Posts Tagged ‘promise’

The Priesthood of the Believers

The Priesthood of the Believers

© C. O. Bishop 2/24/18; THCF 2/25/18

Hebrews 13:10-16; 1st Peter 2:5; Revelation 1:6, 5:10

Introduction:

We have been studying through the Epistle to the Hebrews, for several months, and we are finally in the last chapter, where the writer addresses a number of issues, and gives instructions to believers. You may recall that the book had seven comparisons to Old Testament figures, or “pictures,” each showing that “Jesus is Better.” In fact, that seems to be the central theme of the entire epistle.

There were also seven stern warnings, evidently to those dabblers in the faith, who were not fully committed to the truth of the Gospel, nor to Christ as their only hope for salvation. These warnings were dispersed throughout the first twelve chapters. However, most of chapter twelve and all of chapter thirteen has moved on from that theme, and is addressing only instructions and encouragement to genuine believers.

Verse nine of chapter 13 was an admonition to not be “carried about by strange doctrines,” and it briefly addressed the problem of the Jewish (or other) dietary laws, as an example, where legalism is the broader concept. But, moving on from that idea, the writer ties together the specific dietary laws and privileges of the Levitical priesthood, with its limits and the total privilege of the Christian believer.

The Old Testament priesthood offered sacrifices for Israel, some of which also, subsequently, became the food of the priests and their families. But the sin-offerings brought by the high priest were not to be eaten: not by anyone; they were taken away and burned outside the camp, or outside the city walls, in the times of the temple. But many of the sacrifices were definitely eaten by the priests.

Jesus made one sacrifice, forever: He was executed outside the city, and buried outside the city. He fulfilled the prophetic pre-figure of the sin-offering for the people by the high Priest. And he is now our high Priest.

He has stepped beyond the picture, so to speak, into a reality that transcends what all the animal sacrifices could do. They could only cover sins, as the believers looked to God in Faith. The blood of Jesus takes away the sins of those who look to him in faith. We look, and live!

But something that many people miss is the fact that in bringing us to the Father through his own blood, and opening the way to the Father, (through the veil, which, it turned out, was a picture of his flesh, torn at the Cross); in doing so, He has ordained us as Priests, as well. We bring sacrifices to God, and we make intercessions for one another, and for the lost.

We now serve that altar, as well. But the Old Testament priests, who served the tabernacle or the temple, could not transition from the old, physical altar, to the real altar, unless they also received their Messiah by faith. So they have no privileges at all, in this, the true temple.

A New Altar

10 We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.

Remember that the priests were fed from the sacrifices (not all of them, but many.) And no one else could eat that food. They alone had that privilege. But this situation is reversed: those priests cannot feed at our altar. He goes on to explain why:

11 For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp.

The priests did not eat the carcasses of the animals brought by the High Priest, as sin offerings—those were burned outside the camp. The priests had no right to eat those sacrifices.

12 Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.
13 Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.

Jesus died as our sin offering. The altar we serve does not include animal sacrifice. It included one Solitary offering for sin, forever. Our worship and service is continually brought to him, but He remains “outside the camp” so far as the unbelieving world is concerned. So that is where we serve Him. We recognize that the genuine service of Christ will never be popular with the enemies of God. Bear in mind, when I use this phrase, the fact that all humans start off as “enemies of God”. Romans 5:10 states that “…while we were enemies, Christ died for us…”

So, to the unsaved, unbelieving World, the service of Christ, at any level, is a repugnant thing. They want it to be “outside the gate”…rejected from “polite society.” We need to embrace that as being simply appropriate. They see us as worthy of rejection: we need to see ourselves in Christ, and recognize that if we are living like him, and not offending by our human follies and sin, but are definitely being rejected because of the Cross, then we must joyfully accept our position in Christ, and understand that our proper place is “outside of polite society,” though those who consider themselves the “polite” ones are actually those who despise Christ.

A New City—our true home.

14 For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.

We know that our citizenship is elsewhere…that our home is elsewhere. We sing “This World is not my home…” and it is literally true. We are just passing through. We are “…pilgrims, in search of a city.” It isn’t comfortable, but it is reality. Embrace reality! This is where we live! We are in Christ, by God’s Grace, and if we want to walk with Him, then we must go where He goes. For the time being, it means we are to be excluded by our co-workers, our neighbors, etc., as “Bible-thumpers, Religious fanatics,” etc. But, for all time, it means we are in Christ. We go where He goes. If he is rejected (and He is), then we should expect to be rejected, too.

In the future, we will no longer be “outside the city.” We will be those inside…with Jesus, in the New City…our new home.

A New Priesthood.

15 By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.
16 But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

Who is it that offers sacrifices, as a part of his job? A Priest does! We are called to be a “holy priesthood” to God. (1st Peter 2:5) Notice that our sacrifices are not only those of praise and thanksgiving: He calls us to do Good, and to share. He counts those things as sacrifices, too, and specifically warns us not to forget the practical side of Christianity. James says similar things, questioning how a genuine spirituality can even exist without a practical outworking of it in one’s life. The answer is…it can’t. The genuine activity of God in a believer’s life always changes the life of the believer, and it always positively affects others!

1st Peter 2:5 says “Ye also, as lively stones are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”

What kind of spiritual sacrifices? “…the sacrifice of praise to God, continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.”

Over in Romans 12:1, 2, Paul exhorts us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice…and he says that it is a reasonable service. We are priests, and all we have to offer is our selves. Jesus already made the only offering for sin. We bring ourselves as a worship offering.

Kings, or “a kingdom?”

In Revelation 1:6, the apostle John states that Jesus “has made us kings and priests unto God and his Father….” (KJV) I am not sure why they do it, but many newer translations render this “a kingdom of priests”. The Greek word “basileis”, used here, is also used over in Revelation 17:12, where it talks about “…ten kings which have received no kingdom as yet…” The word there for “kings” (Greek, basileis”) is identical to that in Revelation 1:6, while the word for kingdom is different: it is the Greek word, “basileian”.

The wording in the first chapter (also in Revelation 5:10) makes it clear that our placement as kings and priests (not a “kingdom of priests) is past-tense. It is a done deal. Jesus has already made us kings and priests in Him, and we shall reign (future tense) on the earth. The “reigning” part is evidently future, or at least partly future, but the priesthood portion is current. It is now! We have already been given the dual-duty of serving as an ambassador, reaching out to the World, in the name of the King of Kings, while also serving as priests, offering sacrifices and prayers to the Holy God to whom we belong.

In case you haven’t thought this through, we are the only body of believers in history who have been so described. The Jews in the Millennial Kingdom, living in Israel, are to be called “holy unto the LORD”, and are said to be “a kingdom of priests”. That fits! Israel has always been a nation; and a kingdom is what they have been waiting for. But the Church has never been a nation, and is not looking for a kingdom, but the Bridegroom. The Church is the Bride of Christ. And Jesus, though He is certainly “King of Kings”, is not said to be the “King” of the Church, but the “Head” of the Church. The Church is also the “Body of Christ.” We are not a kingdom of priests, but kings and priests. Romans 5:17 says that we shall “reign in life”. We need to think about that one! Will you choose to “reign” in life, or still be a slave to your old nature?

A New Assignment

We have been given the spelled-out task of being ambassadors of Christ, reconciling the World to God through the person of Christ. Paul says that the job is to be accomplished by the preaching of the Cross…evangelism and discipleship. This is not a slick “sales-job,”, but an honest task of clearly, simply presenting the King, both by our words, and our living example.

Paul pointed out the folly of trying the “Madison Avenue” approach: “…not with wisdom of words, lest the preaching of the Cross be made of none effect” (1st Corinthians 1:17)

This is not about “clever” approaches, and persuasive presentations. It is about living the truth of Christ in your life, constantly, and speaking the truth of Christ when an opportunity is given. It is about looking for those opportunities, and praying in advance for the opportunities to come. It is about anxiously watching for the chance to share, and yet offering no offense by sharing in a wrong context, or a wrong time.

It is also about being courageous enough to go ahead and take the risk of rejection: we know that the majority will reject the Lord, and likely reject us with Him, but that does not mean we are not to share with them. Jesus died for the sins of the whole World. He said that was what he came to do, and that is what He did. If we have any doubt about that, we need to turn to 1st John 2:2 where it says, “…and He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole World.”

This is why the Apostle Paul stated that he was “…debtor, both to the Greeks and to the barbarians; both to the wise and to the unwise…” He knew that his job was to present Jesus to a world of lost sinners for whom Jesus had already died! Jesus, whose blood had already paid for their sins. Jesus, who, being believed in, is God’s only offer of redemption.

Don’t we have that same debt? Since you know that the price of redemption has already been paid, but that, for lack of faith in that blood-sacrifice, people are doomed to a Christless Eternity; don’t you have an obligation to be looking for opportunities to turn people away from destruction?

In the news lately, we heard of a mass-shooting, at a school in Florida. An unarmed security guard confronted the shooter, and put himself between the shooter and the children at whom he was shooting. He died in his task. Meanwhile, it turns out that there were one or more deputies, outside the school, armed, and sworn to protect, who refused to enter the school, but stood outside, listening to people being killed inside.

Which of those fellows would you rather emulate? When they stand before their judge, in whose shoes would you rather be?

We know people are dying for lack of a voice from God. We have to choose whether to be that voice. That is our only job. Will we do it?

A New Future

Our future has already changed. We are secure in Christ. We will be with Him for eternity, regardless of our current failures. But: our eternal reward (not our salvation: not eternal life)– our eternal reward depends on how we respond to Him as our Master.

We will be where He is. We will live through the Millennial Kingdom in our new bodies, and will be given tasks with which to honor the King. However, the kind of tasks we are given (as nearly as I can understand it) will depend on how we respond to our assignments in this life.

We have many tasks, in this life: some big, some small, some seemingly insignificant. But the assigned job, of every believer, great or small, is “Ambassador for Christ”. You may feel that you have been assigned the ambassadorship to the worst hole-in-the-wall, insignificant dump on the planet. But if you are faithful to serve there, then you are honoring God with your life. He doesn’t miss anything. He knows our hearts.

Remember the poor widow, regarding whom Jesus said “She has given more than all the others, for out of her deep poverty, she has given all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4) Jesus knew exactly what was going on in the hearts of each of the worshippers. He knows our hearts today, as well.

Proverbs 11:30 says, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he that winneth souls is wise.” Daniel 12:3 states that “…they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars for ever and ever.”

We knew an elderly woman at Cornell Estates, some time ago, who was confined to a wheelchair, due to a stroke and extreme age (100+ years), but she was still actively seeking to lead people to Christ. As we got to know her, we discovered that, when she was younger, she had hosted “good news clubs” in her home…and that today, all the deacons in her home church had been led to Christ in her home as young children, and today are the leaders of her church. Do you suppose she qualifies for these passages? How about someone who has never aggressively preached the Gospel, but who has faithfully lived it, and demonstrated the practical righteousness, that ultimately turned many to righteousness?  I think the same passages apply.

I really do not want to be like those deputies in Florida who stood outside and listened to children being murdered, without attempting to confront the gunman. I want to go ahead and take the risk, and do the job I was called to do.

