Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 12

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 12

Faith and the Promise of the Land

© C. O. Bishop 9/17/18

Genesis 23the Death of Sarah.

Introduction:

As we journey through Genesis, watching for pictures of Jesus, the Messiah, we also see some pictures of those who believe in Jesus. Bear in mind that Abraham spoke with God face-to-face on at least one occasion, and was spoken to by him (and had a conversation with Him, not necessarily face-to-face) on several occasions. We saw, by comparing these passages with New Testament passages, that the person with whom Abraham spoke was unquestionably God the Son, in a pre-incarnate appearance called a “Christophany.”

But, in this chapter, there is no such conversation: no such appearance. Instead we see what could be just a quiet, sad story of a very old man purchasing a burial place for his dead wife. But God chose to include that story, in quite a bit of detail, so there must be something here of value. If all He had chosen to say, was “Sarah died at 127 years of age, and was buried in Hebron.” we might pass it by and not worry about missing much. But, if we summarize the 20 verses of chapter 23 to read as a terse, 12-word sentence such as the one above, we run a great risk of missing something of real importance. So, let’s stop and consider what is really there.

Sarah’s Death at Hebron

Sarah died at 127 years of age (thus, Isaac was 37 when she died—remember that Sarah was 90 when Isaac was born—we have no idea how much time had passed between the last chapter and this one). Abraham had been with her most of her life, and most of his, though we don’t know how long—she was 65 when they left Haran, and they already had been married long enough to know, by human standards, they were not going to have any children. They just didn’t know that God was going to change that future.

Sarah died in Kirjath-arba ( meaning “City of Arba”), or Hebron (“alliance.”) The place is about 20 miles due south of Jerusalem, and is still called Hebron by the Jews and the Western nations, but Al Khalil by the Arabs. This place has been purchased by the Jews at least twice—maybe three times, as after World War two, the Jews migrating to Palestine routinely purchased any land they gained, buying it from the Jordanian people who had drifted in from the east.

At the time of Sarah’s death, Abraham was sojourning among the Hittites—the children of Heth. He went to them and asked if he might purchase a piece of land to bury his dead wife. (He had a particular plot of land in mind.) They graciously declined, saying that he was a great man among them and that he could simply bury his dead in any of the existing tombs, there, and that he did not need to make a purchase. This would imply that they considered him (at least at some level) to be one of them: they thought of him as family!

But Abraham had other ideas…he knew that he was not one of them, and he knew that God had called him out from the world. He specifically wanted a piece of land that he owned, there in the land of Canaan. He knew that the land—all of it—had been promised to him and his heirs, but the Hittites did not know that. Abraham wanted a gravesite that could be undisturbed, hopefully, and to which his heirs could come back, generation after generation. So he asked, before all the people, that they sell him a particular field wherein was a cave.

Abraham Purchased Land already Promised to Him by God

The owner of the field (Ephron the Hittite) may just have been grandstanding, or may have truly been generous, but, at first, he offered to simply give Abraham the field. Abraham insisted that the owner actually sell it to him, at the full value, and that he specify as terms of the sale, that the whole field, the cave (Called the Cave of Machpelah, still today), and the trees of that field would be part of the purchase. I don’t know how the Hittites felt about it all, but historians say that the price finally named—four hundred shekels of silver—was quite high, compared to other fields sold in the Bible. I don’t know how much it was, in terms of wages at that time, but it was evidently an extremely high price for such a piece of land. However, I think it is important to notice that Abraham did not dicker, or quibble over the price—he simply paid it, and made sure he had plenty of witnesses to that fact. Genesis records that the field, the cave, the trees in the field, and the trees that made up the border of the field were all included in the bargain.

Abraham believed that the land of Canaan would be the eternal dwelling-place of his people: so he bought a piece of it, up front. This is faith, with shoe-leather on it. The Hittites had no idea of his motives, and undoubtedly thought him a total fool, to pay that sort of price for what had been offered as a gift. They may have also seen that Abraham was quite elderly, and that his only son was still unmarried. They may have reasoned that there was a good chance they would get it all back anyway. (In fact, they actually may have done so: according to the record in Joshua 24:32, regarding Joseph’s burial, Jacob had purchased that land again, from the same tribe of people, many years later, for one hundred pieces of silver…a quarter of the price Abraham had paid.)

Whatever their thoughts, the sale was made, and Abraham buried Sarah there; Abraham himself was later buried there; Isaac and Rebekah were buried there; Jacob and Leah were buried there (Genesis 49:29-32), and Joseph was eventually buried there, among others. It was the family mausoleum for centuries to come. In Acts 7:15, 16, it was mentioned by Stephen in his defense, before he was stoned by the Jews. The people of Israel knew this place, and it is still important: Hebron is a holy city to them, still today, second only to Jerusalem, itself. Nearly four thousand years of promise are marked by that tomb, the Cave of Machpelah, at Hebron.

