Posts Tagged ‘Mercy’

Beginning the Book of Isaiah

Beginning the Book of Isaiah

© C. O. Bishop 2/16/19

Introduction:

Regarding the Prophets:

The prophetic books are usually listed in two divisions; Major and Minor—this has nothing to do with importance or authority, but only volume. Also, the prophets are not in chronological order. So, Isaiah is not the first (Jonah is), nor is it necessarily the most important. (In terms of how it ties the whole Bible timeline together, it might be argued that Daniel is possibly most important.) But in terms of the frequency with which it is quoted by New Testament writers, as well as sheer volume, and how thoroughly it points to the person of Christ and the coming kingdom age, and warns of coming judgment, Isaiah is foremost, in every sense.

Further, remember that, in all ages, a prophet was/is a mouthpiece for God…a spokesman for God. In the Old Testament he was also (frequently) a “seer” or a teller of what was to come. God claims this as His own peculiar credential as bona fide Deity: He is the only one who can tell us precisely how things will turn out. No educated guesses, or vague, smoke-and-mirrors type “prophecies.” He called by name, people who were not to be born for decades to come (Cyrus, in Isaiah 44:28; Josiah in 1st Kings 13:2); and He told in exquisite detail, things that would happen in hours, in a day, or a month, a year, or even thousands of years in the future. (Isaiah 48:5)

A Look at Isaiah

Isaiah was one of the most important prophets, in that: he was quoted by most of the New Testament writers, he was the writer of the most lengthy of the prophetic books, and he ministered to Judah under four kings (though only briefly under Uzziah, also known as Azariah.) The first five chapters are a rather lengthy introduction to the themes of the book, as his apparent call from God occurred in chapter six—at least that is the way it looks…he does not specifically say that this was his first call—he only says what happened—and also says that he served under four kings (verse 1).

Isaiah gives us a great deal of information about the coming Messiah: his virgin birth, his suffering, his resurrection, his return in judgment, his earthly kingdom, and his eternal reign. Another important theme is the remnant of Israel, preserved by God. Yet another is the eventual blessing of the gentile nations (predicted earlier, by Moses, in Genesis 22:18).

As we read the book, it is very important to remember that this book of prophecy is to Israel and Judah (the divided Kingdom), though mostly (verse 1) to Judah (southern portion) and her capital city, Jerusalem; and NOT to us, as Christians, or as Americans (or whomever else). It is for us all, but not to us all…this is an important distinction, in that when God says “Israel”, He means Israel, not the United States, Britain, or some other gentile nation. We are to learn from their experience, and be warned by the consequences of their behavior. But the book is definitely concerning Israel and Judah, not (primarily) any other nation, except as named in the text.

When reading this book, it is nearly impossible to avoid the tendency to try to apply the condemnations and warnings directly to our country(s), because they seem so applicable;  but that is the key—remember that they were directly, literally to Israel; usually Judah in particular, and only by application…careful application…is it for us. The same goes double for the promises: unless it is part of the promised blessings to the gentiles, don’t try to apply any of the promises as a blanket promise to all who believe—it might be (and most probably is) specific to Jerusalem in particular, Judah, Israel, or the combined reunified tribes as a nation.

The book begins with a solemn warning to Judah and Jerusalem.

Chapter 1

1The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.

The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.

Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.

After addressing the book (verse 1) to Judah and Jerusalem, God begins by calling the whole creation to bear witness (verse 2): He has reared up a people, a privileged people, whom He has nourished and cared for, as if He were rearing children; but that nation has rebelled against Him. He compares them unfavorably (verse 3) to barnyard animals: oxen and asses…pointing out that even lowly, relatively unintelligent animals recognize the one who feeds them (verse 3)…but that Judah has forgotten her God, and deliberately turned her back on Him (verse 4.)

I have observed this behavior among even the lower animals, as well; birds, for example. A flock of chickens will quickly learn to recognize the one who feeds them, and will come running when that person calls. Even fish (sea bass) are currently being experimentally trained to come to a particular sonic signal, in hopes that fish farming and harvesting will become simpler.

But: we humans have a distressing tendency to forget who our sustainer has been. We do this both in human relationships and in our relationship to God. Ingratitude, and a short memory of the benefits we have received, seem to be ingrained into our fallen nature: Even though we usually find it personally offensive if another human fails to recognize a service we have done toward them, we constantly do the same thing, particularly in our relationship with God. And it costs us dearly: In the case of Judah, it brought national chastisement from God.

Notice, too, that he says they are loaded down with sins, and that they are a brood (seed) of evildoers. This is who they are by nature. They did not just “somehow become that way.” Jesus addressed this idea in John 8:44, where he said that the Jews to whom He spoke were the children of the devil…He said “ye are of your father, the devil, and his works will ye do….” It was natural for the people to respond the way they did, because of their pedigree. Judah, in Isaiah’s day, was no different: God said they were not only corrupt, but they were “corrupters.” They influenced others to corruption, as well. Sin is always contagious. When we rebel against God, we influence others to do the same.

As a nation, Judah had forsaken the LORD, and turned away completely. There were still believers around: under Hezekiah there was a great revival, and Judah turned back to God, in a great way. (Read 2nd Chronicles 29-32) But there had already been a terrible apostasy in Judah, which had begun much earlier in Israel, the Northern ten tribes. As a nation, they were in sin; and, God states (in verses 5-8,) that He has punished Judah until there is nothing left to punish.

Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.

From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.

Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.

And the daughter of Zion (Jerusalem) is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.

The custom in that day was to erect a small shelter for a night watchman in vineyards and gardens, to keep marauding animals away. But when the season was over, and harvest was past, the shelter was left to fall apart, as it was only a temporary shelter anyway. Far from being the prosperous nation they had once been, Judah was in poverty, now, and Jerusalem was in ruins.

They were a destroyed, desolate nation, cast down by the God they had once claimed to serve. He was now offering to try something else in order to reach Judah. He offered to reason with them. Incidentally, this is nothing new—He has attempted to reason with Man since the very beginning (Genesis 3:9-13, 4:6, 7, etc.). But He is once more attempting to reason with a fallen people. God extends reason to us, as well, via the Gospel. We always consider ourselves to be “reasonable” people, but the historical facts do not support that claim. We rebel as a matter of principle, as if it is somehow a noble cause, and a right thing to do. We forget that a puppet who “cuts his strings” is completely helpless. The strings were what made him seem to be alive and functioning. We are not puppets, in the strictest sense, but we are utterly dependent upon the God who created us and who sustains and defends us…and, whether we believe it or not.

Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.

10 Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.

Hypocrisy Stinks

Judah was still practicing “religion,” but their hearts have long ago abandoned His worship. (Careful, now…this is Judah, not the USA, or any other modern, post-Christian nation.) He compares them to Sodom, and to Gomorrah (verses 9 and 10.) So, knowing that their hearts are far from Him, he tells them (v. 11-15) to take away their sacrifices, services, incense and prayers. He wants nothing to do with their pretense.

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.

God could no longer stand the sight and smell of their offerings: he wanted to hear no more of their prayers. He states that when they lifted their hands to Him in prayer, what He saw was that their hands were red with the blood of the innocents they had killed as a nation.

I don’t know whether He meant criminal attacks, or gross governmental negligence which has cost people their lives, or something else entirely. In our nation, the United States, it might well apply to the huge numbers of abortions every year, or, possibly to our having sold weapons of war all over the planet, or simply to the many who lose their lives every year, to crime in our streets and homes, while our governments are filled with people who claim to be good, and “Champions of Justice,” but adamantly refuse to put away the evil from among us. We parole violent criminals, and allow them to go back and repeat their crimes and worse. We promote the lottery, and then decry the gambling addictions that ruin our people. We glorify violence and immorality in television shows and movies, and then wonder why our people continue to slide into more and more violent crime, and gross immorality. We are reaping what we have sown.

Judah had done the same sorts of things, and was coming to the end of their cycle. Notice that God is not saying that the religion itself had anything wrong with it—the problem was the people. Judaism and the Temple services associated with it, was ordained by God: but, the people repeatedly allowed themselves to first become perfunctory, and then lax, and finally completely false in their response toward God. Their religion had become irrelevant to them, and repugnant to God. What does God say they needed? Repentance and cleansing.

Repentance and Cleansing

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.

Verse 16 and 17 describe repentance—the kind of repentance God wants: first, a turning from evil (which first requires recognizing it,) and then a turning to good. Repentance does not simply mean halting—it means reversing direction. They had to return to their relationship to God being central to who they were as a nation, not just a peripheral point of interest, or a national peculiarity, and “trademark” of sorts. It had to be the core of their thinking, not a “veneer” pasted to the outer shell: it must be the structure, not the “paint.”

Social justice was to be the fruit of that change, not the change itself. Attempting to change the results without changing the core issue is akin to hanging fruit on a dead tree. It will only be a temporary change, and impossible to maintain; while a genuine revival of the tree would produce life, and fruit in its season. So, God calls to them to restore their relationship with Himself. The proof of that restoration would be the fruit He describes.

A nation can produce righteous legislation, but it is impossible to “legislate righteousness.” You cannot produce righteousness by laws, or even by external obedience to righteous laws: Paul emphasized this in Galatians 2:21; “I do not frustrate the Grace of God, for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” David recognized this truth in Psalm 51:17, where he recognized that a broken and contrite heart would not be rejected by God.

Be Reasonable

So, now God attempts to reason with His people:

18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:

This is God’s offer to “settle out of court”, so to speak—a plea for them to be reasonable—to be entreated, and to accept good counsel. Notice the phrase “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” God is offering cleansing. His command that they wash themselves has become an invitation to be washed. The self-cleansed man is no cleaner than when he began to wash…God points this out in another passage: Jeremiah 2:22 and 4:14 tell the other side of that challenge. (“Though thou wash thee with nitre (washing soda), and take the much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord GOD”, and “O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness that thou mayest be saved”.) One could find a parallel with John 13:8, where Jesus said to Peter, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” God has to do the cleansing, or the sinner can never be clean.

Judgment is Coming

20 But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

This is his warning to Judah of coming Judgment. The whole world has also been warned of coming Judgment. We know that God is righteous, and that He judges sin. How we respond to that knowledge reveals who we are. If we are grieved by our own sins, and throw ourselves on His Mercy, as offered in the person of Christ, then He offers to permanently set our sins aside. But if we ignore His warning, then we stand condemned because of our unbelief. There is no middle ground. Jesus said those who put their faith in Him are not condemned, but that those who reject Him are condemned already, because they do not trust in Him. (John 3:18)

We need to keep these things in mind as we study through the book of Isaiah.

Lord Jesus, help us to look into your Word and see your face as the King of Kings, the immortal eternal and sovereign God of all time and space—and our Savior! Make us able ministers of your Grace to the dying world around us.


Putting on Christ

Putting on Christ

© C. O. Bishop 11/15/18

Colossians 3:10-16; Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27 Ephesians 4:24

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the book of Colossians; these last chapters are very practical, direct commands, but they are based on the premise that the recipients of the letter are believers: people who have deliberately placed their trust in Jesus as their savior, and, as a result, have been placed into Christ. We are now “in Christ.”

In verse eleven, in confirmation of what was taught in Colossians 2:10 (“…ye are complete in him…”) Paul confirms that such people have been unified in Him, that their old differences are of no further importance. Their new position in Christ supersedes all other issues.

A New Position: in Christ

11 Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.

Whatever you were before you were born again is of zero importance, now. In Christ, the old divisions no longer exist. The ground is truly level at the foot of the cross. Where the Jews were once completely separated from the Gentiles, and slaves were once shunned by free men, and commoners shunned by noblemen, as a rule, they all have been leveled by the Cross. None of those “differences” are of any significance when compared to the Majesty of the Messiah, nor do any of those “differences” alleviate to any degree the total lostness of the human race, apart from the Cross.

He commands us, on the basis of our new position in Christ, to “put on” certain things. The “putting on” is a deliberate choice to behave in a manner in keeping with my position in Christ. In Ephesians 4:24, He said something similar: that we are to “put on” the new man…the new nature which we received the moment we trusted Christ as our savior. He says that the new nature is already there, created, in the likeness of God, in righteousness and true holiness. But he says we are to “put it on”, as an act of the will

Galatians 3:27 addresses the “positional” truth that, as believers, we have put on Christ: (“For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”) When you first trusted Jesus as your Savior, the Holy Spirit baptized you into the body of Christ…at that very moment. And God says that you have put on Christ. That is simply a fact, reflecting your new position in Him.

But Romans 13:14 addresses the “conditional” truth that, as believers, we are commanded to “put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” That either will be done or will not be done, as we either obey or disobey.

This passage in Colossians is addressing the latter idea; that, as believers, we are to live in accordance with our new position, in Christ. It is a moment-by-moment act of the will, to either obey or not obey.

