Posts Tagged ‘Faith’

Christ: Our Prime Example

Christ: Our Prime Example 

© C. O. Bishop 11/14/2017 Cornell Estates 11/19/2017

Philippians 2:1-13

Introduction:

In chapter one, we saw that Paul had hoped to travel to Philippi, and to see the believers there once more. We also found that one of the reasons he loved them is that they had shared in his danger, in his privations, and in his sufferings. They were partners with him in the work of world evangelization. His last words were to the effect that they were experiencing the same conflict and warfare as he was experiencing…and they knew it, but they pressed on anyway. On the basis of this fellowship and Love, he exhorted them to continue in unity, humility and love.

 

Fulfilled Joy in Unity, Humility and Love:

1 If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,

It does not seem that Paul is questioning whether, in fact, Jesus could or would produce consolation, etc. in a believer’s life, but rather was saying if you are experiencing these things (and it is understood that you ought to be) then let them result in unity and humilty.

Unity:

2 Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

  • Likeminded—in agreement with the person of Christ
  • Having the same (mutual) love (agape) for one another that Jesus commanded
  • Being of one accord (in harmony with one another), and
  • Of one mind: doctrinally in unity

Humility

3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

There was not to be any self-centeredness. They were not to be vying for prestige, but rather “stepping back” to allow one another to take precedence. We are not to seek the limelight, so to speak. We are not in competition against one another. (The disciples had a problem with that: “Who shall be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”)

It is important that we see each other as family, or, at the very least, team-mates. I remember being on a wrestling team, and really wanting all my team-mates to win. I wanted to win, too, but every individual win increased our chances of winning as a team. So, even if I did not like a particular person on our team, I wanted that person to win, for the sake of the team. And, whatever I could do to support them in that regard, I did.

We are on a “wrestling team,” of sorts, as well: Paul said in Ephesians 6:12 “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age…” Those evil forces against whom we are at war will grab any advantage against us, so that a wounded brother or sister can be used against us. It is our responsibility to extend the genuine agape love of Christ, and His commitment and care to all the believers around us. Otherwise we are leaving the church open to attacks from the enemy.

How many terrible church fights and ugly church splits could have been avoided through obedience to these four verses? Probably every single one, if we are honest with ourselves.

Humility is not self-degradation: it is a “deliberate step back”, to allow someone else to be important; to allow someone else to be at peace. In the long run, it results from sobriety: if we see ourselves clearly, in the light of God’s Word, there is no place for pride. We haven’t a single thing of value except the gifts He has given, and those gifts…are just that: gifts! We did nothing to earn them or deserve them.  Jesus demonstrated this supernatural humility when he came into this world. Paul exhorts us to follow His example. Let’s examine it in detail:

 

Jesus’ Seven-fold Example:

5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

Jesus was really and truly God in the Flesh: but he didn’t strut around making sure everyone knew he was God. He simply walked around doing what His Father sent him to do, without calling undue attention to himself. This passage is sometimes called the “Kenosis” passage: the “self-emptying” of Christ.

7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

We can see a seven-fold self-emptying, here:

  1. He did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped at—or clung to;
  2. He set aside the honor and prerogatives of deity (making himself of no reputation) and literally became a “nobody”. He was never honored as an important member of society
  3. He took on a much lower form—that of a created being, though he was the Creator; that of a servant, though He was the ultimate Lord and Master.
  4. He was made in the form of a man—in fact, arriving as men arrive—a naked, helpless baby; completely dependent upon others for food and care.
  5. He humbled There was no hint of pride in anything Jesus did on earth: no “Look at me now!” moments.
  6. He was obedient in all things, big and little, convenient and inconvenient.
  7. He was obedient even though it cost him his life. We see this as a fairly noble idea, because we associate it with heroism, and with personal honor; but: He was obedient even though it demanded total degradation as he became sin for us; the shame as he was stripped and scourged, the devastatingly cruel pain in crucifixion, and the crushing soul-agony of desertion, as his own Father rejected Him as the embodiment of Sin. This is not to be compared to “a brave soldier throwing himself on a grenade to save his comrades,” though that is noble and praiseworthy. Every single one of those soldiers/teammates deeply appreciates his sacrifice, and will never forget it. But very few of those for whom Jesus died even respect Him for it. They sneer at him and use His name for a curse. He died for the Sins of the whole World.

 

God’s Sevenfold Reward:

9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Let’s count the seven ways God rewarded His faithfulness:

  1. The Father has Highly Exalted Him:
  2. Has given Him a Name which is above every name
  3. That at the name of Jesus, Every knee shall bow
  4. Of things in Heaven (the holy Angels, the righteous resurrected dead, and the raptured church)
  5. And things in Earth (whoever is living on the restored Earth…in the Millennial Kingdom, apparently), and
  6. Things under the Earth (I assume he means the inhabitants of Sheol), and
  7. That every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father. (This does not save anyone, by the way…the lost will confess it, too, but in defeat, not in joy. It is simply a fact.)

12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

On the basis of Jesus’ example the believers are encouraged to allow God to continue his work in them, so that the “outworking” of our salvation will be behavior in keeping with God’s presence and will. There are many who attempt to use this sentence-fragment “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”, divorced from the context of the rest of the scripture, to claim that one has to earn his salvation through works, or that one has to “work out a way to find salvation”, or some such thing. That is not at all what is being taught here, as the next verse makes it clear that GOD is the one doing all the work, both giving us the will to obey and the wherewithal to follow through.

Other passages, in very definite language, made it clear that “by Grace ye ARE saved, through Faith…not of works….” It does not take much study to discover that for every “doubtful” passage, there are several very clear passages. Part of the problem may be that people do not make a distinction between several critical differences:

  • Salvation vs. practical sanctification—holiness
  • Salvation vs. service—works
  • Law vs. Grace, etc.

A failure to recognize those differences will certainly result in bad teaching.

The people to whom Paul was talking were already believers, already saved. Paul had already stated that “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” How, then, would he suggest that they needed to “work to be saved”, if that is indeed what he is saying? He has already told them a lot of things that are only true of saved people.

Either:

  • They are already saved, and they are expected to rest in that truth, or
  • Salvation is a slippery goal, and one can never be sure of it.

But over in 1st John 5:11-13, God makes it clear that He wants us to know that we have eternal life. This is supposed to be a secure, completed matter, with no further doubts, so that we are free to enter into God’s service, and not having to constantly “check to see if we are saved.”

Here is 1st John 5:11-13, broken down point by point:

The Fact: This is the Record:

  1. God had given unto us eternal life, and
  2. This life is in His Son.
  3. He that hath the Son, hath life, and
  4. He that hath not the Son of God, hath not

The Purpose: These things are written unto who believe on the Name of the Son of God, that

  1. You may KNOW that you have eternal life, and
  2. That you may (continue to) believe on the name of the Son of God.

Conclusion:

Every one of us is constantly faced with the question “Will I trust God, or not?” God wants us to learn to trust him, moment by moment, for all things, so that we can enjoy His continuing peace. That requires a habitual choice on our parts. If we are not experiencing His peace, this is the probable cause. Let’s consciously work on learning to trust the Lord, and, together, in true unity, to follow Jesus’ example in Faith, Humility and Love.

Lord Jesus, take away our doubts and fears, and self-centeredness, and teach us to follow your example in all things. Make us the ambassadors of your Grace to all people.

 

 


The Behavior of Faith

The Behavior of Faith

© C. O. Bishop 10/12/17; THCF 10/15/17

Hebrews 11:11-16

Introduction:

Last time we talked about “what Faith is”, (and what it is not): The eleventh chapter of Hebrews goes on to speak more about what Faith does, than what Faith is. Faith is believing; that’s all. But Godly Faith is “believing God more than I believe Me.” It means taking God’s Word as being infinitely more dependable than my own thoughts, feelings, and reasoning. I am actually commanded to think, to reason, and to respond with my heart. But I am warned that my old sin nature is so devious as to be the single most likely source of my downfall. Jeremiah 17:9 says that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. So, I need to learn to believe God first, and then to reason within that framework.

I am not told to come up with my own ideas, stamp “God’s Will” on my own presumption, and then expect God to honor it. There have been a few (very few) cases in Biblical history where it seems as though something like that may have happened: places where a passionate servant of God called out some impossible thing, and God pulled it off for him. Now—did God inspire that prayer, or declaration, or prophecy—whatever it was? I don’t know for sure in every case. But I also do not know that He didn’t. The times when God clearly did NOT authorize such a prophecy or whatever the statement was, then it simply didn’t happen. I have known people, personally, who said they “believed God” that they were sent to accomplish some special thing, but when it didn’t materialize, they either made excuses or blamed God, or blamed those around them. That is not faith; it is presumption. So, how does faith behave? What does it look like?

The Response of Faith

11 Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.

Sara judged God to be faithful. That is a good response. I would not have seen that from the exchange in Genesis 18, but I have God’s Word, here in Hebrews Eleven, to inform me of what Sara’s inner thoughts were. She believed God because she considered His character to be reliable: she judged Him to be faithful. Abraham had already decided the same thing, and now the two of them were in agreement that this unsolicited promise of God (a promised child—an heir to the promise of the land and the eternal blessing) was before them, and they believed His spoken Word. Notice that this was not a “feeling,” nor a vision. In this particular case (Genesis 18—read it!) God showed up in person, in the form of a man, and only later in the conversation revealed His identity. He spoke with them both, in person, and He made a verbal, solid promise. There was no presumption on their part. Consider, too, the fact that earlier, when Abram had changed his name to Abraham (meaning “Father of many nations”), it was because God told him to do so. It was an obedient response to a revealed truth: in other words, faith; not presumption. And what was the result of this sort of response?

The Result of Faith

12 Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.

The Birth of Isaac was by Promise. It was a miraculous event, even by God’s reckoning. We tend to yell “miracle” when anything unusual happens; but God does not. This was not a case of a “surprise baby” of which we have all seen examples. This was a case of a miraculous rejuvenation of two very elderly human bodies, resulting in an otherwise normal conception, pregnancy and birth. And God says that it was supernatural, not just unusual. Bear in mind that God made the promise first; Abraham and Sara simply believed the promise. They did not conceive the idea on their own and then try to stamp “God’s Will” on it. It was God’s plan and God’s Promise. All they did is believe it.

By the way, consider the contrast regarding the birth of Ishmael: A few years earlier, they had come up with their own idea as to how to bring about the promise of God that had been given years before, and Ishmael, the son of Hagar, was the result. The entire Arab world calls Ishmael their forefather today. This was not the result of faith, but a result of unbelief (a lack of faith) and presumption. And the warfare and hatred that has resulted will haunt Israel until the day the Lord returns.

We see all these events through the eyes of Moses, as an accomplished feat, but Abraham saw it through the eyes of faith, and had believed the promise for years, even changing his name in accord with God’s command, as an outward statement of faith. We can read about it as a historical fact, but Abraham had to face it as a present reality. So did Sara. I can’t even imagine how that must have felt, emotionally, to watch their own bodies being restored to functionality, and a normal pregnancy and birth resulting.

And yet, God says in the following verses, “these died in faith, not having received the promises!” What promises was he talking about, then? I thought they just received the promise! Isaac was the promised Son, wasn’t he?

13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

This word “persuaded”, here, is important: The Greek root peitho means “to be persuaded”…and it is from this root that both the Greek words “pisteuo” (to believe) and “pistis” (faith) arise. We need to become persuaded in our own hearts that God is good: that He is faithful. That His character is, beyond question, excellent and Gracious. From that foundation, we can believe that His Word is trustworthy and true…and that we can trust in it, implicitly. We are not to be crippled by unbelief, unable to respond in faith, through obedience; nor are we to run ahead of the Great Shepherd with our own presumptuous plans. We need to open the eyes of faith, and, day by day, look to Him for guidance. Look to His written Word for principles by which to live, and pray for direction by His Holy Spirit, for the particulars of life.

When we begin to walk with God in obedience, regarding His Word as true, we find ourselves estranged from the World around us. We no longer fit in. Eventually, we accept the fact that we truly have changed citizenship, and that we now belong to God’s kingdom. With that realization, and having embraced that truth, we begin to release our grip on this World, and we begin to look beyond it.  The Old Testament believers were also looking beyond this world with the eyes of faith: Evidently the promised Son (Isaac) was not where they had their hopes set. (Abraham and Sara did receive him.) Nor, even, was the physical land of Israel their real hope. They were looking to an eternal fulfillment, through a supernatural relationship with the supernatural, eternal, invisible, omnipresent God who created the universe. They looked with the eyes of faith.

