A lesser god of some sort, or
  3. Not a god at all.

Some people diminish Jesus to the state of a demi-god…a great spiritual being of some sort. This means he was not truly Man (which would disqualify Him as Savior) nor was He truly God (which would also disqualify Him as Savior.) So the religions and philosophies that deny His deity also have to deny him as Savior. (By the way, one of these groups, which lifts its name from Isaiah 43:10, where it says “I am Jehovah and you are my witnesses” in their Bible, ignore the next few verses, which say that there has never been another God before or after Him, and that apart from Him there is no savior!

Others go further and declare him to be only a man, possibly a good man, but deluded, at best. Some even go a step further and deny that he ever existed at all, as though he were simply a creature of mythology and wishful thinking…perhaps like Santa Claus. Not only would both of these accusations completely disqualify him as savior, they fly in the face of history.

The secular historians of Jesus’ time knew who he was. They denied his deity, but they surely knew of his existence. And the many thousands who believed on him in the first century were martyred because they knew who and what Jesus was, and because they believed in Him. Theirs was not a faith built on hearsay. They had known him personally, and had personally witnessed the crucifixion and the resurrection. People don’t willingly sacrifice their lives for something they know to be a lie. They knew the truth.

The fact is, we know the truth too! So we need to live as those who know the truth, and who, by that truth, have been set free to serve the Living God. As we study through Hebrews, we can be set free by the sure knowledge of the Person of Christ. It seems especially appropriate to think on these truths, at this season of Christmas, when we commemorate His birth. The following song by Mark Lowry, addresses this question:

Mary, Did you Know?

Mary, did you know that your baby boy would some day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when your kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

Oh Mary did you know

The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak the praises of the lamb?

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great “I AM!”

Personally, I find that concept absolutely beyond comprehension! But that is the Truth! The One whom we have come to know, and trust as our Savior.

Lord Jesus, lift up our eyes to see your face. Help us to see you in your humanity, but just barely cloaking your full deity. It is hard, perhaps impossible, for us to understand your deity, Help us to accept that truth, and see your face in the Scriptures as well as in the Creation.


Dealing with Grief and Avoiding Despair

Dealing with Grief: Avoiding Despair

© C. O. Bishop 12/27/14 THCF 1/4/15

Job 1:1-23, 2:1-10, 19:25; Daniel 3; Habakkuk 1-3

Introduction:

This past week, the week of Christmas, some neighbors around me had terrible things happen. One, an elderly man, the day after Christmas, lost his workshop to a fire, including tools, a classic car, racing motorcycles, and other things that had been his joy and private hobby for many years. One may philosophize, saying, “Ah, but no lives were lost!” Yes, that is true, but we humans hope to leave some heritage to grandchildren (if we have any) and that car and the motorcycles, his skill in building a race-bike, and whatever racing trophies he might have had were part of his legacy in his eyes. His most prized memorabilia were destroyed in the fire. Those cannot be replaced.

Far worse were the circumstances of another family nearby who, two days before Christmas, received the news that their youngest son (16 years old) has inoperable cancer, and that his only hope is very aggressive chemotherapy, as the tumor is on or very near his heart. He is still alive, but only a miracle can save his life. They will remember this grief and pain every Christmas for the rest of their lives. If God miraculously heals this young man, then they will also have the joy of remembering God’s supply.

How does one deal with such things? How can one endure the loss and not collapse under the weight of the grief? How can one find comfort, and even joy, in the face of such circumstances? How did people in the Bible deal with such things?

What about Job?

Job is the first person who comes to my mind: though his “friends” goaded him into some wrong statements, it is good to note that God (prior to his testing) said that he was a righteous man, a “perfect and upright man”. So the accusations later leveled by his friends were completely false. They were wrong, pure and simple. Not only were they wrong about Job, they were wrong about God…God says so, in Chapter 42. So, then, whenever we study the book of Job, we will do well to carefully examine who is talking, to see what God says about their comments.

Since today we are only touching on Job’s initial response, we will only hear four voices—God’s, Satan’s, Job’s and that of his wife, whose name is not recorded here. God makes authoritative statements regarding Job; Satan questions Job’s motives and character, thus saying God is wrong; God allows the test, and both Job and his wife respond. She broke under the pressure: Job did not. It is important that we do not join Satan or Job’s sorry “friends”, in accusing Job. If we differ from what God says, God is not wrong; we are.

Job’s response is one of the best recorded, in terms of handling grief: Job tore his clothes and shaved his head, in the classic reactions to grief for that time; but rather than railing against God, he fell on his face and worshipped God for His unchanging goodness, and for his authority. He made the statement that we so often piously quote at funerals: “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away…”, but he continued with the part we very seldom include: “…blessed be the name of the Lord!” This was not a religious platitude; it was pure worship. He confessed that his maker had the authority to take away, as well as to give: he worshipped God, in spite of his grief. God’s comment, twice in these chapters is that “…in all this Job did not sin with his lips.”