12 Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;

We are to choose to live as the chosen ones of God, who are set aside for his service, and beloved of God. There has been a question raised at times as to how one can know that they are one of the “chosen ones” of God. It is a fair question, but notice that Paul addresses the believers, all the way through this epistle, and addresses them as “holy”, as “Saints” (which means the same thing), as “the faithful” (believers), and now as “the elect of God.” The “elect” means the “chosen” of God.

God’s Choice

An older teacher once painted a “word-picture” for me, saying that (as he imagined it); We find in our lives a wall, which separates us from God. The wall is made of our Sin, and God’s Righteousness. We cannot approach Him, though He calls us to do so. Eventually we are told that there is a gate, or a Door: One Way through which we can enter, piercing that wall. We find the door, above which the sign says “Whosoever Will May Come”. The door is fairly narrow, and there is no glamor to the appearance of it. But the invitation is there, for anyone who will believe. We see our sin, and the judgment of God: We hear the good news of the full payment Jesus made for our sake, in His blood at the Cross, and we enter in, through that narrow door, by faith, because the invitation clearly says “Whosoever will may come.” God receives us on the basis of that faith, and we enter in of our own free will.

But, from the inside of the gate, or the door, we begin to look around and learn, and understand a little more. We begin to see the “edges” of the glory of God, and wonder how anyone could miss all this. We hear that, actually, God chose us! Finally, we look back at the door through which we entered, and we see that on the inside of the door, there is another sign, which simply states, “Chosen in Him, Before the Foundation of the Earth!” Both are true: God chose in Christ (there’s that issue of position again) those who would believe in Him. We chose to believe.

Our Choice

We have chosen to believe God. Now we are told to choose to have a heart of mercy toward those around us, filled with kindness, as opposed to judgment, and humility of mind, rather than the secret opinion that we are somehow “superior to the wretches we have to put up with.” (Jesus said that “an evil man brings forth out of the evil treasures of his heart, that which is evil, for out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.” If you are hiding arrogance in your heart, it will eventually show itself, revealing your true heart. Don’t think that “as long as I don’t do or say anything bad, it isn’t sin!” God says it always starts in the heart…in the mind. That is why he said that the Pharisees were like whitewashed tombs, looking great on the outside, but full of dead things inside. I really do not want to be like that. I’m sure that you don’t either.

Further, we are to be gentle, and yielded to God: flexible in His hands, so that He can mold us into His likeness. We are to choose to lovingly endure one another’s irritating idiosyncrasies, rather than secretly despising them. “Forbearing” means “putting up with” one another, not allowing ourselves to become exasperated.

13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

Remember what sort of things Jesus has forgiven you—the enormous debt He cancelled on your behalf: is it too much for Him to ask, for us to “cancel one another’s debts” as well?

14 And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.

As the capstone to all he has already listed, he says to “put on” Charity. This is the Old English word the translators chose to express the Greek noun “agapé”…the love that Jesus demonstrated at the Cross. True, unadulterated altruism. Being committed to the good of those around us, without regard to how it affects us personally. Remember that this is specifically what Jesus gave as His “New Commandment”: that we are to love one another (agapé, again), as He has loved us. To “put on” this sort of Love, is to choose to act in a manner carrying out that Love. Go back and read 1st Corinthians 13. It is the most complete description of that Love, and every single attribute has to do with actions, not feelings. No exceptions.

15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.

I have been told that the particular word for “rule,” here (Greek brabeuete) carries the idea of “presiding,” as, perhaps, an umpire, rather than a king or a judge. The word is only used here, in this one place, in scripture, so there is little to which we may compare it. If the meaning is to “act as a leader, or president,” then an umpire is not far off the mark. Let’s say, for example, I am desiring to change jobs, because I am frustrated with my situation at work (a common problem), but I do not have peace about just quitting, unless I have a firm directive from God, and a place to which I plan to transfer. Do I heed the clamoring of my never-satisfied flesh, or do I wait on God?

Psalm 37:5 says, “Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.”…and verse 7 says, “Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him.” So I think maybe it would pay off to wait for clear direction, and learn to be patient, rather than responding in anger. (Verse 8 says “Cease from Anger, forsake Wrath, fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.”)

Conclusion:

So, how do we make such choices? We allow God’s Word to begin changing us from the inside out. We allow it to “dwell” in us…live in us, and work in our hearts. Psalm 91:1 states that “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. The only way we can expect God’s Word to “dwell richly” in us, is for us to dwell in the Word.

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

The results should be, that as a group, we encourage and teach one another, and that our hearts will lean toward singing songs of praise and love for God. We have a mutual bond in Christ, and a shared task, as ambassadors of Christ. We are not only to share the work of the Gospel, but to encourage one another as we pursue our common goals. As God’s Word “dwells richly” in us, “in all wisdom”, it should affect us in ways that draw us closer to Him, and closer to one another, as well as making us more effective in evangelism, and discipleship. The burdens should become joyful, rather than grievous, as we share the heart of Jesus, when he said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work!”

God’s Word, rightly applied to our lives, is the only thing that God says He can use to transform our lives. As we feed upon it, we give the Holy Spirit a “toolbox” to work with. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit “…shall teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:26) If you don’t actively allow the Lord to speak to you by being in the Word, the Holy Spirit hasn’t much to bring to your remembrance, has He? Load up the “toolbox” with the written Word, and allow the Living Word to dwell richly in your heart.

Lord Jesus, draw us into a love relationship with yourself, through your Word, through your Spirit, and by a daily consciousness of your presence. Teach us to love one another, and to bless those around us with your overflowing grace.


Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 13

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 13

Faith and the Promise of the Bride

Genesis 24—A Wife for the Promised Son.

Introduction

We have been working our way through Genesis, looking for pictures of Jesus, or for personal appearances of the Messiah. This chapter has a delightful account that bears some serious attention: The “players” are the Father (Abraham), the Son (Isaac), the Servant (unidentified), the Bride (Rebekah), and the Bride’s extended family (named in the text, but, significantly, related to the Son.) The Mother is out of the picture, dead and buried.

There is an oath taken (a strange way of taking oath, but evidently culturally significant.) There is a journey made to seek a Bride for the Son. The whole purpose of the Servant and his journey is to call out a Bride for the only begotten Son of the Father. Is this starting to sound familiar?

If one sees this as a simple narrative of a servant sent to purchase a bride for a rich man’s son, it is not terribly interesting, beyond the fact that Isaac wound up marrying his “first cousin once removed”—the daughter of Bethuel, who was his first cousin. But, if we bear in mind the fact that Isaac is highly “typical” of Christ—a prefiguring of the Messiah—then the story becomes a lot more interesting, because that makes this whole story a picture of Christ and the Church:

The Father

Abraham, the Father, sends an unnamed (in this passage) Servant, to call out a Bride for his Son. That is what is happening today—the Holy Spirit, who is himself God, but who always “takes a back seat,” so to speak, and virtually never speaks of himself, but only of the things of the Son—is calling out a people, who, collectively, are called the “Bride of Christ.”

The Servant went with Great riches to offer to the Bride, as well as precious gifts for the relatives of the Bride. There was a “Bride-Price” to be paid, as there still is in many cultures today. We may find that repugnant in this day of “social correctness”, but the fact remains that there are in excess of six thousand languages in the world—closer to seven thousand, actually—and each language has one or more cultures associated with it. We are not in a position to dictate what is proper for another culture: The fact is, there was a bride-price to be paid, and the servant went there prepared to pay it. He gave precious gifts to the family of the Bride, and assured them that her Bridegroom was wealthy beyond measure, and that he was the heir of the Father.

The Holy Spirit gives precious gifts to the called-out ones, (That is what the Greek word “ecclesia” means…translated “assembly”, or “church.”) and He blesses the people from whom they are called out, as well, though it is not always appreciated.

The Oath

Abraham extracted an oath from his servant: the bride was not to be taken from among the Canaanites, but from among his kindred, back in the city of Nahor, in the land of Ur. (Abraham’s brother Nahor had not left Ur with their father Terah in Genesis chapter 11.)

There are two ways to look at this: Jesus had to be related to the Bride: He became human for the express purpose of being related to us, so that He could be our “Kinsman-Redeemer”—the Hebrew word is “goel”. Boaz was a picture of Christ as the kinsman-redeemer. He fulfilled that office toward Ruth and Naomi, as a picture of how Jesus would fulfill it for us. The Kinsman Redeemer had four requirements:

 

  1. He had to be a near relative.
  2. He had to be free himself.
  3. He had to have the price of redemption.
  4. He had to be willing.

 

Boaz qualified on all four counts. The other potential “goel” (or kinsman-redeemer) in the story, who remained unnamed, was qualified on the first three counts, but he was not willing.

So, the Bride has to be entirely of the human race—no angels were invited. The Gospel is only extended to human sinners. The fallen angels, or demons, were never offered salvation.

The other side of this oath, is that the Canaanites were extremely idolatrous, as well as practicing unclean lifestyles. The people of Abraham’s family had a background of idolatry as well, as we see later on, but they were still of a closer cultural and religious background than anyone in Canaan. So, the second way to see it is that the Bride had to be of the “same faith” as the Groom. No unbelievers can become part of the Bride of Christ—the Universal Church. It is impossible to “infiltrate” the true church. God sees the heart, and no one can fool him.

It is, however, ridiculously easy to infiltrate the local church, and unbelievers fool us constantly, even becoming teachers and pastors. A fellow recently told me of a pastor he had once had, asking him, “You don’t really believe Jesus walked on water, do you?” That is a shocking question, coming from one who has been entrusted with the task of feeding he flock of God—the Bride of Christ. (“Yea, hath God surely said?” This is the voice of the Serpent!)

We need to be very watchful regarding the people we allow to feed the flock. Remember that the trade-marked “D-Con™” Mouse poison is 99.99% clean mouse food, and .01% poison…but it is still quite lethal. The false doctrine and disbelief taught by false teachers is fatal to faith. God is calling out true believers, and no unbelievers can enter the door of the real sheepfold. But we need to recognize that the World and Satan are very interested in weakening the effect of the local assemblies as examples of that Bride, and ambassadors of Christ. If he can either water down the truth of God’s Word, or convince us to swallow false doctrine, then he succeeds in corrupting the Church, and weakening our effectiveness as God’s representatives on Earth.

The Servant and the Bride

The Servant immediately set out to accomplish the will of the Father. He took ten camels and an unknown number of other, lesser servants along with him, and set out for Ur of the Chaldees, and the city of Abraham’s brother, Nahor, as directed. When he arrived, he did not “rest up, and re-group” but immediately was “on task.” He knew he was in the right town, but wanted no false starts. He prayed, not for himself, but for the sake of the Father and of the Son, that he would be given sure guidance. He asked for a very specific answer, and immediately stepped out to see the result. God answered that prayer, to the letter, and the Servant was thrilled with the result.

Do you see the parallels here? They are kind of hard to miss, are they not? Let’s look at the specifics, which do not seem to apply to the typology. The Servant asked that the one he approached for a drink of water would be the “right one” and that the proof would be that when he asked for a drink of water, she would volunteer to water the camels as well. That is a tall order! Camels drink large quantities of water; especially when they have just completed a trip across a desert (600-1000 miles depending on the route and the actual locations of both ends of the journey.) But, immediately after he prayed—in fact, while he was still speaking—he looked and saw Rebekah coming to draw water. He evidently thought she was “just what the doctor ordered”, because he ran to meet her and asked for water. She immediately responded with “Drink, my lord, and I will draw water for your camels as well, until they have done drinking.” The servant kept quiet, and just watched, as she made trip after trip to the well, and kept filling the watering trough until the camels had their fill. I am told that a camel can drink 20 gallons… so she may have had to haul in the neighborhood of 200 gallons up out of that well. The servant asked of her family, as he gave her the gifts he had prepared. She answered that she was the daughter of Bethuel, who is the son of Nahor. So, she was Isaac’s first cousin, once removed.

The Servant blessed God for answering his prayer so directly. (Compare Isaiah 65:24) He uses a peculiar phrase: “I being in the way.” The servant was on the way to do his master’s bidding. He, being in the way, (that is, doing what he was commanded to do), asked for specific direction, and immediately received an answer. I wonder how often we ask for specific direction, but do not receive such an answer, because we were not “in the way”—not on course—not on task. We are not headed in the direction we were commanded to go, so we don’t get more direction. That is something to think about, isn’t it? And, if we are disobedient in the things we know, why should He give us further information? Or answer prayers at all, for that matter?

Rebekah’s Family made no objection, and the Bride was thrilled with the offer. She gladly consented to go with the Servant, and eventually meet the Son. Once the decision was made, the Servant demanded that the journey begin immediately. The family did object to that, and wanted to keep her around for a while. The Servant would have none of it, and requested that they not hinder him. So, they put the question to the Bride, and she chose to go. The Servant gave precious gifts to the family, but the full inheritance, and the Son himself awaited the Bride. She received relatively small gifts initially, compared to what was waiting in the Father’s House.

