Posts Tagged ‘righteous’

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson Nine

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson Nine

© C. O. Bishop 2012; Revised 2018

Genesis 18

Introduction:

We have been working our way through Genesis: In this chapter, there are several amazing points for us to consider:

  • One is that God and his angels can show up in human form, indistinguishable from normal humans: they can walk, talk, eat, etc., and pass for humans without question.
  • Another is that Jesus, God the Son, is the only member of the Godhead to show up in visible, human form, and He usually is soon revealed for who he is. He has not come to deceive us, in any way, but rather to communicate on the level of a human.
  • Jesus is the Communication of God…the Word, incarnate: He “declares God.”
  • Jesus is also the Judge of all the Earth, not just the Savior of the World.

Genesis 18

“The LORD appeared to Abraham in the plains of Mamre.” This clearly says Abraham was talking to God. We may feel a slight problem with that, because when Moses asked to see God’s face, God said, “No man can see my face and live…” and the Gospel of John (John 1:18) confirms that, but explains briefly, by saying “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared him.” So we conclude that this was God the Son, declaring and revealing the Father, as he has done throughout all the ages.

This concept is called a “Christophany”—a pre-incarnate appearance of the Christ: God the Son. There are others…the one who most frequently appears, though, is the individual called “the Angel of the LORD.” In every case, when the “angel of the LORD” (not “an” angel of the Lord) appears, it turns out to be the LORD himself…when he speaks, it simply says, “The LORD said…” That is what happened in this particular case, too:

Abraham was sitting in the doorway of his tent, in the shade, as it was hot out. Three men appeared on the road. Abraham saw them and ran to meet them. He was courteous and hospitable toward these three strangers, and he begged them to accept his hospitality: he offered to feed them, and they accepted his offer. Then, as they ate, he stood by them and served them. He offered them freshly cooked beef with freshly baked flat-bread, cooked beside the fire, and butter, and milk…possibly other things, but we are only told those four items. And they ate…which is interesting to me, considering who they turned out to be: Then they spoke up and he began to find that he had literally been entertaining God, and, evidently, two angelic beings as well. Let’s see how Abraham responded to them (watch the changing pronouns, here, too):

God Incarnate; the Living Word

(v.9, 10) They said “Where is Sarah, thy wife?”  He (Abraham) said, “…in the tent.” Then, HE (God) said, “I will certainly return next year and your wife, Sarah shall have a son.”

From that point on, it is this spokesman, alone, who speaks with Abraham. Bear in mind that, in John 1:1, Jesus is referred to as the “Word.” It says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” A few verses later, in John 1:14, it 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.” Finally, in John 1:18, he says, “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the father, he hath declared him.” What a powerful revelation concerning all the appearances of God in the Old Testament!

Jesus is, and always has been, the communicator of the God-head: the one who “declared” God. So, this is Jesus, speaking as God, and declaring His Divine intent for Abraham’s life. He is the incarnate God, God-in-the-flesh, and he has appeared periodically throughout human history. It was He who walked in the Garden in the cool of the day, and met with Adam and Eve. It was He who wrestled with Jacob, and met with the parents of Samson. He is the One who fully communicates God to man, and, according to the book of Colossians, in Him the entire Godhead dwells in bodily form. (Colossians 2:9)

The Omnipotence and Omniscience of Christ

Notice, too, that Sarah also heard the voice of God, promising that she would soon be pregnant with her only son, and, (just as Abraham had earlier done, openly) she laughed inwardly at the thought, thinking “After I am this old, and my lord (husband) is even older, I’m going to have a son?”  Notice that she evidently made no sound! But God heard it anyway: He spoke and challenged her, saying “Why did Sarah laugh?” She was afraid, and tried to deny it, saying “I didn’t laugh!”, but God (in the Person of Christ) said, “No, you did laugh!” Knowing her thoughts shows that Christ is all-knowing: Omniscient. The fulfillment of the Promise (later) demonstrates that he is all-powerful: Omnipotent, as well as Trustworthy: He keeps His Word.

