Posts Tagged ‘Sacrifice’

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.

 


Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 7

Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 7

Genesis 15—the Promises Reiterated

© C. O. Bishop 2012: Revised 2018

Introduction:

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

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

Abram Met With God

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

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

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

Abram: “Yeah? What’s in it for me?”

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

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

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

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

A Contract with God

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

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

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

We Meet With God

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

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

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

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

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

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

So; What About The Promised Land?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What About You?

The same three lessons are there for us to learn:

Is Jesus really reward enough for you?

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

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

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

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

Finally,

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

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

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

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


Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 3

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 3

The Coming Redeemer

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

Genesis 3-9

Introduction:

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

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

The Fall and the Promise

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

The Sacrifice and the Safeguard

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

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

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

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

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

The Flood

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

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

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

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

Similarities between Jesus and the Ark:

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

Lessons from the Ark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What Child is This?

What Child is This?

© C. O. Bishop, 12/22/2017 THCF 12/24/2017

(Comparing the lyrics of the hymn to the scriptural promises from which it sprang.)

Introduction:

One of the reason I really love the Christmas hymns is that they so frequently carry a pretty faithful representation of the facts of the Gospel, along with a fairly faithful representation of the facts of Christmas. Certainly, one may protest that there are facts overlaid by legend and mythology. That is true. We go to God’s Word to sort out the truth, and frequently still can see that the intent of the author was to honor God, and to reflect the truth of His Word. And, of course, there are glaring exceptions…but those are not the ones I am drawn to. A year or so ago, we took “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” as an example and found that, actually, the original words were quite accurate, and that the only questionable line in the lyrics was changed by a later hand (and, ironically, became the title of the hymn.)

This Christmas I would like to examine some of the core questions posed in a different Hymn: Today people try to recreate and re-invent The Jesus of the Bible. Even in his day, people denied that He was who He said he was, and within the first century, unbelievers were trying to change the Gospel to something more comfortable. It is not comfortable! The uncomfortable portions of the “Good News” of the Gospel are that way because of the unthinkable wickedness of the Human Race…because of our sin.

Today, as then, the appropriate question is “Who is this Jesus?” Zacchaeus climbed the tree because he desperately wanted to see Jesus, “who he was”.  Jesus, himself, asked “but who do you say that I am?”

A Little History: In 1865, in Bristol, England, an insurance company employee named William Chatterton Dix fell ill, and became extremely sick. He gradually recovered, and during that period of convalescence he went through some pretty deep depression, during which time, he read his Bible a great deal, possibly for the first time with comprehension. The result was that he went through what he called a “spiritual renewal.” I can’t say whether that was when he first received the Lord Jesus as his personal sacrifice for sins, or whether this is just the time when it deeply impressed him. He wrote a poem during that time, called “the Manger Throne”, from which three stanzas were later lifted when he wrote the Christmas Hymn, “What Child is This?

“Who do the People say that I am?”

Jesus asked the disciples this question, before asking them about their own answer to that question: They said “Some say that you are John the Baptist, and some Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets.” We can see that there was great controversy, even at that time, as to who Jesus really was. Each person was to be held accountable for their own answer to the question. Pilate later posed a similar, essential question: “What then shall I do with this Jesus, who is called Christ?” We are each held accountable to the answer to that question, as well.

Every year, for the last several decades, people have gathered for the “Jesus Symposium” or some similar name, where they essentially “reinvent” Jesus, according to their own tastes. But the Jesus of the Bible was a historical person, and is easily proven to have been so. What becomes more difficult is the fact that only the Bible gives us an accurate view of who He really is, because the whole rest of the world has “an axe to grind,” in that, the entire human race is antagonistic toward the holy God of the Bible. We want a God who is more to our taste…so we re-create God in our image, according to Romans 1:21-23.

When William Dix confronted this question from his sick bed, he asked

What Child is This?

