Posts Tagged ‘obedience’

The Call of God

The Cleansing and Call of the Servant of God

© C. O. Bishop, 6/29/2019

Isaiah 6:1-8

Introduction:

Last time we met, we discussed the coming Judgment, and how it will affect Jerusalem, particularly; but how it will affect the Gentile world as well. The scripture transitions directly from God’s pronouncement of Judgment upon Jerusalem, Judah and Israel, into the cleansing and call of Isaiah the Prophet. We find this passage exciting because it gives a glimpse into the unseen world of angels, and to the throne of God. And we ought to find it so—it is exciting. But there is much to learn here, too.

This is apparently the personal call of Isaiah. It would be nice if everyone got this sort of dramatic call, I suppose…but we shouldn’t get clamoring too much to get what Isaiah got—tradition says he was executed, by being cut in half under a crosscut saw. The prophet’s life was not easy. Most of us have simply the general call of God’s Word (which He says is personal to all those who believe) and we have the Great Commission, which is also to all Church-age believers.  Isaiah did not have those things, so he got what he got. Let us learn from it what we may.

How did Isaiah see the Lord?

1In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.

In verse 1, we get the time-frame—“the year that King Uzziah died” (in some passages he is called King “Azariah,” too, so don’t get confused if you run into that name). So, in the year King Uzziah died (approximately 758 BC), Isaiah saw the Lord. Notice it is NOT all caps—this is the Hebrew word adonai, meaning “master,” or “lord.” It was definitely God he was seeing, as the next verses will make clear (God the Son, in fact, as we learn in John 1:18), but the reference in verse one says that He was the Lord— the Master— and it has not yet mentioned His name. It describes Him as being seated on a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple. We need to see Him this way! Primarily the fact that He is “High and lifted up!” We have been taught to see Jesus as our “buddy,” or our comforter, and protector, and, He is all of those, but we tend to forget the fact that He is the Almighty God who created us, and the Judge of all the earth, who is above all, and who knows all, and who understands the real thoughts of our hearts, not just the ones we pray. We need to see Jesus in his supremacy!

How do the Angels see Him?

Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.

Verses 2 and 3 tell of angelic creatures called seraphim (plural of seraph, which means “burning one.”) This is the only place they are even mentioned, but they are evidently powerful spirit-beings, angels of some sort, worshipping God, and yet unable to look on His face.

They hid their own faces (and feet—what is that about?) and cry out… what? “Love, love, love, God is Love”? No! So powerful are they, that their voice moves the doorposts of the temple, and fills the house with smoke: and, yet, what do these mighty six-winged creatures see as the primary attribute of God? What impresses them so, that they hide their faces and cry out one to another exclaiming about it? His HOLINESS! (“Holy! Holy! Holy, is the LORD of Hosts: the whole earth is filled with His glory!”)

It is interesting that in our culture we have focused on the Love of God to the exclusion of His holiness, His righteousness, and His judgment…which may explain why we do not fear the judgment of God, nor worship Him for His righteousness. We fail to understand the enormity of the Grace of God, because we also fail to understand the Holiness of God, and the depth of our own depravity and sin. How can we see Grace as a marvelous thing, when we take lightly the Holiness which calls for justice, and the sin which calls for judgment? If we take sin lightly, then we must also take Grace lightly.

How can we turn this around?  How can we regain a proper view of the attributes of God, the Creator and Judge of all the earth—The Ruler of the universe, both seen and unseen? The only way I know is to go to God’s Word and continually see Him as the Master, High, and lifted up, then confess our blindness and foolishness, and pray God will open the eyes of our hearts.

Self-Judgment

Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.

What was Isaiah’s response (verse 5) to having seen God? Did he start a televangelism program, and strut around on a stage, telling everyone what a wonderful experience it was, and describe in great familiar detail all that he saw, and all the intimate things God told him? Did he boast of his own special relationship with God, as witnessed by his vision? No! He cried out in fear, knowing that he was a dead man, because he, an unclean sinner, had seen God. This is the true response of those who have seen themselves in the light of who GOD really is…they drop all pretense of personal worthiness, as they are completely overwhelmed by the Holiness of God.

It is interesting too, that what Isaiah was most concerned about at that moment is the fact of his “unclean lips”—now, I don’t know specifically what he was guilty of, but I know that I fall down in that area, too. I frequently say unwise things. And James 3:2-12 tells me that the whole human race has the same problem.

For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. 11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? 12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

Evidently it is a more serious matter than we tend to think it is, too—in Proverbs 6:16-19, God lists seven things He hates—and three of them have to do with the mouth.

16 These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: 17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, 19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.

  • A lying tongue
  • A false witness that speaks lies
  • He that sows discord among brethren

Notice too that it isn’t just what comes out of the mouth, but the root of the matter, which is our corrupt heart: “A heart that devises wicked imaginations…” Give that some thought: What comes out of the mouth reveals that which is in the heart. Jesus said that, too: (Luke 6:43-45)

43 For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. 45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

We may make our excuse that “we live in a corrupt world,” and that “we are constantly affected and influenced by what is around us:” Remember that Isaiah lived in a sinful world, too, just like you and I. But God could still cleanse him and use him. He can do the same with you and me!

God’s Cleansing

Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.

Remember that Isaiah was already a believer. He had depended upon the blood-sacrifices, as God’s chosen means by which he could be saved. This traces all the way back to Genesis chapter 3, and the covering God provided there, and to the Passover Lamb, under which all of Israel huddled, to be saved from the Judgment of a Holy God. So this passage is not about Salvation: it is about the sanctification of a believer.

Verses 6 and 7 say that an angel flew with a coal from the altar, and laid it on his mouth. Remember that the altar was where God’s chosen sacrifices died. Compare it to the Cross of Christ, where God’s Chosen Sacrifice died, once for all time: Has God been allowed to cleanse your mouth, via the Cross? Is the truth of the Cross having enough effect in your life to transform your speech? To eliminate gossip, foolish talk, coarse jesting (Ephesians 5:4)—and cruel, mocking comments? Perhaps the cutting humor that we call “banter” might be displeasing to God. We certainly don’t see Jesus talking that way.

Consider how a “coal from that altar” might affect you. In Isaiah’s case, it purged his sin; whatever the sin of his mouth was, God said he was cleansed by the coal from that altar. Shouldn’t it do the same for us, who are actually indwelt by the living God? So far as we know, Isaiah did not have that privilege. We need to allow the Cross of Christ to cleanse our hearts, and change what comes out of our mouths. He said He came to save us from our sins; not just from the penalty of our sins. Shouldn’t His blood begin to cleanse our thoughts and words, as well?

God’s Call

Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.

Then, Isaiah heard the call of God—not before. If you want the call of God in your life; if you wish to be used of God in a meaningful way, first allow the Cross to cleanse you, transform you, and prepare you for service. Verse 8 says Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord, saying “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” (A little glimpse of the Trinity there, see it? “Who will go for Us?) Isaiah didn’t wait to ask what the mission was—he wanted to be used by God, and he immediately volunteered.

This is the kind of volunteer God wants and can use: one who has come to the Cross for cleansing, and who does not ask what the task might be before deciding he wants to serve the living God. He chooses service, and then asks “What would you have me to do, Lord?”

How About You?

Is your life something that God can use? And if not, are you willing to confront that fact at the Cross, and repent? Are you willing to drop all reservations and ask God to make you usable? If you are, then the path to fruit-bearing is open to you. If not, then the path to fruit-bearing is filled with obstacles, and you cannot expect to see God use you. God uses those who are willing to be cleansed, even though they live in a sinful world.