The Eyes of Faith

14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
15 
And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.

These folks were looking beyond this world, just as we are! But in their case, they had a physical place to which they could have returned…their hometown, in most cases, was still there, and their extended families, in some cases, were all there, as well. But when they had abandoned their old life to follow the God who had called them, they had also abandoned the gods of their old lives, and the values they once held dear…and their extended families and friends had not followed their example. So a huge barrier was there, against a return. They really couldn’t go back comfortably, even though the physical places still existed. So that is not what they did: they kept looking forward, and did not go back.

Remember, in the previous chapters, that the writer had cited some who “fell away because of unbelief.” We can read in the book of Exodus that the people of Israel were frequently guilty of “wanting to return to Egypt.” I have to shake my head over that one, and wonder what in the world they were thinking: they could not go back!  Even had God permitted it, they seem to have forgotten that Egypt had been literally destroyed on their account, and the Pharaoh and his entire army had died in the Red Sea because of them. What kind of welcome would they have found, if they had returned? It was simply an impossibility, even for those who wanted to return.

But God commends those who did not want to return, who wanted to press on to receive the promise. Abraham was one of those, over 400 years before the Exodus. Even in his later life, when he sent his servant back to Haran, to find a wife for Isaac, he warned him that he was absolutely not to take Isaac back there. He stayed committed to the promise. God commended people throughout the Bible, who clung to Him against all odds, and chose Him over all else.

16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

I have no idea what the eternal state will be like beyond the tiny amount of information we are given in scripture. And, beyond that, He clearly says that none of us have seen it, none of us have even heard a reliable account of it, except the little bit God has told us, and He further says that none of us have correctly imagined it. (“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, what the Father has in store for them that love Him.”) But I believe in His character, and I trust that what He has prepared will turn out to be something unimaginably good, and that He will change my heart from what I now consider good so that I will see it through His eyes, and recognize that Eternal Goodness and Blessing. 

I really don’t spend a lot of time “daydreaming about heaven:” I know that I have no idea what it will be like. So I have abandoned the fruitless behavior of imagination, and am embracing the stance of faith…waiting on God for that unseen future, and confessing that I have no real idea what it will be. That is a choice I make. I choose Faith. I choose to believe God.

The Choices of Faith

In the meantime, Faith has some things for me to do…to choose to do:

  • Trust the Lord!
  • Obey God’s Word!
  • Love my neighbor!
  • Love my wife!
  • Study the scriptures,
  • Feed on the Word,
  • Feed the Flock!
  • Serve with Joy!
  • Rejoice always!
  • Pray without ceasing!
  • In everything, give thanks!

Do any of these sound familiar to you? They ought to! They are all general commands given to all believers. And what Jesus said about that, in John 14:21, is that the one who has those commandments and keeps them, is demonstrating love for Jesus, personally. And those who fall into that category will find that God is loving them back! Jesus went on to say that he would “manifest himself”, or “make himself known” to that sort of individual.

If you want to see Jesus at work in your life, try walking in obedience, by faith. This is not a way to “earn God’s Favor.” If you have placed your trust in Him as your savior, then you already have His favor, in Christ. You are already His Child. If you have not placed your trust in His blood at the Cross for your salvation, then all the works in the world will do no good. Only the blood of Jesus will suffice.

This message is an invitation to believers to join with Jesus in the Service of God, and be blessed with supernatural Joy. The invitation to all others remains the same: “Look, and Live! Turn to Jesus personally for eternal life, and receive it from Him as a free gift!” In both cases, however, the choice is personal. An unbeliever can choose to reject God’s offer. And a believer can choose to stay on the fringes of God’s blessing, and not serve with Jesus. But, Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me….” We are invited to join Him in the work.

All of the behaviors of Faith are a matter of choice. Faith is a choice! Either choose to believe God and do as He asks, or choose not to do so. The choice is yours!

Lord Jesus, awaken our hearts to serve you and to obey by faith the rudimentary things of the Christian life, so that you can draw us along into deeper things as we draw close to you. Help us to see life as you see it, and to make our choices as you direct us to choose.

 

 

 

 


What Does the Bible Teach us About Faith?

What Does the Bible Teach us About Faith?

© C. O. Bishop 9/30/17 THCF and Cornell 10/1/17

Hebrews 11:1-10

Introduction:

At the end of the tenth chapter of Hebrews, we saw the warning to not fall back into formalism or legalism, but rather to step forward into faith. The writer stated that “we” (the believers) are not those who “draw back unto perdition”, but rather, we are to be “them that believe, unto the saving of the soul.” This contrast is set up for us to clearly see, that, regardless of the question at hand, or the challenge before us, the choice is the same—will we believe God, or not?

Human reasoning is very attractive, and, under submission to the Word of God, it actually can result in good decision-making. The problem is that we do not tend to submit our thought processes to the light of God’s Word, so we are easily snared by the World’s way of thinking, because our own hearts are also extremely deceitful.

Secular Humanism demands that we deliberately cast off any reference to the Light of God’s Word, and look at the World exclusively from the perspective of Human reasoning. The results are consistently disastrous, as History has shown us by countless examples. But, as a race, we humans persist in believing that “We have the answers to all problems, and that given just a little more time, we will fix everything”! Now there is a statement of Faith! In spite of all evidence to the contrary, and the observable decline of human behavior, we still think that we humans can produce righteousness, and truth, and peace. Does that sound…reasonable? Given the thousands of years of failure, and given that our most impressive “advances” have been in technology, which, invariably, are soon turned to weapons of one sort or another, by which to rob or kill or spy upon each other, do you really think that we will escape our human predisposal to sin? Our predisposal to lust, and violence, and deceit, and theft?

The World demands that we place our faith in a wholly unreliable demi-god, Man! (Or in any number of false Gods, who all deny Christ.) And those who refuse to believe in Human Sovereignty or in one of the various World Religions, are routinely cast aside, ridiculed, abused, and often killed. Jesus says for us to turn our faith to Him, and be saved from our sin, thus addressing the root problem that all the other deny. So, perhaps the question we ought to be asking, is “What is Faith?” And then: “How do I place my faith where it will do the most good?”

What is Faith?

1Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

This verse is frequently quoted as a “definition of faith.” This is not a definition of faith, any more than “God is Love” is a definition of God…this is a statement of the value of Faith, to the believer: the effect it has on the believer’s life. If I say “my car is how I get to work every morning,” you would correctly understand that I use my car to get to work. But that does not define an automobile; it only describes a particular effect it has in my life.

Faith is believing: simply put, that is all faith is. Godly Faith is believing God. Godly Faith is believing God enough that it changes something in our behavior. Godly Faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth. That definition is borne out is every single statement in the following verses. (“By faith, so-and-so did such-and-such…”)

Faith is not a “force”, or a “power” (though it may free the power of God to work in our lives….) It is not a “muscle” that needs exercise, as some have taught. When we “exercise faith,” it simply means we consistently apply it, just as, when we say that someone needs to “exercise good judgment,” we mean that they need to apply wisdom.

The Greek word for “faith” is the noun “pistis”. The infinitive Greek verb “to believe” is “pisteuo”. Both pistis and pisteuo come from the Greek root “peitho”, which means “to be persuaded.” The people named in this chapter were persuaded that God had called them to do certain things, or to believe His Word regarding certain things; and they were persuaded enough that they did them! They believed God! It was always an action, motivated by belief.

We can believe wrong things, and the result will be wrong behavior. We can believe self-serving things because they are attractive to us, and then act on those beliefs because they serve our self-will. We are masters of self-justification, and self-deception. But, we have a choice as to where to place our faith. Placed properly, faith does have the described result in the believer’s life.

The Old Testament believers allowed faith to have a proper effect upon their lives, in that they believed God, because He was counted trustworthy. The result was that, for them, faith was “the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.”

God’s Testimony; Our “report card”

For by it the elders obtained a good report.

The eternal testimony of God regarding the men and women of faith, is that they believed God. That is a Good Report! That is the “report card” that God applied to their record. Regarding Abraham, God said, “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6) This passage is quoted and used in Romans chapter 4, to teach Salvation by Grace, through Faith. There are some things regarding which Faith only calls for believing God about something he says to be true. The creation is one of those things. See the next verse:

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

Here the writer give a single example that shows how faith might not only be evidenced by an outward action: The writer says that they chose by faith to believe in the creation account, as revealed by God in the book of Genesis. We can (and do) still make that choice today, but it will become increasingly difficult to do, as the World has made that particular belief the special target for ridicule, and verbal attacks.

Certain Christian leaders have attempted to “water down” the Creation account, to make it compatible with evolution. Whole books have been written to try to reconcile the incompatibility between what the World insists is true, and what the Bible claims to be true. I actually have one or more of those books, given to me by well-meaning friends or family.

It is always an error to try to make God’s Word more “palatable,” or more “accessible,” by changing what it says. Evolution and creation are simply not compatible. And, that’s OK! Light and darkness are mutually exclusive. In this regard (and others) we are called to believe. In much of life, our belief calls us to change what we do; to take action of some sort. The rest of the examples in Hebrews 11 are of that sort, but before we address them I would like to present one more example of the call to simply believe:

In John 6:28, 29  The people asked Jesus, “What shall we do that we might work the works of God?” and, instead of listing the ten commandments or anything else that people think they can do to make themselves acceptable to God, Jesus answered, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.

Please don’t add to that verse! Just accept it as it stands!

We can believe it or reject it, but that is the standard of faith, as spoken by Jesus. This is the Testimony of God the Son, regarding Faith.

Now let’s look at some of the other type of examples of faith…the ones that call for action. These also constitute the Testimony of God, regarding Faith:

Old Testament Examples of Godly Faith

Abel

By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.

There are several valuable gems, here:

  • By faith, Abel did …what? A better job of offering a similar sacrifice? No! It says that the sacrifice is what was different! The sacrifice was more excellent! Why? Because he was being obedient to a revealed truth, and bringing a blood That truth had been revealed in practice, by the object lesson of Genesis 3:21, when God clothed Adam and Eve in the blood of the first sacrifice.
  • The writer further states that by that sacrifice, he “obtained witness that he was righteous”…that he possessed a right standing before God. That blood sacrifice made all the difference, then, and it still does. That is how we gain a right standing before God, today, as well: Through Jesus’ blood, applied to our own lives, by faith!
  • Notice, too that it says “God testified of his gifts”…not his “heart attitude” or how he genuflected, or anything else: it was the gift that was in question. God told Cain that if he did right, he, too would be received. But what did Abel do that was “right,” in comparison to which, Cain evidently did wrong? He brought the blood sacrifice, while Cain brought the non-blood sacrifice. God testified of his gifts! It was the sacrifice that was different!
  • Finally, back in Luke 11:50, 51, Jesus referred to Abel as a prophet! What prophecy did Abel make? Here in Hebrews 11:4, it says “by it (that sacrifice) he, being dead, is still speaking.” All the Old Testament blood sacrifices pointed to the coming Messiah. Abel, the prophet, spoke by his sacrifice, and is still speaking today. He points to the Cross!

Enoch

By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

And how does one please God? We are told very little about Enoch’s life. There is a tiny reference to a prophecy by him, in Jude 14, and the account in Genesis regarding God taking him off the Earth, so that he did not die. But that is all! The Writer goes on to say,

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

There it is! That is the definition of Faith! Faith is believing. Saving faith places the believer’s hope in the person of Christ and His completed work at the Cross. So (though we really aren’t told very much), at some level, Enoch was a man of Godly faith, and walked very consistently in the light that he had. That is all we know about him. The result was a tremendous thing: God took him out of the world without dying.

Noah

By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.

“Faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth.” In Noah’s case it meant he went and got a whole lot of timber, and built a monstrous wooden box—a barge, effectively. I have helped build a number of steel barges about that size, and I have helped build a number of barns, houses, etc. out of wood and other materials. I am grateful that I am not faced with the task Noah was assigned. It was an enormous job, and it is no wonder that it took 120 years to complete it.