Incidentally, I believe that Rebekah’s response, “I will go!” is the normal, correct, healthy response of the believer to the leading of God. When we balk, and whine and procrastinate, we are not behaving like the Bride. Yes, this was referring to her initial response, and we are not told how she felt on the long journey to meet the Groom. But we are given to believe that her response did not change. I really like that, because it is how we are supposed to respond as well.

In fact, whether we are thinking of our initial response to the Gospel, or our daily response to the leading of the Holy Spirit, the question is always the same: “Will you go with this Man?

Initially, we are told of Christ, and what he has done for us, what he offers…and the claim he makes upon us; but we are still invited to decide. Then, having made our decision, we are daily called upon to re-commit ourselves, in daily acts of faith—being willing to trust God, and not to whine. Being willing to speak, to pray, or to wait…being willing to obey. Being willing to accept loss and hardship. The question is constantly, “Will you trust and obey God, or not?”

The answer to that first question, regarding our salvation, permanently decides our position with Christ. The answer to the reiteration of that question decides, moment by moment, the character of our relationship with God. If we are constantly balking, withdrawing, and running off on our own errands, then we have a poor relationship with the Bridegroom. If we are constantly obedient, and rejoicing in His presence, then we have a good relationship with Him. But the choice, day by day, moment by moment, is ours.

Consider the plight of Rebekah: She had chosen to take off on a long trip across a bleak and dangerous desert with a man she didn’t know and his colleagues whom she also did not know. She was allowed to take along her entourage of female servants (We are not told how many), but they would not be much help if this was a bad decision. She is taking a journey from which she will never return. And she has not even seen a picture of the man she is to marry. Once they are out of sight of her home town, she is utterly committed, for better or for worse.

If she tries to go back, she cannot hope to survive. If she runs off into the desert, she will be lost and will perish. Her only hope is to trust that her initial decision is the right one. She must allow her guide to carry her through the wilderness to her Groom-to-be. As a matter of fact, the Servant has a trust to keep. The Bride is precious beyond description to Him, as he not only knows it is the fulfillment of the Father’s will, and the Bride for the only begotten Son, but He has seen that God brought this woman to him in a miraculous way, and there is no question in his mind that she is “the right one!” So, nothing will separate her from him! He will see her through to the end, until she sees the Son, face-to-face! His only task is to bring her safely through the wilderness to the Father’s House, to the glory of the Father and of the Son! (I really hope you are seeing the precious parallels here, in this story!)

God the Father sent God the Son to pay the Bride-Price. He paid it in full, at the Cross. He had to buy the entire World to get the Bride. He paid for the sins of the whole world, to win the few who will become the Bride. The question is put to each culture and language, by the Holy Spirit, using Human ambassadors: prophets, missionaries, evangelists, teachers, etc. They describe the Father, the Son, and the Price that has been paid. They tell of the riches of His coming Kingdom, sometimes in vague terms, simply because they themselves have also never seen it. But the Holy Spirit has seen it, and He lends credibility to their testimony. Some hear the news, and are stirred to faith. Other hear and simply shrug, or perhaps are repulsed. They all hear the question, “Will you go with this Man? Will you trust yourself to the completed work of Jesus at the Cross, knowing you will not see him face-to-face in this life?” But those few who believe the Gospel say “Yes! I will go!

They then begin a long (or sometimes short) journey across the wilderness of this life, trusting in His written Word, and in the Holy Spirit who guides them. They know they cannot go back, and that there is destruction all around them, but they trust the guide (to one degree or another) and He always brings them through safely. That is His only goal: to glorify the Father and the Son, and in doing so, to bring home the Bride. That is why the scriptures say that we are “sealed in Christ” by the Holy Spirit “until the redemption of the purchased possession!” The Holy Spirit is not about to allow anyone to turn Him aside from his assignment! He will bring us home even if we change our minds, and “throw a fit” along the way, just as the Servant was to bring Rebekah home, once the transaction was complete. The Price has been paid, and we have placed our faith in His shed blood. The Holy Spirit Himself has been given to us, as an “engagement ring”—the Earnest of our Inheritance. We are sealed, and we will be delivered!

Conclusion

The only question left, really, is “how will you go with this Man?” Will you walk in obedience to Christ? Will you accept each day of travel in this wilderness as being a day that brings you closer to Jesus? Or will you struggle, and fight, and doubt, and try to run off into the desert?

The decision is yours. You can see the beautiful, clear portrait that has been painted for you in God’s Word: you can take your place in that picture, and daily choose to walk with Jesus, in the person of the Holy Spirit, or you can struggle and doubt him.

I frequently am guilty of the struggling and doubts. I expect that there are others who experience this as well. Go back to 1st John 1:9 and confess your unbelief, and then continue the journey, by faith. Every step draws you closer to Christ.

Remember how the story ends: When Rebekah saw Isaac in the distance, she asked the Servant, “What man is this?” He said, “It is my Master!” She got down off the camel, and she covered herself with a veil, recognizing him as her Groom. Our day is coming, too, when we will also see the Bridegroom face-to-face, and we will find that we are already clothed in His righteousness!

Lord Jesus, open our eyes to the reality of the journey, and our responsibilities along the way, as ambassadors of Christ. Teach us to walk in faith and Joy, not doubting Your Grace.


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.


Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 3

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 3

The Coming Redeemer

© C. O. Bishop 2012, (revisited and revised 2018)

Genesis 3-9

Introduction:

The Bible is not “the history of God.” The “history of God” would be impossible to encapsulate in a book, or even millions of books, as He is Eternal.

It is not the history of Man, as it leaves out the vast majority of human history. It is historical, but in a very limited sense. In Genesis we can see one aspect of the beginning of earth’s history: specifically, it is the history of God’s redemptive work toward the fallen human race. It tells us how we began, how we became sinners, and what God has chosen to do about it. We will discover, as we read the Old Testament, that Jesus is “Plan A”, and there is no “Plan B”. We can see God’s wisdom and his saving Grace, from the very beginning.

The Fall and the Promise

When Man fell into sin, in Genesis, chapter three, we see the first prediction of the Person who would be the Savior. In this passage he is referred to as the “Seed of Woman”. The masculine gender is applied, and the singular personal pronoun is applied—it is not a group of people that are called the Seed of Woman, but one male Child. And only one such child in history could accurately claim that title, because all the rest had a human father—they were NOT the Seed of Woman, but the seed of a man and a woman. This is the first Prophecy of the Christ, and it predicted the destruction of Satan, and the reinstatement of fallen man. The prophecy was given as part of the curse on the Serpent (and Satan), but God continued on, to lay out the consequences of sin for both the Man and the Woman, as well. The only Good News in this passage is the Seed of the Woman. And Adam believed that “Good News” (the Gospel, in its earliest form.)

The Sacrifice and the Safeguard

Adam placed his trust in that promise (Genesis 3:20, 21), in that he named his wife “Eve”, which means “mother of all the living”…and, on the basis of that Faith, God clothed him and his wife in the skins of slain animals: this was the first blood sacrifice, and it signified the covering of sin by means of that sacrifice. God’s chosen sacrifice for sin in the Old Testament was invariably blood, and it resulted in the “atonement” (Heb. “Kophar”, or covering) for sins. Every single one of the God ordained blood sacrifices in the Old Testament looked forward, by faith, to the one sacrifice that would be offered at the Cross. Revelation 13:8 refers to Jesus as the “Lamb slain from the Foundation of the world…and, indeed, the Apostle saw him on the throne (Revelation 5:6) as a Lamb, having been slain. We look back to that one sacrifice, when we take communion. We are not asking that he die again, nor does that wine become blood. His sacrifice was once for all time, to take away sin, but his death was pre-figured, or pictured, countless times throughout the Old Testament, in animal sacrifices that could only cover sin.

Finally, God moved Adam and Eve out of the Garden…not as punishment, or banishment, but as protection, so that they would not eat of the tree of life, and gain eternal life in their fallen state, thus becoming like the demons; unsalvageable, and lost forever, soaked in evil. This was Mercy, pure and simple. It was a safeguard for the human race.

Consider this, as well: Who was it that came walking in the Garden, in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8)? Who was the judge that listened quietly to the plea of each of his guilty human subjects, then dispensed Justice and Mercy and Grace? Who is the “Judge of all the earth?” These are just some things to consider. I hope we will find answers as we move through Genesis.

In Genesis 4, we see that Abel brought “of the firstlings of his flock”…a blood sacrifice, and he was accepted by God. How did he know to do that? Possibly Adam told him…possibly God told him, because we see that God himself reasoned with Cain regarding his rejected sacrifice, saying “if you do right, you will also be accepted.” Evidently Cain knew what was required, and refused to comply. Hebrews 11:4 recalls this passage, and specifies that it was the sacrifice that was the issue, not just the heart-attitude. Cain brought a vegetable offering, which would have been fine as a worship offering, after the sin issue had been dealt with. But God called for a blood sacrifice for sin, before worship could be accepted. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the LORD will not hear me.” We can’t approach God in our sins. Abel brought a sin-offering. Cain did not.

Throughout the Bible, we see faith being demonstrated as “an obedient response to a revealed truth”. Faith is not a feeling, or a power, or a gift, in general, (though there does seem to be a special gift of faith.) Faith is simply taking God at His Word. Faith believes God enough to do something about it. Sometimes that “something” is just to believe God. (John 6:28, 29) Sometimes it requires some real shoe-leather. In Cain’s case it simply meant that he had to recognize himself as a guilty sinner, and accept GOD’S remedy for sin…not his own. God’s remedy involves the shedding of blood, whether we like it or not. And Cain rebelled. He “had his own religion”. That is a common problem today, isn’t it? We think our way is better than God’s way, and we can’t understand why it isn’t.

The Flood

In the following chapters we read about the decline of the human race into violence and wickedness—we aren’t told much about the specifics, only that the whole human race was corrupt. (Whoa! That’s news, huh!? We must have a good dose of that left around today!)

In Genesis 6:8, God says that “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” It does not say that he was not a sinner—in fact, the use of the word Grace necessitates that he was a sinner. Grace is unmerited favor—unearned favor. And, sure enough, after the flood, Noah proved he was a sinner, by getting drunk.

But, what about the flood? Was that a picture of Christ, too? No, it was a demonstration of God’s judgment on all sin…and the Ark was the picture of Christ—God’s grace to mankind; God’s power to save those who believe him. (Read Genesis 6:5-22)

Please remember that Jesus treated this as history, not legend: this is fact, not fiction. In the account of Noah’s Ark we see that, ultimately, there are only two places one can be in relation to God; in the ark or outside it. One can be in Christ, or in Adam. (1st Corinthians 15:22)

Similarities between Jesus and the Ark:

  1. Everyone started off outside the Ark…including Noah and his family. (We all start off in Adam…outside Christ…we are born that way.)
  2. Only Noah and his family looked forward to the completion of the Ark. (Only believers looked forward to the coming Messiah)
  3. Only Noah and his family saw the Ark as God’s means of deliverance. (Only believers see Jesus as their hope for salvation.)
  4. Only Noah and his family responded to the call to repentance. (Only believers respond to the Gospel call.)
  5. Only Noah and his family responded to the call to enter the Ark. (Only believers heed the call to enter into Christ.)
  6. Noah and his family entered by faith—God revealed that they were to get on board, and they believed, and entered by faith. (We do too!)
  7. I think it is interesting that (in KJV) God said “Come into the Ark”, not “Go into the Ark”.
    1. We see that God was there among them! His hand guided that craft, as it had no sails, no oars, no rudder…He controlled its destiny from beginning to end. (This is also, even more, true for the believer. Jesus said “Come unto me”, and God controls our destiny in Christ—and, beyond our imagination, we are already seated with Him in the Heavenlies.)
  8. Everyone who was aboard the Ark was safe with God. All outside were lost without him. (All in Christ have been made alive…all still in Adam are lost…though in our case, the door is still open for them to enter.)
  9. The Ark was sufficient to save all who trusted in it. (Jesus saves all who call upon His name.)
  10. The Ark was built according to the Word of God. (Jesus came in full accord with the Prophecies, fulfilling them all to the letter.)
  11. The Ark took the brunt of the judgment that fell on the earth (the water of the Flood) but rose above it. (At the Cross, Jesus took upon himself the full weight of the wrath of God for the sin of the World, but He rose from the dead, in triumph over the grave.
  12. The Ark was coated with pitch, outside, to make it immune to the judgment without, and coated with pitch inside, to make it immune to the contamination within. (Well? What would you expect to happen in a 450-foot floating barn full of animals, on a year-long cruise, with no way to clean the stalls?) (Jesus’ righteousness made him ultimately immune to the judgment for sin, and makes Him completely immune to our continuing sin as well…we cannot “torpedo the Ark” through our unworthiness… we were unworthy before He saved us, and guess what? We still are! Our sins were all paid for in full at the Cross…the fact that ALL of them were still in the future when he died should tell us something about the completeness of his redemption.)
  13. The one window of the Ark, possibly for ventilation, either looked upward, or was positioned in such a way that Noah could not really see out—he could not see the destruction that was all around him, nor could he tell when it was time to get back out onto the land. He could only look up and wait on God. (Does that sound familiar? “Look up, and wait on God.”)
  14. All those aboard the Ark were there for the duration. Nobody got off before the Ark was safely aground and the earth was dry enough to be safe and habitable. (No one gets out of Christ, either.) In some ways this could seem to be a parallel to the Tribulation as well, though not a very tight parallel…Only Noah and his family survived the flood, but there will be many who survive the Tribulation, who are saved during the Tribulation, and live through its horror. BUT—it does seem to me that the Church, having been taken away for the duration of the Tribulation, will come back to a cleansed world, just as Noah and his family emerged from the Ark to enter a cleansed world.
  15. Finally, after the only ones left alive were Noah and his family, God said “the imagination of Man’s heart is evil from his youth”. (Don’t get the idea that Christians are not sinners. We are sinners, who admit it and want to do something about it. Christians are saved sinners. We are beggars, who have been fed, and who have been reborn as children of the King. We are the recipients of Grace, and Grace cannot be earned.)
  16. Grace was the thing that saved Noah—and it is what has saved every person who was ever saved in the history of this planet. God offers Grace—we respond by faith. From Genesis to Revelation, that is the message. Notice, too, that when Noah was on dry land again, he offered that seventh animal of every clean variety, as a sacrifice. God’s chosen sacrifice is always blood, for a sin offering. We come by the Blood of Jesus. In reality, so did Noah, Abel and Adam.
  17. To stretch things, just a bit: when God gave the rainbow as a sign, it was a promise that He would not again destroy the world by flood. We look back to the Cross as God’s promise that he will no longer condemn us for our sins. Romans 8 states that “there is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And it is because of the Cross. I do not think the rainbow is a picture of the cross, but I do think the promise is a picture of the security of the believer today.
  18. One final note: The Ark was God’s only provision for the salvation of the human race from destruction in the Flood. Jesus said, “No man cometh unto the Father but by me.” Jesus is God’s only provision for the salvation of the human race from eternal damnation.

Lessons from the Ark

We should also remember that the experience of the Ark was not a “pleasant cruise on a calm sea.” It was a violent ride on tumultuous seas, with swells and breakers, raging uncontrolled, over the surface of the whole earth. The Christian life is not easy, for most believers. It is a tumultuous ride through a World that is violently opposed to the message of the Cross, and the raging surges of human sin that cover the whole earth. There is no “safe haven,” except in the person of Christ.

The Ark was the only safe place, but it was not comfortable. There was the overwhelming smell of thousands of animals, unless God miraculously cleared the air (which He may have done.) There was the darkness of an entirely enclosed wooden ship, or barge, unless God supernaturally provided light (which He may have done.)  There was the rolling and pitching, and the groaning of the ships timbers, as the storm raged. They were in that Ark for a year and seventeen days; seven days before the flood began, and a year and ten days from the beginning of the flood until they disembarked.

Sometimes we may feel that we are enduring hard times, and we are doubtful about our future. How doubtful must Noah and his family have felt, during that experience? But consider this: if they were doubtful, did it take them out of the Ark? If they were afraid? If they were angry, and resentful? If they were seasick, and despairing of ever seeing the light of day again? No, the fact is, regardless of their condition, their position was perfect! They were safe in the Ark. In fact, the only thing that made a difference between those inside, who may have been uncomfortable and frightened, and those outside, who were dead, and eternally lost, was their position inside the Ark.

I am not necessarily a better person than any particular unbeliever. In fact, I suspect that the reverse is likely true. The only thing that makes me different than those in the World, is the person of Christ, and my position in Him: and He is the only Hope we have, to offer to the World.

We offer the only provision God has ever made for the salvation of sinners: If they are hungry, we offer the Bread of Life. If they are thirsty, we offer the Living Water. If they see that they are in darkness, we offer the Light of the World. If they are open at all to the Person of Christ, then He is all those things to them. We hold out Jesus, the Living Word of God, to those around us.

We need to live in such a way as to not diminish the light of the Gospel. God needs clean vessels through which to pour His Grace. He asks that we present our bodies, daily, as living sacrifices, so that He can offer His Grace to the World around us. Each of us has that responsibility before God, and He points out that it is our “reasonable service.” And it really is, isn’t it? After what He has done for us, how can we offer less?

Lord Jesus, teach us to see your face in the scriptures, as well as in the world around us. Help us to see the people of this world as precious souls for whom you died, and to count them as priceless in our eyes. Enable us to reach them with the good news of eternal life.


So, What about Sin?

So, What about Sin?

© C. O. Bishop 1/5/2018 Cornell Estates 1/7/2018

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the book of Romans, and the first three chapters are nearly entirely given over to explaining the bad news of the wreckage of the human race in Sin, thus making the “Good News” of the Gospel of Christ entirely appropriate for every human…real good news, in response to real bad news.

So, What is Sin, Anyway?

What is sin? Why is it even an issue? Is it strictly a matter of opinion, and interpretation, or are there some solid truths involved?

The New Testament Greek word “hamartia” reflected a “miss” in spear-throwing, specifically, and one of the primary Hebrew words for “sin” (the Hebrew word chattaah), reflected an archery term meaning to “miss the ‘gold’ (bulls-eye) with an arrow.” But the English word “sin” goes back to various Germanic roots all carrying the idea of “moral wrongdoing, injury, mischief, enmity, a feud, guilt, crime, offense against God, misdeed, etc.”

The various words translated “sin” are used hundreds of times in the Bible, in varying forms, and always treated as something serious. The first warning as to the result of wrongdoing (simple disobedience, in this case, having to do with eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) is in Genesis 2:17, where the Creator warns Adam, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”  We find out later that spiritual death, separation from God, was the primary fulfillment, and it occurred the very moment Adam ate that fruit.

Three thousand years later, an important general comment is made regarding Sin: Ezekiel 18:4 states that “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” This answer was given against the human charge that God is punishing children for what their parents did.

Romans 5:12 has another important idea: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:” Yes, sin entered by one man. Sin was introduced to the entire human race in its progenitor, Adam. Think of it as a “genetic code modification,” if that helps: we all became sinners, the moment Adam ate of that fruit. But, we all individually sin, and press home God’s point about the whole human race: Every single one of us, at one level or another…no one escapes that stigma, because we all prove it true on an individual basis. Romans 3:23 makes it abundantly clear: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God;” We all have missed the mark!

How Can We Identify Sin?

As New Testament believers, there is no need for us to go through lists of “Seven Deadly Sins,” “Five Felonious Foul-ups”, or “Nine Nasty No-nos,” or any such thing: we can learn principles by which we can examine our lives, and which cover all those “lists,” plus things we might not have thought of before, and can’t find on any lists. There are four such definitions in the New Testament:

#1 … Transgression of the Law

God gave the Mosaic Law in Exodus 20, and again in Deuteronomy 4. We will not reflect upon it today, because it was specifically given to the Jews, who were never able to keep it, by their own confession (Acts 15:10), and the New Testament specifically forbids placing that yoke on the necks of Gentiles, to whom it was never given in the first place. All that being said, the value of the Law remains unchanged: it is an eternal standard of righteousness. Romans 7:13 says that it “…makes Sin exceedingly sinful.” In light of that fact, over in 1st John 3:4, the apostle states that “…sin is the transgression of the Law.”

All right! There is one clear definition of sin, given in the New Testament, and specifically addressed to New Testament Believers, in spite of the fact that it reflects on Old Testament Law! “Sin is the Transgression of the Law!” Bear in mind that it is definitely talking about the Mosaic Law, not any particular civil law. It is possible (not at all common) for civil law to be contrary to God’s Law, but we will not address that today. How about another?

#2 … All Unrighteousness

In Romans 1:18-32, God addresses His revealed wrath against “…all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men….” This is a good place to read carefully, because, though the list He proceeds to lay out sounds fairly exhaustive, it is not, and it leaves room for other items not specified. Verse 32 says …”they which do such things…”, not ”those things.” The list is not exhaustive. That is important, because He does say that His wrath is ”revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.” So what can we say, when the condemnation is universal, but the list is not?

1st John 5:17 states that “all unrighteousness is sin….”  All unrighteousness is sin! So, everything on that list over in Romans 1 as well as everything in those categories, named or unnamed, is still sin. Galatians 5:19-21 gives a short list (not the same as the one in Romans, but similar), and the list ends with the phrase, “…and such like”. It means “things like these.” All unrighteousness is sin. It doesn’t have to be on anyone’s list, necessarily. How about another definition?

#3 … If a Man Knows to Do Right and Fails to Do So

James 4:17 really makes it personal: “Therefore, to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” To him it is sin! We always say that ignorance of the Law is not an excuse for breaking it, but there is a law that reaches beyond that: knowing the GOOD thing to do, and failing to DO it, is just a wrong as knowing the law and breaking it.

And, quite frankly, even law-enforcement officers sometimes extend mercy to someone who is doing something that is perfectly legal in their home state, and which they had no way to know became illegal when they crossed the state line. I have had mercy extended to me in that specific instance on at least two occasions. One for a vehicle equipment deficiency, and another for hitchhiking in a state where it was illegal. (That is how I got into that state!) An unmarked car pulled up and the officer politely asked me whether I was aware that it was illegal to hitchhike in the state of Tennessee. My shoulders slumped, and I blurted, “No, I didn’t know that! That’s why everyone is staring at me, then!” He smiled and asked where I was headed. I said I was headed into Mississippi, to see my Grandparents for Christmas. He smiled again, and said, “Hop in! I’ll take you across the state line!” And he did! That was Grace and Mercy at work! He gave me what I had not earned, which is the very definition of Grace; and he did not give me the citation I had unwittingly earned. That is Mercy! He made a judgment based on my response. He was satisfied that I had no intent of breaking the law, and he extended both Mercy and Grace.

But God takes it a step further, and says that if I know the GOOD thing I should do, and decide not to do it, then I am guilty because of a sin of omission. That becomes pretty personal. We do not all have the same gifts or abilities, and God does not hold us equally accountable. A small child, for instance would not be held accountable for failing to render aid at an accident. But an adult very well may be. A non-swimmer may not be held accountable for failing to try to rescue someone struggling in the water…but a trained lifeguard, who simply decided his or her shift was ending, and couldn’t be bothered could very well be charged with criminal negligence. Good laws! That is how God sees those things, too! How about one more?

#4 … Whatsoever is Not of Faith

Romans 14:23 makes it not only personal but internal to the individual. It is checking the heart-motivation, not just what was done or not done. It says, in conclusion of a lengthy treatise, “…for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” That really caps all the others, in my opinion. There are no loopholes, no excuses…It is between you and God. In the context, the issue being discussed was open either direction: any believer was free to go either way. But! God says that if you are convinced in your own heart that something is wrong, and you go ahead and do it anyway, then it IS sin, for you , because you thought it was wrong and chose to rebel!

By the way, we can do right things for wrong reasons, too, and break this one just as fully. Jesus pointed this out in the Sermon on the Mount, as well as other places, saying “Don’t be like the scribes and the Pharisees,” …who make long prayers for show—who give very publicly, to gain social status, who want the robes and honors of ministry, but don’t have the heart for service. We can do what our conscience tells us not to do, or fail to do what our conscience tells we ought to do, and find that we have sinned, even though the thing in question was not a transgression of the law, nor unrighteousness (by human standards), nor, perhaps would we admit that we “really knew” what to do.

This one almost approaches the mystical, as it is harder to pin down. The only way I know to respond is to keep pretty short accounts with God, and never allow our soul to become calloused. A tender spirit goes a long way toward avoiding this sort of sin.

How do WE Deal with the Question of Sin?