We need to address the same question: Who is He really? So let’s look at William Dix’s approach:

What Child is this who, laid to rest on Mary’s lap, is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud, The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Why lies He in such mean estate, Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh, The Babe, the Son of Mary.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh, Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings, Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise the song on high, the virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born, The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Where was He to be born? In Bethlehem…fulfilling the prophecy of Micah 5:2. (read it!)

Where was he to be found by the Shepherds? In a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, fulfilling the word of the Angelic messenger to the shepherds as a group. And who were those shepherds told that the baby really was? “Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!” They were not told that he was the king, in that particular context, but, if they knew the Old Testament prophecies (such as the one in Micah 5:2), they would have known that the Messiah (Christ) was to be the Eternal King, as well. So they left their flocks and they hurried into Bethlehem; they made haste, the scriptures say, to go see the newborn king. And they found him just as the Angel had said, along with Joseph and Mary. They went back to their flocks with Great Joy. Did they understand it all? I doubt it…but, then, I don’t really claim to “understand it all,” either.

But, why was he in a manger, and not in some hospital ward or maybe in a palace? Philippians 2:5-8 sheds some light on this: “…he humbled himself.” He not only became part of His own creation, but he became a man, not an angel. He not only became a man, he became a poor man, in a nation that was already a slave-state to Rome, a cruel, ungodly, polytheistic nation. A place where life was cheap, and righteousness was foreign.

He came, not as a conquering hero, but as a tiny, helpless infant, enduring all the hardships of life with the people he had called his own. Did they bring him honor? Not so you’d notice. The shepherds were the only witnesses. But, in that manger bed, all the Promises of the Ages were being fulfilled. He came to save sinners…and his entire life was poured out to that single end.

Take it Personally!

The hymnist recognized what was happening, there, and it shook Him. He was moved to a Godly fear, and he became a true believer, if he had not been one before then. He pondered the fact that those tiny, curled-up baby hands would be the same ones later pierced by spikes, as he was tortured on the Cross. That this tiny, helpless body, when full grown, was the same one which would be pierced through by the Roman spear, as his blood was poured out at the Cross. And he knew it was for himself, personally. “Nails, spears, shall pierce Him through…His blood be shed for me, for you!” Take it personally!

He also realized that this was the fulfillment of John 1:14, where it said that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory…)” We, too, can either embrace that truth, knowing that the Word, which was God, is also the Word which became flesh…and thus we can see His glory…or we can go back to seeing Jesus the way the World sees him: just another dead Jew…or perhaps a tragic martyr…or, even just a myth.

He winds up his hymn, encouraging the listener to join in worshipping the God-in-flesh Savior. To say “bring Him incense” is a call for worship. The incense burned in the temple was only used for that purpose…it was not used to make the home smell nice, or any other common purpose. It was a picture of the prayers, and praises, and worship being offered by believers. How do I know? God says so! Revelation 5:8 says that the incense (odours, KJV) in the vials of the elders (the church) were “the prayers of saints”; saints are the “holy ones of God”: believers! If you are a child of God, God says you are a saint! You may not feel that way (nor do I), but our feelings are not an accurate reflection of reality. It is a fact. But he says “Bring him incense, gold and myrrh.” Who did that? It was the wise men. Why did they do it? Remember, they weren’t even there, that first night.

Later, within a year or two, the wise men came from the East, and sought “him who is born King of the Jews”. These wise men were not Jews—these were from the area we now call Iraq, most likely, near what was once ancient Babylon, and may possibly have been some of the last surviving disciples of Daniel, the prophet. He had become one of the head wise men (later called Zoroastrian seers) in Babylon, some 500 years earlier, and he had prophesied of the coming Messiah (Daniel 9:26). They did bring him honor, but later…not at his birth. And the things they brought were appropriate: they brought gold, which was an appropriate gift for a king (and which would be needed for their escape into Egypt); they brought frankincense, which was appropriate to a priest and a sacrifice. They brought myrrh, which was a costly resin, used in medicine and in embalming…appropriate to His death. They recognized him for who He was. We need to do the same thing, and not take lightly the story of the birth of Jesus the Messiah.