God’s service has the reputation of paying low wages. In Hebrews 11, God lists the “heroes of the faith,” but he reserves his highest praise for those who lost everything in His service, and were left destitute. He said “the World was not worthy of them.” It is true that sometimes the “wages” in this world, for serving the Living God, seem paltry. We look at the lives of the various prophets, and see that they were not only not wealthy, they were not even comfortable, as a rule. We have to consider the end of the story, though. In both the case of the “successful” sinner, and the case of the impoverished servant of God, the apparent prosperity or lack thereof is fleeting, when compared to eternity. Think of Lazarus and the rich man, in Luke chapter 16: Which life would you rather have? We want to have it both ways: we want to be prosperous in the World, and prosperous in ministry. It isn’t impossible, of course, but it is truly uncommon; as the World rewards its own, as a rule and we no longer belong to the world. Jesus said “If the world hates you, remember that they hated Me first.”

(John 15:18-27)

18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. 20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. 21 But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin. 23 He that hateth me hateth my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.

So we needn’t expect the world to reward us for behaving like Jesus…they hated Him, and will hate us, too, for belonging to Him. Remember who you belong to; remember who you serve. We are not supposed to be looking to the World for approval, or recompense; nor, especially, for direction, or guidance. Our Master is the Living God, just as Isaiah’s was, and all the prophets. And, no, the “salary” in this world may not seem particularly impressive: But the “retirement” is literally “Out of this World.” We live in hope of eternity, not a comfortable, easy life, here.

There is no question whether you are called to serve God. Every single believer has that calling. How do I know?

Romans 8:28-30 28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. 29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

The only question is whether we will choose to heed that call. What can we do, then, to choose the calling of God?

Choosing the Calling of God

Repentance means to “change one’s mind.” We need to change our minds regarding our life expectations, and what we call our priorities. We need to change our minds about who is really in charge: If Jesus really is your master, then His priorities should be your priorities.

Jesus said, in John 14:21, He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” So, if you place yourself into that promise, by choosing to live in obedience to Jesus’s commands (love God, love one another, offer that love to those around you…etc.) then Jesus has promised to make Himself known to you on an ongoing basis. If on the other hand, you choose your own priorities over His, then He will seem quite distant, and your vision of His will may become so dim that you no longer are sure of the path before you.

Begin by confessing where you really are, in your life: Go to God’s Word. See His Holiness. Confess your sins, and receive His cleansing. Then; allow Him to make you useable in His service, not holding back for the sake of security and comfort. Truly, the rewards are worth the hardships.

Lord Jesus, give us the Wisdom to understand your word, to confess our sins, recognizing that we have no worthiness in our own flesh, but to hear your call, and respond in faith, saying, “Here am I, Lord, send me!” We desire to walk with you, in fellowship, and in service. Please draw us into that reality, so as to glorify yourself in us.


Making Informed Choices

Making Informed Choices

© C. O. Bishop 3/2019 THCF 3/17/2019

Isaiah 1:27-2:5

Introduction:

We have begun walking through the book of Isaiah, and we have seen the Righteousness of God and the coming Judgment on Sin. We have seen that the book is primarily directed to Jerusalem and Judah, though there is later mention of all of Israel, as well as a number of named Gentile nations, and even the whole world as it will be affected by God.

It is difficult to keep things separate, and to see that the warnings and the promises, here, are not to the Christians in the United States, but to God’s chosen people, the Jews. However, as we read carefully, we can at least see which portions should apply to us, in such a way that we can use God’s written Word to change our lives.

The following three points, though directed to Jerusalem, can be applied to our individual lives, in a limited sense.

  1. The Coming Judgment,
  2. Our Ultimate Exaltation, and
  3. God’s Invitation to Practical Holiness.

Coming Judgment

27 Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.

Zion (God’s spiritual name for Jerusalem) will be redeemed with Judgment…and her converts with righteousness. This may reflect upon the means by which God will purify Jerusalem during the coming Tribulation. But it could also be a prophecy concerning the Cross: It was through God’s righteous judgment being poured out upon Jesus, at the Cross, that we have been redeemed. And, due to His righteousness being imputed to us by faith (just as it was to Abram, in Genesis 15:6) we believers now have a right standing before God. That is good news for believers. But He goes on to say what will happen to the wicked, in verse 28.

28 And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the Lord shall be consumed.

This could have referred either to the coming destruction of Jerusalem, under Nebuchadnezzar, or to the ultimate destruction of the lost at the Great White throne Judgment. In the immediate context, verses 29-31 are definitely addressing the specific sins of Judah, in their idolatry;

29 For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen.

It specifically refers to being ashamed of oak trees in verse 29. The oak groves in Europe were often places of heathen worship in many cultures; and, in the Middle East, the groves were specifically shrines to the goddess Asherah. So the reference is again to their idolatry; the groves and gardens of their shrines… And God says their judgment is definitely coming (verses 30, 31.)

It is interesting, too, to see the change in pronouns, here, where it says that “they” (3rd person plural) will be ashamed of the oaks which “ye” (2nd person plural) have desired. Usually, that is an important thing to notice, as it may indicate to whom a promise or warning is being delivered. If this refers back to the context of verses 27 and 28, then possibly it means that the “redeemed and the converts” of verse 27 will be ashamed of the idolatry of the “transgressors and sinners, and they that forsake the LORD” of verse 28.

I suspect that is the case, here, as the ones against whom he is leveling the charge of idolatry, in this passage, are the ones upon whom the judgment is falling, while the “redeemed and the converts” of verse 27 are evidently a different group, possibly far in the future, as Judah is reclaimed by God. He switches the pronoun back to “ye”, in verses 30 and 31, as he issues a final judgment against the idolaters:

30 For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water.

31 And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.

He uses the image of their idolatrous objects of worship (the oaks and the garden shrines) to predict their demise: he says they will end up like a dead tree, and a dry, shriveled garden. He goes on to say that the best among them will be as weak and combustible as tow—the loose fiber from which cheap rope is made—and that they will burn together with a fire which no one will quench. This does sound more like the Great White Throne judgment, because it ends in unquenchable fire…but the immediate fulfillment was coming soon, in the destruction of Jerusalem. Jerusalem has been destroyed many times in history, but God keeps bringing the city back to life. As we get to the latter part of the Book of Isaiah, we will see just how thoroughly God will ultimately restore Jerusalem.

Ultimate Exaltation

Chapter 2

1The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

Verse one reminds us (again) who these prophecies are about: Judah and Jerusalem…not the gentile nations.

And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord‘s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.

Verse 2 begins with a prophecy of the Last Days. Notice that it speaks of the exaltation of Zion (v.2)—this will only happen during the Millennial kingdom…so when we back up and look again at chapter one, I would say that at least some of the previous verses must be a long-range look at Armageddon, and the whole tribulation, not just the (much sooner) Babylonian captivity which was also coming. The Temple mount, itself, will go through some physical changes, as we shall see, further on. All the nations of the world will come there, in peace. Jerusalem will be literally the capital city of the whole earth.

And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

Further, then, we see an international desire to walk with God (verse 3), and God (in the person of the Messiah) will be ruling personally from Jerusalem. The result (verse 4), will be genuine world peace, for the only time in the planet’s history.

There is no question as to when these particular things will happen, given the rest of what God has revealed it the whole of Scripture. Throughout the book of Isaiah, however, there will be short-range and long-range prophecies, intermingled. So we need to keep our eyes open, so to speak, as to when they are to be fulfilled. This one is definitely an end-time prophecy.