Can we see any parallels, here?

We already have a promise of eternal life with Christ. All the riches of His kingdom have already been given to us, though we can’t see much of it, really. We know very little: just what He has chosen to tell us, though many books have been written, claiming to tell us “all about heaven.” But God says “…eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” (1st Corinthians 2:9)

So, how can we “buy a piece of it” up front? How can we put “shoe-leather on faith,” and claim part of what Jesus says we already own?

  • We have to “buy it” in the face of adversity, while the World thinks us fools, just as Abraham did. (We have been called out from the World, just as he was.)
  • We have to make choices that seem the picture of foolishness to those who are lost, but are ultimately wise, before God.
  • Abraham reached beyond death, to purchase a home beyond death. What choices can we make to accomplish something similar?

Jesus had some things to say about this subject:

Matthew 6:19-21;

19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Notice that He did not say, “Where your heart is, there will your treasure be also.” It is the other way around. We have to choose where to lay up treasure, and that will affect where the eyes of our hearts are turning. We read in Daniel 6 that the prophet Daniel habitually prayed toward Jerusalem. Why? Because that is where his treasure was (the city itself, the ruined temple, and the homeland of the Jews), and his response revealed that this is also where his heart was.

As we begin to “lay up treasures in heaven,” our hearts will increasingly turn in that direction, and it will change our perspective on life, and our desires, our ambitions, and, ultimately, every aspect of our lives. So, what indications might I have as to “where my heart is” and what my “treasure” really is? Jesus addressed that, too, in a couple of ways.

Matthew 12:34-36;

34 O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
35 A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.

36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.

The Pharisees had just accused Jesus of being possessed by Satan, and working by the power of Satan. Why? Because he cast out a demon, and healed a blind and mute man, who had been sick because of the demonic possession. So, Jesus did something Very Good, and their response was to accuse Him of being the ultimate evil. They revealed their hearts by their accusations. (Who is the “accuser of the brethren?” According to Revelation 12:9, 10, it is Satan himself!) So the accusers, by their words, revealed whose servants they really were. They revealed what was in their hearts: the “evil treasure” of their hearts, by their words.

Matthew 19:21;

21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

A young man came to Jesus, asking what he should do, to earn eternal life. (He did not use the word, “earn”, but he implied that he wanted to DO something to have eternal life. Jesus knew his heart, and suggested that the young man should “keep the commandments.” The young man asked “which ones?” (Already “hedging” a little, I think…)

Jesus quoted only six commandments, not all of them even part of the Ten Commandments, and leaving out several of the Ten. The young man confidently claimed that he had kept all of them all his life. Jesus knew that the young fellow was wealthy, and He also knew his heart, so He said, “if you want to be perfect (complete), sell everything you own, and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven…and you can come and follow me.” The young man went away, sorrowing…why? Because he loved his riches! His treasure was very definitely here on earth, and he was not about to give it up. What commandment, of those which Jesus deliberately omitted, was the young man violating? Covetousness, and Idolatry, perhaps? Paul confirms that covetousness is idolatry, in Colossians 3:5. So, this young man revealed where his treasure really was, by his actions.

Hebrews 11:24-26

24 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;
25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;

26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.

Moses chose to attach himself to the People of God, rather than continue in the court of Pharaoh. He could easily have been seen as a fool by the World: Pharaoh saw him as a traitorous, murderous turncoat, and would have killed him. But God saw his heart, and took him into a “40-year course in shepherding.” Why? Because, after he graduated, he would spend the next 40 years shepherding the Flock of God! Moses revealed where his treasure really was, by his choices. And there was a Reward coming, as a result of his obedience.

How can we apply this today?

1st Corinthians 3:10-15

10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.
11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

We can see, then, that the foundation laid in our lives is the Person of Christ. What are we to build on that Foundation? Jesus said, (John 15:5) “…apart from Me, ye can do nothing.” Notice that He did not say, “Apart from me you can’t do as much.” The fact is, only the things we allow God to do in us and through us, will have eternal value. The things that we allow Jesus to accomplish in our lives will have eternal value, and He says that there is reward attached to that value. Treasure has been laid up ahead, to our account: a reward, for obedience.

As believers, we can reach beyond death, just as Abraham did, and, by faith, we can claim some of what Jesus already has in store for us. And, by so doing, he says that we will gain reward. Salvation is a gift. Reward is the result of obedience.