Notice, too, that it says he was motivated by fear. The Greek word here is “eulabe-theis”, meaning a devout fear. This is not a common word in the New Testament. Usually, the writers use the far more common, simple word for fear: “phobos, or phobeo”. One is a noun and the other a verb…but you can probably see that this is the root for the English word “Phobia”—and it means “fear”. There is nothing wrong with fear being a motivator. Psalm 19:9 says that “The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever.” If fear of the coming judgment moves a sinner to repent and be saved, that is a good thing! If the fear of displeasing ones Savior moves a believer to abandon some pet sin, and serve more faithfully, that is a good thing.

Ann Landers once said, in her column, that she was not a “God-fearing “woman, but a “God-loving” woman. Let me tell you: If you don’t fear the judgment of the Holy God you claim to love, then you don’t know Him well enough to love Him either. The disciples were afraid of drowning, during the storm, but they were exceedingly afraid after Jesus calmed the Storm. That is a Godly fear. (Mark 4:35-41) I’d rather take their example than that of Ann Landers.

Noah was called to build that Ark. I am called to believe God’s Word regarding that flood, the building of that Ark, and the results of the flood, in the world today. I see the geologic evidence in the landforms around me, and I realize that the evidence for a worldwide flood is simply overwhelming: it is all around us. But the World ridicules the idea and it rejects the Author as well as the Message.

Abraham

By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.
By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:
10 For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

Notice all the action words! Abraham’s faith was demonstrated in actions. He:

  • Obeyed,
  • Went out
  • Sojourned,
  • Dwelling

He did things because of his faith: He was called, so he had a specific thing to do. But he did not just sit back and claim to believe. He obeyed! And why? He was looking for the reward. Hope for reward is an acceptable motivator, too! He looked for “a city built by God.” Here on Earth? No, he apparently knew of the coming resurrection, and expected a new body, and looked forward to that redemption. Amazing! And he didn’t even have a Bible to read! Not even a part of one.

Next week we will examine some of the things Abraham accomplished by his faith. But, in the meantime:

What is Our Problem?

Why is it, that with far more revelation available to us, and all the advantages of various translations, and electronic Bibles, and home-study courses, and commentaries, and radio preachers, we still end up being less responsive to God’s Word, not more?

I’m not really sure I can answer that. But it may be worth remembering that, in Luke 18:8, Jesus said “When the son of man cometh, shall He find faith?” (The implication being negative.) Apparently true faith is going to become more and more rare. I don’t know why. But I do know that we are called to believe God, both for salvation, and for our daily walk with Him. Apart from believing God (a.k.a. “faith”), God says it is impossible to please Him. We need to confess our unbelief, and then change the way we think, and learn to Believe God more than we believe our own lying hearts…and to serve Him as those who have been released from bondage.

Lord Jesus, change our hearts. Teach us to believe You and Your Word above all other words and feelings. We realize that our feelings are not an accurate measure of reality. Teach us to trust Your Word implicitly.


The Fellowship Imperative

The Fellowship Imperative

Fellowship with God and with Other Believers

© C. O. Bishop 9/8/17 THCF 9/10/17

Hebrews 10:19-25

Introduction:

As we completed the first half of Hebrews chapter ten, we saw that Jesus offered one sacrifice forever, obliterating our sin-debt, and imputing eternal righteousness to us, as believers. This is a super-important concept: if our sins have been forgiven, and “taken away” by the blood of Jesus, then there is no more offering for sin. The Old Testament system of blood sacrifices is completely over—obsolete—done. . And we cannot go back to it.

Now, I wonder how the Hebrew believers must have felt, with the temple service closing behind them, and no real understanding of what lay before them This is not a new thing, though: Remember that Abram was called out of the land of his upbringing, to go out to a new place, where God would bless him. But he was not given a road map. He was just told to go. He left, not knowing where he would end up.

When I first became a believer, the question arose, “What about all the other religions? How do you know this one is right?” My only answer, at that time, was, “I don’t know anything about all the other religions. I only know that this is my stop…this is where I get off the bus.” I knew I needed Jesus Christ, and I trusted in Him. Later on, I learned more, and came to realize that, indeed, there was no other way. He said so Himself.

Many years later, I was called to sing in a wedding, in Colorado. They sent me a bus ticket, and I took that Greyhound bus to a place I had never been, arriving far behind schedule, in a snowstorm at 1:00 AM, to a dark crossroad, where I had been told that I would be met. There was no one there…but I had a choice: Get off the bus, now, in faith, and wait in the dark, snowy night for my friends to arrive, or stay on the bus and get off at another stop which would look better, but not be where I was told to expect them, and I would have no way to contact them. (This was years before cell-phones became a reality.) As it turned out, after hours of waiting, they had finally gone home, briefly, and they were coming right back. I waited less than 30 minutes before they came swooping out of the dark to rescue me. The point is that sometimes we have had to take a step of faith, and trust that God knows what He is doing. At that point, frequently, we can’t go back…we have to look forward. But we can go forward, and we are called to do so.

The Call to Fellowship

We have already been transferred out of the darkness of the lost world, into the glorious kingdom of God’s light; we can now take the next step, and enter the holy of holies by his blood. We are not told to just “wait on God to come and fellowship with us.” We are commanded, and exhorted to deliberately seek out His company. We are free to enter His presence, now. There is no barrier, today, for believers. This is the state of affairs, today; He says:

19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,

20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;

21 And having an high priest over the house of God;

We see four points, here:

  1. We have confidence to enter the holy place of God’s presence.
  2. We are entering confidently, solely because of the Blood of Jesus that stands between us and God’s judgment. 
  3. We enter by the avenue of the Cross, by faith…through the torn body of the Savior, represented by the veil that was torn, in the temple.
  4. We enter, knowing that our High Priest, Jesus, had already entered in and made the way for us…and that it is He who invites us to that Fellowship.

 With these truths as our basis for confidence, the writer urges us forward. It has taken him nine and one half chapters to “build his case” for the supremacy of Christ, and the efficacy of his blood sacrifice, but now, with that foundation laid, he urges us to take action.

He says for us to draw near to God. We could not do so before, because we were without access to God. Ephesians 2:11, 12 say that “in time past…” we were “…Gentiles according to the flesh…without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the covenants of Promise, having no hope, and without God, in the World.” We literally had no access to God. But now we have that access through Christ. Over in Romans 5:1, 2 Paul says, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have access into this Grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the Glory of God.”

We have access by faith in Jesus, and we are invited to join Him there, at the Throne of Grace.

 

The Invitation to Fellowship with God

22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.

We are invited to enter in with full confidence. We are not entering as those who have “crashed the party”…we are entering as members of God’s household—His own offspring. We are not even entering as “guilty children” who have misbehaved and who are expecting punishment. The punishment was dealt out at the cross. We are entering, in good standing with the Holy God who created us, and redeemed us. We are entering as those who have been washed, and made holy like Jesus. Do I always “feel” this confidence? No, because my heart is deceitful (God says so), and I am always conscious of my failings. But God says that I have been washed, and made holy! (1st Corinthians 6:11 “But you are washed…sanctified…justified…”). You are arriving clean! All you need to do is clean your feet at the door!

A small child enters into his father’s house with utter confidence that he belongs there…because he does! And he enters in, knowing his father is not too busy to address his concerns and questions. He goes there expecting good things. He wipes his feet because he has been taught to do so, initially, but as he matures, he does it because he does not want to bring dirt into his father’s house.

We may practice confession initially because we have been taught to do so. As we mature, we do so because we do not want Sin to hamper our relationship with our Heavenly Father. Psalm 66:18 says that when I cling to sin in my heart, God closes his ears to me. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” We learn to cherish that relationship with Him, and develop a hunger for his presence, so we are anxious to not allow sin to keep us from experiencing that fellowship with Him. But there is another aspect to fellowship: fellowship with other believers.

 

The Exhortation to Fellowship with the Church

He also tells us to hold fast to our faith-relationship with God, and to encourage one another to live the life Jesus died to provide.

23 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)

24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:

25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

 It is easy to allow ourselves to become sidetracked by the “cares of the world”, so to speak:

  • money issues,
  • health issues,
  • relational issues,
  • political issues,
  • employment issues, etc.

We are exhorted to keep the relationship with God in the forefront of our minds, and to cling to that relationship as being of primary importance. He says to “hold fast without wavering”. We are not to allow anything to come between us and Him. The basis for our faith is the character of the one who made the promises: He is faithful!

Then the writer says something really odd: he says we are to “provoke” one another…we usually think of “provocation” as having only negative connotations, but, in this case, it means to “stir up” one another. We are to consider the best ways to be an encouragement to one another, to stir one another up to Love, and to good works. You may have noticed that there is a whole lot of “one another” references in the church-related scriptures. Why is that so? Can’t we just go in, sit quietly on a pew, listen attentively, sing songs, give money and go home? Isn’t that what church is all about?

Well…no! Actually, it is not! Even the worship is not, in itself, “church.”

So what is “Church?”

Sometimes I hear people say “Well, my ‘church’ is when I am out in the woods” or “when I am out fishing, alone with God!”…or something similar. The poet, Emily Dickinson, wrote a whole poem dedicated to this idea: she considered the birds singing in her yard to be preferable to the presence of other people. On the other hand, she also claimed she knew the way to heaven instinctively, and could get there on her own. This is sad, but quite common. It is the proud, ignorant statement of independence, without the wherewithal to survive the consequences.

The fact is, people who say such things do not understand what the word “church” means: the English word “church” is usually translated from the Greek word “ecclesia”, which means an “assembly.” It literally means the “called out ones”. It requires being together with other believers. It is certainly not the building, nor is it even, specifically, the teaching or worship.

I can listen to the radio, if I know that a very good teacher or preacher is to be speaking. This is not “church.” I can be awestruck by the majesty of a storm, or the breathtaking beauty of the creation as a whole, and respond in genuine worship. But that is not “church”, either. “Church” means the “assembly” of likeminded believers. This does not negate the need for private prayer and worship being experienced by every individual believer: both of these are good and necessary; but we meet together for corporate prayer and worship …which cannot be done alone. We also meet for mutual encouragement, and teaching, and comfort. None of these things can be done alone.

Church is not a place, nor is it a building, nor even a religious experience. It is, literally, the assembly of likeminded believers for the specific purposes listed above. That is why we are not to “forsake the assembling of ourselves together”. The word in this particular passage is the Greek “episunagogen”: which is where we get the word “synagogue,” that the Hebrews used to describe their own assemblies…the assembly—gathering together. The Hebrew Christians were still calling it the synagogue, which was fine—it simply means assembly. But it cannot possibly be “one person alone with God,” although that is also very desirable. In the Jewish culture, it is required that there be ten families, in order to have a “synagogue,” officially. But Jesus said “Where two are three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Is that a church, then?

Well…perhaps it could serve the purpose, to some degree, but the “assembly,” proper, also has some organization to it: it is an intentional meeting together for corporate worship, prayer, teaching, preaching, fellowship, encouragement, and comfort. It would be hard to do all of that with just two or three people. You could encourage one another, pray together for each other’s needs and concerns…possibly even share some teaching. But I doubt you could call that a “church”, because it lacks the structure assigned by God. God says the church possesses elders (always plural) who serve as pastors, shepherds and overseers. It has deacons (again, always plural), who serve as caretakers of the flock at a physical level.

The Universal Church is strictly an organism, not an organization: it is the Body of Christ, and consists of all believers from the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, all down through time, until today, with all the believers today, whether alive or dead….and it will be completed at the Rapture. Most of its members, we can safely assume, are already with the Lord …and, until the Rapture, it can never “gather together in one place”…at least not one physical place. (It could be argued that we all meet together at the Throne of Grace…and that is true, but we are not conscious of each other’s presence and cannot function collectively as described in scripture. I can’t encourage Peter, for instance, though I am encouraged by his historical example.)

But every Local Church combines certain aspects of an organism with many aspects of an organization. It does have organization. Things are to be done “decently and in order”…in an orderly fashion. The local church gathers together in one place, wherever that place may be. There are possibly millions of local assemblies, all over the world, meeting at any given time.

We gather for the express purpose of mutual care, encouragement and blessing. We learn to “stir up” one another, to love and to good works. Notice the stark contrast, then, between “fellowship,” which we are commanded to embrace, and “forsaking” which we are commanded to avoid:

Fellowship” and “Forsaking” are Polar opposites!