We look forward to that time, as well, as the Church, knowing that Israel will be reinstated as the recipients of God’s blessing, and that Jesus, the Messiah, will reign over the Earth, from Jerusalem.

We know that we are not Israel, but rather, are the Church, the Bride of Christ. We do not know what is in store for us; as He said, “…eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what the Father hath in store for them that love Him.” So, we wait in hope, knowing our bridegroom is coming soon.

We know that the world faces judgment for sin for rebellion, for cruelty, for hatred…but we also know that our judgment for the same sins was poured out upon Jesus at the Cross. We do not look down our noses at lost sinners, because we know that except for God’s Grace at Calvary, we would be there, too…headed for hell.

So, since we see the coming judgment, and know, at least a little, of our coming exaltation with Christ as His Bride, perhaps we ought to take seriously the invitation which the LORD next offers to Judah: He makes an invitation to Practical Holiness…to walk with God.

Invitation to Practical Holiness

O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.

On the basis of this prophecy, (verse 5) the house of Jacob is being invited to join the Lord in His light (cp. 1 John 1:7, Amos 3:3), and to walk with Him. When we read a parallel passage in Amos 3:3, we see that fellowship between any two individuals is only possible through agreement. (“Can two walk together except they be agreed?”) When there is a disagreement between me and God, the fault lies with me, not God. For us to agree, I have to change my mind (Greek, metanoia—change of mind—repentance.) I have to confess, and I have to walk in HIS light…not the other way around. (Notice, again, the change of pronouns: “come ye, and let us walk” the one issuing the invitation intends to walk beside the ones invited.

1st John 1:7 says, “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” (ALL sin.) What does it mean, then, to “Walk in the Light, as He is in the Light?” Jesus may have given us a hint, in John 14:21He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

What is the prime commandment from Jesus? “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:34, 35)  So, what might be a good litmus test, for believers? The Agape love is the main test we are given. In fact, it is the test by which the world is to judge us.

Over in Romans 13: 8-10, the apostle Paul confirms this, saying, “Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the Law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law.”

That is a pretty firm, clear statement! The problem we have as modern Christians, is that we have no idea what that Love entails. We think it has to do with an emotional response, when it is nothing of the kind. When we read 1st Corinthians 13, where the Agape love is defined, we see that every single one of the descriptors has to do with actions…not feelings. It is doing, for the other person, what is truly in their best interest, and the things that most honor God.

The things we read just now in Romans 13 are all things to not do, because they would not be agape love. They all also happened to be things from the Mosaic Law, which Paul chose to illustrate his point that the fulfillment of the commandments is to be carried out by “walking in the light”, and “loving one another.”

This is not a return to legalism, as some would portray holiness: it is an invitation to a life overflowing with the goodness of God. God said “Be ye holy as I am Holy.” If that is a command to be as free from sin as He is, then the only way it could happen was that my sins were purged at the Cross. But if it is a reminder that, when He bought us with His own blood, he bought our entire lives, and that we are now set aside for His purpose and His pleasure, then it stands as a constant call to be alert to God’s direction in our lives, and to respond to Him in Joyful obedience.

I want my life to have eternal value. I am aware that Jesus said “…apart from me ye can do nothing.” So, unless I respond to Him in such a way that He is free to use my life as He wishes, then my efforts will essentially be wasted. Remember, He did not say, “Apart from me you can’t do as much…” He said, “…apart from me ye can do nothing!”

The invitation was to all of Israel, in verse 5, here—that’s who the “house of Jacob includes. But Jesus said “come unto me, ALL ye that are heavily laden.” And the implication, there, is the same as here: we, too, are loaded down with our individual propensities for sin, whether overt or covert, and we also utterly fail to approach the holiness of God. That is why Romans 3:23 says “ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” That is also why Jesus said “and I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw ALL men unto me.” (John 12:32) And the invitation He gives is to “Whosoever will.” “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely…” (Revelation 22:17)

Are you willing to take God up on that offer? Do you see the coming judgment and desire to be sheltered in the Grace of God? Then the invitation is to you, just as it was to Israel. We are not promised the land, but, even better: we are promised a place with Jesus, wherever He is.

All He asks us to do, is to confess our sins to Him, and then accept His free forgiveness: then we can choose, moment by moment, to walk with Him. When we fall, we confess, we rise up, and we walk again. He has called us to walk together with Him in the light.

Let’s strive to choose daily to walk in that freedom and holiness.

Lord Jesus, free us from the bondage of our sin and our fleshly desires. Raise us up to walk with you in the light of your Word, by the power of your Holy Spirit. Make us the reflected lights in the World around us, as you have called us to be.


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.


Problems (and Answers) in Genesis

Problems (and Answers) in Genesis

© C. O. Bishop 2018

Genesis 7, 8, compared to other passages

Introduction:

People discuss the Genesis Flood in a variety of ways, divided into two main groups: those who believe it is a true account of a worldwide flood which actually occurred in human history, as a judgment upon human sin; and those who reject it as a myth, or a legend, or even a bald-faced lie. There are a few seeming discrepancies here, but I think they are easily reconciled. Some people will always reject anything from the Bible, without further thought, as they have already rejected the God of the Bible. I am not attempting to convince such persons of their error, so much as to confirm to believers that they have made a good choice; that the evidence is clear. But some do see discrepancies in the text.

Problem #1

Some time ago, I had made the statement that Noah entered the Ark a week before the rains came. I was remembering Genesis 7:1-10. The LORD commanded Noah to enter into the Ark, saying that there was only a week left until the flood would begin (1-4). It then says that Noah and his family went in as commanded, and that the animals followed him, and that the rain came seven days later (5-10).

This is the part which I had recalled, and commented on, but someone else pointed out that the passage clearly said the rain started the same day they went in, correctly quoting verses 12 and 13. So I recanted, not having the sense, at the moment, to look a little further back, to see why I had thought that they were in the Ark for a week, waiting for the rain. But now I see that both are clearly stated here: so how can I reconcile the two?

Well, to begin with, there is no evidence, once the procession of the animals had begun, that the people might not have moved in and out of the Ark, as they felt the need. (Or, they may have stayed there nearly exclusively.) And we don’t know how long it took to get the many thousands of animals aboard, and situated in their places, though it does say that the animals went in to Noah in the ark—he did not have to drive them in, lead them in, nor bring them in cages, or whatever. Apparently the LORD brought them to him, and He caused them to enter the Ark. (Getting them there was no big problem, either, as there was only one land mass at the time, according to Genesis 1:9.) Perhaps the humans did not even have to arrange for the other creatures’ places. It very much looks as though God was completely in command, here. (Now, there’s a revolutionary concept!)

But I can easily believe it may have taken a week to get them all aboard, at which time Noah and his family may have hopped down for a last look around, to make sure nothing was forgotten, or something. At any rate, apparently, the day the rain began was the day the procession into the Ark was complete. And God closed the door. And then the flood began to rise: not before.) Keep in mind that the Ark is a fairly detailed picture of our salvation in Christ. The general Judgment which will fall upon the earth, in the coming Tribulation, will not begin until the entire Body of Christ is saved, and taken off the Earth. This is a pre-figuring of the pre-tribulation rapture of the Church!)

Problem #2

Now. Here’s another problem. The earth had only one land-mass, as we said earlier, but that is still a lot of land. And the water had to rise enough to cover all of it. Many people deny the possibility of such a result, “just from 40 days of rain.” And they are right!