As far as I can see, the religions of the world are divided into four clear groups by their answer to this question:

  1. Those who deny the existence of sin, saying there is nothing that is intrinsically right or wrong, but those concepts have been drummed into us by our respective societies, and that there simply is no such thing as sin, nor guilt for sin. There are not many churches which teach this, because there is an inborn sense of right and wrong, that virtually all people admit to, unless they are specifically taught otherwise. We certainly see things as wrong when someone does them to us! Maybe not so much when they happen to others.
  2. Those who admit there is such a thing as sin, but insist that “God is so loving that He (or she) would never punish a sinner! We are all children of that loving God, and we just need to get along as best we can, and we will all go to heaven eventually!” This isn’t really common either, because along with a sense of right and wrong, most people have a strong sense of retribution built into them. We believe that good people ought to get good things, and bad people ought to get bad things. Revenge is a very common drive in humans across the globe. Of course our ideas about who is good and who is bad are terribly skewed, in many cases, and our ideas about what the human race deserves, is usually pretty mild…at least toward ourselves and “our kind of folk”. (Funny how that works…)
  3. Those who not only admit there is such a thing as sin, but also agree that God hates sin! And then they say that “You need to do lots of good things to overbalance all the bad things you have already done.” And they will definitely tell you what all you need to do: There might be special prayers to recite, or penances of various types. Money gifts are always appreciated; burning incense, lighting candles, cutting your hair in a specific way, wearing certain special clothing…etc. Oddly enough, virtually all the world’s religions fall into this group: why? Because it appeals to our old sin nature! We want to believe that we can DO something to make God accept us! It makes us feel good about ourselves: “I must be good! Look at all the good stuff I do!” and finally,
  4. The ones that agree that sin exists, that God is Holy, and He hates sin, but then go on to admit that every single human is a sinner, and that there is NOTHING we can do to undo the bad things we have already done. That is what the Bible teaches, and, in this regard it stands alone! We are left guilty and with neither defense nor excuse.

    Jesus’s blood at the Cross is the only payment that God has ever accepted, and we can add nothing to that sacrifice!

Our choices, then become pretty clear: if I try to change the game, and redefine sin, I am in trouble with God. But, if I try to deal with sin in some other way than via the Cross, I add insult to injury, as He says in Hebrews 10:29 that I am treading under foot the Son of God, counting the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, and doing despite unto the Spirit of Grace! Wow! Rough stuff!

Make it Personal…God takes it that way!

God has made it clear that Sin is a pervasive problem, and that it effectively permeates every facet of human existence. He has made it clear that He hates sin. And He has offered us a way to regain a right standing with Himself.

So, the question becomes, since I now know how God defines Sin, how will I deal with it?

  • Will I brush it away, denying it exists?
  • Will I say, “Oh, yeah, I know, but God will forgive me! He’s a great guy! He isn’t concerned about this sort of thing!”
  • Will I grovel in my guilt, and slavishly try to earn God’s favor through my own works?
  • Or will I accept the simple fact that, apart from God’s Grace, and His Mercy, I am completely helpless against the enemies of my soul, and that my only hope is through Jesus’s finished work at the Cross?

That is the choice each of us faces, when we first become believers, but it is also the choice we face as believers: I cannot go back to being lost, but I can act as if I did! I can still rebel, and deny that my behavior is sin. And it will be very costly!

When I do such things, I put myself beyond God’s reach for fellowship and blessing, and I open myself to the attack of the Evil one. Everything I do during that lapse will be worthless to God, even when I am “trying to do good things to get on God’s good side.” I can’t lose my salvation, but I can definitely waste my life, and lose the opportunity to serve with Jesus, and be rewarded with Him.

So what can I do? I can confess to God that my sin is exactly what God calls it: Sin. Not a “personality conflict” or a “genetic trait”, or “my Irish blood”, or whatever excuse I would like to use. I confess it as sin…and what does God do? 1st John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” How can you beat a deal like that?

Take that one to the bank! God already signed the check; all you have to do is endorse it by faith!

Lord Jesus, teach us Your Mercy and Your Grace. Teach us to rely upon your mercy and Grace, by faith, as you show us the sin in our lives. Let us repent of our sins, and confess them to you, so as to be fully restored to fellowship.

 

 

 


The True Mount Zion

The True Mount Zion

© C. O. Bishop 12/08/2017; THCF 12/10/2017

Hebrews 12:18-29

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the book of Hebrews, and have most recently seen God’s exhortation to not allow ourselves to become bitter or discouraged, nor to allow those around us to fall into despair, as it will affect others as well. I take this one pretty personally, as I have suffered from chronic depression for over 45 years. This is one of the pitfalls that Christians can fall prey to, and which can destroy an otherwise productive life.

He further pointed out that there are errors we can make and sins we can fall into—decisions we can make—that we can’t fix: The results will be permanent. He gave the example of Esau, who made a bad decision, and later wanted to repent, but he could not do so; the damage was done.

The writer goes on to point out that the God we are dealing with is not a human authority, but is far beyond all human thought. Far beyond even Mount Sinai, though Mt. Sinai had held the awe of believers for 1500 years at that point, already (and it still does.) We are not dealing with the temporal, but with the eternal.

The True Mount Zion

Mount Zion is beyond Mount Sinai, to begin with. The True Mount Zion reaches beyond this world.

18 For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest,
19 And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more:
20 (For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart:
21 And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:)

The writer correctly assessed the impression it had made upon the people then, by quoting what Moses said about it…but then he says that the reality we face is far greater. At least what they faced could be physically touched, and seen, and heard, etc.: it could be experienced with the senses. They knew the reality of what they saw, and knew the penalty for disobedience to the God who commanded them. Though it was a physical reality (as were all the other things with which Jesus has been compared in the book of Hebrews), it was only a foreshadowing of the real thing; the true mount Zion.

What we are now involved with is the real thing. Each believer has become part of the Bride of Christ, and, though our sins have been washed from us, so that God will never again condemn us, we still are completely accountable to him, and there is no part of our lives that is exempt from his call. He calls us to respond to him with our whole lives, recognizing that we are His.

22 But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,

Here is a side note: When this passage refers to “God, the Judge of all,” is it referring to God the Father, God, the Son, or God the Holy Spirit? Abraham saw Him (Genesis 18), and addressed Him as the “Judge of all the Earth.” We don’t often consider this, because we only tend to see Jesus, as Jesus: the God-Man, who walked among us. But John 1:18 makes it clear that no one has ever seen God the Father, except in the person of the Son; and, as far as we know, the Spirit has only been seen in visions (Ezekiel), and, at the baptism of Jesus, where He appeared as a Dove…once!  So, Abraham had to be talking to the pre-incarnate Christ: God the Son. If we still have any doubt about the matter, we must consider what Jesus himself said, in John 5:22 “…the Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment unto the Son.” All right, then! That pretty much answers our question: The passage where he says, “God, the judge of all” is still referring to God the Son, and Jesus, our redeemer, is mentioned separately, only because of the Earthly nature of his specific ministry. He still has His resurrected human body. That same Jesus is the One we serve and the One we look to for salvation. He is the mediator of the New Covenant.

The True Sacrifice

24 And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.

This could seem to either refer to the sacrifice Abel brought (Jesus is better) or to the blood of Abel, personally, which was shed by Cain. Both are true, of course, but Abel’s personal blood was not a part of the Old Covenant. Abel’s personal blood cannot be reasonably compared to that of Jesus. Jesus was not a victim, but a willing substitute. The sacrifice Abel brought, though, was the first voluntary substitutionary sacrifice recorded, and it predicted the whole sacrificial system to come. (That is why Jesus referred to Abel as a prophet.) The blood Abel brought was looking forward to the Cross, as did all other Old Testament sacrifices: and, as such, it was only a foreshadowing of the blood of Jesus at the Cross. Therefore, using Abel’s prophetic offering as representative of the entire Old Covenant, the Writer states that Jesus’s blood is better!

The blood of the Old Covenant was temporary, and was offered repeatedly, reminding us of our guilt before God. The blood of the New Covenant is permanent and was only offered once, for all time. The blood of the Old Covenant sacrifices was always that of animals, and could only cover sins. The Blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, takes away Sins. (John 1:29)

We know all these things, but we frequently forget the incredible spectacle of the Eternal God, the Creator of all things, deliberately becoming part of His own creation, taking on the form of a man; not one of the “demi-god heroes” of Greek, Roman, and other mythologies, but as a true, relatively ordinary man, and born of a poor family, not that of a king: doing no “heroic deeds,” but only acts of compassion, kindness and mercy. His power and authority was demonstrated, but not exploited. No one was ever harmed by his power while he walked this earth.

He stopped the storm, demonstrating His power over nature. He healed innumerable people of diseases, some of which were at that time incurable (some probably so, even today), and thus proved His power over physical illness. He cast out demons, proving His power over the forces of spiritual darkness and evil in general. Then, just before his crucifixion, He knocked down 200 Roman soldiers (thus showing his power over human governments and enemies), by simply saying His name. And then He invited those same soldiers to take him away, and meekly submitted Himself to their hands, knowing what was to come.

The True Judge

Consider the one with whom we have to do: His was the eternal authority of Heaven. He is still, eternally—past, present and future—the “Judge of all the Earth”. When we look forward to the coming judgement, and fearfully hope that we will be saved by his blood (and we will), we trust in Him as our advocate for the defense. But we easily forget that he is also the Judge! His is the only authority we need to consider, ultimately. Everything He does is under the authority of the Father, and in complete agreement with the Father, but it behooves us to remember that the same Jesus we saw walking into Jerusalem, and feeding the crowds, etc., is the inescapable Judge who will sit upon the Great White Throne of Revelation 20…and exercise that eternal power and authority to finally condemn the sins of the whole human race.

He condemned all of our sins, already, in eternity past, and already made eternal provision for a substitute for us. We see in Revelation 13:8 that He is the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth.”  He also condemned our sins while he was on earth (John 3:18, 19) “he that believeth in Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”

Those who place their trust in His shed blood will no longer face His righteous judgement at the Great White Throne. But we still are dealing with an Eternally Righteous God who hates sin. Let’s take that seriously!

25 See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven:
26 Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.
27 And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
28 Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:
29 For our God is a consuming fire.

This is the seventh (and final) warning to those who were “dabbling” in Christ, but still were rooted in Judaism. The God of Judaism is the same as the God of Christianity. In fact, ironically enough, the Jesus Christ whom Israel had rejected was the Jehovah (Yahweh/YHWH) of the Old Testament, whom they also rejected, time after time.

That is one reason that this epistle begins with the words “God, who at sundry times and in divers manner spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son

The Prophets were fairly uniformly rejected…in fact, many lost their lives for speaking for God. John the Baptist was the final Old Testament prophet, and was also martyred. Jesus, the only begotten son (meaning the heir to the throne), was rejected and killed as well.

But Jesus is the Judge! (John 5:22) Jesus himself is the one they will have to face if they reject him. They will see Him face to face, no longer offering salvation, but only judgment…only His final condemnation for all those who spurned his offer of Grace.

The Jews looked back at the experiences of Israel in the Exodus, as well as the various wars, captivities and famines, and they piously shuddered, thinking “Well, I wouldn’t have failed God in that way!” But they were doing it at that very moment, by rejecting the Son as their Messiah.

The True Savior

Mercy is the only thing that stands between us and the consuming fire of God’s judgment. Lamentations 3:22 says, “It is of His mercy that we are not consumed.”  Grace is God giving us something we do not deserve (Salvation, for example), while Mercy is God not giving us what we do deserve (eternal judgment). Mercy and Grace go hand in hand. Though I still deserve the judgment of God for my sins, I will never be judged for my sins, because of God’s Mercy and Grace. Grace is God, in the person of Jesus Christ, giving himself as the sacrifice for my sins. Mercy is His not holding that sin against me, ever again, though I continue to fail Him daily.

This was God’s final warning, in this epistle, against an uncommitted faith…an impersonal faith. I have asked people on various occasions, “Did Jesus die for your sins?” They replied “He died for everyone’s sins!” I reiterated, “But did he die for your sins, personally?” They invariably insisted that “He died for everyone’s sins!” I could not get them to commit to the statement that his blood was the payment for their personal guilt. Does that mean that they were not believers? I don’t know! I can’t see their hearts…but it makes me fear that they are giving mental and vocal assent to the claims of Christ, but that they do not see themselves as a sinner in need of a savior. If that is actually the case, then, no; of course, they are not believers.

Cain saw himself as having no need of a blood sacrifice for his sins. He brought a vegetable offering. Abel brought a blood sacrifice, thus prophesying the coming Messiah. The folks to whom this warning was directed had undoubtedly brought blood sacrifices, themselves, many times in the past—they were Jews! But they did not do it because they saw their need for a savior. They did it because it was the culturally acceptable thing to do, (“…and besides, who knows? Maybe it will keep me out of trouble with God!”) But they were no more convinced of their own need for a savior than Cain had been, as they were secretly rejecting the blood of Jesus which would eclipse all previous sacrifices, and fulfill the prophesy implied in Abel’s sacrifice.

That is the reason why each of the seven warnings throughout this epistle is given. There are about forty exhortations to the believers as to how to respond to God; how to respond to one another; how to respond to the leadership in the church, etc. But those seven warnings all seem to be directed to those who are dabbling in the faith, and are still uncommitted. Judas fell into that category, too, but he eventually took it a step further, and not only was lost, but was eternally guilty of the betrayal of Jesus. (Compare John 13:10, 11 with John 15:3. The other apostles were saved by faith, the same as everyone else. The Eleven had believed Jesus’s words; Judas had not. The Eleven were clean through Jesus’s words, Judas remained unwashed, uncleansed, unsaved. A person who hears the Gospel and does not make it personal can still fall into this trap today. This is the warning repeated throughout this epistle; seven times, in all.