The rich young ruler thought that he could purchase eternal life by his works. He did not see himself as a sinner, needing a Savior. Jesus pointed out that he was a sinner, and left him to think it over. I hope that, perhaps later, the young fellow caught on to what Jesus had really been teaching, and received the gift of eternal life, by faith…but we are not told the rest of that story.

Behave like a Child of God, because you are one.

All the teachings regarding the believer’s perfect position, and his perfect standing, in Christ, became completely true of you the moment that you believed the Gospel: the moment that you received Jesus as your own Savior.

Are you living in the reality of those truths? We do not live that way in order to “become a child of God:” it is the other way around! We live that way, because we already are a child of God! Ephesians 5:1 says, “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear Children.” Why? Because that is who you are, as a believer in Jesus Christ!

Lord Jesus, open our eyes to the reality of our position in Christ: help us to reach into eternity by faith, and lay up our treasures there! Let us see beyond the grave, like Abraham, and claim the promised reward, like Moses. Let us serve as your holy ambassadors, in Jesus’ Name!


Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 7

Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 7

Genesis 15—the Promises Reiterated

© C. O. Bishop 2012: Revised 2018

Introduction:

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

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

Abram Met With God

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

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

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

Abram: “Yeah? What’s in it for me?”

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

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

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

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

A Contract with God

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

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

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

We Meet With God

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

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

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

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

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

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

So; What About The Promised Land?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What About You?

The same three lessons are there for us to learn:

Is Jesus really reward enough for you?

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

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

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

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

Finally,

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

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

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

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


What Examples do We Follow?

What Examples do We Follow?

© C. o. Bishop, 2/9/2018 THCF 2/11/2018

Hebrews 13:7-9

Introduction:

We have been slowly working our way through the Epistle to the Hebrews. We have finally reached the last chapter, and we are reading the writer’s instructions to the Hebrew believers. The epistle has presented a series of comparisons, where Jesus is compared to the Old Testament figures of the Messiah—foreshadowings of the real person who was to come. There were the Prophets who spoke the living Word to the people…and were usually ignored, and eventually killed. There was the Temple and the tabernacle, each of which was loaded with pre-figures of the redemption that the coming Messiah would deliver to the World. There were Angels, revered as the messengers of God, above whom the Messiah is recognized to be not only their Commanding officer, but their actual creator…God himself!

A total of seven such comparisons were made, and, in every case, Jesus was shown to be infinitely superior to the Old Testament pictures, just as virtually anything we can see is far superior to a grainy, scratched, black and white photograph, from an old-time “Brownie” camera.

But the writer in making no more comparisons.

A total of seven warnings were also given, evidently to those unsettled in their faith… specifically, to those dabbling in faith, but convinced in their own minds, that, “If things don’t work out”, they could still go back to the Jewish religion of the Law. The writer makes it clear that, if they reject the real Lamb of God…the fulfillment of all the Old Testament sacrifices, then there was no animal sacrifice they could turn to, for redemption.

They must either make a clear “step” from believing in the old sacrifices as being God-ordained (and they were!) to placing their faith in Jesus as the fulfillment of all the prophecies and pictures, or…they would have nowhere to turn. Seven such warnings were given, becoming more stern and serious as they progressed.

But the writer is offering no more warnings.

He is only offering instructions for real believers, now: He began in Hebrews 12:1, and continues to the end of the epistle. We are in Hebrews chapter 13, now, and considering just three verses, today; Hebrews 13:7-9.

The Example of the Church Leaders and Teachers.

Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.

This in an admonition to look to the local church leaders and teachers—the elders, or overseers—the shepherds or pastors—as examples of how to live our lives. We are to learn from them a living faith, not just a head-knowledge of appropriate doctrine. The writer says to consider the results of how they live. I take this as a warning, personally, that I am to live in a way that will not lead someone else astray. Peter also said that the elders were to live as examples for the flock. (1st Peter 5:1-3) Quite honestly, I find that command very intimidating. I don’t know whether I can fulfil that command. All I can do, again, is to throw myself on the mercy of God, and seek his guidance daily.

Have there been shepherds who did a good job? Certainly, there have been. Moses was an excellent example. Was he perfect? Nope. God never said he was. But he did say that, among all the people of God, “Moses was faithful!” That is quite a testimony, coming from God.

Joshua, whom Moses trained, was also an excellent example. There were only two times when he should have asked God’s direction and failed to do so. The first was disastrous, the second only a continuing burden for Israel. But there was not a single recorded instance of his disobedience to God. Joshua was the first (and best) of the Judges.