Look at Genesis 7:11, 12. The rain was certainly not the only place from which the waters emanated. It calls out three places. The first is that the fountains of the great deep were broken up—I don’t know if that means that water was coming from under the ground, as some teach, or if the ocean itself simply broke out, and overflowed its bounds in a great “tsunami” of sorts. That would certainly be a possibility, as we will see that unimaginably huge forces were about to break the super-continent into various pieces. Either way, it is not talking about rain, but evidently a subterranean or submarine source.

The second source is that the windows of heaven were opened. Now, I’ll admit that this could have been simply be a metaphor for the rain, except for the fact that, in Genesis 1:6, 7, God described two bodies of water: one below the sky, the other above it. Rain is never “above the sky”: in fact, it only exists in the lower strata of the atmosphere. The water “above the sky” had to be in what we would now call “outer space,” and it could only be in the form of ice crystals. The water from above the atmosphere had apparently been suspended there since the creation, and it now was being released to come down.

In recent years, scientists have verified that, to this day, great balls of ice-crystals are entering our atmosphere from space every day—snow-balls the size of a two-story house, thousands of times per day: they are immediately evaporated, due to atmospheric friction, and they add to Earth’s supply of water. So apparently these snow-balls are still left from the water canopy that surrounded us before the flood. It is possible, in fact, that the protection from harmful radiation, originally afforded by that canopy, is partially the reason why the people lived so long up to that time, and began to die sooner and sooner, immediately thereafter. But that is only speculation: we can’t prove it.

Then in verse 12, he says “…AND the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights.”  The rain was a third source of water. It is instructive to note that, back in Genesis 2:5, 6, it states that no rain had been there, originally, but that God had caused a mist to come up and water the face of the ground. So, the rain was a new thing. This first rain came as judgment, and a worldwide monsoon. A true, torrential, monsoon downpour is a terrifying thing, even today, as the air is so completely filled with huge raindrops and (usually) a driving wind, so that the drops are hitting with painful force, not a gentle sprinkling of water. If they had never seen rain before, and the first rain was of this sort, it would be devastatingly frightening.

Genesis 7 and 8

Now: notice some other things: the rain was on the earth forty days and nights, and it was possibly toward the end of that time that the Ark was afloat (Genesis 7:17).  But, the waters continued to rise, after the rain had ceased, or at least after that first monsoon had ended. (Genesis 8:2 suggests that more rain came later.) Genesis 7:18-24 say that the waters continued to rise for 150 days—about five months. And at the end of that time, (Genesis 8:2) it says three things stopped:

  1. the fountains of the deep were stopped,
  2. the windows of heaven were stopped, and
  3. the rain from heaven was restrained (not after just 40 days), and

Then the waters began to recede. The abatement of the flood took even longer than the rising of the waters: the waters continued to recede for the rest of the year. After seven months, the Ark came to rest on the mountains (plural) of Ararat (whose elevation, today, is between 12,000 and 16,900 feet: the land was rising, not just the water “drying out.”)

After ten months, the tops of the mountains had become visible (8:5); in the middle of the eleventh month, Noah sent out the raven, which flew around for the remainder of the time. He sent out a dove, too, which is a bird with somewhat cleaner habits than the raven, and, as she could find no suitable roost, or a place to land, she simply came back to the Ark, and Noah took her back in. A week later, he tried it again, and she came back in the evening, with an olive leaf in her beak, which has become a traditional symbol of peace, because of this little piece of history. (Both the dove and the olive branch are used in that way, either separately or together.) A week later, he tried it one more time, and the dove stayed gone, evidently feeling that there was no point in returning.

Look at Genesis 8:13—it gives us the “date” when the waters were sufficiently gone, so that Noah started opening things up: the surface was dry—perhaps it was still hazardous, though, because of mud-holes, quicksand, and the like. According to verse 14, it was still another eight or nine weeks before the Lord told them they could come out. Why would such a “date” be important? Because, if you didn’t notice it when we read it the first time, it was one year and ten days earlier that the flood itself had begun, and they had apparently been aboard the Ark for seven days already. So, either one year and ten days aboard the Ark, or one year and seventeen days…take your pick. It was NOT a “forty day flood”—the heavy rains lasted “only” forty days, and evidently continued intermittently after that. The door to the ark opened over a year later, no matter how you read it.

Problem #3

Let’s notice some other little things—people frequently question the truth of this account, saying “there is simply not enough water in the world, to cover the high mountains.” They are forgetting two things: one is that there are incredibly deep trenches and “deeps” in the oceans of the earth: far deeper than the tallest mountains: If the ground were level, there is more than enough water! The other thing is that those very mountains, the ones they think could not be covered, virtually all have fossil seashells at or near their peaks. (How’d they get up there, hmmm?) We know that today, we can dig fossil seashells near the peak of Mt. McKinley (now called “Denali”), and upon most other such peaks. The forces which heaved those mountains up from the ancient sea-bottoms, or from the plains which had once been inundated by a worldwide flood, are the same forces that eventually tore apart the old “super-continent”, and left the pieces remaining today, as “continents.”

Let’s look back at Genesis 6:19, 20: it says, “…the waters prevailed greatly upon the earth, and the high hills were covered.” That’s pretty impressive sounding, by itself, from my perspective: I live on a 750-foot hill, and it is a very small one compared to the real hills nearby. But read verse 20: it says that the waters prevailed (rose up) fifteen more cubits (that’s less than 30 feet!) and the mountains were covered, and everything died.

So, then… if the difference, at that time, between a “mountain” and a “high hill” was only 30 feet, or so, what does that tell us? That they didn’t know what a mountain was? Or that the mountains they were referring to were just not very big? Or, that what passed for a mountain before the cataclysm that tore apart the antediluvian world, was far different than what we know today? We know there was only one land mass (compare 1:9 with 10:25—the Hebrew word (erets) translated “earth”, in Genesis 10:25, specifically means the ground, not the people.) By the way, modern science has finally conceded that this concept of “one supercontinent” is correct: in fact, they believe they “discovered it,” though ancient man actually watched it happening!

There was one land mass, with no “real mountains,” by today’s standards. The waters of the flood truly covered the entire earth. The earth was completely under water for at least five months; probably more like eight. Then a tiny part was dry, and finally it emerged with all the ground usable. But huge things were still happening—the land did not finish breaking up into separate masses until several generations later, about the time of the Tower of Babel. So when the people dispersed at the time of the Tower of Babel (in Genesis 11), it was easy for them to do so: they just walked away from each other.  And the ground continued to move, and pull, and shake, and tear apart, until the various family groups actually found themselves on diverse bodies of land, rapidly rising, and departing one another. It was rapid enough for Peleg to be named after the event, in commemoration of what happened (Genesis 10:25). In fact, it is still breaking up, today, but at a slower and slower rate of change…inches per year, instead of miles.

The Great Rift Valley, in Africa, is splitting apart the African continent, today, in a slow, but spectacular fashion. Victoria Falls is the result of the entire Zambezi River (over a mile wide) falling off the edge of that chasm, to the rocks, 340 feet below. People come from all over the world to see the spectacle of that waterfall, and that awesome chasm. Furthermore, I have read, this year, that oceanographers have discovered that there are stone ruins of towns beneath the North Sea, in an area which, if it were still above the sea, would connect the British Isles with the mainland of Europe. In other words, Britain was once a peninsula, connected to the mainland…and people lived on all of that land. (I guess “Brexit” really occurred thousands of years before recorded history!)