Later, under goading from his friends who wrongly believed that “bad things only happen to bad people”, Job made another famous statement of faith: “I know that my Redeemer liveth and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth…and that… I shall see him with my eye, and not another…” Job rested his faith in the coming final justice. Eventually, it is true, the friends goaded him into self-justification, but they and not he were judged for their actions. God corrected him, but rebuked them, saying, “My wrath is kindled against thee…for you have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath.” That is a good final note on Job’s life and discourse, and a cautionary note about Bible study. It is important to check who is talking in scripture…about two thirds of the book of job is recording the words of his friends, and God says they were wrong! We need to read carefully, and not make assumptions.

What can we learn from Job? First, that he was submissive to God’s will in his life: if he could have changed the circumstances, he would have—he loved his children and prayed for them daily, and offered sacrifices on their behalf; but when they were taken, it was through what even today, many people call “an act of God” (or, as the atheistic, secular world may say, an “act of nature”.) Job knew that there was nothing he could have done to ward off such an occurrence, nor certainly anything he could do to undo the damage. He was grieved at the loss, but accepted it as being from God, and stated that God had the authority to bring calamity as well as blessing.

He also knew that calamity is not always the result of sin…which his detractors had not learned. This is a hard one for us, too, even as New Testament believers: we tend to think that bad experiences must be punishment for some sin, even though both the Old Testament and the New Testament clearly teach that this is not necessarily the case. In Job’s case he had the confidence of a steady walk with God to bolster his spirit: he knew that the calamity was not punishment. It was only the accusations of the men he thought were his friends that moved him to defend against false accusations, and eventually he was bordering on self-justification, so God stepped in and stopped the test.

I can either rest in the character of God (bless God for his goodness, as Job did) or I can tear myself apart, looking for the hidden cause, the secret sin that must be the root of the calamity. I can worship, or I can wail. In a sense, as long as I choose to worship, I can still wail…but to God, not at Him.

One more thing to point out, here: Job evidently understood positional truth and the security of the believer, because he said that he knew (not just believed) that he himself, with his physically resurrected body, and his own eyes, would see his redeemer “at the latter day” when his redeemer was to stand upon the earth. How could he make such a statement if not for knowing the security of the believer? He did not just know that Jesus would make a triumphant return to Earth as the king (he is referring to the second coming, not the first) but he also stated that he himself would be there to see it, in a physically resurrected body. That is confidence…that is faith, the assurance of things hoped for; the sure knowledge of things not seen.

What about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego?

This is may not seem exactly the same thing, as what they faced was execution for Godly behavior, under an ungodly King. But consider: any “fiery trial” we may imagine can be seen in parallel to theirs. They had no children, nor would they ever, as they had been made eunuchs by this king’s decree; they were captive servants under a terrible regime. They were in imminent danger of being burned alive for refusing to commit idolatry, but they stood fast. Remember what they said: “We know that our God is able to deliver us…but if not (in other words, if He chooses not to deliver us)…we still will not worship your idol!” They chose to stand fast whether or not God would defend them. They were willing to die before disgracing their God.

We can choose to stand fast against the temptation to abandon faith, to question God’s character, to deny Him His due in our lives. Or we can give in, hoping to gain some peace of mind, as at least we will no longer find ourselves trying to justify God in circumstances that are beyond our understanding. I have known a number of believers to fall prey to this very thing. They felt they could no longer defend God’s actions so they joined his attackers.

God doesn’t need my defense. He is perfectly capable on His own, and has proven it on countless occasions throughout history. The three Hebrew youngsters were right and they knew it, but they also knew that God had made no promise to them, personally, to deliver them from harsh circumstances. So they took their stand with God, choosing to risk being incinerated rather than deny the God of their salvation. It seems that they shared Job’s confidence in the goodness of God, regardless of circumstances, and, that, like Job, they knew that the things that God does are not always explainable in human terms. Many times they are beyond our comprehension. I can either accept that truth, or, childishly, insist on an explanation.

God is not obliged to explain his actions, any more than I am obliged to explain to a saw-blade why I am filing away a portion of each tooth, to make the remaining portion sharp and usable. God can prune his vineyard, shear his sheep, sharpen his tools, and discipline his children. Discipline, again, does not mean punishment—it means training. Even in school, we might ask what discipline a student is pursuing…it means “what specific training are they hoping to attain?” A wrestling or football coach may demand that the members of his team run laps around a practice field as part of the discipline of their sport. It is not punishment at all, though it may feel like it. It is training, and has the goal of excellence in the sport.

In the case of Job and the Hebrew teenagers, we saw that God did reward them with a defense and a response of blessing. But what if He does not? Can we find joy in the person of Christ, even when the circumstances admit no compromise, and will certainly end in ruin?