Samuel was the last of the Judges, and was right up there with Joshua. There is no record of any disobedience on his part…only that he failed to raise his sons in a godly manner. (Actually, only that they turned out rather badly. God does not say, (as He did in the case of Eli) that Samuel had done a bad job. Most of the Judges had some personal problems, in spite of their faith and service.

Moses followed God. Joshua followed Moses’s example, and learned, in his own life, to follow God. That is the kind of example God calls the elders to provide. In fact, he gives a peculiar assignment, to the elders, to go along with the command to live as examples for the flock: he tells then to find reliable men and deliberately disciple them, training them to follow along and feed the flock as well. (2nd Timothy 2:2) The elders are to produce other elders, as well as shepherding the flock.

Leaders are not “made by” seminaries and Bible colleges, though such institutions can help with schooling. Many men and women, however, who completed theological training subsequently have fallen prey to the enemy, through temptation of one sort or another, and become shipwrecked…a castaway: still part of God’s flock, but no longer able to serve. Church leadership is trained up within the church. Human credentials are neither part of the qualifications nor part of the responsibilities.

He says we are to consider the “end” of the lifestyle of the elders: does it honor God, as a general result? Then it is a good thing to emulate. Does it consistently point you to the Bible for authority, rather than itself? Does it always point you to a better walk with Christ? Then it is a good example to follow.

The Example of Jesus

Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. 

I’m not completely sure why this verse is here…the only thing I know to do is to connect it with the previous command, “…consider the end of their conversation”. The result of a consistent walk with God should be that an observer sees the person of Christ in the believer’s life. And Jesus has not changed, throughout the ages. The character of the believers’ lives in the time of Abraham was the same as it is supposed to be, today. Godliness is not just a matter of piety, but rather the Agapé love of God, along with His righteousness, and holiness, flowing through a believer into the World around them. He hasn’t changed.

Once, when I was in Bible School, I was struggling with the concept of having a love for God. He still seemed too abstract for me to love, not to mention the fact that I still had no concept of what the Agape love really was. I was looking for a feeling of “loving God.” As I was pondering this lack in my life, I was praying while I studied the scriptures, and it occurred to me to say, “I have a hard time loving what I can’t see!”  (Actually, that is quite Biblical, though I didn’t know it!)  But as I prayed, it suddenly occurred to me that I could see Jesus in a somewhat older fellow student who had kindly taken me under his wing, and was lovingly drawing me along to a more stable walk with God. He offered no condemnation for my worldly, foolish former life, but just encouraged me to move forward. The man’s name was Bob Mulloy, and he has served for nearly 40 years now in Indonesia, as a missionary. That memory is still precious to me, because I am now aware that his loving example was what drew me along, specifically because I could see in him the living Christ.

On a personal level, I think it is important to constantly self-examine: 1st John 1:5, 6 says, “this, then, is the message which we have heard of Him and declare unto you; that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all; If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not the truth.” If I am not walking in the light, then I am not in fellowship with God. He goes on to say, in verse seven, “but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” This is something to strive for and to maintain.

Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein. 

This is a warning, peculiar to believers; there will always be those who teach “strange doctrines”. They come up with odd, obscure references and interpret them in such a way as to bring believers into bondage regarding food, clothing, and rituals of various sorts. None of those things have any real effect on the believer’s life. Grace, not external trivia, is to be the core issue for us. The writer points out, in passing, that the Jews had the dietary laws, and kept them, but it did not profit them. That is important to see: it did not profit them! None of their self-efforts were profitable. Maybe the Jews didn’t do a great job of obeying God’s Laws, but they surely did it better than I do: And it did NOT have a good result! It was NOT profitable!

Most frequently, when a cult adds legalism to the Grace of God, it draws its treasured trinkets from a limited understanding of the Jewish Tabernacle and Temple rituals. Remember, those were only a foreshadowing of the reality to come, which is Christ. We have the reality, now and forever; why do we need a grainy, limited-quality photograph, when we have the living Christ?

Think for a moment about who the people were who gave Jesus the worst trouble during His earthly ministry: It was not the common people, with their goofy, misguided thinking about things in general. It was not the Gentiles, as a rule, though they got involved at the end. It was not even the blatantly ungodly sinners among the people who gave him the fierce, consistent resistance: It was the religious leaders! Specifically, it was the religious leaders within Judaism, which was truly ordained by God.  They had all of God’s Word at the time: the whole Old Testament. They had the Temple, and the memory of the tabernacle. They were conscious of the miraculous history of God’s relationship with the Jewish people. They knew the prophecies of the coming Messiah…but had locked in on one aspect of His coming that they really liked, and were ignoring all the rest.