What can we Conclude?

The two things I especially see here, are that:

  1. God doesn’t exaggerate, and
  2. God keeps his Word.

Incidentally, the fact that He doesn’t exaggerate can also be applied to what He said, back in Genesis 6:5, saying that “the wickedness of Man was great on the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” That was not an exaggeration, either. Which would be easier to exaggerate? The flood, or the condition of the heart of Man? You could say “the whole earth was flooded,” and only mean the part inhabited by man, or most of it, perhaps: many people refuse to believe the account, at all, because of just these sorts of assumptions.  But God did not exaggerate. He meant what He said, and He fulfilled His promise of coming Judgment. The same is true today.

His estimate of the heart of man is entirely accurate: it is not a “metaphor,” or any sort of “philosophical statement;” it is just the fact of the matter. We are a corrupted race, and all of us, to one degree or another, carry the mark of that degeneration in our character. We are taught by secular humanism (and by other religions) that “Man is fundamentally good.” Nothing could be further from the truth! Man is fundamentally flawed, and corrupt, and all one has to do to demonstrate that truth is to read the news on any given day: Read the political news, the crime rates, the various tragic realities in our cities, and those across the world. The whole human race is infected with a fatal disease called “Sin,” and we are getting worse, not better. The only “cure” is the Blood of Jesus!

In Ephesians 2:2, 3 (please read it!) Paul says (speaking to believers) that we (believers) all once walked according to the course of this World, according to the Prince of the Power of the Air (also known as Satan), the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience (meaning all unregenerate humans), among whom, also, we all had our conversation (“way of life, or behavior”: Greek anastrophemen) in times past, in the lusts of the flesh, and of the mind (notice that sin starts in the mind); and that we were by nature (by birth—by genetic predisposition) the children of wrath, even as others. (Just like everyone else.)

The fact is, that, when Adam fell into sin, back in Genesis 3:7, he took the entire race with him, as Paul points out in Romans 5:12 “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Verse 19 confirms this, saying that, “By one man’s sin, many were made sinners.” There is a universal contamination, here. All of us need a Savior: each individually, because we all continue in sin, individually. The Ark provided salvation for those within the Ark. But every single individual in the Ark went in voluntarily, in obedience to the call of God, and in faith, believing the Word of God.

That Ark was a great picture of the Person of Christ, in many ways: all inside the Ark survived the Judgment; all outside perished! The Ark bore the brunt of the judgment, but rose above it, carrying all within it to safety. Jesus bore the judgment for our sin, and died in our place, but rose to eternal life; all who believe in Him, entering in by faith, are born again, sharing in His death, His resurrection and His eternal life.

But, every individual human has to make this choice: will you confess that you are a sinner, in need of a Savior, and recognize Jesus as your personal blood-sacrifice for sin? (In which case He will permanently place you in the Body of Christ.) Or will you deny it all, and remain outside? This is the choice we present to the world around us. We pray for their salvation, praying for open doors before us, and willing hearts, but every single one has to make a personal decision. Our job, as the Ambassadors of Christ, is to persuade them, and to light the way for them.

Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.” He also called us to be His witnesses in the World, as lights in a dark place. Let’s not fail at the task He has given us.

Lord Jesus, convict each of our hearts of the enormity of our sin, and the incredible Grace that you offer through the Cross. Help us to take hold of that Grace daily, and to offer it to those around us, as we live in the light of the Cross.


Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 12

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 12

Faith and the Promise of the Land

© C. O. Bishop 9/17/18

Genesis 23the Death of Sarah.

Introduction:

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

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

Sarah’s Death at Hebron

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

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

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

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

Abraham Purchased Land already Promised to Him by God

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

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

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

Can we see any parallels, here?

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

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

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

Jesus had some things to say about this subject:

Matthew 6:19-21;

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

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

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

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

Matthew 12:34-36;

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

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

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

Matthew 19:21;

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

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

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

Hebrews 11:24-26

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

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

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

How can we apply this today?

1st Corinthians 3:10-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 5

Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 5

© C. O. Bishop 2012 revised 2018

Genesis 12-17—Abram, Man of God

Introduction:

We have been reading through the book of Genesis, with the specific intent of finding either actual, physical appearances of Christ, there, in the form of “Christophanies”, or finding foreshadowings of His coming, his ministry or his character. Sometimes He actually shows up in person, but frequently it is simply a “footprint or a fingerprint,” so to speak, that we find there. A trace of His presence, through which we can learn something of His character and person.

In chapters ten and eleven we saw the break-up of the super-continent, and the division of the languages. We also saw that Noah lived long enough after the flood, to have personally witnessed the beginning of the continental break-up, and that he was still alive when Abram was born, ten generations removed. That is hard for us to grasp, and some people flatly reject the Biblical history, saying it is impossible, or that people counted time differently, or some such thing. What we can see, is the rapidly diminishing lifespan in the first ten or twelve generations after the flood. The normal lifespans dropped from a peak of over nine hundred years, down to less than two hundred, in ten generations, and continued to drop until they stabilized at about 70 years as a norm. That is historical. God tells us of this, so that it is not just a mystery to us.

Abram: Called by God

Beginning in chapter 12, the narrative begins to center on a single man, and a single family. It is interesting, at least, to note that, back in Genesis 9:28, it says that Noah lived for 350 years after the flood. But, in the genealogies in chapter 11, we can see that Abram was born 328 years after the flood. So, he was 22, or thereabouts, when Noah died. Did Abram actually know the old ark-builder personally? I really don’t know, but it certainly was possible at any rate…if he even still spoke the same language! We don’t know at exactly what point the languages were divided.

So, almost all the things in chapters ten and eleven happened before Noah died. Peleg was born 137 years after the flood, and died 26 years after Noah died. But Genesis 10:25 states that the continental breakup occurred during Peleg’s lifetime. So, Noah saw it all happen, and Peleg died when Abram was 48 years old. Abram saw the immediate aftermath of all these things, at least. We don’t know how much he saw, but his elders literally had “seen it all.”  When I was a child, we travelled on steam-powered trains. At the time I had no idea of their significance, or that it was literally the “ending of an era.” Diesel locomotives were rapidly supplanting all the steam locomotives, so that, by the time I was grown, nearly all the steam-engines had been scrapped, or put in museums. But I only vaguely remember those changes.

The division of the languages may have happened when Abram was quite young, or possibly even before he was born. We know it happened between the end of the flood and the introduction of Abram, but not exactly when. However, it may partly serve to explain why Terah, in Genesis 11:31, took his little “tribe,” and left Ur of the Chaldees, and moved away, toward Canaan, If he was still uncomfortable with his “strange neighbors”, even years later.

But as we will discover, later, that Abram had been told to leave that little “tribe” behind, and that just he and his wife were called to go; not the whole family. But in light of the break-up of the super-tribe at Babel, and the continuing breakup of the super-continent, perhaps Terah just made up his mind that they would all go. Perhaps this fits into the general division that began at Babel—or maybe not: the division of the languages could have happened a generation earlier. But, since the motive for the tower of Babel was to prevent the scattering of the people, it seems that the breakup of the land had already begun, and they were trying to maintain a “reason to be,” in Babel. That would put the time about 100-200 years before Abram was born, at the very most. So, the division of the languages was probably quite recent, when Abram was born…or possibly even after his birth, but that seems less likely. In short, some incredibly important changes had just occurred in the years prior to Genesis 12, and Abram enters the picture just after these break-ups, but evidently long enough that they were no longer on his mind, as he never mentions them, perhaps for the same reason I barely remember the loss of the steam-locomotives.