 

Lord Jesus, give us clear minds to think through our life circumstances, and the courage to face our environments with the mind of Christ. We are not our own masters, and you have given us a job. Give us the Grace, day by day, to be faithful to that job.


Why Don’t I “Give an Invitation?”

Why Don’t I “Give an Invitation?”

© C. O. Bishop 1/20/2018 Cornell Estates 1/21/2018

John 5:24; 1st John 5:11-13; Romans 3:23; Isaiah 55:1; Revelation 22:17

Introduction:

A month or so ago, I was asked, privately, “Why don’t you give invitations at the end of your sermons?” Well…that’s a good question, and, after some thought, I have decided that it should be answered publicly.

There have been times during the last 40-odd years, when I have asked a person how they became a Christian. They replied with one of the following: “I went forward in church; I raised my hand in a youth-group meeting, I prayed with a missionary who visited our church; I was baptized…” or something along those lines. Notice that every one of those statements began with “I (did something).” Isn’t it perhaps more important that God did something? Were they depending on their prayer, their public confession of sins, or some other action on their own part? I can’t tell. Were they even saved? I have no idea! I can’t see into their heart! I can’t examine the witness of their soul before God. The Holy Spirit is just as invisible to me as He is to everyone else! The real question we all need to answer is “How does God save people? How can we be certain that we have eternal life?”

How can we be saved?

The Philippian Jailer asked this very question in Acts 16:30. He asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” You see, he had the same idea: There must be something God wants us to do in order to earn eternal life! But they answered “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved!” (Believe….)

The people in John chapter five, whom Jesus fed with bread and fish, confronted him in chapter six (John 6:28) asking “What should we do that we might work the works of God?” Jesus answered in verse 29: “This is the Work of God; that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.”

I don’t know how the people in John 6 were responding, but the fellow in Philippi was about to commit suicide, if you remember the story: his life had effectively just ended, had Paul not called out and assured him that all the prisoners were still present. So Paul really could have told him anything, and the man was ready to do it. But instead, Paul and Silas told Him that all God was asking him to do was to believe the Gospel: to place his trust in Jesus as his Savior. He was evidently willing to do, or attempt to do, all the works any person could do. But all he was asked to do was to believe! That is very odd, isn’t it? Why did Paul not “lay on him all the demands of God?” Why did he not quote the Ten Commandments? Or tell him he had to be baptized, at least? (By the way, he and his family actually were baptized after they believed, but that is not what was required of them.)

It seems that believing is at least the “key” response that God is looking for. The Pharisees had lots of good works, but didn’t believe in Jesus as their Messiah. We Gentiles look like total heathens to any orthodox Jew (that’s actually what “Gentile” means!), but God isn’t judging us by our works. He is offering His Grace, on the basis of Faith (believing.) And that is the only way he has ever saved sinners, throughout all history. But what was the second question?

Can I Know that I Have Eternal Life?

I have also been emphatically told, many times, over the years, that “It is impossible to know that you have eternal life.” That, you have to “wait until you die to find out whether you were good enough:” …to find out whether you “made the team.” Or, simply, to find out whether you are “One of the Chosen.” I can’t understand how anyone would be comfortable with that idea, personally.

So, what’s wrong with that idea? Is that really what God says? Does he offer us no more secure hope than that? Let’s see what God actually says about that particular issue. (Remember that Jesus is “God in the flesh.”) So, in John 5:24, Jesus (God in the Flesh) made a very important promise:

Verily, verily (truly…it’s a promise), I say unto you, he that heareth my words, and believeth on Him who sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

Every word, there, is important: We can see, back in verse 19, that Jesus is the one talking, even if we don’t have a red-letter edition Bible. So the first thing Jesus does, is to assure us that this is really true: That He is making a promise! He says, “Verily, Verily, I say unto you…” It is a personal promise from Jesus! And it has two conditions:

The Conditions

He that heareth and believeth…” This is a “Whosever will”-type “invitation.” An invitation to what? To “go forward in church”, or to “sign a tract”, or to “make a commitment to Christ?” No! This is an invitation to hear the Gospel, and believe it: to place your personal trust in Jesus as your Savior! Nothing more or less! If I have heard that God is Holy…that I am a sinner…and that Jesus paid the price of my sins at the Cross, I have fulfilled the first of the two conditions. The day I placed my trust in His shed blood for my salvation, and began looking forward to His coming again, I fulfilled the second condition. And, on the basis of those two conditions, Jesus laid out a three-clause promise:

The Clauses

  1. If the two conditions have been met, what does Jesus say is the immediate (not eventual) result? “He that heareth my Word, and believeth on Him that sent me…what?” Does it say they “will have” eternal life? No! It says that this individual, on the basis of having heard the Gospel of Christ and believed, has everlasting life now! This isn’t my opinion: this is the promise of Jesus! The moment I saw the truth; that I was a lost sinner, and that Jesus’ blood at the Cross was God’s only offering for my sin, and I believed; trusting God’s promise for my salvation, then, from that moment on, I have had eternal life! How long is eternal? Silly question, right? But Eternal means everlasting…forever!
  2. What else did Jesus promise? We saw that the first clause of the promise was present tense; but what about the second clause? “…and shall not come into condemnation…” What tense would that be? That’s right! It is future tense! It means I can look into my future as far as forever, and know that God will never condemn me for my sins again! In fact, clear back in Psalm 103:12, He says that he has removed our iniquities from us “as far as the East is from the West”. I think it is great that he said “east from west”, rather than north from south: You can start at the North Pole and go south only until you get to the South Pole. But you can start anywhere, and go East or West forever, and never “get there!” My sins have been eternally removed from my ledger before God, and He will never judge me for my sins. I shall not come unto condemnation. My future is secure.
  3. And the final clause? “…but is passed from death into life.” Some Bibles translate this “…but has crossed over from death into life.” …which is also fine. But the best the English language will give us on this verse is that it is “past tense.” The fact, however, is that the Greek verb is in perfect tense: “a completed action which occurred at some point in the past, with permanent results for the future…” Do you see how important that idea is? It means, “This is a done deal!” It means “You have been born again, and you cannot be un-born again.” It doesn’t lend itself very well to translation in English, unfortunately, but that is the intent.

So…that was Jesus’s promise to anyone willing to hear Him and believe Him. He covered their past, present and future, with a single promise. Do you believe it? On the basis of His promise, then, do you have eternal life?

I could pose a second question: Does God want you to know that you have eternal life? (Notice I am underscoring the word “know”, here…) If He did, wouldn’t He tell us how to know it? Let’s see what He says:

A Parallel Promise

1st John 5:11-13
11And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

So, let’s break this one down as we did the previous promise:

  1. The record (God’s Word) states that God has given (past tense) eternal life to us, and
  2. This eternal life is in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ.
  3. If you have the Son (have received Him by faith), you have eternal life.
  4. If you do not have the Son (have not believed—have not received Him by faith), you do not have eternal life.
  5. The purpose of this being written is that you who believe (trust in) the name of the Son of God (Jesus), may Know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe on the name of the Son of God! That is the purpose-clause of this portion of this document! God wants you to know (now) that you have eternal life!

So, the question we posed a few minutes ago, was “Can I know that I have Eternal life?” According to the two faithful promises we just read, I would have to emphatically state that not only we can know that we have eternal life, but that God wants us to know so! He is not interested in a “hope-so” relationship. This wedding ring on my finger does not mean “I hope I got married 36 years ago, to a wonderful woman who is my best friend today:” It means I KNOW that we were married, and I am not going to forget it!

God gave us his written Word for assurance, so that we have it in writing. He also comes to live in the bodies of believers, on an individual basis, at the moment of salvation: whether I knew it or not, he came to indwell me, in the person of the Holy Spirit, the moment I believed. I may have only learned about it later, but He keeps His Word, and that is also part of His promise. So, with all that background as the foundation, why would I hesitate to give an altar call…to give invitations to “come forward in church,” or anything similar?

Why I Hesitate

When people tell me “I went forward in church when I was twelve,” I begin to ask questions, to find out whether they actually believed the Gospel. I may say, “So, that is when you saw yourself as a lost sinner, needing a Savior?” That doesn’t always go over well! As it happens, some have never seen themselves as a “lost sinner, needing a Savior!” In fact, the idea is repulsive to them: I recently had a young woman adamantly tell me “I am not a bad person!!” OK! As people go, I would say that was a fair assessment. But—does it come up to God’s standard? Let’s see: Romans 3:23 says, “For ALL have sinned and come short of the Glory of God;” (Hmm…)

Sometimes I approach it a different way: I say, “If you were to die today, and God were to ask you ‘Why should I let you into Heaven?’ what would you say?” I have had answers such as “I have done my best,” “I haven’t done anything really bad,” or, “…maybe I could just squeeze in the door?”  Bu the fact is, the rules were laid down in God’s Word: all are sinners; Jesus paid for all our sins; all those who have received the Son have life; and all those who haven’t do not! If my answer to God is not “Because Jesus died for my sins! He is my only hope!”, then according to God’s Word, I have zero chance of being accepted with God. But if he is my Savior, then, according to His Word, I am already accepted with God. I didn’t make those rules; but quite honestly, they seem more than fair, to me!

So, if I ask someone to come forward and “pray for salvation”, and they do so, they may go away thinking they have “done something” to get eternal life…when the truth is that there is nothing we can do to get eternal life! Jesus did it all at the cross! If they actually came because they believe that Jesus is the full payment for their sins, then the prayer didn’t hurt anything, of course. But if they came because they thought they could win merit thereby, they go away inoculated against the true Gospel. They say “I already did that!” And, sadly, I have had many people tell me just that. But when I ask questions, I find that they have never believed the Gospel! They do not believe that they are a lost sinner. They do not believe that Jesus’s Blood was full payment for their sins personally. And they are resting their hope for eternity on something they did, instead of what Jesus completed at the Cross.

Having seen this so often, and being aware that there is not a single example of an “altar call” or an “invitation”, beyond the “Whosoever will may come…!”, I am hesitant to give people a false hope based on their own actions, when the only true hope is the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. But is there an invitation? Yes!

The Invitation of God

So! Having said all that, here is the invitation:

In John 3:16, Jesus said that he came “…that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” That is an invitation to you! How can I say that? Because He said “whosoever!” Had he actually called you by name, here in the Bible, there may be someone else by that same name, and He could have meant them, not you! But He said “Whosoever!” That means He is inviting you to believe, and be saved! Right where you sit, He is asking you to believe in Him, and trust in Him alone for your eternal salvation.

Clear back in the Old Testament, in Isaiah 55:1, the principle was laid down: He said, “Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price!” That must have boggled the minds of those who read it! But He reiterates it in the very last chapter of the Bible. In Revelation 22:17 he says, “And the Spirit and the Bride (the Church) say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life, freely.”

So—the invitation given by the Holy Spirit, is to come to Jesus, the eternal source of living water…the Author of eternal life!