The hymn-writer says that the way is clear, now, for the lowliest of human slaves, to claim the Savior, as well as for any nobleman willing to humble his or her heart. Queen Victoria was one of those monarchs who humbled her heart and by her own testimony, she was saved. Jesus echoes this, and says, “Whosoever will may come!”

The issue, then, becomes “What will I do with this Jesus, who is called Christ?” That is what Pilate asked, in Matthew 27:22…but then he went on to condemn Jesus to death. He claimed to be innocent, himself, but he was not. He had the authority to do right, and did not do it. God says that is sin (James 4:17). “Therefore, if a man knoweth to do right, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” Pilate was guilty. We have to choose, as well, what to do with Jesus, the Messiah.

“Who do YOU say that I am?”

Jesus directed this question to His disciples. Peter answered: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” Jesus blessed Peter for that answer. But later, as you remember, Peter denied Jesus…and later still, he went back to commercial fishing…Jesus had to call him again. But God didn’t give up on Peter; He had a use for Peter’s life. And He has a use for yours and for mine.

So… just like Peter, I know who He really is, too …but what am I going to do about it?

The hymn-writer said, “The King of Kings Salvation brings; let loving hearts enthrone him!” Is that what I will do? Allow him to reign in my heart? Or will I just live life as usual, and let one day follow another for whatever is left of my life, not honoring The King much more than does the World: (“Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!”) But no real thought given to the reason we celebrate. Every day of my life, I wake up with one more chance to serve: one more chance to work with Jesus, offering my body a living sacrifice to His glory. Every day I have to choose how to spend my time, how to spend my money…and whether to serve Him, the King of Kings, or to just go ahead and serve my flesh, just doing what I want, to bring honor to myself. And, too frequently, I choose badly.

“Raise, raise, the Song on High!” When we sing together, do you really hear the words? Do you consider the importance of those teachings? Do you sing the words as a song from your own heart? If you do, then the last line says what should be the result:

“Joy! Joy, for Christ is born, the babe, the Son of Mary!” We can see Him as the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan and all of His promises to Israel and the World! We can see that the perilous times coming are not directed at us, but at the unbelieving world. We can see that our Savior is coming to take us home, to safety and eternal joy! We can experience, every day, the joy of knowing that He is truly in control, and that, regardless of how bad things look, we are headed for a good conclusion.

Lord Jesus, draw us along into Your Joy. Mature us through the teaching of Your Word, and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, re-shaping us into Your own likeness, that we can be able ambassadors of Your Grace and Love to a dying world. Please lift us up, as Your tools, Your hands and Your feet, and use us to Your glory.


A Better Redeemer

A Better Redeemer

© C. O. Bishop 8/7/17 THCF 8/13/17

Hebrews 9:11-28

Introduction:

Last time, we saw that Jesus is our Mercy Seat…our atonement…and that the Throne of Grace is His throne: that the Mercy Seat covers all of our sins, and, in fact, all of the sins of the human race from beginning to end.

Finally, we saw that, today, we are invited to approach His throne with confidence, knowing that our standing with Him was made perfect at the Cross. We have entered into this relationship by faith, and we are to continue to walk by faith.

Now the writer is making even more powerful statements concerning the Person of Christ

Jesus is Better than the Old Testament Sacrifices.

11 But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building;
12 Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.

This is an astounding statement: Jesus, in contrast to every priest of the Temple who ever lived, has accomplished what those priests could only dream of:

  • In the first place, the Temple into which He entered was not the Old Testament structure, nor did He enter into its priesthood at all.
  • Secondly, the sacrifice He brought was not the blood of animals which were in no way connected to our guilt. Those animals served as a temporary substitute for the sinner, down through all the ages. God ordained the Law of the Substitute, in Genesis chapter 3. The animals in the garden, whose blood covered the sins of Adam and Eve, were substituted for the fallen pair. All the sacrificial animals, under the Law, served as substitutes; but only until the chosen Lamb of God appeared. There was a substitute involved in every sacrifice for sins, because the Law of Sin and Death demanded the death of the sinner. Jesus took the place of (substituted himself for) every human who ever lived, when he went to the Cross. He is our substitute… and there is no substitute for him.
  • He has provided a permanent, eternal redemption for us. In this particular passage, the Greek word for “redemption” is “lutruosin”. It carries the idea of being “set free.”