It might seem a small thing, but this is actually why Isaac was named Isaac! Isaac means “He Laughs!” It was God’s little “the joke’s on you!” response to their temporary unbelief. I like this because it shows that God has a sense of humor. Every time they called Isaac’s name, for the rest of their lives, they would remember why he held that name. I also like the fact that they were not rebuked for their initial response. God knows our limitations.

This is a good reminder for us, that The Lord has no trouble reading our thoughts exactly. Every thought is open to His observation, examination, and appraisal. What kind of thought-life are we practicing? This is the reason why, over in 2nd Corinthians 10:4, 5, he says that we have been equipped (as believers) to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” It is something to think about, isn’t it? Maybe we ought to take that more seriously.

Judgment is Coming

(v.16-33) The three “men” got up from the meal, and headed toward Sodom. Abraham, gracious host to the end, walked with them to see them on their way. The LORD (remember, this is Jesus) volunteered to share His plan with Abraham, saying “I know that Abraham will keep my word, and will teach his children to keep my word.” Jesus wants us to know His will and His plan, but it may depend upon our being willing to obey Him, and follow His will for us.

God told Abraham that he was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, for their extreme sin. To me, this is a very sobering passage, as I see our nation (and indeed, our current world) sliding deeper and deeper into the very kinds of sin that Sodom and Gomorrah were famous for, as well as the violence that covered the earth before the flood. How long can we expect the judgment of God to tarry? It may be instructive to compare the old judgment (the flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, etc.) with judgments yet to come (The Great Tribulation, Armageddon, etc), and see whether there are other parallels. (Both texts are in the Bible: I am not suggesting that we have “figured out” the future of our country or any such thing.)

To begin with, it is good to notice that Abraham did not say, “Well, good! It’s about time you burned those nasty sinners out!”, but rather, he was immediately concerned for any righteous who might still be living there. We may assume he was primarily concerned for his kinsman, Lot, but he started with the premise that there might be fifty righteous there. Apparently he had a pretty good idea what the city was like, if he thought fifty might be the maximum. He also recognized that God has the right to judge sin, and did not complain that God was “being too harsh” on sin, but was simply fearful that those who were believers might be destroyed with those who had fully rejected the authority of God. Meanwhile, the two other characters (angelic beings, who simply looked like humans, at this time) took off toward Sodom, and the LORD was left alone with Abraham.

It is interesting to note, in verse 25, that Abraham addressed the LORD as “the Judge of all the Earth,” and protested that destroying the righteous with the unrighteous was not something he would expect from the righteous Judge. Let’s stop a moment and be reminded of just who the Righteous Judge, the “Judge of all the Earth” had to be: Turn to John 5:22, and see that Jesus said “…The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son….” Jesus is the Eternal Judge, as well as the only Savior! He truly is “God in the flesh!”

God said “If there are fifty righteous, I will spare the whole place!” Abraham kept “whittling” the number down, and even at ten, God said he would spare the whole place for the sake of ten righteous. But at that point God broke off the conversation, and left. The fact is: God already knew how many were there who would respond to Him at all. That is why he sent two angels, rather than only one: one alone could easily have destroyed the cities, but they had to drag out four people, to salvage them from the destruction: so, one hand for each human: two angels!

Bear in mind, through this entire exchange, that it was the Lord Jesus who was speaking with Abraham. Abraham was correctly addressing Him as the Judge, and begging him to save the righteous. Think back to Genesis 15:6, and remember that God declares a person righteous, only on the basis of faith! Abraham was praying for the believers!

We believers pray for our nation, our leaders, the various peoples of the World, and for Israel, knowing that judgment is coming. The fact that we know judgment is coming does not render our prayers ineffectual or hopeless. 2nd Peter 3:9 says that the reason God is taking his time about judging this world is that He is being very patient, and giving people the opportunity to repent. Sodom apparently had simply run out of time, and God’s judgment finally fell.

Judgment is coming in our world as well, and we are acting as God’s ambassadors, attempting to offer reconciliation and salvation to any who will accept God’s terms. How do we do it?