What about Habakkuk?

Habakkuk was confronted with the evil of his own nation. He cried to God for Justice, but what he got was Judgment…and it was Just. God let him know that He, God, was about to judge the nation of Judah, using the Chaldean nation as the instrument of His judgment. Habakkuk knew that this judgment would result in utter catastrophe for Judah, as the Chaldeans (also called Babylonians) were a ruthless people. He protested that the punishment was too great, and that the “cure” was worse than the “disease”. But he was wrong and God was right (no surprise there….) God corrected his thinking, and declared that the judgment was coming.

Habakkuk accepted the coming judgment and declared that, though all the circumstances in which he usually found happiness and sustenance should fail, he himself would still find joy in the LORD (Jehovah); and that he would rejoice in the God of his salvation. That may seem a “pat answer” but you want to remember that Habakkuk was going to be right there in the judgment…there was no guarantee of a free pass through the judgment for him. He was about to see his whole way of life destroyed, and a high percentage of the people he knew and cared for destroyed, and all the rest enslaved. (By the way, this is the captivity that took Daniel and his friends, resulting in their castration and enslavement…this is not a theoretical test. It was the real thing.) We never heard from Habakkuk again. We don’t know what happened to him, whether he even survived the siege or possibly died before it began. But he had taken his stand with God, and chose to find joy and comfort in the person of his Creator and Savior.

The last phrase in chapter 3 of Habakkuk states that “He maketh my feet as hind’s feet, and setteth me upon my high places.” A “hind” is a type of deer that loves to climb in mountain crags. It is extremely sure-footed, and so “stays above” all the trouble below it. We might liken it to a mountain goat, here in the Americas, or an ibex (steinbok) in the Alps. The point is that while Habakkuk set himself to find Joy in the eternal God instead of the circumstances, he also placed his trust in his savior to keep him confident in Christ, not affected by circumstance.

That is easy to say, of course, but remember that these fellows made these statements while confronted with the loss of all that was dear to them, and probably their own lives, as well. Job had already lost all his children, and all his belongings, and his wife and  friends seemed to conspire against him…she begging him to give it up and die (possibly, from her perspective, for his own good) and his friends urging him to confess nonexistent sins. The Hebrew children were facing the furnace in person. They could feel the heat, and knew that execution was imminent. Habakkuk only knew for sure that the destruction and captivity of his people was inescapable, and that everything he loved in life was about to be taken away. This was not a “maybe”—it was a definite event about to happen. Each of these believers chose to find their peace in Christ.

So…What about Us?

We, too, can choose to trust God. We can choose to find our joy in Christ. We can choose to believe that His Justice is greater than our sense of what is “fair”. We can choose to believe that His Love (demonstrated at the Cross!) is greater than our feeble affections, though we may love with all our hearts. Feelings may be strong, but actions are what get things done, and God acted! He went to the Cross in the person of Christ, and personally paid the price of our sins. Just “feeling sorry for us” would not have accomplished anything. He acted on our behalf.

I don’t know whether I would choose well under the circumstances I listed above: The loss of a shop building or other belongings might discourage me for a while, but the loss of a child or of my wife would surely destroy me, if it were not for the person of Christ. I hope that I would be faithful to trust Him even in hard times. So far, I have been able to do so…but, honestly, my circumstances have been pretty easy compared to what some believers endure.

We can pray for one another, and go to one another in time of need, encouraging those who suffer, helping those in need. We can support one another as we endure hard times. We can share with one another, working together to overcome adversity. But ultimately, our trust has to be in the One who created, saved and sustains us. We have to practice this daily, in the small things, to prepare ourselves for the hard things to come. Can you do it? Will you?

Ultimately we have to be committed to trusting Him even if he chooses to not rescue us from our trial. Job said (Job 13:15), “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” That has to be the “bottom line” for us as well, or we will be enslaved to circumstances. When we only recognize blessing if it is something we like, we are enslaved to circumstances. That is not OK.

The blessing and mercy of God may include our early “graduation” from the “school” of life. The son of Jeroboam, in 1st Kings 14:13 was rewarded for his good by an early death, as the prophet said: “because there is some good found in him toward the LORD God of Israel.” He was the only one of Jeroboam’s household who received a proper burial, and his early death was provided so that he escaped the coming judgment. We do not always know God’s purpose, but we do know His character.

Learn early to trust the Lord in every circumstance, so that when the hard times come you are already fortified against them. Otherwise they will come without warning, and you will be overwhelmed. Choose continually to find your Joy, Comfort and Peace in the Person of Christ.

God give us Grace to trust you in every trial, to seek your Light no matter how great our darkness, and to seek your Love though all others have deserted us, and to find our Joy in You.

Amen!