We are not called to be solitary creatures, though some of us may feel that we would like to be. God created us to be social creatures. We do better physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, in a corporate experience. Is it healthy to have the capacity to stand alone? Absolutely! God calls us to do so, in fact! All the Old Testament prophets stood alone. We have their example. But, on a lifestyle basis, we are called to be a blessing to others around us…and we can’t do that unless there are “others around us!” Even in the Old Testament, Solomon (Ecclesiastes 4:9-11) stated that “Two are better than one…and a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Conclusion: The Fellowship Imperative

When we choose to exclude ourselves from the flock, we also estrange ourselves from the Shepherd. (Sorry…you may not like the “sheep” idea, but it comes from God, not from me, so please try to understand and appreciate the truth of it.) The more I learn about sheep, the more I see why God refers to people as sheep—and why people rebel against it and claim they are not like sheep. Isaiah said, “All we, like sheep, have gone astray…” Like it or not, that is what we are. We need the Shepherd, and we need the Flock!

The fact is, if a believer chooses to forsake the assembling of himself together with other believers, knowing that he is commanded not to do so, then, because it is deliberate disobedience, we can safely say that it is sin, and it will definitely limit one’s walk with God. There are many who will disagree, saying “I don’t need other people, in order to walk with God.” I can sympathize with them, because there is an antisocial side to my character as well. But, ask yourself this: of ALL the things God calls us to do, as New Testament believers, what percentage have something to do with other people? The answer is, “virtually all of them”, at one level or another.

We cannot “work with God”, without working with people, because all of the work he has called us to do has to do with the flock at large…other people!

We have to choose to submit ourselves to God’s assignment: go where He sends us, stay where He plants us, and do what He commands. It may not be fun: but the reward comes later. Jeremiah had one of the roughest service assignments of any of the prophets. It looked as though there was no fruit and no reward. But he was faithful, and he is enjoying his reward today. Furthermore, there was fruit, eventually. Millions of people have read the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations, and have believed God’s Word, though virtually none of the immediate recipients responded in faith.

We must look to God for direction, but we must meet with others to carry out those directions.

Lord Jesus, encourage our hearts to walk with you and to fellowship with you at the throne of Grace, and to draw near to the brothers and sisters by your Holy Spirit.


One Sacrifice for All Time

One Sacrifice for All Time

© C. O. Bishop 8/24/17 THCF 8/27/17

Hebrews 10:1-18; Isaiah 1:11-17

Introduction:

We have spent several months going through the first nine chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Last time we saw that Jesus is superior to the Old Testament Sacrifices, and that because of that, he is a Superior Redeemer: He has provided for us Eternal Redemption and Eternal Security in Himself. We are no longer living year-to-year, hoping that we will be able to keep walking in God’s light. We belong to Him eternally, and we are kept by His power.

But the writer is not finished with his topic: He wants us to see that the one sacrifice Jesus brought (His own blood—His own life) not only ended our fear of judgment from God, as lost sinners, deserving His wrath, but it also ended the Old Testament sacrificial system! It was truly One Sacrifice for all time, and it supersedes all that went before. Let’s start reading chapter ten:

The Shadow Show

Chapter 10

1For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.

Remember that the Law, with all its sacrifices, was only a picture—a shadow, even, of what was to come. When we watch a “shadow-puppet” show, we are amazed at how realistic the figures on the screen can appear, even though we know that the reality is just the hands of the entertainer, arranged to make shadows of animals, people, or whatever. In the case of the Law, however, it was impossible for the Old Testament believers to know all the reality behind the “shadow-show” they were given. But they had been told a great deal about that reality, so they did know enough that when the reality (Messiah) appeared in person they could have (and should have) recognized Him. But, as a nation, they not only failed to recognize him, but, even with his repeated proofs and explanations, they rejected Him.

So, the shadows were not the reality…and the shadows could not do what the real Messiah could do. They could not give life, nor could they cleanse the heart from sin. They could not make those who brought the sacrifices any better than they had been before. The best they could ever do is cover sins.

The writer points out that the proof of the ineffectiveness of the Old Testament sacrifices was in the need for continual repetition. The believer could never be rid of his burden of sin. One of the passages where Jesus’s birth is predicted (Matthew 1:21) says “…thou shalt call his name Jesus, for He shall save his people from their sins.” That is a thrilling idea. But how will it play out?

How to Remove Sins

For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.

But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.

The repetition itself continually reminded the believers that they were not truly cleansed, but only pardoned, as it were. They were saved by Grace, through faith, but the Law required that they continually bring the same sacrifice to maintain a walk with God. Ironically, those who were conscious of this fact, were positionally just as secure as are the believers today. And yet they feared the rejection of God. Why?

For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.

This is a good verse to keep in mind: I remember being told by a pastor, long ago, that the Old Testament believers had a “…different way to be saved.” That is impossible, according to this verse: it is not possible that the blood of animals can take away the sins of humans. So what was really happening, there? In every single case, the blood sacrifices of the Old Testament, even though they were offered in ignorance, were looking forward by faith, to the one perfect sacrifice Jesus would make at the Cross. Sometimes the picture was quite vague, but it was always there.

Please consider, in your mind’s eye, the physical motions necessary to “dip a bundle of hyssop in the basin of blood and strike it on the lintel and the two door-posts.”  This command is given twice, (in Exodus 12:7, 22); that the believer was to “strike” the blood onto the lintel and two door-posts. Obedience to that command, inescapably, was making a “sign of the cross”, behind which they waited, hoping and believing that God would honor His promise and save their lives, when he destroyed Egypt. They were in no way “smug” about their safety. They were trembling. We should have the same consciousness of coming judgment when we consider the Cross. That sacrifice, like all the others, looked forward to the Cross. Remember that this first Passover occurred about 1,490 years before the Crucifixion of Christ. 1300 years, roughly, before the Romans invented Crucifixion. This was the plan from the beginning. This is why Jesus came into this world, as the true offering, and died— specifically—the death of the Cross. There were many forms of execution. But it had to be that one (Philippians 2:8).

Had he died by the sword, or by hanging, he would not have been the Messiah. Had he died by stoning, which was the ordinary form of execution under Israel, then he would not have been the Messiah. The Cross was absolutely necessary, which makes it interesting that some cults try to deny that it was a cross at all.

Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me:

The Old Testament sacrifices, ultimately, did not and could not satisfy the righteousness of God. The body given to Jesus at the incarnation (the “in-flesh-ment”—that is what the word “incarnation” means) was the specific sacrifice, planned from the foundation of the World (Revelation 13:8), and regarding which John the Baptist said “Behold the Lamb of God!

What was Wrong with the Old Testament Sacrifices?

In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.

It is interesting, to me, and puzzling, to read that the Lord “has had no pleasure in” burnt offerings and sacrifices. In the Old Testament, we often read that the sacrifices produced a “sweet-smelling savor (aroma)” to God. I can only guess that the obedience in bringing the required sacrifice, and the faith that motivated the obedience, was what really was pleasing to Him…or, perhaps, the fact that the sacrifices always looked forward to the Cross. Otherwise there would seem to be a contradiction, here, and my personal conviction is that God does not contradict Himself.

This passage (verses 5-7) is mostly quoting Psalm 40:6-8 (read it), a prayer of David, and a Messianic psalm. Even at the time of David, he recognized that the sacrifices could be offered with an insincere heart, and they often were just a show. Isaiah 1:11-17 says,

11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.

12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?

13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.

14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.

15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;

17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

God said that He was literally sick of their religious posturing, even including the entire sacrificial system. The sacrifices were just a bunch of poor, dead, charred carcasses. What He really wanted was for the people to change their hearts, and learn to do well.

Jeremiah 17:9 confirms that the heart was the problem, saying “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” So, even though the people were bringing the required blood sacrifice, it was not the obedience of faith, anymore, but just religious posturing. It meant less than nothing at that point. Can we do the same with the blood of Jesus? Can we take it for granted?

What more could be done to heal the relationship between God and Man? We obviously are incapable of changing. The Law and the prophets did not change us…they only condemned us, and allowed us to get a glimpse of the awful holiness of God. But they could not produce that holiness in us.

Jesus is God’s Solution for Sin…and always has been!

Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.

Jesus came in complete submission to the Father, from the fact of conception to the final death under torture. Every step of the way was in perfect obedience to the Father, and in fulfillment of the hundreds of prophecies concerning the Messiah, all of which had to be fulfilled in Him.

Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law;

Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.

10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

In contrast to the Old Testament sacrifices, we see that Jesus said, “but a body thou hast prepared me” This specific body, born by miraculous intervention, was the only acceptable sacrifice. The others, from our perspective and that of God, were tragic victims of our sin, only temporarily acceptable, as witnesses to the coming Christ, who could say, “I come to do thy will, O God.”

11 And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins:

12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;

13 From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool.

14 For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.

The writer reiterates, here, the fact that the Messiah sat down after completing his sacrificial work as High Priest, and yet continues as High Priest. He has never stopped serving, but the sacrificial part is all done.

He also gives a “time-clause,” here: how long will He stay seated? Answer: “until his enemies be made his footstool.” So, He stood up once, at least, to greet Stephen, the first Martyr, and, in a sense, he stands before God continually, to intercede for us; but, his official position, until the second coming, is “seated at the right hand of God.”

15 Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before,

16 This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;

17 And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. 

This is quoting a promise made to Israel regarding the Millennial Kingdom, of course. The New Covenant with Israel has not yet begun. But the portion of the New Covenant that involves the church has been in full swing for almost 2000 years; ever since the Day of Pentecost in Acts chapter two.

18 Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. 

This is a super-important concept: if our sins have been forgiven, and “taken away” by the blood of Jesus, then there is no more offering for sin. The Old Testament system of blood sacrifices is completely over—it’s obsolete! And we cannot go back to it.

People in Israel probably think they will finally be at peace when they can rebuild the temple and re-establish their sacrifices. But they are not reading the book of Daniel carefully enough. There we can see that, when the temple is rebuilt, in troublesome times, under the protection of a peace-treaty, then they will be dealing with the antichrist. They cannot go back to the Old Testament Sacrifices, and neither can we.

In this passage, the writer simply points out the obsolescence of the Old Covenant. In other passages, he says that one who attempts to abandon the Messiah in favor of the old covenant, will only face judgment, not a covering for sin. In reflecting on this concept, it seems to me that such a person is much like those Israelites who were attempting to go back to Egypt, after God had brought them out…all they will find is judgment.

So, there is no more offering for sin. Jesus was and is “Plan A”…there is no “plan B.” If you choose to reject the salvation offered by means of the Cross, then you can have no other reasonable expectation except judgment.

Conclusion: What do I do with this information?

Well…if I were still an unbeliever, I would have to seriously consider the dangerous position I am hanging onto. As an atheist, I had concluded that there was no God, and I smugly proclaimed myself to be without a fear of Judgment. The problem with that stance is that every one of us is aware, even at a human level, that judgment must come! A desire for vengeance for a wrong endured is a common passion in every culture. We know instinctively that right and wrong exist. And it follows, that, if judgment is required for others for the wrongs they have committed, then Judgment must be coming for my sins as well. And Jesus died in my place to avert that Eternal Judgment from an eternally righteous God. And all He asks me to do is accept it by faith.

As a believer, I need to consciously cast my hope and faith on the shed blood of Jesus, both for the eternal life He has provided, and for Grace to daily live for Him. But I can rejoice daily, too, knowing that my position in Him is secure. I have already been made eternally acceptable to God, through the Blood Sacrifice that Jesus offered. I have been invited to serve Him, working with Him in this life. All of us have received that invitation. I don’t want to miss out!

Lord Jesus, fill us with a sense of Godly urgency, so that we do not squander our lives, wasting our efforts on things that have no eternal importance. Help us to see the World around us through your eyes, and to share your priorities in all things.


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.


Entering into God’s Rest

Entering into God’s Rest

© C. O. Bishop 3/13/2017 THCF 3/19/17

Hebrews 3:14-4:11

Introduction:

Last week we talked about the rest God offers to his people, and the fact that there are at least seven different kinds of “rest” spoken of in His Word:

  1. The rest of God himself after the Creation,
  2. The rest offered to Israel in the land of Canaan,
    • The rest given to the next generation of Israel in the land of Canaan,
  3. The rest demanded for the Land
  4. The rest offered to Ruth (and provided to her) in the book of Ruth,
  5. The rest Jesus offered to unbelievers, “Come unto me and I will give you rest,
  6. The rest Jesus offered to believers, “Ye shall find rest unto your soul…”
    • The rest God offers for the believer in Christ’s labor and His rest,
  7. Eternal rest in Heaven.