There are three words used in Greek, to complete the concept that we call “Redemption:”

  • Agorazo: to be “bought in the market (the agora)”
  • Exagorazo: to be “bought out of the market…taken off the market, not be re-sold”, and
  • Lutroō: to be set free.

So, the whole meaning of the concept of Biblical Redemption begins with the “bad news”: the fact that we have been sold into sin: so that is where God had to go to rescue us—to the slave-market of sin. That is where Jesus went as our redeemer. We have been bought out of that market-place, never to be sold again. And, finally: we have been set free. He bought us for the purpose of setting us free.

Now: with that in mind, consider the importance of verse twelve: it says that Jesus, at the cost of his own life-blood, being tortured to death by the barbaric people for whom He died, has bought eternal redemption for us. It says we have been eternally bought out of the marketplace of sin, to be eternally set free. It simply cannot be stated in stronger terms! Your position in Christ cannot be more secure than it already is. You have been eternally set free. Read verses 13 and 14:

13 For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh:
14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

Whatever effect the Old Testament sacrifices had upon the believer, the effect of the sacrifice of Christ is far superior: His death and burial and resurrection brings eternal redemption. Notice, too, that it says that he did all this “through the Eternal Spirit:” He lived a sinless life by the Holy Spirit, and he sacrificed Himself by the Holy Spirit. His whole life was lived out in the power of the Holy Spirit, and the result is that we are permanently bought out from our former slavery to sin, and have been permanently set free to serve God.

 

The Mediator of the New Testament…the New Covenant

15 And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.

Notice the tenses, here: he sacrificed himself (past tense), and because of that, He is (present tense) our High Priest—the Mediator between God and Man. Bear in mind that a mediator is always a “go-between” of some sort. God says in 1st Timothy 2:5 that “…there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” In this specific case (the mediator between God and Man), the mediator is the priest; the one who represents God before men and Man before God. So Jesus is identified clearly as the High Priest of the New Covenant.

This serves as a reminder that, in the truest sense, the New Testament did not begin with Matthew chapter one. Jesus himself said, “…this is the New Covenant in my Blood….” So, the real beginning point of Jesus’s ministry as the Mediator of the New Covenant, (in spite of what we refer to as his “high Priestly prayer”, in John 17and that is what it was) was the sacrifice he brought as the High Priest: his death at the Cross. He appeared in the real tabernacle with that sacrifice, once for all, and consummated his eternal position at the right hand of God the Father.

So, when our Bibles start the New Testament with the four Gospels, it is only because the Gospels introduce the New Testament. It actually began with the crucifixion, and really got rolling at the day of Pentecost, 50 days later. The Church-age is the beginning of the New Testament. The full New Covenant as promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34, will be ushered in after the Lord’s return.

16 For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.
17 For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.
18 Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood.
19 For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people,
20 Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you.
21 Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry.
22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.

These are perplexing things to read, unless you remember that every blood-sacrifice in the Old Testament was, in one form or another, a picture (or pre-figuring) of Christ and His one sacrifice that was to come. Some are more clearly stated than others. But the closing comment on that passage is this key statement: …without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.

This is a clear explanation of what was wrong with Cain’s offering, in Genesis chapter four by the way. I have heard several preachers make the statement that “there was nothing wrong with Cain’s sacrifice—it was his heart attitude that was wrong.”  They were pretty adamant about it, too, saying that to claim otherwise was to insert doctrine that just wasn’t there.

Well—sorry, but this passage says that the non-blood character of the sacrifice was what was wrong…that, apart from the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. No forgiveness! And, if we skip ahead to Hebrews 11:4, the same writer clearly states that “by faith, Abel brought a more excellent sacrifice…” It does not say, “God liked Abel’s attitude better”: it says the sacrifice was better.