The invitation given by the Church is the same. He says those who hear (That’s us, folks!) should echo that same invitation to those around us: “Come to Jesus. Own Him as your personal Savior! Take the Eternal life that is freely offered to you!” The invitation says “…anyone who is thirsty is to come!” and finally, “Anyone who is willing is to come!” You do have to be willing!

You don’t need me, or a church, or a religious experience of any kind. You need to trust Jesus as your Savior, and learn to walk with Him. This invitation has been there in the Scripture for thousands of years; but each of us are limited, in terms of time. Don’t wait! If you know you need a Savior, then believe in Him, and have eternal life, today.

That is the invitation—it is from God, not me. Answer it as you choose. You alone can choose!

Lord Jesus, help us to see ourselves clearly, so that we can receive your promise, believe your promise, and learn to walk with you. Teach us to extend the invitation to those around us, too.


Son or Servant?

Son or Servant?  Slave or Free?

C. O. Bishop 4/9/15 THCF 4/12/15

Galatians 4:19-31

Introduction:

We have been talking about the problems associated with legalism so long I am beginning to fear that folks will think that is all I want to talk about. But as we read the Book of Galatians, we can see that Paul spent the better part of four chapters outlining the difference between Law and Grace, the dangers of legalism, the trap that it sets for the new or untaught believer, and the character or condition of those who spread such doctrine. He has minced no words—he has been quite blunt.

He has pronounced God’s curse on those who corrupt the Gospel of Grace by adding works as a condition of salvation, he has told the Galatian believers that the Law has never been a means of salvation, but rather a curse, as it only reveals the lostness of the human race. He has told them that through Jesus’ fulfilling the Law, he, Paul, had been made dead to the Law, but alive to God. He has told them that if it was possible to gain a right standing with God through works of any kind, then Jesus died for nothing.

Paul has explained the issue of what it meant to be a child of Abraham, pointing out that Abraham lived more than 400 years before the Law was given, and that the promised “seed” was singular, not plural. The Promised Seed was actually Christ, and we are to be made part of Him by faith, and so we become the children of Abraham by faith—not physical, as the Jewish offspring of Abraham claim to be, and are, but the spiritual offspring, and in a completely different category. Now Paul is addressing those believers as children.

Paul’s Concern for His “Kids”:

Paul claims these believers as his own offspring, since he is the one who led many of them to Christ. But he has some misgivings about their response to false teaching, and is wondering whether they are really born again, all of them, or just going along with the group in some cases.

19 My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,

 20 I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.

This is a third word for “children” used here: the Greek word “teknia”—born-ones—offspring. Paul is claiming them as his spiritual offspring, and so they are, since he led them to Christ. He says that he is “in labor” again, as if they were being born again all over again. He is not sure where they stand, or who they really are. He wished that he could be there, face to face with them, and could express his heart to them more clearly. For my part, I am grateful that he could not, since it meant that we have this letter today.

Now Paul has one last major point to make regarding Law and Grace: The difference in the implied relationship between the believer and God. He uses a well-known Old Testament account to demonstrate that Law corresponds to slavery, while Grace corresponds to freedom, and son-ship. He begins by saying, in effect, “All right, then: if you like Law, let’s talk about the Law! He says:

21 Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?

“Law-keeping” Exposed: An Allegory Revealed

Paul knows from his own experience, as well as from the Word of God, that any human claiming to keep the Law, is being very “selective” in their thinking. He knows they have not obeyed the whole law, nor do they really intend to do so.

22 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.

Now here is something we might not have seen apart from God revealing it. The only thing I could have said for sure is that Abraham took advantage of what seemed an “opportunity to fulfill God’s promise” (annnnd, coincidentally, a real opportunity to gratify the flesh: to have sex with a younger woman, not only legally, but with his wife’s consent…in fact it was her idea!) Must have seemed like a great idea at the time…. But it was NOT God’s idea, and Abraham neglected to ask whether it was right. So, he went ahead, and, in doing so, he set up the genealogy for the largest group of enemies his people, the Jews, would ever have. The Children of Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Hagar, have bitterly resented the Children of Isaac, his son by Sarah (specifically the Jews), for centuries. And today they completely surround the Jewish state:  by their own admission, they seek to wipe Israel from the face of the earth. (Thanks, Abe!)

But…God was also setting up an object lesson, by which we are expected to see the differences between the miraculous work that God does through faith, and the natural work that we can accomplish on our own. God is in the business of carrying out miraculous work in the lives of believers, not simply saving us and then turning us loose to do the works on our own. The difference pointed out is the difference between work of the flesh—which any natural man can accomplish, and the work of God, which only He can do. Law-keeping fits in the former category…Grace fits in the latter.

23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.

What Abraham accomplished with Hagar was completely natural…even an old fossil like Abraham could have relations with a young woman who was still of child-bearing age, and produce a child. Where’s the miracle in that? What is supernatural about an old man getting a young woman pregnant? Especially since she was a slave and had no choice in the matter? (When you think of it in that way, it is not a very attractive picture, is it? Bear in mind that this was truly Sarah’s idea, and is emulated later by Jacob’s wives. The issue was not whether it was illegal, or even immoral, but whether it was of God. Yes, it was Sarah’s idea but Abraham was definitely a willing participant.)

Sarah, on the other hand, though a free-woman, was past the age of child-bearing, and could not be reasonably expected to conceive. So, in order for that union to bear fruit, God had to step in and supernaturally rejuvenate her body…which He eventually did!

The Allegory:

The result of the paired conceptions, one natural, the other supernatural, is an object lesson for us today: and one that God set up, using human failure as the starting point.

24 Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.

Please bear in mind that this is God talking through Paul; this is not just Paul’s opinion. God says there was an allegory there for us to see and learn. This not license to claim that every passage of scripture is allegorical, so that we can read into it whatever we want.

25 For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.

I would never have gotten this connection: Hagar represents Mt. Sinai, and the Law (which brought bondage,) and, by extension, the natural Jerusalem which is in bondage (at that time, it was in bondage to Rome… still today it is in bondage to sin.) I never would have seen these parallels unless God had pointed it out.

26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.

Sarah was the other side of the equation—the need for supernatural re-birth and revival. She represented the supernatural Jerusalem, still invisible, and only accessible through faith. She is a picture of the way that God chooses to deal with believers.

27 For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.

Ironically, she also brings out the picture of the gentile believers, because although it says the desolate woman shall bear children, it also says she will have many more than “she who has a husband”.  Sarah had a husband! Remember Abraham? She had been married to him for many years. Why would it say specifically “than she who had a husband”?  I think that it is a prophecy that there will be more Gentile believers in the Body of Christ than will come out of Israel, the “wife of God!”

28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.

Who are the “Brethren” of whom he speaks? They are all the believers, Jew and Gentile. There is no division between believers of Jewish or non-Jewish descent. But all of us became the children of promise by faith. There is no other way.

29 But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.

Ishmael laughed at Isaac, the heir, and mocked him, as a toddler. As a result, he and his mother were sent packing. It was a heart-rending experience for Abraham, who loved his son Ishmael, and for Ishmael, as well, who doubtless loved his father.

It was a grievous thing for Hagar, too, who had enjoyed the privileges of a wife for a time, instead of the position of a slave. But she had silently sneered at Sarah because she could bear Abraham a son, while Sarah could not (God confirms this). Sarah saw that, and wanted her out. She treated her harshly and drove her out, so that Hagar ran away. But God sent her back for the time being, and kept her there until Ishmael was nearly grown, and more nearly able to care for himself.

When Hagar was finally expelled, it was a deeply bitter thing for her and her son. And God prophesied that he, Ishmael, would be “a wild man”, and that his hand would be “against every man, and every man’s hand against him” (which is being fulfilled today.) And Paul reminds them that Jerusalem will be persecuted by the sons of Ishmael (and it is happening daily today.)

 The Separation between Natural and Supernatural

30 Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.

Though it was a bitter, terrible parting, with long-lasting consequences, the separation was by the decree of God. It was partly for practical reasons, I am sure, as God did not want Isaac to be in competition with Ishmael for Abraham’s attention; but it was also intended to set up this specific lesson: There is a sharp, uncrossable divide between the natural and the supernatural in terms of eternal value. We see this borne out in 1st Corinthians 3:10-16, where the judgment seat of Christ is in view. Works either have eternal value or they don’t. There is no “sliding scale.”

What the Galatian believers were being persuaded to embrace (works—legalism) required no “touch of God”—it required no presiding Holy Spirit. They could carry out the demands of a man-made religion strictly on their own…and countless millions in the world do just that, every day of their lives.

That is one of the distinguishing marks of both the Old and New Testaments—they both demand a degree of holiness not achievable by man, and they both provide a means of overcoming the lack that still admits no human interference. The Law demanded perfection, and said, “…the Soul that sinneth, it shall die.” It offered no way out except a shedding of blood, and the faith of the believer that God himself was the redeemer…the “goel”—the one who buys us out of our sin-debt, and sets us free. The New Testament does not change this arrangement one bit! It only concludes the long line of blood-sacrifices with the final, perfect Blood-sacrifice of the Lamb of God, which sets us free from the Law forever.

But the enmity between the natural and the supernatural was not limited to Ishmael: it is nearly universal.

The Enmity between Natural and Supernatural

Whether Jew or Gentile; those who deny this truth –especially the religious people who deny the truth of Grace—will bitterly resent the freedom inherited by the children of the Promise. They will take a stand against God and His people at every opportunity, even when claiming to be believers themselves. Remember how King Herod sought to deceive the Magi: he said “Tell me where He is, so I can worship Him too!” Far from worship, Herod intended to murder Jesus, but he pretended to be a believer, so as to deceive the real believers.

Only the Holy Spirit can bring about the real changes we hope to see in our lives. God says that the scripture has provided “…exceeding great and precious promises, that through these we might be partakers of the divine nature.” And that is how it happens. We embrace His promises by faith, and through His Word, by His Spirit, he begins to change us into His likeness. It does not happen overnight. It required growth, exercise and feeding.

Conclusion:

31 So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.

That is the bottom line, as far as Paul is concerned: You are not a slave, but a freeborn, re-born child of God. Act like one! Don’t enslave yourself to things from which He died to set you free. Keep stepping along in the freedom He died to provide!

We keep looking to God, and, in light of His Word, in light of His holiness, we see our sin. We confess it as sin, and he cleanses us, and continues to work to change us into his likeness. But embracing a set of regulations through which we hope to “be the people God intends us to be” is a serious step backward. It puts us in the camp of the enemy, effectively, because it is exactly the opposite of what God wants.

I read a story, years ago…I have no idea whether it was true…of an old gentleman living alone in a rundown house in the commercial area of a big city. He was offered a very large amount of money for his property, and he accepted it gladly. The purchasers gave him plenty of time to find a new place to live, and to get moved out. During that time, he looked around at his shabby old house, and thought it was a shame to be selling it to the new owners in such poor shape, so he took some of the money they had paid him and renovated the house—new roof, broken windows replaced, plumbing repaired, and everything painted inside and out. The old place was really looking good, so when the new owners showed up to take possession, he happily showed them all the work he had done. They looked and listened, and finally shook their heads sadly: “We are really sorry to tell you this, but you have wasted both your time and your money: we never wanted the house at all! We are tearing it down to build an office complex, here! All we wanted was your land.”