Bad News and Good News

The word “Gospel” means “good news,” but we need to remember that part of the Gospel is the Bad News: the bad news of sin and the coming Judgment. Virtually all “good news” is predicated upon at least the previous possibility of something “bad” that either did not happen (hence the good news) or which did happen, requiring that we hope for Good News of a remedy of some sort.

I frequently cite the example of the “Good News” from a number of years ago, when Australian medical researchers had developed a “catch-all” antivenin, which would serve as the antidote for 85 different varieties of venomous snakes on that continent. So what was the bad news, obviously? They have at least 85 different kinds of venomous snakes in Australia! (Yow! Yes, that’s bad news!) Actually, I looked it up more recently, and, it turns out, that if we count sea-snakes, they actually have 140 varieties of venomous snakes there, but that “only” about a dozen of ‘em are regularly a hazard to humans. (Oh! Well, then, that’s not so bad, right?)

If we hear that the “…huge fires over in the wheat fields have been brought under control,” that is good news, but only because it is predicated upon the bad news that there were “huge fires in the wheat fields!” Do you see what a completely foolish thing it is, to attempt to preach the “good news” of the Gospel without also explaining the “bad news” of our sin, and the coming judgment of God upon sin? Why would someone who believes themselves to be righteous see any need for a savior?

The entire message of the Bible is this one central theme of God’s redemptive plan for fallen mankind: The Person and Work of Christ. If it were not for the fact that we are a fallen race, there would be no need for a Savior; no need for a Redeemer!

The story began back in Genesis 3, and continues through the entire Bible, culminating in Christ, both in the Gospels and in the Revelation. The last plea for the lost is made in the last few verses of the Revelation, inviting “whosoever will” to freely come. But all the way along, God makes it clear that we are a lost race, because of sin, and that no one is excluded from that condemnation. Our only hope, to be freed from our lost position in Adam is to be transferred into a safe position in Christ. Just as we saw Noah, safe, only because of his position inside the Ark, we are invited to receive God’s redemptive plan, and take up a new, safe position: in Christ.

I don’t usually feel the need to tell someone that they are a sinner: very likely they already know that. But I do tell them that I am a sinner, so they know I am not looking down on them in any way; that I am just a beggar, telling another beggar where to find free food. I am just one sinner, saved, and telling another sinner where to find the Savior.

If they fail to see themselves as a sinner, and they actually verbalize that idea, I can outline the sort of thing that God calls sin; every little selfish motive or angry thought is a symptom of the fatal disease called Sin. I can show them, from God’s Word, that every single human is a sinner, and needs a Savior. He says, “All have sinned and come short of the Glory of God.” I can tell them the rest of the bad news, that Judgment is coming: God says, “The wages of sin is Death.” But I can finish with the Good News that Jesus Saves! “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” I can explain that we are “saved by Grace, through Faith”: specifically, “faith in His shed blood at the Cross.” We trust in His finished work, for our salvation.

If they are at all interested, then, I can share with them Jesus’s promise that “he that heareth my Word, and believeth on Him who sent me, hath everlasting life (now) and shall not come into condemnation (ever), but has crossed over from death into life.” (It’s a done deal!)

Conclusion

That is really all I have to offer. Paul said, when he arrived in Corinth, that he was determined to “know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” He had seen how all the philosophical preaching he had done in Athens had really accomplished very little. So: in the next town, which was Corinth, he simplified his message, and went “back to the basics.”

I think that we need to take a similar approach, and not muddy the waters with our clever ideas, but just try to share the simple message of salvation from Sin, and the promise of eternal life, directly from God’s Word.

Lord Jesus, open our hearts to the lost around us, and give us the compassion and courage to share with them the Bad News and the Good News of your salvation. Make us a light to those around us, and let us serve you faithfully.