Abram in introduced in chapter 12, and a “new race” is begun, in rudimentary form. The Jews, proper, did not yet exist, and Abram, though he is the father of the whole race, is not himself a Jew. He is a descendant of Shem, to be sure, but so were many of the folk in that region. Abram was just one of many, and not particularly special, in most respects. He was originally from what we now call Iraq. (That is where Babylon was/is, too: 53 miles straight south of Baghdad, and where the tower of Babel was, just before Abram’s time.) Abram and his father, Terah, and his nephew, Lot, left Ur of the Chaldees (which is also in Iraq, about halfway between Baghdad and the coast of the Persian Gulf…120 miles or so from the gulf coast.) and they traveled to Haran (in the south of modern-day Turkey, 140 miles from the northeast corner of the Mediterranean sea.)

Called: to Leave the Old Life Behind

Evidently God had told Abram to leave his Father’s house (Genesis 12:1) and follow God to a new land. Abram took off, but took his father’s household along with him. We can only assume that he must have told his father of the vision, or dream, or appearance of God. Terah evidently thought that was a great idea, and decided he wanted in on it, because in Genesis 11:31, 32 we see that Terah took Abram and Lot, and their wives and journeyed to Haran. Terah took the lead, and managed the migration. This was a journey of just over 700 miles, depending on which route was travelled (but west by northwest, as a general direction), and probably took nearly six weeks on foot, also depending on what flocks were brought along with them. It could have taken much longer. I don’t know whether Terah named the town “Haran” after his dead son, Haran, or not, but it looks that way. The whole family was held together and managed by Terah, until he died, and then God (The LORD) called Abram again. It is interesting to see that it wasn’t until after the “old man” (Terah) died, that God called Abram again, and said “follow me”. I don’t know how much we should read into that connection, but; it is at least interesting to note that, in Ephesians 4:22, we are told to “put aside” the Old Man, so that God can use us. I don’t know whether there is really a connection there; but it is an interesting parallel, at least.

We attempt to do so much, in the flesh, but, the fact is, when the Old Man (our old sin nature) is in control, even the “good things” we do (or attempt to do) will bear no eternal fruit. So, after Terah died, Abram tried again…he really wanted what God had to offer, but he was still clinging to what the World had taught him to be his responsibility. He was “bringing up his brother’s son”, so to speak. But Lot was a grown man, and Abram really could have left him behind…and he should have. Notice that it does not say “he took Lot with him,”, but that “Lot, his brother’s son went with him.” Both Lot and Abram had a choice, and Abram should have left Lot at Haran. We will see the resulting problems, as they arise. But we are really better off to leave behind our old way of life, and start anew, with God in control.

Called: to be Separate

However, at 75 years of age, Abram still took Lot along with him, which proved problematic, and it got them both in trouble more than once. It wasn’t until Abram separated himself from Lot, in Chapter 13, that God said (Genesis 13:14-18) “Now lift up your eyes to the north, the south, the east and the west. To you I will give this land.” (In other words, not to Terah, and not to Lot.) By the way, the Ammonites and the Moabites, who we will meet later, were all Lot’s offspring. And a good deal of the land that was promised to Abraham’s descendants is still populated by the Ammonites. We call them “Jordanians.” The capitol city of Jordan is still called Amman today. (Do you have any ideas what the fuss over the land might be about, today??)

Looking ahead, just a little, it is interesting to me that, in the latter half of chapter 12 and again in chapter 20, Abram was (correctly, as it turned out) fearful that others would seek to take his wife to be their own. In chapter 17 we find out that Sarai was ten years younger than Abram, and we have seen in chapter 12 that Abram was 75 when he left Haran. So Sarai was at least 65 when Abram headed into Egypt, and he was afraid that he would be killed for Sarai’s sake, as she was such a beautiful woman. That is pretty unusual, by today’s standards, at least. And it happened again when she was 90. Was this some sort of a miraculous rejuvenation brought about by God, so that she could mother a child at 90? I don’t know, but it is certainly unusual that a woman of that age was considered so desirable as a bride. I really don’t know what to make of that.

But, in both cases, Abraham begged Sarah to say that he was her brother (which was a half-truth, as she was his half-sister), so that they would not simply murder him to get his wife.  Also, in both cases, Abram (Abraham, by chapter 20) received material compensation for the error on the part of the men who tried to take Sarah. However, we should recognize that his saying she was his sister was an act of spiritual poverty. He did it out of fear, not faith. Abraham had his weaknesses, as we shall see. But he also had some tremendous strengths. One was a general tendency toward Faith. But he had his failures as well. It is good to remember that “hypocrisy” and “failure” are two different things. Abram was a man of great faith who sometimes stumbled and fell.

He was a man of great faith: He simply believed God! When God made a promise, Abram believed it. When God gave a command, as a rule, Abram obeyed. And He worshipped that one God: Everywhere Abram travelled, with few exceptions, he built an altar specifically for the worship of Jehovah-Yahweh-God: The LORD.

The Name of the LORD

Notice that, in Genesis 12:1, the word “LORD” (all caps) is used. This is the way the Bible translators usually treat the “tetragrammaton”—the YHWH from the Hebrew Scriptures. We do not know how to pronounce this name, because, ironically, the Jews forbade their people to speak that name, lest they inadvertently blaspheme: the result being that they have forgotten how to pronounce the name of their God. (How incredibly sad!) Isaiah 43:11 states that “I, even I, am the LORD, and beside me there is no savior.” They have forgotten the name of their Savior!

Toward the end of the 15th century, a Dutch monk named Erasmus suggested “Jehovah” as a possible pronunciation. (Actually pronounced “Yehovah” in his native Germanic tongue.) The Hebrew pronunciation of the Y and the W, are, respectively, “yuh”, and “vuh”… and the Germans pronounce a “J” the same as we Americans pronounce a “Y”. But, we really don’t know which vowels were associated with those four consonants. Modern scholars have suggested other such variations, such as “Yahweh” (which would still have to be pronounced “Yahveh” to be in keeping with Jewish pronunciation).

But it absolutely delights me to note that, in Acts 4:12, Peter said, “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” And he was referring to the name of Jesusnot the Old Testament name. So, the only Savior (the LORD) called Abram to leave his old life behind, and follow Him; just as today, the only Savior (Jesus) calls us to abandon our old way of life and learn to walk with Him. And it is the same Savior! This is the God to whom Abram built his altars: it was Jesus the whole time!

Called: to Worship

Abram, the Altar-Builder: 

In Genesis 12:5-7, we see that Abram journeyed (south) into Canaan, to the place of Sichem, and the plain of Moreh (in the north end of what is now Israel.) At that time this was all Canaanite territory. The Canaanites were the offspring of Canaan, the son of Ham. And, in verse seven, The LORD appeared to Abram and said that He was giving the land of the Canaanites to Abram and his offspring (though Abram had no children.) And Abram evidently believed God, because his response was to worship God there. He built an altar, for the worship of the LORD, who would thereafter be the God of Israel.

Then he moved again: I don’t know why. But he moved to a mountain, to the East of what would later be called Bethel (the house of God).  And He built an altar there, as well, and “called upon the name of the LORD.” This is a good pattern in Abram’s life. He was putting his relationship with God first, it seems. He was making a place of worship and a pattern of worship the predominant thing in his life. God took first priority. That is a good choice!