God does not want what YOU can do: He wants what He can do in you. Ultimately, he just wants YOU. Law-keeping is something we think we can do, but no matter how good we are at it, it is not what God wants at all.

Look to the Lord to change you from the inside out, and the old ways will begin to drop away…the new nature will become more and more prominent. If you have received Christ as your Savior by faith, then you are already a child of God, by the new birth; enacting a set of rules in your life will not enhance your relationship with God. Believing His promises, and obeying his principles by faith will continually build that relationship, and you will grow more and more into His likeness.

God help us to draw near by faith, and receive your Grace as the empowering principle in our lives. Remake us into the men and women of God that you have chosen us to be.


To Whom is the Promise of God Given?

To Whom is the Promise Given?

© C. O. Bishop 2/28/15 THCF 3/1/15

Galatians 3:15-18; compare Genesis 13:15-16

Introduction:

We have talked about the Promise of the Spirit, and our need to embrace that Promise. One thing that has always bothered me, in the following few verses, is that, from my human perspective, it always seemed that Paul was playing a little “fast and loose” with the grammar of the promise of God to Abraham, in Genesis. But I know that this is God’s inspired Word…Paul was doing exactly as he was directed. I also know that God is God, and He certainly has the right to comment on His own Word. So how can I resolve the question?

The Septuagint vs. the Masoretic Text

It recently occurred to me that, in modern times, we have always only had two real sources for the Old Testament scriptures: The Masoretic text (which is Hebrew and Aramaic, and the most recent example at about AD 200)— and the Septuagint (a Greek translation from about 140 BC.)

We might think, “Well…maybe a lot was lost in the Translation!” (as is frequently the case in translations), but this question was checked by hundreds of scholars over the last several hundred years, translating (again) the Hebrew into Greek to see if their translation matched the Septuagint; and, the reverse: translating the Greek Septuagint back into Hebrew, to see if it came close to the original language. All these exercises were done for two reasons:

  1. Believers earnestly want to know what God’s Word really says, and because
  2. Attacks are frequently made by the enemy and we feel forced to defend the Word of God.

Yes, the translation exercises showed the reliability of the two texts. And, in 1948, when the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the caves at Qumran, the scholarly elite were filled with Joy; some because they were sure that these texts (including most of the Old Testament, in Hebrew and Aramaic,) would prove the unreliable character of the Bible, and others—believers— because they hoped exactly the opposite. As it turned out, over the years, as these scrolls were painstakingly opened and preserved for posterity, but carefully studied, as well, the scrolls strongly supported the accuracy and reliability of the Bible.

So, What Did Jesus Read? What Did He Quote?

Perhaps the strongest support for the Septuagint is the fact that virtually every single Old Testament quotation in the New Testament, whether quoted by an Apostle or by Jesus Himself, is quoted from the Septuagint… word for word. That is the reason the New Testament (for example) says “a virgin shall be with Child”, when they could have translated the Hebrew to mean “a young girl”. The Hebrew word (“alma”) does mean, “young girl”, but is usually used to mean a young girl who is not married and not sexually active. The translators of the Septuagint understood this, and chose to use the Greek word “parthenon”, which specifically means “virgin”, when they could have used the word “korasion” which simply means a “young girl”.

In light of that, one could either say, from the perspective of an unbeliever, that the translators (all 70 of them) had made a serious error, trying to prove the virgin birth (this was completed 140 years before Jesus was born: the translators had never heard of Jesus), or, still as an unbeliever, that Jesus and all his disciples deliberately chose to use a flawed translation, trying to prove it. Either response relegates the entire New Testament to the trash-heap, as one has to prejudge the translation to be false and prejudge Jesus to be a deceiver.

To a believer, though, this is powerful evidence that Jesus fully approved the Greek translation of His own Word…He quoted it! And so did Paul.  If Paul was the only one who used the Septuagint text, we might be tempted to think he was manipulating the meaning, here. But Jesus was very consistent in its use as well, and with similar results. My conclusion is that there are doctrinal points that were not specific enough in Hebrew, and God has made it clear in Greek. It might, in fact, be evidence that the Septuagint is an “inspired translation”. But all we know for sure is that Jesus used it constantly, as did his Apostles.

So, what is the difference? Does it matter which “Bible” Jesus quoted? I think it probably does! Let’s see what Paul had to say:

The Covenant—the Promise

15 Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.

Paul is appealing to human law: he says, if a contract has been signed—an agreement made—you can’t start “adding things later”, or changing the terms of the agreement. Much more so, the covenant of God: God will not change it, because He is Holy and Righteous, and because it is His Word. We cannot change it because we have no authority to do so. Paul points out that it would violate both the principle of Law and of Promise, to alter a covenant after the fact.

16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.

To whom was the initial promise made, in Genesis 13:15? It was made to Abraham, regarding the land. And, in response to Abraham’s faith, it was extended to a lot of people. But the first giving of that promise was made to Abraham “and his seed”. In normal English, I would have interpreted that to mean his offspring, however few or numerous they may have proven to be. In Hebrew that would seem to be true as well—the words in Genesis 13:15 and 13:16 in Hebrew are identical (“zera”…seed.) As far as I can determine, the Hebrew word for “seed” is used the same as the English word—it could be singular or plural, depending upon the context. But in Greek, there are at least three different forms, and just as Jesus did, Paul was quoting the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.

But:  in the Septuagint, the word for “seed” in verse 15 is specifically singular! I looked up the Greek word used in Genesis 13:15 in the Septuagint, and, as a matter of fact, it is the exact same word that Paul used in Galatians 3:16 (“spermati”). I never would have understood this point without God bringing it to light: in English, the plural for seed is not always “seeds”—we say “I set aside 100 pounds of wheat for seed.” And we would mean that this wheat was being saved for planting, not eating. But Paul points out that, at least in this case, God meant the singular—the promised “seed”—the person of Christ.

But the word used in Genesis 13:16 is a different form of the same word, and is commonly used as a plural or substantive, meaning a large quantity (“sperma”), meaning “seed—and lots of it”. The particular promise of the land and blessing, then, was not initially to the whole family of Israel, but to one single offspring: Christ. The specific promise regarding Abraham’s offspring being so numerous uses a different word form.

There is a third form of the Greek word for seed (“spermasin”) that is specifically plural, referring to a numeric plural. That is the one Paul pointed out that God had NOT used. There is no question that Paul was making a valid point; again, because he quoted the Septuagint.

Why does this matter?

To Whom Was the Promise Given?

The initial promise, of course, was to Abraham. But the portion that said, “…and thy seed…” used the specifically singular word for “seed”, and, as we see in Galatians, that particular seed was not in reference to Isaac (who wasn’t born yet), but to Christ.

Since I do not easily read Greek, but rather have to look up every word, as a rule, I would not have caught this detail. And since I don’t even own a copy of the Septuagint, but had to find a copy on the internet that I could read and compare to the Greek New Testament (which I do own), I definitely never would have known that there was a detail I was missing without God commenting on His own Word and showing us something special.

So why is that so special? Because, if the Jews had been correct in assuming that all of the promises were to them because they were Abraham’s offspring, then those promises could not be applied to me unless I became a Jew. In fact, even then they would not apply, because I am not his offspring at all, by nature, and becoming a Jew would not change that. But…if, as Paul states, the promises were to Christ, then they can be applied to me, if I am in Christ.

The promise is both narrowed and broadened in that one explanation: it is narrowed from “all the Jews” to “just the Messiah”. It is broadened from “only the Jews” to “anyone and everyone who places his or her trust in the living Christ.” Paul underscores this “positional truth” in another passage; 1st Corinthians 15:22—“all in Christ shall be made alive”. If you are “in Christ” then the promises will be to you.

Are there specific promises given only to the Jews? Yes, I believe there are. I do not believe that the Church has “replaced” the Jews in the plan of God. Their promises are virtually all physical, earthly blessings. Ours are, without exception, spiritual, heavenly blessings. And a Jew who embraces Christ steps into a new relationship. Just as the Levite, who had no inheritance in the land, but whose inheritance was the person of God and the priesthood of God, the person whose life is hidden in Christ trades the earthly and temporary for the heavenly and eternal.

So; the question Paul is exploring here continues to be the relationship of Law to Promise—Law to Grace—Law to faith. His answer comes in the form of a question: “Which came first?” The answer is that the Promise came 430 years before the Law. His conclusion is that the Law could not change the Promise. By choosing to trust in Christ and his finished work at the Cross, we sidestep the curse of the Law, and embrace the eternal Promise of God. Paul goes on:

17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.

Paul argues that, if the Law changed the promise in any way, then the promise is broken. But God does not break his promises, and the Law, coming far later, has no authority to change or set aside the promise.

By the way, remember that the Promise was an entirely one-sided covenant made by God…there was nothing for Abraham to do: no further conditions to meet. He had already been declared righteous by God. How? By Grace, through faith; and God made the unconditional covenant of the Promise, with no way for Abraham to fail.

Remember we have talked about how a serious, binding covenant between two Jews was made? The two parties brought a sacrifice, and split the pieces of that sacrifice, and together walked between the pieces of the sacrifice, calling God as their witness that they were bound by the terms of the contract.

But in Genesis 15, God did not allow Abraham to walk with him between the pieces of the sacrifice. He allowed Abraham to see, but not participate, as He himself walked alone through the sacrifices. Does that sound at all familiar? Doesn’t it strike you as significant that Jesus walked alone through all the trial of Gethsemane, the trial and the Cross? Alone, into the Grave, alone in the Resurrection and the Ascension…but invites us to join Him there, by faith? He has invited you to see, but not to participate, beyond faith. You do NOT earn your salvation in any way.

God bound Himself to the Covenant…there was nothing for Abraham to do, to fulfill “his part of the agreement”. It was entirely one-sided! There was no way that Abraham could fail, somehow negating the promise. The condition (Faith) had already been met. Abraham had already been declared righteous, and the Promise was secure. Does that sound familiar? We have already been saved by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8, 9). Peace with God has already been established (Romans 5:1) and the promise is eternally secure.

Paul’s Conclusion

18 For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.

If the inheritance was somehow switched over to being accessible through the Law (instead of promise) then the promise would have to be set aside…and it was not. The Law and the Promise are not working at cross-purposes. They are working together.

Paul first points out what is common knowledge—that the Promise was given apart from Law. He pointed out that Abraham had the promise nearly half a century before Law was introduced. Then he concludes that inheriting the promise is also not connected to Law, but to Grace and Faith, just as it was in Abraham’s case.

If you want the promise of God to be applied to your life, look to the one who inherited them all…Jesus! If you have received Him as your savior, then the Promises are already yours, because you are in Christ. But, how do we experience them?

On a day-by-day, moment-by-moment basis, we experience the full blessing of God through faith and obedience. We regain fellowship through confession (1st John 1:9), and maintain it by simply walking by faith (1st John 1:7). As the Holy Spirit points out things in our lives that He wants to change or eliminate, we can say, “Amen, Lord”, and give those things to Him as an act of Worship, or we can scream, “NO! That’s my favorite!” and cling to our own way. As we give our lives over to Him, bit by bit, we grow closer to Him; we understand more of His perspective, and we learn to walk more consistently.