 


God’s Authority in the Gospel

The Authority of the Gospel

© C. O. Bishop 10/10/14  THCF 10/12/14


Galatians 1:17-24

Introduction:

We sometimes think of the Gospel as “a get home free” ticket, or a “fire-escape clause”, a “lifeboat”, or simply the “bait” with which God draws people to himself. In a way, there is an element of truth to each of these oversimplifications. But the fact is; all of them miss what is surely one of the main points of the message. The Gospel has the authority of God. This is His chosen (and only) means by which he saves humans. He describes it as his power to save sinners who believe (Romans 1:16), and it is the only thing so described in scripture. Furthermore, it is not something humans would have come up with even if they could have—it is a stumbling-block to virtually everyone, at one level or another, simply because it is so not human-centered. It centers upon the Holiness of God, His Goodness, His Wisdom, and His Love. The Gospel is only “good news” to those willing to realize the “bad news”.

This explains Paul’s reaction to Christ, in a way: once Paul had his assignment, you will notice he didn’t mess around trying to “pray about it” or any other procrastinating trick that we might tend to do. He had already been praying—and blinded by God—when Ananias came in and God restored his sight. So, when the Lord Jesus also revealed his assignment, he “immediately conferred not with flesh and blood”. Paul had seen clearly the “bad news”: he had been warring against God. And he was beginning to learn the “good news”—that God could save him, and wanted to use his life; Paul was in prayer (probably lots of confession) and fasting, when Ananias came to see him. He was still physically blind until God restored his sight. He had a new life; restored with a purpose…he was an Apostle. It was not up to other humans to tell him what God had already told him. It was up to Paul to obey. He understood the authority of the Gospel, and is trying, still today, to convey it to his readers.

 Faith is an Obedient Response to a Revealed Truth

17 Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.

He had no need to go talk to them…he was doing what he was told to do, and going where he was sent. He believed Jesus was who he said He was, and had received proof in his own life. He had an assignment Ananias was told by Jesus that Paul was to be a chosen vessel for Christ;’ that he would bear the name of Christ before the Gentiles, and kings, as well as to Israel. Jesus said, “I will show him how great things he must suffer for my sake.” (Acts 9:15, 16) So Paul was convinced, and was immediately obedient. You may remember other people in the Bible who responded in similar fashion…Abraham, for example. But Paul goes on to say,

18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.

19 But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.

20 Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not.

This is pretty important in Paul’s mind: he wanted his readers to know that, while the message he preached was completely in agreement with that of the eleven, his message was not dependent upon theirs at all: both came straight from the same source; Jesus Christ. Paul had known the Lord for several years before he ever even met the other apostles. And the first time he met any of them it was only for a brief visit with Peter and James.

So when did Jesus teach Paul? During the three year interval before he saw Peter, evidently. Some time in Arabia, and some time in Damascus. Remember, Damascus was where he was headed when Jesus stopped him (Acts 9), and he had been going there specifically to arrest the Jewish believers living there. (I wonder what their first response was when he showed up as a believer. Probably the news had gotten around, as it was Ananias, a believer from Damascus, who was sent to restore his sight.)

He apparently had a brief time in Arabia, and then went back and spent time preaching in Damascus, and fellowshipping with the Jewish believers there, until the unbelieving Jews tried to kill him, and the believers had to smuggle him out of town. It seems that that was when he first went back to Jerusalem. The believers there were afraid of him, because they had not yet heard of his conversion. Barnabas took him to the apostles but evidently the only two apostles available on that particular trip were Peter and James, (cp. Acts 9:27), and he was introduced to them by Barnabas. Barnabas later became Paul’s partner in the preaching of the Gospel, and was also called an apostle, by Luke, in Acts 14:14.

I don’t really know why anyone would doubt the truth of what Paul shared here, regarding his behavior after having met Jesus. It seems it was common knowledge, by that time. Perhaps he was simply reiterating the fact that his message was not a “spin-off” from that of the eleven, but had been received directly from the risen Jesus Christ. All he can offer to doubters is to call God as his witness, to show that he is not lying. The doubters were not there, when any of these things happened, and he was there. It is an eyewitness account. The Apostles who received him at Jerusalem were still alive and could confirm it, if anyone wanted to ask. Undoubtedly Ananias, of Damascus was still available, too. But God had already borne out the truth of Paul’s testimony in his own life, and in the works of an Apostle that he had done among them there in the province of Galatia. They should have known all this, but Paul brings it all into focus again, in an attempt to present the Gospel he preached as being fully authoritative.