But a test came, and he stumbled: a famine began, and he left the land he had been promised and went to Egypt. Is it possible God sent him? Yes, but it doesn’t say that He did, and Abram also apparently did not build an altar there. My guess would be that this was a fleshly response, and he was responding in fear, not faith. All we know for sure is what is written: He left the Promised Land and went to Egypt, because of the Famine. (Not because God sent him.)

Just as he feared, Pharaoh did take Sarah, and gave him lots of money, slaves and herds, etc…. (We don’t like it, but, yes, Abram was a slave-owner, like many others.) But God plagued Pharaoh and his household, because of Sarah, and Pharaoh knew he had been deceived. He confronted Abram, and rebuked him for not telling him that Sarah was actually his wife. Then he sent him packing, but allowed Abram to keep all the gifts, so that he went away a very wealthy man. Sometimes we may profit, in temporal ways, by our actions, even when those actions are not pleasing to God. Wealth is not a good measure of God’s blessing or approval of our behavior. I have known a Christian man who profited by tax-evasion…temporarily…but it caught up to him later, and it shamed him for the rest of his life. Evidently God graciously allowed Abram to prosper, in spite of the lapse in faith, but God never approves unbelief. I would imagine that every time Abram remembered how he had risked Sarah to save himself, he probably was ashamed, and grieved for his failure, in spite of the wealth that resulted.

Final Separation: and Service

Genesis 13—Separating Abram from Lot

Ultimately, Abram and Lot were both too prosperous to live together, as their huge flocks and herds were competing for forage; their herdsmen were beginning to quarrel, on top of the fact that the land was still inhabited by the Canaanites and the Perizzites. So, Abram suggested a peaceful separation: he gave Lot first choice of territory, and said that he, Abram, would move away from wherever Lot chose. And Lot chose the valley of the Jordan, richly watered and verdant at that time. Lot left, and headed straight for Sodom. We will see the result of that, later.

Remember that God had told Abram to leave his old life behind. Up until this point, the baggage of his old life and family ties had weighed him down and kept God’s full blessings from him. How do I know? Look what happened next: (Genesis 13:14-18)

Then the LORD said to Abram, after Lot was gone, NOW lift up your eyes…look North, South, East and West…to YOU and your offspring I will give this land.” God had to wait until Abram set aside everything else, before He could bless Him as He intended. And God told him (this time) to get up and walk through the land. Then Abram moved to Mamre, lived there, and built an altar to His God. Later, God met with him there, in Person. Later, too, we will see God’s description of the land set apart for the offspring of Abraham, and it is a very large piece of territory, many times the size of what Israel now holds.

Conclusion

How can we lay hold of the inheritance of God? I think we can emulate Abram, and separate ourselves from our old patterns, our old passions, and learn to walk with Jesus, so that He can reveal to us what He has in store.

Wherever God has called us to live, and feed, and work, we need to leave behind our old thought-patterns, and fears, and “build an altar,” at least in our own mind and life, at which we will worship, and bring the sacrifices of Praises, Thanksgiving, and Obedience. And there at that altar, we need to realize that our relationship with God is personal. We are to deal with Him personally, not theoretically. There is where He holds out His Grace and His blessing to us, not in some dream-place where we think we want to go. Not based upon a creed, or a ritual, or even a personal routine of piety, but on a personal relationship with the Savior.

Lord Jesus draw us to yourself, in a personal, obedient, faith-relationship that carries and supports us above the fears and turmoil of this world. Allow us to worship you there, and serve you in the world around us. Make us emissaries of your Grace and Love; ambassadors of the Cross.


Closing Notes from Hebrews

Closing Notes from Hebrews

© C. O. Bishop

Hebrews 13:17-25

Introduction:

We are at the end of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and there are just a few, seemingly unrelated verses, left, as the writer gives his closing thoughts. He gives final instructions as to their response to church leadership, and then makes a personal request for prayer, as well as giving a closing prayer for his readers. Lastly, it is his greeting to the believers, and his benediction to all.

What about Church Leadership?

17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

This is specifically in reference to the leadership of the church. We could apply it to civil government, as we are also commanded to be in subjection to the civil authorities, but this specifically says “they watch for your souls”…and that is simply not true of the civil authorities. An unbelieving governor, if called to accounts by God, could not give account with joy, no matter what he had done, as he is still an enemy of God, just as we were, before we were saved.

Civil leaders have been chosen by a variety of means, down through history. Some simply seized power, and ruled by force. Some were chosen by popular acclaim, either by an organized election, or by mob popularity. (You may recall that the crowd tried that with Jesus, once…they wanted to take him by force and make him king. What an odd idea!) Some simply accepted the burden of government because it had to be done, and there was no one else available who was qualified. I believe that a few of our early American statesmen were possibly in that category.

Regardless of how a civil leader is chosen, as an unbeliever, they would not fit this verse. This is talking about church leaders. Church leaders, too, have been chosen by a wide range of means, and, sadly, pretty much exactly the same means by which civil leaders have come into power. Some wanted the job because of ambition: they enjoyed being the center of attention, or wanted to wield authority over others in some way. Jesus described those, in the Sermon on the Mount, and elsewhere. Some were simply lazy, and they chose it as a “clean” profession, where they could earn a living without doing much work. God describes bad shepherds of another sort, in Ezekiel 34, saying that they used the flock to feed themselves, but did not feed the flock as they were sent to do. This actually covers a lot of the different “bad shepherd” types.

Qualifications for Church Leadership:

I’m not going to go into the qualifications of Elders and Deacons in any depth, this morning, as we have taught them before, not too long ago, but God clearly gives us the qualifications of church leadership in 1st Timothy 3:1-8; Titus 1:5-9, 1st Peter 5:1-5, and other passages. You can read those on your own. They all have to do with proven character, demonstrated maturity and, in one case, (teaching) recognizable gifting.

God describes the job itself, with its responsibilities, in Ezekiel 34, as well as in Acts 20:28. If a church ignores any of this, and either appoints leaders who are not qualified, or those who will not carry out the responsibilities, then disaster surely awaits. Actually, if a man is not willing to carry out the responsibilities of leadership, then he also is not qualified, as that is the first qualification, in 1st Timothy 3:1. So, what is the job description for elders?

Job Description for Church Leaders:

What does the Scripture say about Shepherds? Looking at the whole of God’s word, regarding shepherding, at least six things become clear:

1. Sheep need a Shepherd. Sheep without a Shepherd are in immediate and deadly danger, even if no predator is around—and the greatest, deadliest predator in the world is around, according to 1st Pet 5:8. Even apart from the issue of predators, we often don’t know the difference between good pasture and bad, still waters and treacherous, safe paths and dangerous ones, apart from our Shepherd leading us—(Psalm 23:2, 3).

This is a direct reflection on God’s determination to be the Shepherd of His Flock Genesis 49:24, Ezekiel 34). We need the Shepherd.

2. God has assigned human shepherds. These shepherds are “sheep”, themselves, as well. But they have been assigned the task of performing the work of shepherds. And they cannot do a faithful job apart from the direct leading and control of Jesus Christ, the true Shepherd. (John 15:5; Psalm 127:1) God holds them accountable for his flock. (Ezekiel 34, James 3:1; Hebrews 13:17) This is a huge responsibility.