A baby learning to walk is very unstable. But eventually he or she learns to walk reliably, and seldom stumbles. This happens through practice, as the child grows stronger and gains a better sense of balance. We can do this, too! We can:

  • Practice confession and obedience—that is how we regain fellowship and walk with God. And it takes perseverance and practice.
  • Feed on the Word of God to grow stronger and healthier.
  • Pray for God’s leading, so that we will be sensitive to His Word.
  • Fellowship with other believers. This is how we learn the joy of walking with God.

Press on, my friends! It is worth it, every step of the way!

Lord Jesus, we ask that we may partake in the Divine Nature through the Promises available to us in You, as we fellowship with You and with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Make us the Men and Women of God you have chosen us to be. We pray these things so that we might be to your honor and glory.


The Promise of the Spirit

The Promise of the Spirit

© C. O. Bishop 2/14/15 THCF 2/15/15

Galatians 3:14, 5:16, 22, 23; Ephesians 1:13, 14; John 14:16; Hebrews 5:11-14

Introduction:

Last week I had intended to explore the Promise of the Spirit more thoroughly, but we ran out of time; so today we will go on with that same topic, as it is introduced here in Galatians, by the Apostle Paul.

Paul introduced the Promise of the Spirit as a contrast to the Curse of the Law, here in Galatians; primarily because these believers were being harassed and seduced by false teachers who were persuading them to turn away from the pure Grace of the Gospel and depend upon their own ability to keep the Mosaic Law. He showed from the Old Testament that the Law had always been a curse to those who could not or would not keep it. He reminded them that the Jews had never been able to keep it, and that, as we saw elsewhere, the only thing that had ever saved them from the inherent curse in the Law was the Grace of God extended through the sacrifices.

The whole concept of Grace, and how it is intertwined through all the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation is a pretty amazing study. We somehow have gotten the idea that Grace was a new thing at the Cross. There is a reason why, in Revelation 13:8, Jesus is called the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the Earth”. He is the Lamb!  He was the Lamb, pre-figured in the Garden when God clothed Adam and Eve in the blood-stained skins of the first animal sacrifice. He was the Lamb, when Abel came by faith, bringing a blood sacrifice for his own sins. He was all the lambs at that first Passover, when all Israel huddled under the Blood of the Cross, still wet on the lintels and doorposts of their homes. When John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and called him “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the World”, he was pulling together all the sacrifices of the Old Testament, and showing how they were concluded in Christ. Those old sacrifices could only cover sin, not take it away; the Blood of Jesus finished the job, and took away Sin. That is why He is also the Lamb in the account in Revelation 5:8-10.

He provided clean vessels into which he could pour His Holy Spirit. And we embrace that promise by faith, today. Whether the new believer knows it or not, he or she is indwelt by the Holy Spirit the moment he or she believes the Gospel, placing his or her trust in Jesus’ finished work at the Cross. This, again, is pure Grace. By the way, this aspect of God’s Grace is new! The Old Testament believer had no such privilege. Only some of the prophets seem to have had the indwelling Spirit, and even for them it seems to have been a temporary arrangement…or, it could have been at least. David prayed and asked that God not take away the Holy Spirit, in his prayer of confession (Psalm 51:11). But, to you, and to me, the Promise is secure: Jesus said that the Holy Spirit “…will be with you forever” (John 14:16.)

There are certain things that are definite results of the indwelling person of the Holy Spirit, and will be true of every believer at all times, regardless of circumstance or behavior. There are other things which simply should be the result of His presence. Let’s look at both.

What Is the Result of the Gift of the Holy Spirit?

  1. He is the Seal of my position in Christ until I get my new body. (Ephesians 1:13)
  2. He is the Earnest of our inheritance—the “down-payment” if you like. He, Himself, is the promise, and yet He is also is God’s guarantee of the eternal promise of redemption. (Ephesians 1:14)
  3. He is my Advocate before the throne, praying for me when I don’t know how to pray. (Romans 8:26)
  4. He (along with the study of His Word) is my Defense against bad teaching, and the traps of Satan, set for unwary believers. (1st John 2:20-28; Galatians 5:16-23)
  5. He is my Guide: the one who leads me into all the truth of God’s Word. (John 16:13)
  6. He is my Comforter: the one who encourages my heart in times of trouble. (John 14:16)
  7. He is my Bodyguard and Commander: he makes the Word of God the “Sword of the Spirit”; He is the one who makes the Written Word function as the Living Word: alive, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword. (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12)

A person with the seal of the Holy, Living, Spirit of God dwelling in him, is permanently free from the guilt of sin before God. He or she need never again fear condemnation from God. But: that believer is also constantly convicted of sin, and reminded of the need for forgiveness and obedience every time he or she falters. We are drawn to confess and renounce our sins, and so to have our fellowship restored, because the Holy Spirit does not abandon us when we sin: He loves us and draws us back to God. Jesus said the Holy Spirit would be with us forever. That is a pretty precious promise all by itself! We need not worry that God will forget his promise and take back His gift.

In Psalm 51:11, when David prayed “…take not thy Holy Spirit from me”, he was speaking from the perspective of one not living in the Church Age. He did not have a permanent promise of the indwelling Holy Spirit (as we have), and, because of the sins he had committed as God’s servant, he feared losing that special, spiritual privilege he treasured as a prophet of God.

fear the loss of fellowship, because of sin. I fear displeasing the God who saved me. I fear displeasing the God who has become my true Father, through re-birth. But I know by His promises that I do not need to fear abandonment. His promise stands on record: (Hebrews 13:5), “I will never leave you, nor will I ever forsake you.” That’s the promise of God, through the Spirit.

All the things listed above are simply facts: they are true of every believer whether or not he or she is in fellowship with God, whether or not there is unconfessed sin in his or her life. They are positional truths, true about you because you are in Christ. But there is so much more available on a moment-by-moment basis, which is not just positional—it is also conditional. It is conditional upon being in fellowship with God, obedient to his Word and His leading. It requires confessing and turning away from sin. These are things that should be the direct result of the Gift of the Holy Spirit, but which are tragically lacking, much of the time, in most believers’ lives.

What Should be the Result of the Gift of the Holy Spirit?

In 1st Corinthians 3:1-3, Paul told the church at Corinth that they were carnal Christians—not spiritual people— and babies, though no longer mere natural men, either. In Hebrews 5:11-14, he told the recipients that they had become babes, needing again to be fed milk—baby-food— instead of adult fare. Why? What had happened, there, that left those believers in such a shameful state? Were they not indwelt by the Holy Spirit? Certainly they were! But, as he succinctly pointed out to the Hebrews readers, “…strong meat belongs to them that are of full age, even those who, by reason of use (practice), have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:14) So, there is a matter of practice, exercise and experience, here…A person who is indwelt, but not filled with the Spirit of God, is behaving (and thinking) exactly as if he were not saved at all. And even when we are walking with Him, it still requires practice—exercise, as Paul called it—to gain strength and maturity in one’s walk with God.

The Holy Spirit can only guide someone who is actively walking with Him. And, over a period of months and years of daily choosing to walk with God, applying the Word of God to your life, and being sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, one can actually grow stronger. It gets easier to walk. Is that a surprise? It shouldn’t be.

Walking, for an infant, is nearly impossible, but within a few months, crawling has begun, and a few months later, walking is not only possible but expected. There comes a time, very soon, when, if a child is not walking, then the parents will be very worried, and will consult a physician. Paul is reminding the Hebrew Christians that they are long past the time when learning to walk should be an issue…he says that they should have mastered walking a long time ago and be teaching others. Instead, he says, they have again become babes, and have to have someone spoon-feed them the scriptures. They are not able to feed themselves, let alone feed others. That is a very sad statement …and still completely applicable today.

Led by the Spirit

In Romans 8 we see that if we are indwelt by the Spirit of God, then we are expected to be led by Him. That is the normal Christian life. We are not supposed to be wallowing in sin and self-pity, amidst all the usual baggage that seems to follow us today. We are supposed to be led by the Spirit.

Give some thought to how a baby human learns to walk: he or she does so primarily by instinct, but also by encouragement from those around him or her. Each one is different. Some learn quickly, some more slowly. But each learns by doing, and success only means getting up and walking again, each and every time we fall. How different that is, from the life of a baby antelope, for example: In the case of the antelope kid, it only has a few minutes to a few hours, at most, to gain enough strength and coordination to not only walk, but to move quickly enough to keep up with the herd. It learns to walk instinctively, and likewise learns to feed instinctively. Predators follow the herds, hoping for an exposed or weak baby. Survival is entirely dependent upon the individual’s ability to become strong and fast, in the shortest time possible.

In the case of a human baby, most parents will continue to support a weak or developmentally disabled child regardless of cost, and will not abandon that child to predators of any kind. In the case of the baby Christian, Jesus will never abandon you; but you are in danger of harassment and damage from enemies, so long as you neglect to walk with the shepherd. If you hope to have a happy, fruitful walk with your Savior, you need to be doing just that: walking with Him!

What Happens if We Do Walk with Him?

I don’t like to jump ahead, but in this case it seems right: the answer, spelled out by Paul in Galatians 5:16, is that “If you walk in the Spirit, you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.”

Let’s take a sample problem:

Let’s say I am out of fellowship with God because of sin, and I know it: Let’s say that anger is the issue, because of how someone at work is treating me. So, eventually, I come to the realization that my anger is not helping the matter, and, in fact, is feeding on itself, and I am getting worse; I am beginning to curse under my breath, and am hating my tormentors. What solution is there? I am not being led by the Spirit, and am not walking with God. I am not being obedient (Jesus said “love your enemies and pray for them that despitefully use you…”), so I am not experiencing His Grace and blessing. How can I change?

The first step has already happened: I am recognizing that there is a problem in me, not just in those who are mistreating me. But the next thing is to do what God said to do: confess my sin. (“What? I’m not sinning, they are!”) Until I confess that I am sinning, and see it the way God sees it, there is no cure. God has a solution for sin, not “problems”. What was God’s solution for sin for the whole human race? It was Jesus’ blood at the Cross. And all I had to do to appropriate that Grace to my own life was to confess my need for a savior and place my trust in his finished work, at Calvary.

But now, though I have already been washed clean at Calvary, I am again looking at a pair of very dirty feet attached to my own already-washed self. They need to be cleansed, through confession. What sin am I confessing? First, I am confessing the anger. God commands that I put aside anger. He calls it by several different names, but all with the same root cause. In the Old Testament, in Psalm 37:8, He commands “Cease from anger and forsake wrath. Fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.” My anger had already begun to fester into a desire to return evil for evil, even if only in words. So the anger is beginning to bear the fruit of evil. In the New Testament, Ephesians 4:31, he says “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice”. Notice how he uses a whole nest of ideas, all in the family of anger, to point out a weakness in my character. I can’t say, “Well, that wasn’t anger, it was frustration.” Sorry…that is just a euphemism for anger. Things aren’t going my way, so I am frustrated…angry and distressed, perhaps, but still angry. Irritated? Annoyed? Miffed?  Hey, how about this one: Righteously indignant! Really? In this condition I want to call myself righteous? No, I need to see that the anger itself is sin, and that it has already resulted in evil thoughts and hurtful words.