Abel obeyed by faith, and brought the blood sacrifice about which he had apparently learned through Adam’s testimony. (Remember, God attempted to reason with Cain, and effectively reminded him that he, Cain, also knew what the problem was, and that if he obeyed, he too would be accepted. But Cain chose to rebel…and we know the result.)

 

A Better Sacrifice

23 It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.

The logic, here, is that while it was necessary for “all things to be purged with blood”, here on earth, it was even more necessary in the heavenly tabernacle. But, as the heavenly tabernacle is infinitely superior to the Earthly one, so the sacrifice also had to be infinitely superior. And it was! The Sacrifice which Jesus brought was eternally ordained by God (see Revelation 13:8…Jesus is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the Earth.”) Jesus is “Plan A”, and there is no “Plan B!”

24 For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us:

I have a hard time picturing this, because, honestly, I realize that I have no idea what the presence of God is like beyond the very limited descriptions in God’s Word. Perhaps someone might say I lack imagination; but, in this particular case that is a good thing. God says (1st Corinthians 2:9) “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”  In another passage we are told that we are to cast down “…imagination and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.” It seems to me that if God is silent on a subject, then we ought to be silent, too; but there are many books available today giving glowing, detailed description of heaven, and the throne room, the angelic hosts, etc. It leaves me to wonder about the real source of such things.

25 Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others;

26 For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

28 So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.

Jesus made a once-for-all sacrifice, to take away the sins of the World (John 1:29), and we look for his second coming; not hoping that we may be good enough, or that our works will be sufficient, but knowing that He was “good enough”: knowing that His one sacrifice is eternally sufficient.

Some churches teach that, through the Eucharist, Jesus is continually suffering for the sins of the World. This passage flatly states that to be the worst form of falsehood. That teaching denies the truth of God’s Word, and relegates Jesus to a continual “victim of God’s Wrath”, rather than the valiant and victorious Lord of Hosts, Lion of Judah, and conquering Lamb of God that he truly is. He voluntarily stepped forward to be our savior, and his Sacrificial work was completed once for all, at the Cross.

This is how we know that Jesus is not physically (or mystically) in the Eucharist…that the bread and the cup are only representative of His body and blood, and are emblems of how we have been born again.

They are not the means of salvation, nor are they in any way effective to put us in a right standing before God. They are strictly a reminder of how we entered into a right standing with a Holy God, and of who we are as a result. Living in a world that is antagonistic toward the Creator, it is easy to forget who we are in Him, and struggle along in our flesh, instead of trusting Him day by day, allowing Him to live through us.

This has been a fairly persistent false teaching, and many otherwise sound apologists have been snared by it, because it is an attractive idea. I enjoy the writings of C.S. Lewis, but in his early book “Mere Christianity”, he states that one becomes a Christian by taking communion. That is absolutely false. I hope that C. S. Lewis later realized his error, but I still have that book, and there have been millions of copies sold over the years.

One becomes a Christian by coming as a guilty sinner, and placing one’s personal trust in Jesus’s blood as full payment for one’s own personal sin. His literal blood at the Cross is what paid for sin, not the commemorative ritual. We enter in by placing our faith in his real shed blood: his real death, his real burial, and His real resurrection. We commemorate that reality in the Lord’s Supper.

By the way, this is also an important passage in refuting all teachings of “reincarnation:” do you see it? (Hebrews 9:27) It says we are appointed to die once…and after that the judgment. That rules out “coming back for seconds”, so to speak. You get one life, here on earth: no “do-overs”.

Jesus also had one life—and it was given to him specifically for the purpose of going to the cross in the place of the whole human race, to provide the way for us to have eternal life.

 

Conclusion:

So how do we respond? What do we do with all this information? Is it just “fun stuff to know and tell?” Or is there a practical response involved? What kind of response is Jesus looking for?

Let’s go back to verse 14:

14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
There is your “Purpose clause” for all that we just read. Jesus did everything for the Glory of God, and in so doing, He freed us from Sin– so that we could do the same.