The writer mentions that God will once more shake the Heavens and the Earth. He goes on to explain that it signifies the utter removal of the created, temporary things, and their replacement with eternal things. We will see the promised “new Heaven and new Earth” when that time comes. Those who ultimately reject the Lord will be judged before the new Heaven and earth are revealed, so it seems that they will never see it at all, unless it is visible from the lake of fire.

I hope the two are to be completely separate. The eternal judgment of the lost is not something I like to think about. I teach it, and I warn of that coming judgment, but I really don’t like to dwell on the topic. All of the trials we experience in this life have an ending: as believers, we always entertain the hope of a coming release and deliverance. For those who ignore the call of God to repentance and salvation, there can be no such hope. He will no longer be offering His Grace and Mercy, but only the eternal consequences of unbelief, and of having rejected His Grace.

Our Response, as True Believers

These are painful things to talk about. This is the last of the seven warnings to the uncommitted hearers of the Gospel who have not claimed Jesus as their Savior. From this point on, the writer gives instructions to believers, only.

If you understand the warning we just read and discussed, I hope it will make you more serious about reaching out to the lost ones in your circle of friends and acquaintances. We see the world spinning rapidly toward the final culmination of history in the Rapture of the Church and the Great Tribulation. Perhaps it will not happen in our time, but I believe it probably will.

How we each respond to the Authority and Love of the Savior is a personal choice, and the results of those choices are inevitably chosen with our responses. We are told by the Apostle Paul, over in 1st Corinthians 3, that it is possible for us to “build upon the foundation of Christ” with gold, silver, and precious Stones, or with wood, hay and stubble. The character of our works, as believers, is to be tested by fire. I’m afraid there have been many sections of my work that were claptrap structures of scrap-wood, bound together with binder twine. It was utterly combustible, and eternally wasted, from God’s perspective. God is faithful and just. He does not forget the worthy things we have done, in faith. But He is imminently fair, and just, as well: He does not reward excursions into self-motivated “projects” which may have seemed good, but were really only our own doings.

He wants our works to originate with Him, and to be carried out by the Holy Spirit.

Lord Jesus, change us into your likeness: change our hearts so that we respond to your Love and Authority with Gratitude and Obedience. Take away our selfish hearts of unbelief, and motivate us to serve from a pure heart. Make us true ambassadors of your Grace.


What is Covered By The Mercy Seat?

What is Covered by the Mercy Seat?

© C. O. Bishop 7/18/17 THCF 7/30/17

Hebrews 9:1-10 Hebrews 4:16

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the epistle to the Hebrews. Last time, in chapter eight, we saw Jesus revealed as our true High Priest, and as the mediator of the New Covenant, which was originally promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Now the writer is discussing, in more particular detail, the reality of Jesus in the Tabernacle and the Temple. He begins by discussing what was physically in the Tabernacle, and what was in the Ark of the Covenant, and the significance of the Mercy Seat. So we will discuss those things in that order:

What was in the Tabernacle?

1Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary.

For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary.

And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all;

The Tabernacle, proper, also called the “tent of meeting”, included two compartments, both of which were closed to the public. The outer sanctuary, wherein were the golden lampstand (or candlestick, in this passage), and the table of showbread, which was changed daily, was open to the general priesthood, for their service. The inner sanctum, the holy of holies, was only open to the High Priest, and that only once a year. He entered in once a year, with a blood sacrifice for the nation of Israel, and to offer prayer for the nation.

Inside the inner sanctum, the holy of holies, was only am incense altar, for burning incense…no other kind of sacrifice or offering…and the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant has been an object of mystery for thousands of years, but, in the matter of physical reality, it was simply a wooden box, approximately 27” x 27” x 45” long, and it was plated over with gold, with a solid gold lid that had images of cherubim on top, and with golden rings in the sides of the box, through which poles could be inserted by which to carry the box. That was it!

You can read the full description in Exodus 25:10-22. There are people today, who falsely claim to have built according to these directions and it turned out to be a radio transmitter (Erich Von Daniken, in his book, Chariots of the Gods) and others who simply claim that it generated electricity. These are all patently false claims, but they can only deceive those who fail to go read the instructions to Moses and see what the Ark of the Covenant really was. It was a BOX! Yes, it was gold-plated, etc., but it was still just a box! There were no wires: nothing that could generate any sort of physical power. The God who ordained it was the only power associated with that Box. When Uzzah touched the box, 400 years later, and was struck dead, he was struck dead by God, not electrocuted! Further, when Moses communicated with God, he did not need a radio, as Von Daniken claimed; and neither do you! God can hear you today, if you will talk to Him, just as He heard Moses 3,500 years ago in Egypt!

But, what was in the Ark of the Covenant?

Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant;

The things in the ark, again, do not lend themselves to anything except symbolism. These three things were in the Ark of the Covenant, eventually:

  • A golden jar of Manna (reminding them of God’s faithful supply),
  • Aaron’s Rod that budded (reminding them of His promise of the resurrection), and
  • The two stone tables of God’s Law (declaring His Holiness, Righteousness and Justice.)

The recipients of all three (the Nation of Israel) had rejected all three in unbelief.

  • They had despised the Manna, saying they missed the leeks, onions, garlic, cucumbers and melons of Egypt, and they wanted meat, besides. They rejected the sustenance offered by God in every way, and they only desired to return to Egypt.
  • They had disregarded the promise of the resurrection, living for the pleasure of this world only (Just as Esau had done, 500 years earlier, and finally,
  • They had constantly disobeyed, defied and broken God’s Law; or at least only obeyed it at a surface level, and concerning matters in which obedience was relatively convenient. God’s Holiness was never central to their thinking, nor His Law central to their lives.

And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly.

I really can’t tell you very much about the Cherubim…I have never seen a cherub, and the scriptures give no clear description. All I know is that they were the highest order among the angelic creation, and seem to have been “palace-guards,” of a sort. A cherub was placed to guard the way back to Eden so that Adam and Eve could not return there. Lucifer was originally a cherub, and was evidently the head of that group. We don’t know a great deal more about them.

The pure gold Mercy seat, itself, on the other hand, was both the “lid” to the box—the covering for all that was within—and, it was God’s throne on earth. Give this some thought: Why would God seat himself upon His Mercy, covering the things within the Ark of the Covenant? There is something truly significant about this: He was Seated (enthroned), upon Mercy, Covering the things pertaining to His relationship with Sinful Mankind. So, let’s talk about that:

God’s Mercy and the New Covenant

God’s rule on earth has to be based upon His Mercy. Lamentations 3:22 says, “It is of His mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.”

And, His Mercy is what is needed to cover the ungodliness recorded by the contents of the Ark of the Covenant, itself. Remember: everything in the Ark, though they were emblems of God’s goodness, because they had been rejected by Man, were also emblems of our sin and perdition.

By the way, it is not only the Jews who have rejected God’s rule, his promise, and His supply. We Gentiles routinely spurn everything of God as well. We mock him in our literature and our movies and our jokes. We claim to be our own source of authority, the “captains of our own souls,” the directors of our own futures, and the guarantors of our own sustenance.

Meanwhile we face world famines, a diminishing fresh water supply, drug-resistant diseases, and the inability to cure our own lawless social ills; yet we boast that we will emigrate to the stars. Really!? We can’t solve our problems here, so we think we can travel hundreds of millions of light-years away, and start over elsewhere? How sad and foolish it all must look from God’s perspective. How desperately we need His Mercy!

Only God’s Mercy can cover our rebellion, our pride and our disrespect. But, the Ark of the Covenant is long gone…so, where can we find the Mercy of God today? Let’s see whether the Scriptures can tell us:

Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God.

But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people:

Only the priests (plural) could go into the outer sanctuary of the tabernacle, and only the High Priest into the inner sanctum, the holy of holies, and that only once a year, with a blood sacrifice for sin. This is just historical fact. The recipients of the letter were primarily Jews, and they knew all of this. But the Writer goes on to teach them what they did not know regarding that history.

The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing:

Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience;

10 Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.

Notice that verses 8, 9 and 10 give the “expiration date”, effectively, for the old covenant. It was only good “While as the first tabernacle was yet standing”. It was only a “figure for the time then present”, and was imposed upon them “until the time of reformation”. The obsolescence was actually “built-in” in several ways: Every priest eventually died, thus requiring a new priest; the buildings fell into disrepair, or were destroyed, etc.; and the sacrifices had to be repeated, day after day and year by year.

But Jesus is not bound by any of these imperfections, nor can his ministry become obsolete: He made one perfect sacrifice which provides the believer with a perfect standing before God, and, to top it off, unlike either the priests or the tabernacle within which they served, He himself lives eternally to intercede for us.

Notice verse nine, which says that the gifts and sacrifices the priests offered at that time could not even make the priests perfect, let alone those whom they represented. All the sacrifices accomplished was to temporarily “cover” the sins of the people, including those of the priests. The word translated “atonement”, in the KJV translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, is the word “kaphar.” It means a “covering.” Fittingly, that is also the name of the lid of the Ark of the Covenant…the “kaphar.”  And, what was it covering? Just the box? No, it covered what was in the box:

  • The despised supply of God,
  • The disregarded promise of God, and
  • The disobeyed, defied and broken Law of God.

These emblems of our Stubbornness, our Unbelief, our pride and lawlessness were what was really in that box, though ironically represented by the very emblems of God’s Sustenance, Promise and Justice. So, it required God’s Mercy to cover it all.

That is why the lid was also called the “Mercy Seat”, and it was a pre-figuring of the Mercy-seat before which we now freely appear before God. Under the Old Covenant, God’s Mercy, through the blood sacrifices, covered our sins. But under the New Covenant, in the person of Christ, our sins are taken away. John the Baptist, in John 1:29, clearly declared Jesus to be the one to fulfill all those prophecies. (“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the World.”)

So, in light of all that history; applying it to our lives, today; for us, who have never seen the temple…What does it mean today? We have never seen the Cross, either; but we have placed our faith in the Blood of that Cross. And, the Blood of that Sacrifice is what stands between us and the Judgment of God, today. His Justice and Righteousness were satisfied by that sacrifice. His Mercy and Love were satisfied there, as well.

The scriptures say that Jesus completed his sacrificial work, and then sat down…where? The only place He could sit down was in the throne with God, the Father. So that is where He is today, still on the job, interceding for us. Jesus is our Mercy Seat—our atonement—our covering. More than that, He has taken our sins away!

So…going back to our original question:

What is covered by the Mercy Seat?

The short answer: Everything!

All of our rebellion is covered by the Cross, all of our mistaken pride, and our stubborn self-will. All of our lies, by which we deceive ourselves and others. All our cruel unkindness by which we mistreat others. All our lack of forgiveness and our implacable hearts. All of our self-pity and narcissism, our lusts, our unholiness, our arrogance, and our fears. Calvary covers it all.

And, what is really important, here, is to see that His sacrifice at the Cross was a one-time sacrifice to “Take away the sins of the World”. That is what John the Baptist meant in John 1:29 “Behold the Lamb of God (the sacrificial Lamb) which taketh away the sins of the World.”

So…did that include the sins of, say, Adam? Or Abraham? Yes! Their sacrifices looked forward, in faith, to HIS sacrifice. And, if the cross took away the sins of Adam, it also took away the sins of the sons of Adam. If it took away the sins of Abraham, it also took away the sins of those who are Abraham’s heirs by faith.

Jesus said that those who do not believe are condemned already because they do not believe. The penalty of their sins was actually paid at the Cross. But, in choosing to reject that fact, they remain under the judgment of God. They can still change their mind, if they are willing to do so.

When you chose to place your trust in the completed work of Jesus—in His blood sacrifice for your sins—from God’s perspective, your sins were permanently removed from you. You are still living out the physical reality of your life, with all its trials: but in God’s economy, you have been permanently placed into Christ, so that where He is, you are! Read Ephesians 2:4-6…read it slowly, and think about what it actually says! You have already been resurrected with Jesus, and have already ascended… and are NOW sitting with Him in heaven! Where He is, you are!

I have always had a hard time with that concept…But God says that it is important for us to grasp that truth, and for us to rest in what it implies. The work is done!  We are not to slave away, fearfully trying to “do enough Good” in the world, so that God will accept us: He has already accepted us! I am already forgiven! I am already accepted in the Beloved!

John 5:24 says that my Past is covered: He says that I have crossed over from Death into life. Incidentally, that is actually not a simple past-tense, but a perfect tense: a completed action in the past, which has continuing effect for the future. “It is finished!

My Present is covered: He says that I have Eternal Life, now! I don’t have to wait until I die to find out whether I “graduated” or just “flunked out.” This is a very precious promise to me, because if I had to wait, knowing my failures and sin, I would be without hope.