So, I confess my sins, placing my trust in his promise to forgive, and God is faithful (just as he promised) to forgive my sins, and cleanse me…again.

Then I set out to walk with him. I obey Him by praying for those who I think are mistreating me, and asking for God’s mercy in their lives. I focus my attention on His blessing and his command to bless them. I look for ways to be a blessing to them. So there is a practical outworking of His Love and Grace toward them. If there are people I have hurt with my words, then I go to them and confess as well… “I said things I had no right to say. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”

Will I stumble again? You can count on it! But perhaps next time I will get up a little more quickly and toddle on, rather than wallowing for so long in self-pity. Meanwhile, there is much to be done.

Jesus told Peter, “If you love me, feed my sheep.” I can seek to do that. He says we are to serve our employers as if we were serving him (which we are.) I can seek to do that as well. He commands, “Husbands, love your wives….” so I can give attention to that. He gives many commands in the New Testament that contribute to a walk with Him, and none that cause me to fear his rejection. “Love one another…Let not your heart be troubled…Be anxious for nothing….” Etc. We are given the Holy Spirit to enable us to serve, as well as to give us the will to serve.

Although we will spend more time on it at some later date, it would be well to examine the Fruit of the Spirit while we are talking about the Promise of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22,23 is stating a contrast to the works (plural) of the Flesh. Paul states that “the fruit (singular) of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Longsuffering, Gentleness, Goodness, Faith, Meekness, Temperance; against such there is no law.”

I would only point out two things, here, in closing:

  1. The contrast, here, is between “works” (things we do by choice) and “fruit” (things borne out by virtue of character). An apple tree does not bear apples because it tries to do so, but because it is its nature to do so. We would be astonished if it bore any other fruit. So the fruit of the Spirit is what normally results when a believer is in fellowship with God.
  2. The other is that the works are plural, while the fruit is singular. Though all the works of the flesh came from the same corrupt source, the list is interminable—in fact, the list ends with a catch-all phrase to indicate there are many more: it says, “and such like”. If you think your pet sin is not mentioned in the Bible, think again. That is where it is listed. All unrighteousness is sin, whether it is specifically named or not. There are things we may reject as a culture, that God does not condemn, but there are principles by which we can recognize a specific practice as falling within the wider scope of sin, and a work of the flesh.

Meanwhile, the Fruit is singular, though nine aspects are listed. Each of the nine aspects of the fruit of the Spirit is only a part of the whole. The whole fruit is either there or it is not. This is not a “fruit smorgasbord” from which we are to take our pick. We are to walk in the Spirit and the result should be the fruit of the Spirit, not the works of the flesh.

Lord God, help us to recognize our sins, and confess them. Fill us with your Spirit, and rule in our hearts. Make us the Men and Women of God you have chosen us to be. We ask these things in order that we my honor your Son, Jesus. It is for His sake and His glory we ask these things in His Name. Amen


Curse, or Promise?

The Curse of the Law, or the Promise of the Spirit?

© C. O. Bishop 1/22/15 THCF 2/1/15

Galatians 3:10-14; John 14:16, Ephesians 1:13, 14, etc.

Introduction:

We recently saw how Paul challenged the thinking of the Galatian believers: he asked them if what had been begun by the Holy Spirit, through faith, was now to be improved upon by human effort. His conclusion was that faith alone was the response God wanted to his Grace, and that by faith alone He had saved everyone in history who had ever been redeemed.

He used Abraham as the prime example, partly because Abraham was the ultimate patriarch of the Jews, to whom they all referred as their forefather; and partly because he is also the one regarding whom God said, “Abraham believed God and God counted it to him as righteousness.”

Paul concluded that if you want to be received on the same basis as Abraham, and truly be “his children”, then you need to respond to God as Abraham did: by faith. He demonstrates that this is how God’s promise to Abraham of an uncountable progeny would be fulfilled…through people of every nation believing the Gospel. Now he is ready to actively, sharply contrast law and faith, and thus, also, to contrast Law and Grace.

The Curse of the Law

10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.

Wow! That is a pretty harsh thing to say! Virtually every reference to the Law in the Old Testament tells how wonderful it is! Psalm 119 spends 176 verses extolling the virtues of God’s Law, his Word, his Statutes, his precepts, his commandments, etc. How can Paul say that it is a curse?

Why would he say such a thing? Because it is the simple truth! The passage he quotes is Deuteronomy 27:26, and is the culmination of a dozen consecutive verses of specific curses on those who fail to obey God’s Law. The fact is that God’s Law is perfect, and has the capacity to cleanse the hearts of those who willingly subject themselves to it, but only when God has already purged their sins by way of His chosen blood sacrifice. The Law does not cleanse by obedience, but via the blood sacrifice for disobedience!

The reason Abel was accepted by God was because he recognized his own unacceptability and brought a blood sacrifice as a substitute for his own life. God accepted him on the basis of that blood sacrifice. He rejected Cain’s non-blood sacrifice, because a non-blood sacrifice demonstrates that the giver is already purged from the guilt of sin, and is free to worship. Cain chose to bypass that blood, and bring worship without atonement.

Abel could (and undoubtedly would) later have brought other offerings as worship offerings…but he first brought the blood as required by God. We are not told what he did later, beyond the fact that he was accepted by God, and later murdered by his elder brother.

In Hebrews 9:22 we see that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.” So the way people were saved under the Law was to recognize their own condemned state, and, by faith, to bring the required blood sacrifice. We do the same thing: we hear of God’s righteous judgment, and are convinced of our own guilt. We throw ourselves on the mercy of God, through the shed blood of Jesus, and depend on that blood sacrifice as our only hope for salvation. God receives us as he did Abel, and we are declared righteous through faith, as was Abraham. Then we are free to come to Him in worship.

11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.

Here we go again: the verse he is quoting is Habakkuk 2:4…and, by the way, he was not using that phrase lightly, as we sometimes do, saying, “Oh, they’ll just live by faith”. In Habakkuk, the idea was that the righteous ones would survive by their faith. He was predicting the destruction of the nation of Judah, under Babylon. He clearly stated that the righteous would “live”—as opposed to dying in the siege—“by his faith”. God knows our hearts—he knows who believes His Word. And their faith was the deciding factor as to whether they would live or die.

12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.

The Law was strictly obedience: the sacrifices were Grace, by which God saved the disobedient sinners who confessed that they could not fully obey: That sacrificial animal died as a substitute for the guilty sinner. If a person wants to live by the Law, he/she must hear what Paul is saying: Law requires 100%, flawless, unfailing obedience. And no one but Jesus ever came close. So, without the Grace of God, the Law is strictly a curse.

The various cults who teach people to obey various segments of Law as a means to Godliness are ignoring this fundamental principal: if you choose Law over Grace, you are a debtor to obey the whole law—not just the parts that appeal to you. Sabbath and diet are not the whole law…sorry. And even those who think they keep the Ten Commandments are usually ignoring the last one—a matter of the heart. Covetousness is not something we do with our bodies but with our minds.

By the way, the two greatest commandments, according to Jesus(Mark 12:29-31), are not even in the Ten Commandments: He says that “Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart and soul and mind”, and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” are most important. The first one has to do with being committed to God above all things, and the second has to do with being as committed to your neighbor’s well-being as much as you are your own. Those two concepts don’t even come up on the horizon of people advocating salvation by works. Their concerns are primarily outward…God’s concerns are primarily inward!

Redeemed!

13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us (who is “us”?): for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:

14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we (who is “we”?) might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Redeemed means “bought back”: we have been bought back out of the marketplace of sin, for the purpose of being set free. Remember that the Gentiles had never been under the Mosaic Law (just as Abraham was never under the Law.) So the “us”, here, is primarily in reference to the Jews. The Law came after the promise, and confined the Jews to certain behavior. It showed them that, apart from God’s grace, they were lost. They brought the blood sacrifices; daily in some cases, and many times per year, at best. They could not be done with sacrifices for sin, because they kept on sinning. And, if Gentiles wanted to approach God through the temple in Jerusalem (remember, Abraham never saw the temple), then they had to subject themselves to that same Law. And, effectively, they were then under the same curse.

Jesus’ sacrifice made a complete and permanent solution to sin, and made it possible for Gentiles to approach the throne of Grace apart from the Law. Prior to that, though all through the Old Testament there were examples of Gentiles being saved by faith, if a Gentile wanted to enter into the covenant of Israel, he had to become a Jew, ritually, and by adherence to the Law. But remember: he could never become genetically Jewish!

A child of God can rightly claim God as his/her real father. The Apostle John states (1st John 3:9) that “his seed remains in you”. You are not just placed into his family, you are born into it. That’s what Jesus meant when He said “You must be born again.” Nicodemus, whom he addressed, was the consummate Jew—a child of Abraham by physical birth; a zealous, diligent adherent to the Law. But he had to be born again as a child of God, just like you and me.

Notice, here, that Paul has again pointed out the substitutionary nature of Jesus’ death: He became a curse for us. He died in our place. 2nd Corinthians 5:21 states that “he became sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” He, who knew no sin, did not become a sinner—he became sin for us. He became a curse, and had the righteous wrath of God—all of it—poured out upon himself.

The passage Paul quotes is from Deuteronomy 21:22, 23; if a criminal was executed by stoning, and his body was hung up on a tree (or “timber, wood, or gallows” as the Hebrew word “ets” can be translated), as a lesson, a warning against further evildoing; then they were to take his body down before dark…hanging up the body was a statement that the man had been cursed by God. It had to be taken down by dark, so that the land would not be defiled. I don’t know if this was the physical defilement of a rotting corpse, or some sort of spiritual defilement. Either way, in Hebrew history, the executions were typically by stoning. The hanging up on a tree was a statement of their national rejection of sin. In Jesus’ case, he was executed by the Romans, at the urging of the Jewish priesthood. They were not allowed to execute criminals, under Roman law, so they incited the Romans to do their work for them. Crucifixion was a Roman invention.

That We might receive the Promise of the Spirit

The first-person plural “we” as used in these few verses seems to be primarily in reference to the Jews, who had been in bondage to the Law, and who were now set free by faith. The “we” in verse 14, the last half, includes all believers. All believers receive the promise of the Spirit through Faith alone. The Jews had known of the Promise of the Spirit for many years…say, 500 years at least. They had waited to receive the Promise, but they only connected it with the coming kingdom, and did not imagine that they themselves would be the recipients, in their lifetime. Further, though they knew that the Gentiles were promised to be “the inheritance” of the Messiah, and that God’s blessing would eventually come upon the Gentiles, they had not imagined it would come now, by faith alone; not by the Law.