Notice that some of these are gifts, given to all who become believers. Jesus said “Come unto me and I will give you rest.” That is a gift given on the sole condition of placing your trust in Him for your salvation. But others are based on some further conditions. For example, Israel had to actually enter into the land to experience the rest God offered there.

Conditional Rest

In the same manner, the rest in question here, in Hebrews 3 and 4, is the rest offered to believers, conditional upon their faith and obedience. You have to enter in to the rest, by choice, by faith.

14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;

In a very practical sense, we only “partake” in the person of Christ by a continuing relationship with him, which extends beyond initial faith. There is a wide variety of possible responses to God’s Grace, beyond initial saving faith. In the parable of the Sower, Jesus said that there were four different kinds of “soil” into which the “seed” of God’s Word could fall:

  • The first group completely ignored the Word, and were called “the pathway”, or, “the wayside”…and the birds of the air came and removed the seed. These are not those to whom this warning applies. There had been zero response to the Gospel. There was no pretense…they simply were not interested. The Word made no impression upon them.
  • The second group were called “stony ground”: there was an initial response to the Gospel, even a joyous response; but there was no depth, and they fell away at the first difficulty. This may be those to whom this warning applies; I can’t be sure. Remember that among those who escaped Egypt, there were always those who strongly advocated a return to Egypt. It is entirely possible that this group were never believers, so they desired to “return to their father’s house.” This may parallel those who made an initial response but were never committed to the truth of the Word. They heard it all, but apparently never really believed: Judas, among others, fell into this category. He was never born again.
  • There was a third group who had genuine root, and were a genuine plant, but in thorny ground, where it could not become fruitful. These were evidently real believers, but ones for whom it never became a high enough priority to change their life. The cares of this world choked the seed so that it did not become fruitful. That does not mean they were not genuine…it means they never bore fruit. Are they saved? I think they are, though many disagree.
  • The fourth group, of course, are those called “good soil,” and whose lives bore fruit for God, in varying quantity.

Fruit-bearing is subsequent to salvation, and is not a guaranteed result, as far as I can see—it is a normal result, a desirable result, and an expected result; but not guaranteed. And, even within that group in the parable, there was a wide variance in the amount of fruit borne. Believers are constantly exhorted to lay aside the sins that so easily beset them, and focus on the task at hand. (Why? Because, typically, we don’t!) In fact, if the “normal Christian life” were the only possibility, most of the New Testament would be unnecessary, as Christians would just automatically do the right things. But we don’t: we have to be constantly reminded.

It is interesting, though, that, in the few places where we are told to watch (or examine) the “fruit” of other people, it was false teachers against whom the warning was being made, and the fruit was their teaching. When he said “by their fruits ye shall know them”, the issue was false teaching, not the way they lived.

Is there another kind of fruit? Yes, we are told that our lives are to bear fruit, and that the fruit is to remain. There is an aspect of fruit-bearing that is specifically referring to spiritual progeny, as a result of a Godly life, and faithful testimony. The Fruit of the Spirit is supposed to be there at all times in a believer’s life, but it should result in others being drawn to Christ, as well. We are to be witnesses for Him. We will talk more about fruit at another time.

Entering by Faith—or Not

15 While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.

16 For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses.

So, we see that there was a mixture of folk who came out of Egypt. in fact, it is apparent that there were some who may not have even been Jews, as well: they were referred to as the “mixed multitude” and they were a source of trouble. They were frequently the source of grumblings and rebellion. They may or may not have even been believers, though all had at least gone through the motions of a professed faith, to the extent that they survived the judgment on Egypt.

Unbelievers in the local church are commonplace. They don’t actually belong to the body of Christ, but they are still people for whom Christ died, and as such, they are precious souls, not a foreign body to be rejected, unless they force it. We are to recognize that there may be those among us who have never truly believed. Jesus knew Judas’ heart, and his final warning (if you can call it that) was given in John 13:10, 11. Judas had come along for the ride, had seen the miracles, and partaken of the spiritual experience…but was not made clean through faith in the Word, as were the others (compare John 15:3.)

These are those to whom the sternest warnings are extended, so far as I can tell. They are in deadly danger, having become inoculated against faith by constant exposure to the truth, and the gradual hardening of their own hearts. It has been noted that while exposure to warm sunlight softens wax, the same exposure will harden clay. The difference is in the heart of the hearer. We reveal who we really are by our response to God’s Word. By the way, I think it is appropriate to point out that Jesus is several times identified as being “The Word”, or even the “WORD OF GOD” (all caps), in the scripture. I think it is safe to say that how we respond to the written Word is indicative of our real response to the Living Word, Jesus himself.

17 But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness?

18 And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?

19 So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.

The warning stands, as it is written, for all to read. All I can say, is “let him that hath an ear hear what the Spirit saith.” A person has to check one’s own heart and ask where he or she really stands.

Vernon McGee told how, when he was young, he was sent to the barn to tend the animals at night. He carried a lantern, and, as he entered the dark barn, two things happened: the rats that crept through the barn at night would scurry for cover, fleeing the light. But the birds in the rafters, thinking the lantern light was sunrise, began to sing. Why the difference? The difference was in the character of the individual. Jesus said “And this is the judgment; that light has come into the World, and men loved darkness, rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”

Jesus is Better than the Sabbath day: (He is the real Sabbath.)

Hebrews Chapter Four

1Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.

For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.

Here is a very plain explanation of that difference. Judas heard all the same words as the other disciples, but chose to disbelieve. Therefore, when he was still present, Jesus said “…ye are not all clean.” But after Judas had left, he reiterated the earlier statement of cleanliness, saying to the remaining eleven,  “Now ye are clean, through the Word which I have spoken unto you.” The difference was faith.

In the case of Israel in the wilderness, they had really intended to enter the land. They were directed to send the twelve spies into the land, one from each tribe, to discern the best way to enternot to decide whether to enter. When the spies returned, they showed the fruit of the land, and confirmed that everything God had promised about the land was completely true, but they had seen giants there. Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, confirmed all of the above, and said, “Let’s go get ‘em!” The other ten said, “Forget it! They will eat us alive! Let’s go back to Egypt!” The people wept all night because of the evil report of the ten spies, and, in the morning, when Joshua and Caleb reiterated their call to action, the people wanted to stone them, and were ready to appoint new leaders to take them back to Egypt. That is when God stepped in and forbade that generation to go in, and a lot of them died of the ensuing plague—the ten spies died on the spot, punished by God.

What about the believers who also failed to enter in? They could not go back and “un-apply” the blood of the Passover, or “un-pass” through the Red Sea. Those things were done…they had believed God, at that point, but had failed at the point of entering the land. If, like them, I am “failing, through unbelief”, I can’t go back and “un-apply” Jesus’ blood to my sin, nor “un-impute” his righteousness to my account (both of which were done by God, not me.) All I am doing is failing to receive the blessing and security and rest that he still offers to believers.

For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.

Now we are entering a different issue: the rest offered to believers. All believers have entered into the “salvation rest” Jesus offered. (Come unto Me, and I will give you rest.) The writer confirms that all we who have believed DO enter into rest. But not all have further submitted themselves to His loving leadership and learned from Him; so, not all “find rest” unto their souls. This is a hard concept, though the application is simple.

For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.

This, of course, refers back to Genesis 2:2. We see this as the beginning of the teaching regarding the Sabbath, and so we should. That is what it is. But we need to carefully consider the remainder of what the scripture teaches regarding the Sabbath.

And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest.

Here we see a warning regarding the rest he was offering Israel, in Canaan. It had nothing to do with the keeping of a seventh-day Sabbath. It had to do with following through with the offer of God, and entering the land of Canaan.

Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief:

Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

This is from Psalm 95—many long years after Israel had not only entered the land but (especially under David, who wrote this psalm) had actually laid claim to nearly every bit of the promised territory. They were relatively secure in the land. They had “arrived!” And yet they were warned to “enter in” to God’s rest! The Land was not the rest. There had to be something else: something more!

For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.

(This is referring to Joshua, actually—the Old Testament name “Joshua” is the Hebrew name that Jesus actually bore, so the KJV translators correctly translated it from its Greek form, “Iesus”, into English, but it confuses us, who read it today.) The point was that Joshua DID bring them into the land. If that was the “rest” offered, and had already been received, then why did David describe such a “rest” as still being offered to believers, nearly 500 years later?

There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.

The writer concludes that neither the Sabbath 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”, then what are we talking about?

Conclusion:

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.

“Labor” to enter into “rest?” 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. The word “deserve” means to “have earned”…if you can earn God’s favor, it is no longer Grace but wages. “Grace” specifically means “unearned favor.”

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. And what He calls us to do is to share His yoke—share the job he was sent to do; share the concerns of His heart. He said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of Me… and ye shall find rest to your souls.”

How does this bring about “rest?” For one thing, since I am convinced that His blood was full payment for my sins, I have quit wondering whether I am really saved. Having placed my faith in Jesus’ completed work, there is nothing for me to add to His work, nor can it be diminished. Jesus said “it is finished!” And it is!

So, we can stop “trying to be good enough” for God. Jesus is the only one who makes the grade at all, and, if you have been born again, you are in Him, and that is the only way God sees you! His work was completed at the Cross: Rest in Him!

Daily seek to maintain fellowship by trusting Him and obeying Him. Feed on His Word. Reach out to those around you with His Love and care and kindness. But rest in Him. The work is done! Even as we serve as ambassadors, we are only fulfilling the works God prepared for us in advance. According to Ephesians 2:10, all we are doing is “walking in them.” We don’t even generate the will to do so… Philippians 2:13 says that “It is God who works in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” Rest in Him: let Him work through you.

 

Lord Jesus, teach us what it means to “rest”, and to “enter in to your rest.” Feed us on your Word, encourage us by your Holy Spirit, and enlighten our minds by your presence.


Don’t Miss Out on God’s Rest

Don’t Miss Out on God’s Rest

© C. O. Bishop 3/10/17 THCF 3/12/17

Hebrews 3:1-13

Introduction:

1Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;

Perhaps the first thing we need to do is look at the significance of some of the words used, here: It is interesting to me that the writer addresses his audience as “Holy Brethren”.  “Holy” means set apart for God’s purpose. We are no longer slaves to sin, but neither are we our own masters: we are not free agents but, rather, we are ambassadors for a Holy God. We have a job to do: we are to be about His business.

What about the word “brethren?” It just means brothers, of course…The writer was a Jew, and he spoke to other Jews, so, it is possible that he used the word “brethren” only in that regard, but it seems doubtful. They were familiar with that use, of course, but this goes a little deeper. All those who have placed their trust in Jesus as their savior have become brothers in Christ. I think that meaning more closely follows the intent of the book. Furthermore, it supports the concept that this book is to all believers, even though the primary audience was the Jewish believers of the first century church (pre-AD 70.)

He says that we have been made partakers of the “Heavenly Calling”. Give that one some thought: in what way are you a partaker of the heavenly calling? Is that a reality in your life? In Romans 8:29, 30 Paul makes it clear that every single believer is called to God’s service…how are you responding to that heavenly call? Perhaps this will require some soul-searching…. In my own case, I have to ask, do I spend more time concerned with the things of God, or am I primarily interested in my own things…my own needs and interests? Something to think about.

Apostle” means “sent one”. Jesus was sent by God to do a specific job—to offer himself to God as full payment for the sins of humanity. He completely fulfilled all the prophecies concerning himself, some over which he would have zero control if he were not God incarnate, though some people have argued that he artificially engineered the “fulfillments.” Many were utterly outside his control as a human. He was God in the flesh, fulfilling His OWN Word. He could literally pick his place of birth, his parentage, etc. He was sent to do the will of God, the Father and he fed on that reality. He said “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work.” (John 4:34)

The “High Priest” was the only one who could enter the holy of holies, with a sacrifice for the nation, and approach the throne of God. And he could only do so once a year. Jesus is the High Priest upon whom our lives depend. Either his sacrifice, presented before that Holy God, is sufficient, or we are forever lost. The writer is telling us to give this some thought…consider who we are dealing with. Jesus carried out his ministry with absolutely flawless faithfulness. Then the writer compared the person of Christ to Moses, who was also faithful:

Jesus is better than Moses

Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house.