My Future is covered: He says that I will not (ever) come into condemnation. I will never be condemned for my sins. I do not have to live in fear of the righteous judgment of a Holy God, because that righteous judgment was poured out on Jesus, at the Cross. “He who knew no sin was made to be sin, for us, so that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”

Conclusion:

Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of Grace, that we may obtain Mercy, and find Grace to help in time of need.” This is where we find Mercy today. The Ark of the Covenant (as well as the whole temple on earth) was lost almost two thousand years ago. But the real Mercy seat still awaits our response of faith. Jesus sits enthroned, and His throne is the throne of Grace. We are to approach Him in full confidence, knowing that His work is complete, and that we are fully accepted in Him.

When is the “Time of Need?” It is now! Daily! Moment by Moment! All of our life is a crisis, apart from Christ. As an unbeliever, had I died at any time prior to coming to faith, I would have been eternally lost. I literally had no hope. Even as a believer, today, when I am out of fellowship with God, I am reduced to living by my own strength and wisdom, and, for all practical purposes, I am again without Hope.

Our “Time of Need” is a moment-by-moment dependency upon the Grace, Mercy, and Forgiveness of God, as well as His Supply and Sustenance. We find all of these in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Lord Jesus teach us to believe your promise, and to trust your Word. Draw us along into a full relationship with you by faith and teach us the gentle life of obedience to your Spirit. Fill us with your Mercy and Grace.


The Fatherhood of God

The Fatherhood of God

© C. O. Bishop 6/6/17; THCF 6/18/17

John 8:44; Psalm 103:13, 14, etc.

Introduction:

Much has been said about the “Fatherhood of God”, especially by those who attempt to extend the concept and call it the “Universal Fatherhood of God.” The fact is, God flatly denies that He is the father of everyone, and Jesus pointed out that being the offspring of some person would cause that offspring to bear some resemblance to the parent, one way or another…specifically, He said “if God were your Father, you would love me.”

So, we have a problem: These two ideas are sharply opposed, and one is called out by the Savior as being false, yet that one is, by far, the more popular of the two notions. They cannot both be true. Jesus said to those same people (John 8:44), “Ye are of your father the devil, and his works will ye do!” He went on to explain what kind of works he meant; in this particular case, lying and murder. And, as a race, we humans do seem to excel at both. The market for nonfiction is huge, but we are less interested in it than we are in fiction. The movie industry is completely given over to fiction, both for entertainment and for politically inspired social engineering. And the most popular fiction includes violence, immorality and, frequently Spiritism of some sort.

From God’s Perspective:

When God refers to Himself as a Father, what does he mean? Who does he claim as his offspring? Does it mean something different, for example, when he refers to someone as his “son” than when he call them His children, or “infants”—little children?

To begin with, it is probably important for us to see that there is one word in the Old Testament, which is translated “father”: the Hebrew word “ab”. And, in the New Testament, there is only one main word, too: the Greek word “pater,” which is where we get our English words, patriarch, paternity and paternal. Both the Hebrew word and the Greek word can mean either one’s literal paternal parent, or simply a forefather.

In some cases, both the Old Testament and the New Testament use the words to mean the “originator” or Creator of something or someone, while not indicating a paternal relationship. In at least one case, Jesus used the Greek word “pater” in exactly that way, saying that Satan “is a liar and the father of it”…He does not mean that Satan has a “paternal relationship” with lies: only that he is the originator of deception. In this sense only, one could say that God is the Father of all, meaning only that He is the Creator. But in terms of relationship, He does not claim all his creation as His children, or His offspring, let alone, his heirs.

In our own lives, of course, we have that dichotomy of meaning, too. It is possible for someone to have an absent father, with whom they have never had a relationship. He was their originator, but never filled the role of protector, teacher, and provider in their life. In fact, most human parents fail at one level or another. None are perfect, no matter how we may desire to be. But God is! So we need to look to Him, and be blessed and encouraged by His role as our heavenly Father. How does He fulfill that role?

In the Old Testament there are a few references to God as a “Father”: some in reference to His relationship with Israel as a nation, and at least one (Psalm 89:26) in reference to his relationship with a human…King Solomon, specifically; but, ultimately, that one actually turns out to be describing His relationship with The Messiah, God the Son (see Hebrews 1:5). It found its short-term fulfillment in His relationship with Solomon, but the final fulfillment was in Jesus Christ. It is interesting, that of the hundreds of uses of the word “father”, in the Old Testament, virtually all of them are strictly in regard to human fathers, or ancestors, not God. But in the New Testament, that pattern is nearly completely reversed. Virtually all New Testament references to “Father” are specifically in reference to God the Father, as opposed to a human father, and (sometimes), in comparison or contrast to God the Son or God the Holy Spirit.

In Psalm 103:13, 14, it says “…as a father pities (or, ‘has compassion for’) his children, so God pities those that fear him”…describing His response to believers in general…He is compassionate toward us. The next verse continues, “…for He knows our frame; He remembers that we are but dust.” He is not expecting us to do anything outside our capability, unless we do it with His ability. Jesus confirmed this idea in John 15:5, saying “…apart from Me, ye can do nothing.” If an ordinary human being said such a thing, it would be the grossest arrogance: when Jesus said it, it was the simple truth. We are not capable, on our own, of doing anything that has eternal value. Our core characteristic, as natural people, is to be contrary to God. He says that our sin nature not only is not subject to God, but cannot be subject to Him. In our natural ability, we cannot offer anything clean, or holy, to God, because we are contaminated with Sin. God knows that, and He loves us anyway, and He offers to replace our strength with His. He then works through us to make something of eternal value, and rewards us as if we had done it…just for allowing Him to work through us.

From Jesus’s Perspective:

Bearing in mind that Jesus is God—God the Son—it is still instructive to see how Jesus responded to God the Father. We see the following:

  • Love
  • Admiration
  • Respect
  • Imitation
  • Faith
  • Submission
  • Obedience
  • Fellowship

Jesus made a point of the fact that he was obedient to the Father, but that it was an obedience based upon admiration, and respect, not fear of punishment. He said repeatedly that what He Himself did was in direct imitation of His Father. At Gethsemane, he submitted Himself to His Father, in faith, knowing that His Father would do what was perfect.

We see an Old Testament portrait of this relationship in Abraham and Isaac, as they walked up into the mountains of Moriah. They walked together in fellowship. Isaac carrying the wood for his own destruction, while his father carried the knife and the fire-pot. Isaac could see what was coming, and definitely had the strength to refuse, and could easily have outrun his father…but chose to maintain faith and fellowship. Just as Jesus did, at Gethsemane, Isaac, by his actions, said, “…not my will but thine be done.”

Jesus said that our Heavenly Father knows our needs and provides for us. Are there exceptions? Yes, Hebrews 11 states that the “best of the best”…of whom the World is not worthy, were those who had everything taken from them, and lived completely destitute lives, fleeing for their lives, and looking to God for their future. He said these died in faith, not having received the promise. Did that mean that God has failed them? No, it means that He has something better for them. He says so. (Hebrews 11:30)

From Our Perspective:

We must choose to look at Him through the eyes of Scripture: What characteristics of God, what attributes of His nature, do we think of when we consider Him as our Father? Here is a short list:

  • Omniscience
  • Omnisapience
  • Omnipotence
  • Immutability
  • Authority
  • Faithfulness
  • Steadfastness
  • Righteousness
  • Mercy
  • Love
  • Goodness
  • Grace

How might each of these attributes affect our relationship with Him, and our response to Him?

Omniscience…and Goodness:

Being confident that our Father is literally all-knowing, and that along with being all-knowing, He is completely Good, can give me confidence in His choosing my place in life, and providing opportunities in that place for me to “blossom where I am planted,” rather than constantly fretting against His will for me.

Omnisapience…and Love

Knowing that my heavenly Father is all-wise is comforting, because it means that He will guide me and care for me in appropriate ways. His Love will be extended to me, not in mushy, “that’s OK, Sweetie-pie, Daddy loves you” ways, but in Divine wisdom, doing what is actually best for me. Jesus went to the Cross, as an active outworking of the Love of God…and Divine wisdom.

Omnipotence…and Authority:

I can be confident that the absolute power of God the Father is not limited, because He also possesses the absolute authority to speak, and carry out His will. These two ideas are not exactly the same. A strong man may have the physical ability to bend others to his will through force, or through threat of force…but may act far beyond any authority he has been allotted. We call such people overbearing bullies, or abusers, or, in some cases, criminals. But God has the authority, and uses it wisely. He certainly can stop the storm, but sometimes, instead, He shelters His children from the storm.

Immutability…and Grace

In most cases, when a person says they “never change,” that is a bad thing…most people need to change, either because there are bad things about them that require repentance—which means “a change of mind”—or because they are needing to grow, and learn from experience.

But God says that He is unchanging, and that is a Good Thing! His Grace is always applicable in our lives. His Love is unfailing. He never wakes up in a bad mood and acts out against his family, or says cruel things because he is frustrated. He is Unchanging…immutable. When we look back at how God saved sinners in the Old Testament, all the way back to Adam and Eve, we see that they were saved by Grace through Faith, just as we are today. Why? Because our Heavenly Father is unchanging. His Goodness, and His Love and His Grace never come and go like the tide… they are always the same. God, our Heavenly Father, is overwhelmingly Good all the time, whether we see it that way or not.

Righteousness…and Mercy

The Father is Righteouscompletely and unwaveringly righteous, like a blindingly white, powerful searchlight, that exposes everything. He is Holy, completely separate from, and completely opposed to sin. God says that He hates sin, just as a parent who has lost a child to a drug overdose would hate the illegal drug trade. God has lost every single one of his human creation to Sin, and is working to win them back…to save them from eternal destruction.

1st John 1:5 says that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. This refers to His eternal Holiness and Righteousness, but it poses a problem for those of us who seek to know Him, and to approach His throne. The problem is that we, as sinners, are not righteous, or holy. We are deficient in every way, when compared to Him. So, from our perspective, His Mercy becomes His most important attribute, along with His Love.

God’s Righteousness and Justice were satisfied at the Cross…and that is where His Mercy was extended to us, as well. He says that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. Not those that just believe He exists, but rather those who trust in His Mercy and Grace through the Cross. The demons believe he exists: they have seen him face to face from the moment they were created…and they live in fearful knowledge of the coming judgment. Mercy was not extended to the angels who sinned. They knew Him face to face, and chose to rebel. None of us have ever seen God…thus we all sin in ignorance, to one degree or another. And God knows our limitations, and He extends His Mercy and Grace to us, as a loving Father makes allowance for the fragility and ignorance of his toddlers. He is compassionate toward us.

Steadfastness…and Faithfulness

These two sound as though they are the same, but Steadfastness could possibly only refer to a “stubborn refusal to give up”, whereas Faithfulness carries the idea of full commitment to a person or an ideal. So to say that my heavenly Father is steadfast in His faithfulness toward me is a matter of full confidence that God will not give up on me. In Philippians 1:6, it says “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Yes! That means God will stubbornly refuse to give up on me! It means He is completely committed to my well-being, and will never abandon me to my sin, or to Satan, the enemy of my soul. He will never forsake me and leave me to flounder alone. This is why the Psalmist could say, “Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me!” He knew of the faithfulness and steadfastness of God! He knew that God would be with him through all of life and beyond, into eternity. He knew what it meant to have confidence in his Heavenly Father.

Conclusion:

We have all had human fathers: some wonderful in every way, some distressingly lacking, in one way or another, and some completely absent, as having abandoned their family to follow their own desires. (This is true of mothers as well, but there is no “Heavenly Mother”, to whom we can make a comparison, so we simply don’t go there. We are just grateful for who they are.)

But all of us, as believers, have a Heavenly Father, in whom we can have full confidence, and faith, and to whom we can, in full confidence, offer obedience and submission, love and admiration, and above all, respect. We can imitate Him, in full faith that he is worthy of our worship and, in doing all of the above, we can join in fellowship with Him, just as Jesus did.

To whatever degree it has been possible, given the relationship we have had with our human fathers, we have offered them the same sort of responses. And, to those of us whose human fathers are still alive, we still can offer that sort of respect and love, tempered by the awareness that they, like we, are sinners, and flawed from birth. We do not compare them to God (or anyone else), and shake our heads as though they are to be dismissed for malfeasance of duty. We treat them with respect, because God commands it. We love them for the things they have done right, and we extend God’s Mercy for their failures, knowing that we, too, are failures. (Remember? “…for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God?”) My children were astonished to discover that I didn’t know everything. I was astonished to find out that they had ever assumed I did. From that point forward, a balance had to be established. They learned to respect me in spite of the fact that I don’t know everything, and the fact that I make mistakes.