The promise that Paul and Peter both mentioned is in Joel 2:28, 29, and refers to a time after the Lord’s physical return, and His restoration of Israel. The Jews knew this was coming. That promise is still awaiting the Messiah’s reign on Earth: it is a gift to the national and ethnic Jews. The whole nation of Israel, after the return of Christ, during the Kingdom age, will be indwelt by the Holy Spirit. There will be no need for evangelism anywhere on earth, because God says that “the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.”

But for right now; the promise of God during the Church Age is that believers, whether Jew or Gentile, will be permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit. In fact, in Romans 8:9, Paul states that if you do not have the Spirit, you are not saved. That is pretty strong stuff!

Here in chapter three, Paul has pointed out that as they had received the Spirit by faith, it made no sense to hope to “improve” God’s work by human efforts.

So, how can we avoid Legalism? And how can we appropriate the promise of the Spirit?

When anything or anyone says, “Do this, or else!” I look carefully at the commands associated with it: Are they, in fact, directed at the church? Not every command in the Bible is to the church, proper, and not all of them are applicable under all circumstances. I like to use the rather ridiculous rhetorical question: “When Jesus said, ‘What thou doest, do quickly’ does it mean I should always be in a hurry?” Of course, we realize that he only said that to Judas Iscariot, telling him, “Now that you have made your decision to betray me, get moving! Do it!” It has no bearing at all on anything I do, but it was a command from Jesus. It just wasn’t directed to me. So, since the heart of the scripture says that I have been justified (declared righteous) by Grace through Faith, and that God is at peace with me, and that I should have no further fear of condemnation, I should be very suspicious when someone says “If you do not conform to this norm, you cannot know God!”

Review in your mind how Jesus said you could be saved: “He that hears my words, and believes on Him who sent me has everlasting life…” He didn’t add anything to those two conditions. Neither did any of the Apostles. But: Is obedience necessary to a life of fellowship?

Ah! That is another matter! (1st John 1:7, 9) God says “If we walk in the Light (that’s obedience) as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another; and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.” If we sin, he says confess it to restore fellowship—then obey and maintain fellowship. And, the commands he says to obey are to love; “Love God; Love one another”…pretty basic stuff.  Even the Old Testament (Micah 6:8) says “He has shown thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee but to do justice, to love Mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”  That is fairly simple. It is difficult to consistently do, but, as a concept, it is simple.

In Galatians 5:16 a promise is made: “If you walk in the Spirit, you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh.” There is a lot of explanatory material offered, as well, which we will explore another day. We know that God’s Word tells us how God sees things: what His perspective is. He just wants us to see things His way, and walk with Him. Amos 3:3 poses the question, “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” It is a rhetorical question, with the implied answer being, “No!” That is why 1st John 1:7 says, “Walk in the light as He is in the Light”.

Learn to see the World, Righteousness and Sin from God’s point of view, by studying His Word, by prayer, and by meditation on his Word. Learn to literally walk with Him. It is just “day-by-day plodding along”—it is faithfulness—nothing flashy about it, nothing “glorious” from the World’s point of view. But God is building something glorious. We need to trust Him, and walk with Him, and allow him to continue his work.

Let’s learn to walk by faith, embracing the Promise of the Spirit, and avoiding the Curse of legalism. Let us not try to apply Law to ourselves nor to one another, but embrace the Grace of God as a principle for living. Apply His Grace to those around you: especially to those you find irritating, frustrating, or unpleasant: they need it the most. Apply it to yourself: believe God’s promise: the Holy Spirit will stay with you, guarding your heart until the day He comes for you.

Lord Jesus; fill us with your Love, and allow us to learn your Grace. Help us to avoid the trap of legalism, either as applied to ourselves or as applied to our brothers and sisters. Teach us to walk with you by faith. Amen!


Christmas Carol

The Christmas Carol

(Hark, the Herald Angels Sing!)

© C. O. Bishop 12/17/14

Introduction:

275 years ago, this month (in 1739), a new Hymn appeared in English publishing houses: Charles Wesley, by that time 32 years of age, had produced yet another hymn honoring the God of the Bible, and carefully teaching the doctrines of Christ. During his 81 years he wrote and published in excess of 6,000 hymns…some sources say 7,000.

In nearly the middle of his life, at 31 years of age, on May 21st, 1738, he experienced what evangelical Christians call “conversion”. His elder brother, John Wesley, had the same experience a few days later.  It is also interesting to note that Charles was the one who originally began a methodical Bible study at the college they both attended, and John joined it (and ultimately took it over) about two years later. They went on to minister together, though they did not agree on all things…for example, John left the Anglican Church; Charles stayed with it all his life. But when John preached, Charles wrote Hymns to teach the same doctrines. I have no idea what John Wesley’s Christmas sermon was, a year and a half after his conversion, but I do have the following hymn, written by Charles Wesley, 18 months after his conversion: The Hymn we call “Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Except for the fact that there is no Biblical record of the angels “singing” at the birth of Christ, this hymn is one of the most doctrinally pure songs in existence, and is rich with meaning. Ironically, though the title and first line as we know it are now permanently a part of that song, those are not the words that Charles Wesley wrote—he had written, “Hark how all the Welkins Ring!” (“welkin” being an old English word for heaven) So even that line could originally have been called more or less accurate, as at least the angelic host said from the sky “Glory to God in the Highest!” And: who knows? Maybe they sang, too. We know they sang at the creation. God says so in the book of Job.

At any rate: if I may be so bold as to try some “reverse engineering,” let me attempt to reconstruct what John Wesley may have taught, which prompted such a Hymn from brother Charles.

He began with the Christmas story itself, and worked outward from there, demonstrating how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies and promises of God throughout History.  Though the song is written in such an order as to rhyme and be memorable, I would think that John may have begun at the beginning…so that is where I will begin.

In the Beginning:

Christ, by highest heaven adored, Christ, the everlasting lord

Psalm 90:2 states “From Everlasting to Everlasting, thou art God.”  Psalm 41:13 agrees, saying “Blessed is the LORD God of Israel, from everlasting (eternity past) and to everlasting.“ Micah 5:2 gives us a hint as to whom it might refer: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephrata, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from old, from everlasting.” Isaiah 9:6 says, “Unto us a Son is given…and His name shall be called (among other precious names) The Everlasting Father!” And in Hebrews 1:6, God the Father, referring to God the Son, commanded his angelic hosts, saying, “Let all the angels of God worship Him!” and again, in Hebrews 1:10, Still referring to the Son,  “…Thou Lord, in the beginning, hast laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of thine hands!”

He is the Creator, the eternal God, and the Judge of all the earth. Yes! He is the everlasting Lord…in fact, the Jehovah of the Old Testament, who appeared to Israel and to the world, is the Jesus of the New Testament. I do not pretend to understand this truth, but the scripture is absolutely clear about it, and all I can do is preach it faithfully. He was (and is) worshipped by the angels in heaven…and there will come a day when every knee shall bow—even of those who are his enemies.

Rise, the Woman’s conquering Seed, Bruise in us the Serpent’s head.

You remember how, in the Garden of Eden, when Adam sinned, God’s curse fell on the serpent, the woman, and all the earth for the Man’s sake. We fell with Adam—all of us were born in his image. But the promise of God (Jesus, as we now know; Genesis 3:15) was that the “Seed of the Woman” would eventually “bruise” (or, in our language, “crush”) the Serpent’s head—He was to undo the fatal work that Satan had accomplished in causing the spiritual death of the entire human race. This was the only promise of hope in the judgment that came because of sin. Adam believed that promise, and God clothed him in the skin of a slain animal—the first blood sacrifice—a substitute for the sinner, looking forward to the Cross. The promise was made then and there. The promise was believed then and there. Atonement was made—the sins of Adam and Eve were covered by the blood of God’s chosen sacrifice. Jesus is the only person in History who can be accurately called the “Seed of Woman”…everyone else has a human father. Jesus did not. He alone has the capacity to undo the evil work of Satan in each of us. Incidentally, as we have stressed before, the old sacrifices could only cover sin. The blood of Jesus removes it—takes it away.

Looking Forward, in Faith

Come, Desire of nations come,

Not all people have looked forward in faith to the coming of Christ. Job knew what was coming, though he had no Bible to read: he said “I know that my Redeemer lives!” He understood that he had been bought out of the marketplace of Sin, and had been set free. Among the people of Israel, not everyone was looking for the Savior, either, but some were: Simeon recognized the baby Jesus as soon as he saw him: he took Jesus in his arms and blessed God, saying that this child was to be a Light to the Gentiles and the Glory of Israel. The Roman Centurion, Cornelius, was living in Caesarea and was a believing Gentile; he was longing for the God of Israel. The Apostle Peter was sent to Him with the Gospel of Christ. Cornelius eagerly received the Promise of God, and was gloriously born again. Jesus has been the hope of those few that believe, in every nation throughout all ages.

The believers who were in Israel (and any believer who joined himself or herself to Israel) placed their hope in the Passover Lamb. And that Lamb was a pre-figuring of Jesus. Boaz blessed Ruth, saying “A full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.” Boaz knew what it took to be saved.

The Fulfillment of Promise

Late in time behold Him come, Off-spring of the Virgin’s womb

From our perspective it was a long time coming…but God says it was “at the right time”—in due time. He says it was “in the fullness of time”—when the time was ripe. He wasn’t early—and he wasn’t late.

And, while a lot of people balk at the virgin birth, if you study your Bible you’ll find that, if He was to be the savior, the virgin birth was absolutely necessary. It was not just extra proof, or anything like that. If He had a human father, he was not the Seed of Woman. And if Joseph was his father, then he was banned from being king of the Jews, because Joseph was a distant descendant of a cursed king. Only God could bring about the virgin birth, and it had to be done.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see: Hail, the incarnate deity

Colossians 2:9 states that “in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead, bodily.”  John 1:1 says,“ in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John 1:14 says, “and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of Grace and Truth.” We are expected to see the eternal God, walking in human flesh, and recognize that seeming impossibility as the eternal Hope of the Human race. We are not expected to understand it—just to accept it by faith.

Pleased as Man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.

One of the prophecies called His name Emmanuel—“God with us” (Matthew 1:23, quoting Isaiah 7:14). And that is exactly who he was, but he came and lived as a man: not a “super-man” or a demigod; just a man. He was specifically assigned to live in humility and poverty, and to suffer all the normal vicissitudes of life at that time. How do I know he was poor? The sacrifice his parents brought—the two doves—were a substitute for the Lamb that was ordinarily brought, and was specifically called out as the correct sacrifice for a son born into a family that was “very poor”. Another interesting idea, to me, is that he did not have a Lamb that redeemed him, personally. He celebrated the Passover, but, in my mind, it is somehow fitting that since He was the Lamb of God, no four-legged lamb should be his substitute. Perhaps a minor point, and possibly even mistaken, but it caught my attention. He lived a holy life—entirely without sin, though in all other respects, completely normal to the time and place. He lived as a man.

Receiving the Promise

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace,

That line is a command, actually: We are called upon to receive this emissary of God; Hail him! Greet him as a king! Greet him as God!  Believe His Word. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But to as many as received him, to them he gave power (authority) to become (Greek, “gennesthe”—to be born) sons (children—teknon) of God.