Moses was also called faithful. But he was part of the creation, while Jesus was the creator, thus worthy of greater honor.

For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house.

For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God. 

A further point is made, that, relationally, Moses was still a servant. Jesus is the only begotten Son: the heir of all things, as well as the creator of all things. He is literally “God in the flesh”.

And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after;

But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.

 So, as sons of God, and joint-heirs with Jesus, we are encouraged to not lose sight of who we are in Christ: part of the household of God. And, he exhorts those who are dabblers, still uncommitted, to make a decision before it is too late. For every opportunity, there is a closing date: a “pull-date”—a time after which the offer is no longer valid. And, to all who play games with the Gospel, claiming faith, but never committing themselves, he warns that the result can be eternal loss. He uses Israel as an example, saying that unbelief is why the first generation, who left Egypt with Moses, failed to enter into the land. (Notice, here, that the land was not a picture of salvation. It was a picture of the rest-relationship with God. They had already been under the blood of the Passover, by faith; and they had already been through the Red Sea, again by faith. But when they balked at entering the land, he said, “Fine, then: you can’t go in.” So, in spite of the fact that they were saved by faith, they lost their opportunity to enter into the joy of that relationship, because of unbelief.)

The Second Warning: “Harden Not your Hearts”

Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice,

Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness:

When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years.

There seem to be fairly harsh warnings throughout the book of Hebrews…and while some might be simple warnings against failing to enter into the rest relationship, others are clearly warning against eternal perdition…being lost forever. Since that has already been ruled out for the child of God, one must read more carefully, and then we can see that some of those who originally received this epistle had never committed themselves to the sacrifice of Christ, but were simply “along for the ride”, thinking that, “if it doesn’t work out, I can always return to the Mosaic Law, the Levitical priesthood, and the sacrifices thereof.”  But, since the real sacrifice now has been made, the earlier ones which were only pictures of the coming Lamb of God, no longer have any validity. There is nothing left, to which they could go back…it is just an empty shell, now.

While we, as believers should take to heart the warnings of this book, we need to see that the sternest warnings, here, are to those who have failed to place their full trust in the blood of Jesus at the Cross. There is no threat of a believer losing his or her salvation. We are secure in Him. But those who pretend faith are not only not secure, they are in special danger as having “neglected so great a salvation”, and having “hardened their hearts” (the first two warnings.)

10 Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways.

11 So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.)

Notice that is says “they have not known my ways”…not that they once knew them and simply slid back into their old ways. This is a critical difference. To those who are lost at the Judgment of the Living Nations (Matthew 25:31, ff ), Jesus says. “…I never knew you.” It is possible for a believer to continually live in the flesh and never learn the “ways of God”. But it is not possible for God to address a true believer and say, “I never knew you.”

Seven Rests from the Word of God:

(So, what is the “Rest” offered here?)

There are at least seven “rests” mentioned in scripture:

  1. The rest of God himself after the Creation,
  2. The rest offered to Israel in the land of Canaan,
    • The rest given to the next generation of Israel in the land of Canaan,
  3. The rest demanded for the Land
  4. The rest offered to Ruth in the book of Ruth,
  5. The rest Jesus offered to unbelievers, “Come unto me and I will give you rest,
  6. The rest Jesus offered to believers, “Ye shall find rest unto your soul…”
    • The rest God offers for the believer in Christ’s labor and rest, today.
  7. Eternal rest in Heaven.

Some of these are very similar, and I will not try to “surgically” separate them, but some are very different, and God says so. Those I will attempt to explain:

  1. When God rested after completing the creation, it was not because he was tired. The word used is “Shabbat”…from which we get the transliterated word, “Sabbath”. It means to cease from our usual labor, or from labor in general. It means “rest”, in the sense that we mean when we say “give it a rest!” (Stop doing that, now…)
  1. God offered rest to his people in the land of Canaan: They were already believers, having trusted in the blood of the Passover, and having passed through the Red Sea under the cloud of God’s presence. But they were offered “rest” in Canaan. Rest (in the sense of “relief”) from persecution, rest from poverty, rest from the desert. It was a picture of the Rest in Christ, to which the New Testament believer is invited. As demonstrated in their lives, it is entirely possible for a believer to miss out on that rest. The next generation entered into Canaan, but we see in subsequent passages (Psalm 95) that there still remained a “rest” for believers to embrace—Canaan itself was not the promised rest…it was only a picture of the promised “rest.”
  1. God demanded “rest” for the land. The land was to be left fallow every seventh year, and allowed time to regenerate. Israel did not follow this command, and, after 490 years of disobedience in this regard, were cast out of the land for 70 years, to make up for the 70 missed “Sabbaths” of the land. Interesting fact.
  1. Ruth was offered “rest” by Naomi. Ruth was working to support herself and Naomi, by gleaning in the fields. She had no security, as a stranger to Israel, and there were no “social services” offered. A widow, especially a foreign-born widow, did not have much hope in that society. (Their “welfare system” was limited to the gleaner’s rights.) But, she had placed her trust in the God of Israel (Boaz said so, supplementing her own statement of “Thy God shall be my God.”), and Naomi asked whether she might seek “rest” for Ruth, in the form of marriage, so that she had some security. The remainder of that story is as fine a holy romance as one can read. That was “rest,” in the form of security and blessing.
  1. Jesus offered two “rests”, in Matthew 11:28-30. The first was offered to those who labored and were heavily laden (unbelievers). He said “Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” This is the rest that is conferred upon us in salvation: it is a free gift.
  1. The second is different: He said “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. This “rest” is not a free gift; it is a product of an obedient relationship with the Savior. It comes as a result of walking with Jesus. “Ye shall find rest unto your souls.” It is only available to saved people, but not all saved people experience it. This is the primary “rest” discussed in Hebrews 3:7—4:11, although the “rest” involved in salvation is also alluded to. (In similar fashion, peace with God is a reality for all believers (Romans 5:1), but the Peace of God is offered on the conditions of faith and obedience. (Philippians 4:6,7)
  1. The final rest offered in the eternal state is described in numerous places in scripture, but notably in Revelation 22:1-3. “…no more curse”. We yearn for that final rest, and it is guaranteed to us: but we can experience God’s Rest in this life as well.

Departing from the Living God.

12 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.

Is it possible for a believer to “depart from the living God?” In the same sense that the Prodigal Son left his father, yes, it is possible. But it is important to remember that all the time the Son was on the road, going or coming, he was a son. All the time he was feeding those pigs, and wishing he could eat their food, he was a son. And had he died there, he would have been a dead son: not a dead pig! His human father did not know where he was, so, from his perspective, he was dead…they were separated. (Death always is a separation of some sort, in scripture.)

But when he woke up and realized his own folly, he headed back to his father’s house. His Father saw him coming, and without hesitation, ran to meet him. He confessed his folly, and fellowship was instantly restored. The consequences of his sin remained…he was penniless. The remainder of the father’s fortune was still going to the elder son.

But his position as a son had never changed. Only his condition had changed. We see similar results in a Church-age believer’s life, in 1st Corinthians 3:10-15. There are those whose life-work will be lost, because it is entirely of a temporal nature (having no eternal value), but who will still be saved, themselves, though as one escaping through flames.

13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

On the other hand, let’s consider the alternative: were there people who lived in Egypt, and saw the plagues, who were impressed enough to obey Moses, and sacrifice a lamb? And who ate of that lamb, and followed Moses out of Egypt? Even followed him through the Red Sea? And, were terrified at Sinai, hearing the trumpets and voices, and seeing the smoke? And ate of the manna, daily, but somehow still never placed their trust in the living God? I have no way to know for sure, but my experience with churches today tells me it is entirely possible that there were people at that time, as well, who went through all the motions, but never knew, nor desired to know the living God as their savior and God. How can we know this?

During the Earthly ministry of Christ, there was one for sure (Judas), and likely others, who saw all the miracles, heard all the teaching, and ate the loaves and fishes, etc., but who never believed. (Definitely true of Judas!) And, during the Church age there have been many who attended church all their lives, sang the songs, prayed the prayers, took communion, listened to the preaching, and in many cases, went into the ministry themselves, but never believed the Gospel. I have met some of them. Peter warned against them (2nd Peter 2).

I have known some believers whose spoken testimony confirmed that for years they “played along”, living like a believer, but knowing, all the time, that they were living a lie. At some point they realized the deadly danger they were in and repented: they changed their mind about the pretense they were maintaining. From that point on, their perspective had changed.

There are others who pressed on with their smug self-will, certain that they were leaders of the blind, and that all these “sheep” were simply misguided fools. I have known pastors who outwardly seemed model Christians, but who eventually confessed that they did not believe the Bible. I cannot explain that, but it is true…and, from testimonies I have heard, it is not even all that uncommon.

The Deceitfulness of Sin:

Notice it says that their hearts were hardened “through the deceitfulness of sin”. Why is the sin called deceitful, rather than the sinner, in this passage? Because the sinner is being deceived by their own sin nature. Jeremiah 17:9 states that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked”. The blood-circulating pump that is the physical heart is not the issue. That one either pumps blood or it doesn’t. The deceitful “heart” in Jeremiah is the old sin nature of the New Testament. This is the “evil heart of unbelief” warned against in verse 12.

God seldom uses the word “heart” to refer to the pump—he uses the word to denote the seat of emotions and intellect—the soulish part of the human trichotomy. We are a three-part being: body, soul and spirit. And the human psyche or soul, is contaminated with sin. (The Greek word is “psuche”…that is where we get our word “psyche.”)

Your old nature doesn’t “go away” when you become a believer. In fact, it is frequently referred to as “the flesh”, just as the soul is sometimes referred to as the heart. But you were given a new nature. That is why Jesus called it being “born again”. You have a new nature. That new nature is completely holy, just as this passage suggests, and it is truly “made in the image of God” in righteousness, as well as true holiness. (Ephesians 4:24) That is one reason I can say with assurance, that, if you have been born again, this passage is to you! The book of Hebrews is for you, as a believer. The seven warnings are to a specific group spelled out in the book: those who have not been born again, but who are pretending faith. But, to the believers, he addresses you as “Holy Brethren!”

However, because you are a believer, you need to especially be aware that your old nature is still extremely deceitful. You have had all your life to practice “listening to your heart”, as we are so often told to do. We have to deliberately practice listening to God instead of our hearts. People say “Your heart won’t lead you wrong!” But, in fact, the opposite is true. We have to constantly soak ourselves in God’s Word, so that we are less likely to be drawn away by our old sin nature.

Conclusion:

There are four things we should be able to “take away with us,” here:

  1. If you have been born again, God counts you as holy, and righteous, and as His child.
  2. If you have been born again, you have a job to do…a heavenly calling: you are God’s ambassador.
  3. If you have been born again, there is a rest you are invited to enjoy, and warned not to miss out on.
  4. If you have been born again, you have two natures, and one of them (the old one) is very deceitful. There is a war going on, and the enemy’s best weapon against us is that old sin nature…our deceitful hearts.

So…what do we do about it? We choose daily to walk with God, and saturate ourselves with His Word, so as to minimize the effect of our old nature. We pray, we worship, we fellowship with other believers around the person of Christ. We pray for and look for opportunities to do our jobs as ambassadors of God. We study to equip ourselves for that work, and keep our testimony clean so as not to be disqualified for service. All this we do under God’s Grace and under the guidance of His Holy Spirit, who indwells us and keeps us through all our lives.

Lord Jesus give us the Grace to continually walk with you and not to miss out on your daily blessings through sin and inattention to our jobs. Teach us to live in such a way as to draw others to you, not drive them away. Teach us to rest in you. Amen


Jesus, the Ruler and Savior

Jesus, the Ruler and Savior 

(And the Head of the New Human Race.)

© C. O. Bishop 2/1/2017

Hebrews 2:4-18

Introduction:

We’ve been working our way through the book of Hebrews. The first four verses of chapter two were a warning to those who are teetering on the edge of faith, but still uncommitted. The Writer drops that subject, as it (like all the other warnings in the Epistle to the Hebrews) was parenthetical in nature. He had been talking about the angelic host in the end of chapter one. He briefly warned the uncommitted professing believers that, if the message brought by angels had been authoritative, so much more authoritative is the message brought by the Son, and worthy of obedience by faith. Then he goes back to the subject of the Angels, and the comparison between Jesus and the whole Angelic Army.