Their doctrine had begun correctly, but had become nothing but legalism. And it was not profitable, either for individuals who attempted to live it, or for the nation. It resulted in their utterly rejecting the Messiah when he finally came.

Later on, both Peter and James (see Acts 15), when confronted with the demand from the Judaizers, that the Gentile believers should be forced to become Jews, responded by saying “Neither we nor our forefathers were ever able to carry that burden: why do you suppose the Gentiles would ever be able to do so?”

Jesus has not changed, and humans have not changed. He is still holy, and pure, and is still holding out the gift of eternal life to anyone who will receive it. We, as humans, still want to add to it, take away from it, twist it and deny it. So, how can we avoid the traps of false teaching?

The Example of God’s Word:

Avoiding the Snares of False Doctrine

There are a couple of keys, here: One is the command, back in verse seven: “Consider them who have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the Word of God.” What kind of doctrine are they teaching? As we asked before, “Are they turning your eyes to the Bible for answers?” That is a good place to start.

Within that answer, though, is a caveat, a “beware sign”. The writer says your heart should be strengthened by Grace, not what you eat. He used “diet” as a single example of the kinds of wrong focus that bad teaching produces. Jewish dietary laws are one of the things that many cults latch onto, because they think they can do it! “Here is something I can do to make God approve of me: I don’t eat this, I do eat that!” But that is characteristic of all legalism, not just the dietary law of Judaism, which was specifically for them, no one else.

Any teaching which tends to point me away from God’s Grace (even when it seems to be coming from God’s Word), and which makes my relationship with Him dependent upon outward “trappings of faith,” or “acts of piety” instead of an actual, active, living Faith in the Grace of an actual, active, living God, is likely to provide a snare for my soul. Such teachings turn us away from the actual source of living water, the Person of Christ, and encourage us to “dig out cisterns” (our own works) in which to store our own supply of “water.”

Please turn in your Bibles to Jeremiah 2:12, 13

12 Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord.
13 For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.

Two Evils!

  1. They forsook the LORD—the God of Israel—who alone is the source of righteousness, and eternal life…and
  2. They turned to their own works, as a replacement.

The Lord calls Himself the fountain of living waters. Compare this to John 7:37-39 where Jesus said that those who came to him in thirst would receive an indwelling fountain of living waters…and it goes on to say that he referred to the Holy Spirit, which at that time was not yet given. The Holy Spirit is God! And, God is the one who offers the living water! In the desert, Moses was told to command the rock, and it would bring forth water for the nation. Paul says in 1st Corinthians 10:4 that “…that Rock was Christ.” (Wow!)

So, in Jeremiah, we see Jehovah God as the source of living waters. In John, we see the Holy Spirit as the indwelling source of living waters. And in 1st Corinthians, we see that even back in the desert, 1500 years before the first advent, the Rock—the source of the water—was Christ!

So: humans ignoring God’s command to allow him to provide, and to guide, and to bless, is a pretty major abdication, to begin with. But having the total audacity, and arrogance to suggest that “…my water is better, anyway”, when we can’t even produce water, let alone store it, is beyond imagination. It is utter insanity! And yet we do it! We choose to look away from God and His Spirit, and His Written Word, and His final eternal payment for sin, at the Cross…and look to our own works, our own philosophies, and smugly say, “I have my own way!”

Jesus said that He himself was the only approach to the Father, and that He himself was the only sacrifice for our sins.

So…any teaching that wanders away from those central ideas, and turns us away from Grace, to legalism, is something to be avoided. Any teaching that turns us away from God’s written Word, which he says we are to focus on, as unto a light in a dark place…is to be avoided. Any teaching that tends to marginalize or minimize the preaching of the Cross, is to be avoided. These things are all central to a relationship with God. And the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says for us not to be “…carried about with strange doctrines.” We can only obey that teaching by deliberately choosing to follow the teaching of God’s Word…learning from the examples of our teachers, and remembering that Jesus himself has never changed! He is the same yesterday, today, and forever!

Lord Jesus, we are utterly dependent upon your immutability—your unchanging goodness. We know that you have never changed, and we ask that you teach us to follow your Word, so that we are not drawn away by false teaching, or odd practices. Teach us to rely upon your Grace.


What Were They Doing on Christmas?

What Were They All Doing on Christmas Morning?

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

Hebrews 1:6; Luke 2:1-20

Introduction:

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

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

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

What were the Angels doing?

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

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

And then they were gone!

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

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

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

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

What was Mary doing?

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

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

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

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

What was Joseph doing?

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

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

What were the Shepherds doing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are You doing on Christmas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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