Isaiah 9:7 states that he shall be called the “Prince of Peace”. He is the author of our Peace with God—truly the Prince of Peace. We can either receive him as he is presented by God, or we can “re-invent” him (as many do) and only serve our imagination. The Biblical Jesus is the God of the Universe—not just an exalted man or a powerful spirit being. If he is not God, he is not the Savior, because Isaiah 43:11 states that apart from the LORD (Jehovah) there is no Savior! Jesus stated the other half of that equation: John 14:6 “I am the Way, the truth and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father but by Me!”

Hail, the Sun of Righteousness, Risen with healing in His Wings!

Malachi 4:2  says, “…but unto you who fear my name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with Healing in His wings!” Light and life to all He brings, John 1:4 says “In Him was life, and the Life was the Light of Men.” These are direct quotes from the Word of God! This is not someone’s imagination running wild.

Mild, He lays His Glory by,

Philippians 2:5-8 says that He laid aside his position as deity, his prerogatives as God, and lived life as a man; even as a poor man, and a servant—not a royal hero, or a shining warrior-priest, or any of the things we might find attractive. And, in that same passage we are told to lay aside privilege and position, and emulate His humility, offering ourselves as servants.

Born that man no more may die. Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.

Jesus said that he had come to give his life a ransom for many. He told Pilate, “…for this cause am I come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.” He bore final witness to the truth of Man’s sin and God’s Judgment and Grace at the Cross, just hours later, dying to pay the price of the sins of the lost Human Race. He told Nicodemus “ye must be born again”, and that whoever believed in him would not perish. He told the Jews to whom he gave the bread and fish, “He that heareth my Word, and believeth on Him who sent me, has everlasting Life, and shall not come into condemnation, but has crossed over from death into life.” In Ephesians 2:6 we find that those believers have already been “raised up”, and seated in Heaven with Christ.

Come, Desire of nations come, Fix in us Thy humble home;

Those who believe in the Jesus Christ of the Biblical record receive him as their savior…and He, in the person of the Holy Spirit, comes and takes up residence in the body of each believer. We invite him to do so, by faith. We affirm our trust in Him, taking him at his Word…and He takes us at our Word and claims us as his own.

Adam’s likeness now efface: Stamp Thine image in its place;

Each of us has been born in the likeness of Adam; rebellious, doubting, self-centered…and lost. Each of us who has believed the good news of Jesus has been born again. Our old sin nature—the Adamic nature—has been defeated, dethroned, and deposed…and will eventually be deceased …and gone.

Second Adam, from above, Reinstate us in thy love.

Jesus is called the “second man”, “the last Adam”, in 1st Corinthians 15:45, 47.  Adam was the head of the natural race, and, as the head, when he fell into sin, he took the entire race with him. In the sense that he was the head of the race, he was a prefiguring of Christ: Jesus is the head of the new man, the Body of Christ… and as its head, when he walked in righteousness, died in obedience, and was bodily resurrected; he took with him all those whose faith is placed in Him. We have been redeemed by His blood, accepted in Him as the beloved of God, and completely enveloped in the Love of Christ.

So…What Now?

Joyful, all ye nations, rise. Join the triumph of the skies.

Now we are free to serve Him. How? A host of opportunities present themselves but the one task we are all assigned is representing Him and His love to the World around us. We are called to be his ambassadors. All the nations in history who rejoiced in the savior also rejoiced in missions, at least for a time. And that is how we join in the triumph of the skies—we proclaim his birth, and, more specifically, His death, burial, and resurrection to the dying world. We offer the hope and Joy of Christmas every day of the year.

With th’ Angelic Hosts proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

That is our job, friends; and it is intended to be our passion and our Joy! Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him that sent me and to finish His work.” Do you remember that context?

John 4:34 Jesus was waiting outside Sychar, a city of Samaria, and could see the people flocking to see him, on the testimony of the woman at the well. The disciples knew he had not eaten for a long time, and were trying to persuade him to stop working and eat. He said, “This is my food!” In the context, he was talking about evangelism: the joy of bringing other people to saving faith.

Peace on earth, and mercy mild: God and sinners reconciled!”

Heavenly peace and the reconciliation of God and Man were promised by angelic messengers, speaking from the sky on that night in Bethlehem. We know from our Bibles that the full promised peace will only come when Sin is finally gone. There will be great peace during the Millennial kingdom, but it will not be permanent. After the New Heaven and New Earth are introduced, there will be eternal peace and harmony between God and Man.

As I mentioned earlier, I can’t say for sure whether the angelic host actually sang that night. But I know that they sang at the creation, and this event, the birth of the Savior, was greater than the creation. So perhaps they did sing. Either way, we are called to respond to the message:

Hark! (Listen!) The Herald Angels Sing: Glory to the Newborn King.

Glorify him in your life, by word and deed; by thought and attitude. Serve with Joy, not grudgingly, as if it were a chore. We have the very temporary privilege of serving with him, to spread the joy of Christ in the World in which we live.

This is our one opportunity to serve: Let’s do it!


Comfort through Christmas–all Year

Finding Comfort in Christmas Throughout the Year

© C. O. Bishop


To those of us who have lost loved ones, as well as those who suffer from depression, or the loss of a job, etc., Christmas is not the most wonderful time of the year. It’s the worst. Our society has taught us to expect sunny feelings of joy and happiness, and to expect to give and receive wonderful gifts, and that everyone will love one another, and politicians will all tell the truth… and that Santa Claus is coming

To those of us who hurt, or who have suffered loss, all of the above seems a cruel hoax. And in some ways it is, even if those responsible meant no harm. We have been given false expectations, and have been taught to turn our eyes away from the real truth. Let’s see if we can turn that around, just for a moment, today…

The First Christmas

Consider the first Christmas…the real one…the one no one really noticed except some farmer types…shepherds, actually. It happened in a barn; a stable, if you want to be specific. No tree, no tinsel, no eggnog. “No crib, for a bed”…the only “gift” in sight was a baby. “For God so loved the World, that He gave his only begotten son…” (We don’t think of it often, but the wise men showed up quite some time later—not that day…probably not that year. But when they did, they brought gifts to HIM, and not to one another.) But those who were there—those shepherds— were overwhelmed with joy. Why?

Why The Joy?

How is it that without any of the things we think ought to be there, the partakers of the first Christmas were filled with joy? Mary was having her first baby…do you think maybe she would have liked her Mom, or an Aunt, or someone to help her? How do you suppose Joseph felt about the accommodations? And the shepherds still had to go back to those sheep, and the smelly, hard job that was their whole life. No day off for Christmas…no bonus; no free turkey, or ham, or whatever. Just… great joy.

Do you suppose they understood a little about what had happened? They were all orthodox Jews, and they, with their forefathers, had been waiting for the Messiah for thousands of years. The promises were there, for anyone to read. And the angels that showed up clearly told them that this was it: The real fulfillment of God’s real promise. Did they understand it all? Nope. They almost certainly did not. In fact, they may have had some real disappointments a few years down the road. They thought he was come to be a king (He was!), and a deliverer (he was!). But they thought he would throw the Romans out of Israel, and reign there in Jerusalem in their lifetimes. (He did not, and He never said he would.)

Their disappointments were based on false expectations, just like ours. But those who remembered could look back with wonder and recall the voices of the angels, praising God, and announcing the Holy birth. They did not cease to believe in the goodness of God, and his faithfulness.

Remember the Promise

We have forgotten what was really promised, and more specifically, how we are to take part in it. There is no promise that we will live lives free of pain. Quite the opposite…we are told that it is given unto us “…on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on His name but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29) That’s not what we really wanted to hear, huh?

So what really was promised, and how do we take part in God’s real Christmas? How can we find Comfort in Christmas?

To begin with, immediately after Adam and Eve fell into sin, as recorded in Genesis, God provided a plan of redemption. He said that a person would come, called the “Seed of Woman”, and this person would undo Satan’s work, done through the serpent.

The promise was repeated, with more and more details, until just before the time of Christ (actually, the last detail was given 400 years before his birth), when they pretty much knew all that was to happen regarding the Messiah. They did not understand it all, any more than we can claim to understand it all today.

But the believers, mostly Jews, had come to believe in the character of God, and they believed His Word was true. They believed his promises. When he told them to place their trust in His redemptive plan, and it involved a blood sacrifice, they brought that blood sacrifice, as directed. Did they understand it? Did they really know that all those little Lambs were pointing forward to the True Lamb of God? Somehow I doubt it.

The Promises Were Fulfilled

When Jesus was introduced by John the Baptist, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” some people may have understood the intent; most folks probably did not. But many believed that He was the fulfillment of God’s Promise. We can look back and see that they were right. He fulfilled God’s Word to the letter…even that thing about the “Seed of Woman”. (Who else in history has only one human parent?)

Jesus was born in obscurity, with shepherds rejoicing, and precious few others even taking notice. He preached in a tiny nation for three years or a bit more. He had twelve devoted followers, about ten times that who were part-timers, and thousands who claimed allegiance to him. But he was betrayed by one of those “inner-circle twelve”, Judas Iscariot, and he died a criminal’s death, condemned by Jew and Gentile alike. He was attended at His death by only one of his twelve disciples, and a few women, including his mother.

He was lent a tomb by a rich man who secretly believed. It turned out Jesus only needed it for three days and three nights, just as predicted. He was physically resurrected that third day, in spite of efforts aimed at preventing such an occurrence, and he showed himself to all his disciples, on one occasion to 500 people at once. He ascended back to God, physically; bodily, and promised to return in the same manner: Physically…Bodily.

Believing the Promise

We, who do find comfort in Christmas, whether Jew or Gentile, do so because that day was the beginning of all that was to follow. We find hope in the Christ, in the Cross, and in the empty tomb. We find hope in his resurrection, and in his promised coming again.

We find hope in His written Word, where He promised personally, that “Whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16)

We look back to that first Christmas and the unspeakable gift of God’s Son, and we find comfort in the Goodness of the God who gave the Gift. When we suffer losses, we look back to what our redemption really cost our Lord, and our Heavenly Father.

How can one take part in God’s real Christmas? Jesus said “He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed over from death into life.” (John 5:24)

Notice the tenses there—he covers my present, saying that because I have heard his word, and believed the promise of God, I have eternal life now…I don’t have to wait ‘til I die to see if I got “good enough grades”. He covers my future, promising that I will never be condemned by God. He covers my past (perfect tense), saying that I have permanently crossed over from being spiritually dead, to being spiritually alive.

Finding Comfort in Christmas

This is the hope of all believers. And those of us who believe, and who have lost one or more believing loved ones, have the sure hope of seeing them again. Some we are not sure of, because we can’t see their hearts, but God knows, and His justice is perfect. He loves them more than we ever could; and we rest assured that he has done right by them.

Christmas, the way the World presents it, can be very depressing, quite honestly. But the way God presents His gift it is a never-ending source of joy—not seasonal at all.

If you would like to know more about how to experience God’s joy, I’d be happy to chat with you.

To each of you, in the name of the Christ of Christmas, I wish a truly joyous Christmas season that will last throughout the year.

Blessings upon you all.