He says that the Angels have never been placed in authority over the coming (new) world; and He quotes Psalm 8.

 

Where do the Angels fit in, with regard to Humans?

For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak.

But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that thou visitest him?

Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands:

This was originally given in regard to the human race—but, here it is shown to have a secondary reference to the Person of Christ. Verses 6, 7 and the first clause of verse 8 are all a direct quote from Psalm 8. But, in the original context, it is clear that he is speaking of the human race, placed in dominion over the earth. Some commentators feel that this dominion may have originally extended to the whole creation, not just lesser life, had Adam not botched the gift through sin. I can’t see that here, because he specifically named animals as what was under the dominion of Man, in Genesis and Psalm 8. But the writer of Hebrews evidently says that those commentators may be correct. He takes the first clause in verse 8 to mean “ALL things”, not just animals.

Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him.

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.

 So, Jesus is the subject of Psalm 8!

 

Prophetic Psalms

There are a whole bunch of Messianic Psalms. Some are easy to see. Psalm 22 pretty clearly describes the crucifixion, and, it obviously describes things that were never the experience of the writer, King David. So that one is pretty easy. But Psalm 8 really sounds as though it is simply describing the state of the human race.

However, Hebrews 2:9 states that it is really about Jesus. Apart from this passage, I could never have known that fact. And, because the original passage (combined with the Genesis account) says those things about Man as a whole, in the person of Adam, I can see that it is entirely possible that those commentators were right on the mark: that Adam may have originally been endowed with the authority to “run” this world, being in command of the elements as well as simply being able to rule the animal life. (That is absolutely astounding, if it is true…and it all was lost because of Sin.) So why is it about Jesus? Why is that important?

 

Jesus Was Born to Die

Hebrews explains that the purpose of Jesus being temporarily “demoted” to human status, lower than the angels, was for the suffering of death.

As God, Jesus was immortal. As an Angel, he would have been immortal, too, had he chosen to become one. But, in order to be our Redeemer, he had to be specifically related to us: he had to be human. That was one of the rules of the “kinsman redeemer”. This was a provision God made in Israel’s law, so that a person sold into slavery, because of a crushing debt, could be bought out of that slavery and set free. We see a great example of those rules in the story of Ruth. Through the death of all the men in their family, Ruth and Naomi had become poverty-stricken, and landless. They were in real trouble, as destitute women in a patriarchal society. They desperately needed someone to step in and help.

Boaz could be Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer for four reasons:

  1. He was a close relative, who could marry her and raise children in her dead husband’s name.
  2. He was free, himself…not in debt, and not a slave.
  3. He had the price of redemption—the money to buy her land, and
  4. He was willing to pay that price and marry her.

Remember, though,  that there was another man who was a closer relative to Ruth than Boaz. He had the first right of redemption. But he wasn’t willing to marry Ruth. So he was disqualified!

So, to complete that picture, compare it to Christ:

  1. Only a human could redeem a human.
  2. Only a non-sinner (no sin-debt) could redeem a sinner.
  3. Only a living, sinless human could offer the price of redemption; a sinless, perfect blood-sacrifice,
  4. And only one who was willing could do so.

Jesus was that One. And it says that Jesus tasted death for all. (The word translated “every man”, in the Greek, is actually “pantos”, meaning simply “everyone”, in any context where people are involved. In other contexts, it is translated “everything.” The word “man” is not in the original.) The fact is, His death paid for the sins of the entire human race, including all the billions who would ultimately reject Him. We are uncomfortable with that fact, because it is not what we might do, but he states this very specifically, in several passages. 1st John 2:2 is the most specific: “…not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

 

What is the Result?

10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

The word translated “Captain”, here, is the same word translated “Author”, over in Hebrews 12:1. Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith, and the captain of our salvation. He is the Master.

And the word “perfect”, here, is in reference to the fact that Jesus’ ministry as savior and redeemer was completed in His sufferings. There are passages where “perfect” means sinless perfection. But this is not one of them. Jesus was already sinless, thus perfect. But Jesus didn’t just show up, march to the cross, and die. He completed the picture, living a fully human life, in privation and hard times, showing that it is possible for a human to live by faith, in full subjection to a holy God, and fulfil the Righteousness of God…providing that he was not born contaminated with “Original Sin”. Adam, supposedly, could have done the same…but once he fell into sin, taking us all with him, neither he nor any of his progeny could ever do so.

So a special case had to be set up—one who was fully human, but without a sin nature. Evidently the sin nature is passed through the father, as God promised that a deliverer would come, but that He would be the “Seed of the Woman”. (Genesis 3:15) Out all the billions in Earth’s history, only Jesus was truly the “Seed of Woman”, with no human father. And he fulfilled not only that one obscure passage, but all the other prophecies, whether plain or obscure: whether complex or simple. His ministry, and life and death and resurrection fulfilled all the prophecies about him, and completed the promises of God regarding the Savior.

In this way, a new human race was begun—those born of faith: born of the Spirit. Ephesians 2:15 states that Jesus created “one new Man” of two separated peoples (Jews and Gentiles.) A human who has been reborn, by God’s Grace, through faith, has the ability, once again, to serve in holiness. We are no longer slaves to sin. We have been declared righteous in Him, and made Holy in Him. The word “justified” means “declared righteous”: “Sanctified” means “made holy.”

11 For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren,

12 Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.

This is a direct quote from Psalm 22:22. The “church”, in verse 12, was the “congregation” of Israel. I remember meeting a man, some 40 years ago with whom I was attempting to share the Gospel. He told me he was “already saved” because he was part of the “great Congregation” It turns out that Psalm 22:25 is where he got that phrase, “the great congregation”…but he was wrong about his being part of it. He thought that simply because he was born a Jew, he was part of this fellowship of God. My words made no impression upon him at all, because, to him, I was just a young fool. But he was missing the necessity of being covered with the blood of that One sacrifice. He thought that being born a Jew was sufficient. John the Baptist made it clear that the Pharisees, the “cream of the crop” of Israel, were in imminent danger of Hell. Obviously, being born Jewish does not save you. In fact, all he had to do is read the history of Israel, and see how many were condemned for unbelief, and executed for idolatry. They were Jews, too! What was the difference between them, and those God saved? The difference was the saved Jews’ faith in the living God.

But what about the fact that he refers to us as his “brethren?” He himself is God the Son, the only begotten son…the crown prince! But he has “begotten us again” through the Holy Spirit, when we trusted in Him, and now, yes; he call us brothers, as well as his “little children.” What does that say about the idea of the Universal Fatherhood of God, and the Universal Brotherhood of Man? I haven’t heard this doctrine preached for quite a while, but the idea is still out there: the notion that God considers ALL humans his children, and loves them all equally.

In the first place, Jesus debunked that, personally, in John 8:44, by telling the Jews that they were not the children of God, but rather, the children of their father, the devil. (Odd…they took that rather badly.)

 

How does one become a child of God?

John 1:12 says that those who received Him by faith were given the authority to become children of God…again pointing out that they had not been His children before that point. Ephesians 2:11, 12 says that we were once strangers and foreigners, without God and without hope, in the World.

There is no hint of a universal Fatherhood or universal brotherhood taught in the Bible. By the way, those terms, “Father” and “brother” are exclusive by nature. They are meant to confer special status upon the individual to whom they are applied. Familial terms are all “inner circle” words. If one tries to expand them to cover everyone, then they lose their intended meaning. The same is true for nearly any word—if one tries to expand the meaning of any given word to cover too much, then it loses all significance.

 

It is not only significant that Jesus refers to us as his “brothers”, as well as the children of God: it is part of our security in Him. Unlike the royal families throughout secular human history, in many different countries, who simply murdered all their brothers and/or sisters, in order to secure the throne, Jesus values his brothers and sisters, his children, his joint-heirs, and He protects us against all enemies. He is our security. He has no need to secure his throne, because it cannot be taken from Him. But of us, he says (John 6:39) that he shall lose none of us, but raise us up at the last day. In fact, He says that we shall be with him for eternity, and that the Holy Spirit will indwell us until His return for us, and that we cannot be taken from him by any means…even by our own effort or failure. (Romans 8:39) we are truly secure as His children, and as His family. We can never again be lost.

13 And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me.

The first half of this verse is a quote from Isaiah 8:17, from the Septuagint, a very important early Greek translation of the Old Testament; it does not read the same in the Hebrew version. (By the way, every single time Jesus quotes the Old Testament, He is quoting the Septuagint.) The second half is from the next verse, Isaiah 8:18. But, in both cases, I never would have known that the verses were prophetic concerning Jesus. I would have seen only the primary interpretation, concerning the prophet Isaiah, his faith, and his sons…who were named in Isaiah 7:3 and 8:3 (Shear-Jashub—“the remnant shall return”, and Maher-shalal-hashbaz—“hastening to the booty; speeding to the prey”.) I never could have seen the final fulfillment in the person of Christ and his church. But God did! That is why we compare scripture with scripture, and let God speak. Otherwise we frequently miss the point.

 

Jesus joined us, so that we can Join Him!

14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;

Again, by joining us in our low estate, specifically in death, he carried out the judgment that had been pronounced upon sin, and freed the human race from that judgment. In doing so, he dealt a mortal wound to our ancient enemy, Satan. This is actually the fulfillment of the very earliest prophecy concerning Jesus, the “Seed of the Woman”…who would crush the serpent’s head. That is where it happened: at the Cross!

15 And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

Thus, He delivered us from the death we fear throughout life. We no longer fall headlong into a pit called death, but literally “walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” The substance of Death has been taken away for us, leaving only the shadow. And the pit has become an open-ended rite of passage, not a final defeat. We no longer have to be in bondage to fear.

16 For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.

Jesus chose to become a man…not an angel. And he chose the Jews, out of all the world’s peoples, to whom to join himself. Why? I really can’t say. There was literally one person in that group when He made his choice—it was Abraham. And the choice has been sub-divided several times: narrowed in some areas (the land and the priesthood, etc.), so as to exclude many who were physically born to Abraham; but broadened in others, to include all who trust in God’s plan of salvation.

17 Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.

Jesus lived as a poor, underprivileged Jew, in a nation that was a slave-state to Rome, an evil regime predicted by Daniel. The word “tempted,” here, is the Greek word “peirazomos”, and it can be used to mean a trial—a test—or it can be used in the same manner we do, as in being lured to some bad choice. But it is made clear in James 1:13, 14 that God does not lure people to do wrong, as He is not lured in that manner, and does not lure others in that manner—but that we ourselves, having a sin-nature, as evidenced by our evil desires, are lured away by our own evil desires. However, the testing that we all endure is definitely by design—God says that He will not allow us to be tested beyond our ability to bear it, and always makes a way of escape, so that we will be able to walk with him, and not fall into sin. We do not have to sin. We now have a choice. We can walk in obedience to God.

18 For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.

Jesus did undergo the same kinds of testing that we do, but he was not drawn to sin: He avoided it entirely, and approached the cross undefiled. He became our sinless sacrifice. In this manner he proved He would be a helper to those of us who believe in Him; we who are still in the struggles and the trials of life.

We enter into an eternal relationship with Him by faith…believing that He alone is our Savior: that He alone has paid the full price for our redemption…and that He is our only hope for eternal life.

In the years since I became a believer, I have more and more intensely understood the grievous fact of my sins. I have more and more painfully seen the fact of my sin nature, and that, apart from Christ, I literally have no hope. So: more and more earnestly, I turn my eyes to Him, and look for His guidance and depend upon His supply. I have no other hope; no one else to whom I could turn. He is the living Savior, the Messiah.

 

The Results are Eternal

I had a fellow angrily tell me “Chet, I’m talking about real life!” when I had tried to share some particular truth from the Bible. He wanted me to shut up, and so I did…but I thought about it and realized the total irony of someone calling the very temporary experience of humanity on Earth “real” life, when what God is offering is absolute permanence. Which one is more “real?” The one that lasts 70-120 years, tops, or the one that, after ten thousand years, has just barely begun?

We each have decisions to make, in regard to life: do we want the REAL life that God offers, or only the shadow of life that we now experience? Jesus said “This is eternal life; that they may know thee, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3) Even as a believer, I have to choose to walk with God…or not. Every day can be an eternal treasure, or a total waste of time. The choice is ours.