3. The Work of the Shepherd has clear definition:

  • Ezekiel 34:1-16 says the shepherds are to:
    • Feed the sheep: (This means a steady provision of nourishment from God’s Word.)
    • Strengthen those who are diseased: (This may imply corrective teaching, or encouragement to change self-destructive patterns.)
    • Heal those who are sick: (very similar: promoting spiritual healing through Godly counsel.)
    • Bind up those who are broken: (This may mean promoting Forgiveness for past injuries by other believers, or acceptance of God’s Grace to heal those wounds.)
    • Seek out and bring back those who have been driven away: (Sometimes the wounded ones flee the flock, unable to bear the stress of being around the one who hurt them. Or, sometimes they simply were angry, and need to deal with the anger.)
    • Seek the lost: (refers to both evangelism and reconciliation of the backslidden)
    • Prevent them from becoming prey to predators: (Guarding is implied, but not stated in this passage; clearly stated in Acts 20:28-30.)
  • Acts 20:17, 28-30: the elders (17; also identified as shepherds and overseers) are to:
    • Guard themselves—recognize that they themselves are also in danger from the Enemy,
    • Guard the whole flock against predators (sometimes coming from among the leaders),
    • ‘Feed’ the flock (KJV), (actually, ‘shepherd’ the flock: the Greek word is poimainein)
    • Be overseers. (Greek episkopos)
  • 1 Peter 5:1-4 says that elders (Greek presbuteros) (who are also shepherds and overseers) are to:
    • Feed the flock (KJV): (here again, the Greek word is the verb poimanate—“shepherd”)
    • Take the oversight thereof (be an overseer)
    • Do so willingly, not grudgingly
    • Not for the sake of money
    • Not lording it over the flock, but
    • Leading by example,
    • Expect a reward from Christ, (the “arch-shepherd”) at His coming, for faithful service.

4. Shepherds face Judgment: Apart from faithful attention to God’s assignment, Judgment is coming, in one form or another…The Lord’s flock is precious to Him: He defends it against all enemies, even the enemies from within the flock. Ezekiel 34 is a discourse on this very issue: God is rebuking the shepherds of Israel for malfeasance and nonfeasance of their duties. He says he is going to take them off the job and do the job himself. James 3:1 and Hebrews 13:17 both address this issue as well. Revelation 3:14-16 tells the long range result of failure in this area: the local church can die or become so infected with spiritual disease that God closes it down.

5.  Clear guidelines are given, as to the Qualifications of the Human Shepherds: These are given in order to protect the flock from unstable, immature, or otherwise flawed leadership. We will discuss these again at a later date. If you want to read them ahead of time, they are found in 1st Timothy 3:1-8, Titus 1:5-9 and 1st Peter 5:1-3.

6. Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd—perhaps one could say, the only true shepherd (John 10:11-15, Hebrews 13:20, 1st Peter 5:4), and He is, by necessity, our example in all things: apart from Him, we truly have nothing to offer.

Hudson Taylor used to say “God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s provision.”  I believe that is a scriptural viewpoint. I also believe that unless we truly strive to adhere to the job description, and the instructions that come along with it, we are doomed to failure.

Following Church Leaders:

On the other hand, having good leadership and following those leaders are clearly separate concepts. In this passage, the writer assumes that the recipients of the letter do have good leaders, and he is exhorting them to respond to those leaders appropriately. The word translated “obey” is the Greek word, “Peithesthe”, from “Peitho”, meaning “to be persuaded”. We are always to search the scriptures, and to be sure that we are being led appropriately, but the ultimate question will be regarding our response to  appropriate leadership, not whether we “like” the leader.

Any elder of a church, who has faithfully labored in the Word, and poured himself out in teaching, and has consistently offered good counsel from God’s Word, would be grieved to see a flock behaving badly. He takes personal responsibility for their waywardness, though he has tried to turn them from it. Jeremiah wept over Israel, though he had faithfully warned them against their rebellion. It is instructive to note that, when the chips were down, so to speak, and he had the opportunity to leave them behind, with the blessing and support of the conquerors, he chose to stay with Israel and to continue his ministry, as frustrating and unfruitful as it had been. I think of Jeremiah a lot, whenever I feel discouraged. He was utterly faithful and had the least “fruitful” ministry of any of the Major Prophets. But he stayed on the job!

The writer is here asking us to not respond to God’s leading through the elders, in the same manner as Israel did to God’s Word through Jeremiah. They told him they wanted to hear what God had to say to them. He warned that they would not like what he had to say, and that they would not obey God, in any case. They protested that they would obey, and insisted that he speak what God told him. So he did…and they immediately rebelled, and did the opposite of what God commanded. God is asking us to not respond in that way.

We can see in Acts 17:11 that God approves a response that includes “searching the scriptures to see if the teaching is accurate and appropriate.” But in all the scriptures, we see that the response God ultimately expects is that we allow Him to change our hearts, as we submit ourselves to His Word and His Will. Did it come through someone you don’t really like to listen to? Too bad! Paul was repugnant to many who heard him, but God definitely sent him to preach and teach, and to lay the foundation for faith. Those who responded well, eventually learned to appreciate him for who he was. I have had teachers who, initially, I found hard to listen to. But they were completely faithful to God’s Word, and I grew to appreciate them for their faithfulness and the blessing they were to the church.

Knowing that the elders will be held accountable, and that we are also held accountable for our response, we need to pray for the leaders, and respond well to them, too.

Closing Requests and Blessings

18 Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly.
19 But I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.

I don’t know what was going on in the writer’s life that he should write such words…if it really was Paul (and I think it was), then it seems to make a kind of sense, as, several times, during his ministry, he was in bonds, one way or another, accused of things he had not done. Perhaps this was one of those times: it sounds as though it might have been. But he asked for prayer that he might be released sooner, as be able to rejoin the other believers.

20 Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,
21 Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

The writer’s prayer for the recipients, is that God would continue to perfect them so that their lives would be a continual honor to God. He reminds them of the source of their blessing, and the fact that Jesus himself is our great shepherd, as well as the fact that he has been physically, literally raised from the dead. But the bottom line is that our lives should be to his glory as well.

22 And I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation: for I have written a letter unto you in few words.

The Writer begs them to receive this letter of encouragement properly. (It seems an odd thing, however, to see that the Writer considered this to be a short letter.)

23 Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you.

Timothy was one of Paul’s close companions…which also gives me to believe that Paul was the writer. Evidently Timothy had also been held, somewhere, but was set free already, and the writer hoped to meet with them all and with Timothy too.

24 Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you.
25 Grace be with you all. Amen.

This closing is typical Pauline benediction. Notice that, whoever the recipients were, they were told to greet the leadership, as well as the other believers. All the letters to the church are just that: Letters to the Church! They are not, as a rule, to some sort of hierarchy of leaders, but to the believers themselves. This letter is to us. If you are a believer, it is to you.

Learn from it! Believe it! Study it! Make use of it in your life. Don’t just let it gather dust.

Allow God’s Grace to rule in your life.

Lord Jesus, make us able ministers of your Word, and faithful ambassadors of your Love and Grace. Help us to both lead and respond to leadership. To tach and be teachable. Make us the Men and Women of God that you have called us to be.


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.


Christ: Our Prime Example

Christ: Our Prime Example 

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

Philippians 2:1-13

Introduction:

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

 

Fulfilled Joy in Unity, Humility and Love:

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

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

Unity:

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

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

Humility

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jesus’ Seven-fold Example:

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

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

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

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

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

 

God’s Sevenfold Reward:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Either:

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

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

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

The Fact: This is the Record:

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

 

 


The Behavior of Faith

The Behavior of Faith

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

Hebrews 11:11-16

Introduction:

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

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

The Response of Faith

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

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

The Result of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Eyes of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Choices of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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