The Authority of the Gospel

The authority of the Gospel is an important point: Either this is just Paul’s opinion, in which case we can take it or leave it; or it really is the Word of God, and we have to take it as having the full backing of God. Peter confirms later that Paul’s writings were scripture. (2nd Peter 3:15, 16) So, while you can still “take it or leave it”, you need to be aware that it is God you are responding to, not just a human author.

Paul continues to share how his life in Christ had begun: he says,

21 Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia;

22 And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ:

23 But they had heard only, that he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.

24 And they glorified God in me.

Paul’s point, continuing through these verses, and beyond, is that his message and his ministry came directly from the risen Christ, not from those who were apostles before him, nor from the organized church, or a body of elders, or any other human source. He didn’t go off to Seminary, or seek Holy Orders, or the blessing of a cardinal or pope. He didn’t even go to the County Seat and get a ministerial license. He simply went right to work.

He never even met the churches in Judea, or the remaining apostles until years later. They’d heard of him, all right, by that time; they heard that the one who had been devastating the church was now building it and edifying it: he was strengthening the believers; and the churches in Judea were excited to hear it. They knew it could only have happened by the power and grace of God; by a supernatural intervention, not by human wisdom or force of argument. This is a pretty important idea…we do not need to concern ourselves with human wisdom, forceful arguments, etc. as they virtually never bring people to Christ. We need to seek supernatural intervention. We do so by prayer …and the preaching of the Gospel.

Proof of the Gospel

By the way, the change in Paul’s life is further proof to us, as well, of the Divine source of the Gospel: it transforms lives. Not just by “invigorating” people who were already of a “religious” bent or that were the “goody-two-shoes” sort; but rather by turning around those who were violently opposed to the message. It perhaps could be argued that Paul was both, as he was deeply involved and committed to the religion of the Jews— Judaism— and was a righteous man by Jewish standards. But he was violently opposed (literally) to the message of Salvation through Jesus Christ, and was in the business of tracking down Jewish believers, arresting them, and hauling them back to Jerusalem to face trial. He was a bounty-hunter, if you will—armed with documents giving him authority for search and seizure, and he was headed for Damascus when Jesus intervened personally. He was a one-man Inquisition. But God stopped him and turned him around. He was transformed by the Holy Spirit.

God is still transforming lives today. In my own case, I was an atheist, and dogmatically so. God gave me the opportunity to watch the lives of new believers changing around me, my last year in High school. I had known several of them before they were believers, and I saw the undeniable change in their lives, after salvation. It brought me to the conviction that there was something real going on, and made me receptive to re-thinking my own condition. I eventually saw that I myself was a lost sinner. I tried to change on my own, and found it was beyond my ability to produce consistent change. (I still find it so, as a matter of fact.) Eventually I threw myself on the mercy of God as a helpless, hopeless sinner, which is exactly what He calls us to do.

We don’t like those three words, though: “helpless”, “hopeless” and “sinner.” “Guilty” is another word we avoid today. But all are facts, and unless you recognize them in your own life you will not find a place for the Gospel in your heart. Jesus only offers to save helpless, hopeless, guilty sinners. Not those who feel guilty: guilt is a fact, not a feeling. I usually experience guilt feelings when I am guilty, however, there is such a thing as false guilt, which is feeling guilty about something that is truly not your fault. You can bring that on yourself through wrong thinking, or someone else can load it on you, through casting blame. It is very destructive, because there is no real release except a change in thinking, which is difficult to achieve. Real guilt can be dealt with at the cross, through confession.

The result of Paul’s salvation was that other believers glorified God in him. In fact, one result of the salvation of any sinner is that other believers glorify God in them—we recognize the hand of God in the salvation of any soul, and we give thanks and Glory back to Him. That is called Worship, and God surely deserves it at every level.