Lord Jesus, help us to understand your Word, and to apply it in such a way as to make good choices, with eternally good results. Teach us to walk with you, day by day, and moment by moment, so as to make the most of life.


Hebrews Chapter 2: First Warning

Hebrews Chapter Two: the first of Seven Warnings

© C. O. Bishop 1/22/17; THCF 1/29/17

Hebrews 2:1-4; Genesis 6:14-22

Introduction:

As we mentioned in the past weeks, along with the many exhortations to genuine believers, and the seven comparisons that are made to demonstrate that “Jesus is Better”, there are seven warnings given throughout the epistle to the Hebrews, which are directed specifically to those who are “along for the ride”, but have not received the Messiah as their savior. They aren’t sure, perhaps, or at least, are not committed.

There are many teachers who attempt to make this a warning to believers against losing the eternal life they now possess. The obvious problem with that is that if that “Eternal Life” is really eternal, then it cannot cease; so the only person who can “lose” eternal life, is one who never possessed it to begin with.

I hope to demonstrate what the warning really is, and to whom it really applies. Interpretation has to precede application; so, before we can rightly apply God’s Word to our lives, we need to understand what it actually says. In chapter two, here, we see the first of the seven warnings to the uncommitted; to the “dabblers”.

Don’t let the Message “Slip” Away from You

Hebrews 2:

1Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.

Given our exalted position in Christ, (provided we have actually crossed over into His life… John 5:24 says that we have crossed over from death into life) and, given the fact that Jesus really is superior in every way to the messengers who were sent to the patriarchs, it behooves us to give special attention to His Word. That is true for all believers…but the “warning” included here is not to believers. This is the beginning of the first warning in the book of Hebrews.

All of the Epistle is to the Hebrew “professing believers” of the Apostolic Age, but among them were evidently (as today) people who, while they professed faith, had never actually placed their faith in Christ as their only hope. They still were “half-in, and half-out”, feeling that they still had the option to go back to Judaism “if things don’t work out”, or if they changed their mind.  (The intended audience becomes increasingly apparent, as the warnings intensify.)

This sort of thing is common today among Gentiles, as well, because people “go along” with a church; perhaps, just to “see how things go”.

There are several problems with that approach:

  1. Ultimately, a person who is “half-in” is not in at all.
  2. An unsigned contract is completely invalid. A signed contract is completely binding.
  3. If you put on a uniform, it does not make you part of the armed forces…and if you take it off it does not get you out. In the same way, acting like a believer does not make you a child of God, nor does failing to act like one take you out of God’s family.
  4. The unseen danger is that when one “acts like a Christian”, one can convince oneself that he or she is “just as good as any other person”, and conclude that they are in a secure position because of their works. No one is saved by works. Saving faith produces works, but the works do not produce the relationship vital to salvation.

So, the warnings in the book of Hebrews are specifically to those who have known the truth, but have neglected to do anything about it: they are “dabblers”—dilettantes—those flirting with God, so to speak, but not realizing their own lostness. They are repeatedly warned to not fall short of saving faith.

I have “direct-deposit” for most of my pay, at work; a void “pay-check” is still given to me, every payday, including all the appropriate information regarding taxes, other withholdings, and employer contributions, etc., but it is non-negotiable—the money is already in my checking account, so the paper is only a notification. On the occasions, however, when a bonus is paid (which is not part of our hourly wages), it is not done by direct deposit: the check they give me is a live, valid paycheck, and I have to go deposit it myself. I have to take special care that I don’t lose that check. If I don’t get it endorsed and deposited, it will be worthless to me, though the payment was made to me in good faith. If I let the check “slip” into a drawer, or out of my pocket into the trash, I have lost a large sum of money that would have had real worth to my wife and to me.

We can do the same with the message of salvation. Jesus has “written a check”, so to speak, in the amount of “Eternal Life”, and signed it with His own blood, at the Cross. It is made out to “Whosoever Believeth in Him.” Each recipient is required to “endorse” that check by Faith. God then “deposits” Eternal life and, in addition, the righteousness of Christ, to the believer’s account. (In the Scriptures, this is called imputation. Abraham believed God, and God “imputed” righteousness to Abraham. We studied about this in Romans chapter four.)

When we say, “Well, I’ll think about that,” or “I’m just not ready for that, yet,” then we acknowledge that we heard the message, but that, at least temporarily, we are choosing to reject both the message and the gift…and, consequently, the Giver. The check remains un-endorsed, and the transaction is incomplete. The writer warns to not let that happen.

Don’t Neglect the Gift

For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward;

How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;

The issue here is not about “neglecting” a plant, so that it finally withers and dies, but neglecting a message—neglecting to respond to that message. In any human organization, there will be people who are “along for the ride,” but not committed to the cause, so to speak. The military calls them “weekend warriors.” In any local assembly, it is possible for people to fool one another, and there will always be those who secretly feel that “I’ve always been a Christian! I’m certainly just as good as anyone else here!” They are fooling themselves and others, but not God.

That sort of thing is possible at a local level, and a horizontal level: human to human. We can fool people. In the Body of Christ at large, however, only God is keeping the records, and it is impossible to fool God; He knows each heart. He warns against such duplicity, and lets those people know that they can wait too long…that, if they are not “on the Ark when the door closes”, they will be lost, along with the world. He warns them to not miss out.

Don’t Miss the Boat!

In Genesis 6:14-22 we see a very peculiar foreshadowing of Jesus the Messiah. (Read it.) That Ark, which Noah built, parallels the person and work of Jesus in several ways:

  1. The Ark was built according to God’s instructions
    1. (Jesus fulfilled God’s prophecies to the letter.)
  2. The Ark was built to endure. (Those animals and people were in there for over a year!)
    1. (Jesus’s ministry and work is permanent.)
  3. The Ark was big enough to accommodate all that would be in it.
    1. (Jesus shed his blood for all.)
  4. God knew who was going to be in the Ark …but they entered by choice.
    1. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, and invites all to come to Him, but he knows from eternity past the ones who will respond in faith.
  5. The Ark withstood the flood of judgment and rose above the judgment.
    1. (Jesus bore the judgment for our sins at the Cross and rose from the dead.)
  6. The Ark had only one window, looking up. Noah could not see where he was going.
    1. (Our only information regarding our future is with God. We can only look up.)
  7. The Ark was coated inside and out, so as to be impervious to both the water outside and the filth inside. (What do you think those animals were doing during that year?)
    1. (Jesus was impervious to the Judgment and also is not affected by our unrighteousness. Our sin cannot sabotage God’s Grace.)
  8. The Ark had no sail, oars, nor rudder. Noah was utterly dependent upon God as to the outcome.
    1. (We have no means by which to control our eternal destiny. We have to trust God.)
  9. The Ark had only one door; only one way in or out…and God closed and opened the door. Noah couldn’t close it, and Noah couldn’t open it. God closed and opened it.
    1. (We have only one entrance into God’s Grace, by faith, and He says He will never lose us, nor leave us.)
  10. Everyone inside the Ark was safe…not necessarily comfortable, but definitely safe. Everyone outside the Ark was lost: regardless of age, health, intelligence, or even morals: they were lost because they were outside the Ark.
    1. All in Christ are safe…regardless of works or any other issues. All outside Christ are lost, because they have not believed in Jesus. (John 3:18)

When we read all that the scriptures have to say about Noah, we find that he spent 120 years building the Ark…and that he was a preacher of righteousness. We assume, then, that those around him had heard the warnings. They knew the purpose of the Ark, and the reason for the coming judgment.

They may have believed that he was just a smelly old man with odd ideas about life, and may have thought, “Well, I’m obviously a better man than you are, buddy! If God is in the business of “saving people”, He’d choose me over you!” Or, it is possible that they actually heard and considered the call Noah made, but ultimately put it off too long. One way or another, we are told that Noah had no control over the door. Only God could close it, and only God could open it.

The only choice Noah and his family really had was whether to get aboard. They did, and the rest is history. Once God closed the door, the only comparison that mattered was the location of the individuals being compared: they were either inside or outside the Ark. That is true today, as well. There are unquestionably people who are better humans than I am, who reject the Grace of God, because they are convinced they don’t need it. They think it is a “crutch”, or something.

But God’s Grace is far more than just a crutch. It is the only antidote to the lostness of the human race. As a race we are lost in sin. Turn to 1st Corinthians 15:22. There are two positions, or “locations” listed here: Everyone is either “in Adam”, where, it says, “all die,” or they are “in Christ”, where, it says, “all shall be made alive.” My position “in Christ” is the only thing that makes me acceptable to God. That position is perfect, though my condition may vary all over the scale. Do you suppose Noah and his family may have been afraid or seasick, or claustrophobic, aboard the Ark? Very possibly they were. But did it affect their position? Absolutely not! All the other issues are irrelevant to the question of eternal life. My position is secure: I am in Christ. I am part of the Body of Christ. So, how did I get there?

Where’s the Door? How do I get in?

Jesus promised that the “way in” was to place my faith in Him. In John 10:7, He said that He is the door…the “way in”.  In John 3:16, he said “…that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

The way to become part of the body of Christ, according to 1st Corinthians 12:13, is to be placed there by the Holy Spirit—baptized by the Holy Spirit, into the Body of Christ. This happens (whether one knows it or not) at the moment of salvation… at the moment one chooses to believe the Gospel, and place his/her faith in Jesus’ shed blood as full payment for sin.

While it is entirely possible to “fake it” on earth, and fool Christians, it is absolutely impossible to fool God. There are no false brethren in the Body of Christ at large. But there can be, in a local assembly.

I have a friend who will tell you very plainly that he faked his faith for 15 years, until it suddenly dawned on him that he was in deep trouble. He was lost. He repented, and placed his faith in Jesus as the blood-sacrifice for his salvation, and has been serving faithfully for the last 40 years or so. There is no question that such things happen. The problem is that we can’t tell for sure who is who, and they can even be fooling themselves, and be convinced that they are Christians, for a variety of reasons. The seven warnings in this epistle are to that sort of person.

God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?

The writer continues to point out how much more harsh the consequences may be for those who knew the Gospel, and had heard the apostolic teaching, in person, and had seen the miracles of that age, if they ultimately failed to heed those warnings. Jesus had issued very similar warnings to the Jews in Jerusalem, and Judea and Galilee. (Matthew 12:21-24; 23:29-39)

A person who hears, understands, and rejects God’ plan for the redemption of lost humanity is in deeper trouble than one who simply never heard it, or who heard such a garbled version of it that they never understood. And, a person who pretends faith, through a self-made piety, is in deeper trouble still.

Think about it this way: a person who is not in the service (say, the US Navy), and who walks aboard one of the warships that come to this area for special occasions, is there as a guest. He or she is treated completely politely and cordially. But when the ship leaves the harbor, and the visiting opportunity is over, it is expected that they will have already gone ashore. If they were to stow away, and were later discovered, they would be taken off the ship, probably by a Coast-Guard vessel, or, if they were still in inland waters, possibly a sheriff’s patrol boat, and they would be charged with trespass. I don’t know how serious the results might be.

But… if they had also dressed themselves in the uniform of a first-class seaman, and claimed to be a member of the US Navy, there would be a much deeper investigation, and probably far more serious charges. They would at least be charged with impersonating a member of the Armed Forces, and possibly with espionage.

So the writer is putting forward his first warning that some of the professing believers among that first generation of Jewish Christians might want to stop and think about the nature of their real relationship with the Messiah. He is warning them not to “neglect the message”, but to step all the way into that relationship by faith.

What about those already “in Christ?”

As a believer, who truly has placed his/her faith in Jesus’s blood sacrifice as full satisfaction of God’s Law, you need not fear that God will ultimately reject you: Your position in Christ is completely secure. Jesus promised that of all those whom God has given him, he will not lose a single one.

These warnings are not directed at you. But! The exhortations in this book are to you! There are encouragements, teachings and promises, here, that are specifically to those who already belong to Christ. As we study together, we will try to learn how to apply them to make them applicable to our lives, both individually and collectively.

 

Lord Jesus, help us to rightly divide the Word of Truth. Help us to correctly understand your Written Word, and correctly apply it to our lives. Make us the Men and Women of God that you have called us to be.

Amen!