If you are a father, and can still actively emulate the character of God, in your continuing striving to be the man God has called you to be, then press on, in faith, knowing that God is with you and will work through you as you seek to imitate Him. Keep in mind the character of God, and strive to be like Him, in Love and Mercy, and kindness, maintaining a righteous, Godly example for your children to follow, as well.

If your father is still alive, please offer him the love and respect God says we are to offer to both our parents. I wish my parents were still alive, so that I could do that, but I am truly grateful that God gave me the parents he did, even with their shortcomings, as, overall, He used those influences to shape me and make me the man he has called me to be.

Lord Jesus, thank you for revealing the Father to your followers, and letting us see Him in you. Allow us to reflect your glory, as you reflected His glory. Pour your love and righteousness through us, and make us emissaries of your Grace.


Christian Living And Relationships, Part Two

Christian Living and Relationships (Part Two)

© C. O. Bishop, 5/20/16 THCF 5/22/16

Romans 12:3-11

Introduction:

We began looking at the practical outworking of our new relationship with Christ, two weeks ago, reading and considering Romans 12:1-3. We saw that we were to submit ourselves to God, as living sacrifices; daily making the choice to live for Him: to serve God, not self. It isn’t easy; which is why it is called a “Living” sacrifice: it can never just be a “done deal”—we always have to either renew that choice, or fail to do so.

Those verses, telling us how we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds, and how we can avoid being pressed into the mold of the world, are based upon our individual relationships with Christ. A proper relationship with Him in a growing, ongoing bond of love, will result in a changed life. It also results in changed relationships with other people, as we saw in Ephesians 4:1-6; another passage where Paul begs us to walk worthy of the vocation to which we have been called. We are to maintain unity with one another, and forbear (tolerate) one another, learning to love and appreciate one another, just for who each of us is in Christ.

Here in Romans we are reminded of some of the gifts of service that believers are given by which to be a blessing to one another, and we are told in what spirit to use each of them.

What does “Christian Service” look like?

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

One of the more obvious dangers in Christian service is the temptation to serve in the same spirit as do those of the world. We desire human recognition, and like to feel appreciated. Many times churches create titles and “jobs” within the church organization, so that a person feels proud to do the job they have been assigned. But this practice establishes boundaries, and territories, and effectively divides the body. Everyone is thus encouraged toward “self” expression, and “self” fulfillment, “owning” the ministry, and can easily forget who the head of the body actually is. Paul caution us to “not think more highly of” ourselves, but, rather, to think soberly.

I have known of communities where deacons, for instance, attach that title to their name, and actually introduce themselves as “Deacon So-and-so.” Many pastors do the same thing, and in many circles they are expected to do so. Then we invent honorifics to go with the title, or even supplant it—the “Right Reverend so-and-so… your excellency…your Grace”… do you see how that feeds pride?

The fact is, I don’t need a title, or a “territory”. I can sit and listen to someone else teach, and take careful notes, so as to actually learn from their teaching; and I will be perfectly happy. I have no need for the limelight. I would be happy to serve from the back pew, and have frequently done so. I have taught because I was asked to teach, and, since I keep getting asked to continue teaching, I conclude that this is what I am supposed to be doing. I also do it, even in private, because that is my gift—it is simply what I do.

The result seems to be that folks get fed, and understanding increases. I don’t need an “office” or title, to do any of that. If it is the job—the gift—Jesus gave me to do, then I will either do it, or fail to do it. I am given to believe that my gifts are in this area, and when I pray, “Lord, I just don’t know what to do!” the immediate answer is “Feed my flock!” So, by faith, I press on. If He gives me a different job, or assignment, He will let me know it.

All the gifts have this in common: they don’t need “titles”, or honorifics; they just need a willing heart. But we each have different gifts, though all the believers are part of that one Body of Christ. That is the source of Unity—our position in Christ. But each of us has something to offer. Each of us can choose to be a blessing to those around us, but it will be done in different ways. Many years ago, a teacher told me, “If I go to church to be a blessing, I will almost always come home blessed. But if I go there to get a blessing, I can frequently come home empty and sour.” The Agapé love always seeks to bless those around it…not to receive a blessing. But the result is that it is always blessed.

For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:

So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.

Notice it says that we are members one of another. We are not just “employees of the same company—co-workers”; we belong to one another. We are truly part of a select brotherhood, because we are born from above, of the same Father. We are one body, and, though we may feel somewhat alienated from one another at times, due to sin, we really are one.

All of us know what it means to “hurt all over”, because of an injury or illness. I have actually heard of people who endured a fairly small injury (a mashed finger or the like) but who then went into shock and died…the whole body responded to the injury of one member so drastically that the body shut down completely. In contrast to the physical body, that mutual care will not shut us down; it will empower us, but we are to have that sort of deep compassion and care for one another, so that if one member is hurting, it is a concern for all. And, if one is blessed, it is a joy to all, as all are invigorated by the goodness of God, seen reflected in another person’s life.

What is a Prophet?

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;

When we consider the New Testament gift of prophecy, we must remember that even the Old Testament word does not mean a “teller of the future”, but a spokesman for God; a mouthpiece for God. In Exodus 4:12, God told Moses, “…go, and I will be with thy mouth and teach thee what thou shalt say!” That is pretty much the definition of a prophet, through all the ages. In the early days, it frequently (but not always) involved “fore-telling”. In fact, when we use the word “prophecy”, or “prophetic,” we usually mean “the telling of the future”. But all the word really means is being “a mouthpiece for God”.

As far as I can tell, a person who simply gives the clear meaning of scripture and can tie it all together, so that the listeners can see it all as God’s Word, not just a collection of disconnected pamphlets by forgotten writers, is a good teacher. That would be one who is gifted to teach. But if they are also used of God to bring a corrective message, or a message of encouragement, or a message from scripture that builds up the believers for the work of service, then they are functioning as a New Testament prophet.

1st Corinthians 14:3 states that “he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.” That is the definition of a prophet’s job, in this age. The Old Testament gift of foretelling the future seems to have pretty much disappeared by the end of the book of Acts. We are told nothing further about it in the epistles, at least. Even false prophets are not warned against in the epistles, so much as false teachers.

A prophet, then, must have the faith to pursue God, personally, and absorb the Word of God, and learn the will of God, as revealed in Scripture. The prophet has to have the faith to see God’s will in black and white, and be able to declare it firmly, though humbly, knowing it to be true, because Jesus says so. “Let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith.” This is Paul’s message to the prophets in the New Testament Church.

What is “Ministry?”

Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching;

Ministry means service. The Greek word, here, for service, is “diakonia”. The companion word, “diakonous” is where we get the word “deacon”, in English. It simply means servant. We disdain the word servant, as if it is a “low-caste” calling, to which no one should be relegated. But God calls it a gift, and a high, holy calling. It is interesting to learn that the root of the word “menial” which we really don’t like, is exactly the same as that of the word “ministry” which we claim to love. Jesus taught this lesson in John 13, doing a menial task (foot-washing) that was ordinarily relegated to the lowest servants, in order to demonstrate the principle of ministry to his disciples.

Every believer is called to this life of service, but some are gifted beyond others, and can throw themselves into any task without reserve, as it is their joy to serve. There are no restrictions as to who can serve God: anyone can serve, but not all at the same tasks. He chooses our tasks. There may be human restrictions of a practical nature: a life-guard, for example, is in a position that absolutely demands that he or she be a very strong swimmer, and specifically trained to work in deep water to bring a struggling or injured person to safety. A church pianist must be someone who has endured the discipline of learning to play the piano well enough to accompany singers, in any key needed. There are many other human limitations, and we recognize them; but anyone can serve, and there are innumerable ways in which to do so. If you have a heart for service, God will give you an avenue in which to serve faithfully. And faithfulness itself is worthy of reward. God says, “Well done, thou good and faithful Servant!”

What about Teaching?

Teaching, as we mentioned earlier, is the gift of being able to read, study and understand scripture, and to teach what it means, accurately, in keeping with the rest of the Word of God, so that the hearers are not just hearing, but understanding the scriptures, themselves. It was mentioned in the Old Testament as well as the New, and is a valuable gift, as well. A teacher does not necessarily have to be a leader, but an elder (overseer, pastor, bishop) has to be a teacher, as far as I can see. 1st Timothy 3:1-8 states some of the qualifications of being an elder, and one of them is “apt to teach”—able to teach. I do not think that this is just the ability to teach carpentry, or cooking, or mathematics, as, in the first place, those are not related to the work of God. It is also not just the rudimentary abilty that ALL people have, to transmit information. It is specifically referring to the spiritual gift of teaching that is vital to the health of a church. This, along with the gift of prophecy, is how the Flock is to be fed…and they are to be fed on the Word of God, not philosophy, or other bits of human wisdom. God’s Word is clean “sheep food.” That is all we have to offer. But how can we tell if we are gifted?

Teaching has not been accomplished until learning occurs. I teach several classes at work; each has numerous tests associated with it. Some of the tests are quite difficult. None of the tests could be passed by someone who has not received the teaching. So, my “report card” is “what percentage of my students can now understand and use what I taught…and are they doing so?”

A Bible teacher should grade himself or herself by the same standard: “Do my students better understand the scriptures?”, and “Are they better able to apply them than before?” It is much harder to tell, for sure, as there is no “sit down and take the exam” kind of test to apply. But I knew a woman (now home with the Lord) who taught “Good News Club” Bible classes in her home for many years, training little children to understand the Word of God. Her report card? Most of the deacons in her church, before she died, were men whom she had taught as little children, in her home. She had led many of them to Christ. That is a great “Report Card!”

Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.

Exhortation–Encouragement

Encouragement is a pretty vital gift, too—the ability to see a need in someone’s life, and strengthen them by drawing alongside and being a friend, or a helper, or to encourage them to make good decisions. Some people are a constant encourager to those around them. Some are not. We are all told to encourage one another, and those of us who do not come by it naturally have no excuse—we are still told to do it. But there are those who are gifted by God to be an encourager to other believers. Encouragement flows out of them wherever they go. They are a tremendous blessing to the Church. We so badly need encouragers.

Giving with Simplicity

Giving, obviously, requires having something to give. But I remember hearing about a woman who picked blackberries all summer, with the express intent of having enough to buy her daughter a student violin. How precious that violin was to her grown daughter many years later.

Giving can be done in a showy manner, making a spectacle of the gift—and that practice is condemned by Jesus. Or it can be done simply, privately, with no fanfare, no attention to the gift or the giver…just meeting a need. That is a blessing in itself. Seeing to the need of another person without regard to one’s own benefit is the simplest definition of Agapé Love. When we consider what Jesus did at the Cross, we see that he completely personified that love.

Ruling with Diligence

Not all administrators are diligent…and not all are gifted to rule. But it takes diligent work to do a good job of overseeing any sort of job, or group of people. Some people are gifted to do the job of administration, and can do an efficient job without damaging the people with whom they serve. Others simply want power, and cause offense, as they bully the others in their group.

This desire for preeminence is rooted in self-will, and has nothing to do with the gift of administration. The Love of God has to be the motivating power in every area of the church, but especially in those who rule.

Showing Mercy, with Cheerfulness

Mercy is a gift that goes along with service and encouragement. It is tremendously valuable, because it mends hearts, comforts the feeble and quiets the fearful. It is the Compassion of God in human form. The “Report Card” on this one is how it is received. If little children and the elderly are blessed when they are near you, and people are comforted by your presence, then perhaps you are gifted in this area. It is difficult to tell about and describe, but it is easy to see in others. God said that Mercy was more valuable, and acceptable to Him than sacrifice.

Love is the Conclusion

Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.

10 Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;

11 Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;

Love– the Agapé love as well as its companion word phileo—brotherly love—is the key to all relationships in the body of Christ. Those two loves never lead to evil; only to what is best. So a person who is claiming to express agapé love, but is doing wrong, is faking the love for the sake of cloaking the evil. Paul says, love is to be without dissimulation—without fakery—no pretension.

We are to completely avoid evil, and see it as abominable, wherever it appears…but especially in ourselves; in our motives, and our thoughts, since that is where God is looking: God says he “is a discerner of the thoughts and the intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). We are to cling to what is good, without exception. Our love for one another must be pure, drawing us closer to one another and to Christ.
We should be most comfortable in the company of other believers, and give each other full respect and honor as children of God. In business and productivity, that Love should produce an excellent work ethic, as we recognize that we are serving God as well as our employer. If our spirit is right with God, it should produce a fervent love and worship for God, and a fervent desire to do His will and draw others to Him as well. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work.” (John 4:31)

These are the principles by which we are to guide our walk with God, our relationships with other believers and our relationship with the World around us. I trust that, as we meditate on this passage we can see it come to life in us, and transform us into the hands and feet and heart of Jesus, doing His work in this World.

Lord Jesus, change us into your likeness. Teach us to discern your will and search for ways to serve one another in Love. Make us the men and women of God that you have called us to be.