He finished His work in order that we might be eternally set free from sin and so that we can join Him in glorifying the Father through service. In John 14:21, we see that the mark of one who loves Jesus Christ is that they obey Him, through faith…and the result is that God, in the person of Christ, engages in a continuing love-relationship with the believer, and deliberately makes Himself known to the believer, in an ongoing, living experience, as that person continues to serve the living God.

We frequently quote Ephesians 2:8, 9, in regards to how we are saved. But we seldom quote Ephesians 2:10, which suggests why we are saved:

  • We are his workmanship
  • Created in Christ Jesus
  • Unto good works, which God has before ordained
  • That we should walk in them.

If you have trusted in Jesus as your savior, then you have been born again; and your new nature is created in the righteousness and holiness of God. (Ephesians 4:24) Because of that, you are free to serve Him. God has things for you to do! Don’t miss out on the opportunity! We only get one life, and it is our one opportunity to serve the King.

Lord Jesus, stir our hearts to serve you. Change the way we see life. Help us see it as our one chance to walk with you and to work with you. Strengthen and encourage our hearts to follow you. Draw us along as your flock, and teach us your way.


Jesus, the Ruler and Savior

Jesus, the Ruler and Savior 

(And the Head of the New Human Race.)

© C. O. Bishop 2/1/2017

Hebrews 2:4-18

Introduction:

We’ve been working our way through the book of Hebrews. The first four verses of chapter two were a warning to those who are teetering on the edge of faith, but still uncommitted. The Writer drops that subject, as it (like all the other warnings in the Epistle to the Hebrews) was parenthetical in nature. He had been talking about the angelic host in the end of chapter one. He briefly warned the uncommitted professing believers that, if the message brought by angels had been authoritative, so much more authoritative is the message brought by the Son, and worthy of obedience by faith. Then he goes back to the subject of the Angels, and the comparison between Jesus and the whole Angelic Army.

He says that the Angels have never been placed in authority over the coming (new) world; and He quotes Psalm 8.

 

Where do the Angels fit in, with regard to Humans?

For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak.

But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that thou visitest him?

Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands:

This was originally given in regard to the human race—but, here it is shown to have a secondary reference to the Person of Christ. Verses 6, 7 and the first clause of verse 8 are all a direct quote from Psalm 8. But, in the original context, it is clear that he is speaking of the human race, placed in dominion over the earth. Some commentators feel that this dominion may have originally extended to the whole creation, not just lesser life, had Adam not botched the gift through sin. I can’t see that here, because he specifically named animals as what was under the dominion of Man, in Genesis and Psalm 8. But the writer of Hebrews evidently says that those commentators may be correct. He takes the first clause in verse 8 to mean “ALL things”, not just animals.

Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him.

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.

 So, Jesus is the subject of Psalm 8!

 

Prophetic Psalms

There are a whole bunch of Messianic Psalms. Some are easy to see. Psalm 22 pretty clearly describes the crucifixion, and, it obviously describes things that were never the experience of the writer, King David. So that one is pretty easy. But Psalm 8 really sounds as though it is simply describing the state of the human race.

However, Hebrews 2:9 states that it is really about Jesus. Apart from this passage, I could never have known that fact. And, because the original passage (combined with the Genesis account) says those things about Man as a whole, in the person of Adam, I can see that it is entirely possible that those commentators were right on the mark: that Adam may have originally been endowed with the authority to “run” this world, being in command of the elements as well as simply being able to rule the animal life. (That is absolutely astounding, if it is true…and it all was lost because of Sin.) So why is it about Jesus? Why is that important?

 

Jesus Was Born to Die

Hebrews explains that the purpose of Jesus being temporarily “demoted” to human status, lower than the angels, was for the suffering of death.

As God, Jesus was immortal. As an Angel, he would have been immortal, too, had he chosen to become one. But, in order to be our Redeemer, he had to be specifically related to us: he had to be human. That was one of the rules of the “kinsman redeemer”. This was a provision God made in Israel’s law, so that a person sold into slavery, because of a crushing debt, could be bought out of that slavery and set free. We see a great example of those rules in the story of Ruth. Through the death of all the men in their family, Ruth and Naomi had become poverty-stricken, and landless. They were in real trouble, as destitute women in a patriarchal society. They desperately needed someone to step in and help.