The Wisdom of the Gospel is of God, Not of the World

Over in 1st Corinthians 1:17-25, (read it) Paul is addressing a different group of believers, with the same sort of message: the centrality and authority of the Gospel. He had already run into those who counted themselves too smart for the Gospel, or too good for it. In Athens (Acts 17) he had preached a sermon geared to popular appeal, which is still, today, touted as one of the great examples of fine preaching, and it is frequently used as a “textbook case” in homiletics classes in Bible schools and seminaries. But the actual results of that sermon (results are a good thing, right?) were very lackluster…and, the very next place he went (Corinth), Paul had determined to do things differently.

Paul stated that “Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel…” (The context, here, was that the people were already beginning to form schisms in the church based on who their mentors had been: who led them to Christ, who baptized them, etc. “Denominations”, if you will, were beginning right then, and Paul was trying to put a stop to it. He said that the Gospel was the key issue.)

He said he was supposed to preach the Gospel “…not with wisdom of words, lest the Cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” (It is evidently possible to render the Cross powerless, if we drape it in too much human “razzle-dazzle”. We can either use light to reveal truth, or we can use it in such a way that all it breeds is confusion. Consider what light does in the mirrors of a mirrored maze.)

Paul went on to state that the lost world pretty much uniformly sees the preaching of the Cross as foolishness. They are “…too smart for that tripe!” Or, in the case of those deeply entrenched in religions, they may see themselves as “too good” for it. They don’t need a savior—they aren’t sinners! Funny, while Jesus did die for the sins of the whole world…because all of us are sinners… he clearly stated that he did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. People who don’t see themselves as lost have no felt need for a savior. So they reject the message out of hand…and all the more angrily, as they feel you are suggesting that they are sinners. (Well… yeah, as a matter of fact…!)

But then he points out that God’s wisdom sees that the World’s wisdom will not bring people to Christ…ever. (“After that, in the wisdom of God, the World by wisdom knew not God…. So, he says, “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”

In contrast, God says he will destroy the “wisdom” of the “wise”—that is, the “worldly wise”, because that sort of wisdom always seeks an avenue by which it can deny God, or at least deny the person of Christ.

In Romans 1:21, 22, Paul says, “…because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools…”

Is it possible for a human to be wise? Sure, provided the wisdom comes from God! Human wisdom inevitably leads a person to pride, and the conclusion that he or she does not need God. And even among believers, Human wisdom only leads to contention and self-centeredness. James says that human wisdom that is not from God is “…earthly, sensuous, and devilish”. Those sorts of things do not lead a person to Christ. Human wisdom that comes from God is “…first pure, then peaceable, and easy to be entreated…” That is a whole different outlook.

Conclusion:

We can take Paul as our example: We can choose to have his priorities, and mimic his response to God. In fact, Paul suggests that we do just that: He says “be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1st Corinthians 11:1)

So, as we continue to read through the Epistle to the Churches of the Galatian province, be on the lookout to see things from Paul’s example that you can emulate to one degree or another. Remember; if you are a believer, then the letter is to you, too.

As you read, remember the Divine authority of the Gospel…God is not begging, trying to get you to change your own life—it can’t be done. He is gently commanding you to allow Him to transform you, as he did Paul, and as He has transformed every believer in history, when they stopped rebelling and allowed Him to do His work.

The way He intends to do it is through the written Word and the indwelling Holy Spirit. You can’t hope to have God change your life if you ignore His Word. You can’t hope to have Him change you if you ignore the Holy Spirit, either—and the two always work together. The Spirit will never lead you where the Written Word does not also (implicitly or explicitly) direct you.

It takes effort…you can’t just wait around hoping that God will jump on you and change your heart. If you think it seems hard, remember all the things Paul endured.

Paul told the Church at Philippi, “Unto you it has been given, in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe in His name but also to suffer for his sake!

Guess what? That letter is to us, as well.