Boaz could be Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer for four reasons:

  1. He was a close relative, who could marry her and raise children in her dead husband’s name.
  2. He was free, himself…not in debt, and not a slave.
  3. He had the price of redemption—the money to buy her land, and
  4. He was willing to pay that price and marry her.

Remember, though,  that there was another man who was a closer relative to Ruth than Boaz. He had the first right of redemption. But he wasn’t willing to marry Ruth. So he was disqualified!

So, to complete that picture, compare it to Christ:

  1. Only a human could redeem a human.
  2. Only a non-sinner (no sin-debt) could redeem a sinner.
  3. Only a living, sinless human could offer the price of redemption; a sinless, perfect blood-sacrifice,
  4. And only one who was willing could do so.

Jesus was that One. And it says that Jesus tasted death for all. (The word translated “every man”, in the Greek, is actually “pantos”, meaning simply “everyone”, in any context where people are involved. In other contexts, it is translated “everything.” The word “man” is not in the original.) The fact is, His death paid for the sins of the entire human race, including all the billions who would ultimately reject Him. We are uncomfortable with that fact, because it is not what we might do, but he states this very specifically, in several passages. 1st John 2:2 is the most specific: “…not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

 

What is the Result?

10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

The word translated “Captain”, here, is the same word translated “Author”, over in Hebrews 12:1. Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith, and the captain of our salvation. He is the Master.

And the word “perfect”, here, is in reference to the fact that Jesus’ ministry as savior and redeemer was completed in His sufferings. There are passages where “perfect” means sinless perfection. But this is not one of them. Jesus was already sinless, thus perfect. But Jesus didn’t just show up, march to the cross, and die. He completed the picture, living a fully human life, in privation and hard times, showing that it is possible for a human to live by faith, in full subjection to a holy God, and fulfil the Righteousness of God…providing that he was not born contaminated with “Original Sin”. Adam, supposedly, could have done the same…but once he fell into sin, taking us all with him, neither he nor any of his progeny could ever do so.

So a special case had to be set up—one who was fully human, but without a sin nature. Evidently the sin nature is passed through the father, as God promised that a deliverer would come, but that He would be the “Seed of the Woman”. (Genesis 3:15) Out all the billions in Earth’s history, only Jesus was truly the “Seed of Woman”, with no human father. And he fulfilled not only that one obscure passage, but all the other prophecies, whether plain or obscure: whether complex or simple. His ministry, and life and death and resurrection fulfilled all the prophecies about him, and completed the promises of God regarding the Savior.

In this way, a new human race was begun—those born of faith: born of the Spirit. Ephesians 2:15 states that Jesus created “one new Man” of two separated peoples (Jews and Gentiles.) A human who has been reborn, by God’s Grace, through faith, has the ability, once again, to serve in holiness. We are no longer slaves to sin. We have been declared righteous in Him, and made Holy in Him. The word “justified” means “declared righteous”: “Sanctified” means “made holy.”

11 For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren,

12 Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.

This is a direct quote from Psalm 22:22. The “church”, in verse 12, was the “congregation” of Israel. I remember meeting a man, some 40 years ago with whom I was attempting to share the Gospel. He told me he was “already saved” because he was part of the “great Congregation” It turns out that Psalm 22:25 is where he got that phrase, “the great congregation”…but he was wrong about his being part of it. He thought that simply because he was born a Jew, he was part of this fellowship of God. My words made no impression upon him at all, because, to him, I was just a young fool. But he was missing the necessity of being covered with the blood of that One sacrifice. He thought that being born a Jew was sufficient. John the Baptist made it clear that the Pharisees, the “cream of the crop” of Israel, were in imminent danger of Hell. Obviously, being born Jewish does not save you. In fact, all he had to do is read the history of Israel, and see how many were condemned for unbelief, and executed for idolatry. They were Jews, too! What was the difference between them, and those God saved? The difference was the saved Jews’ faith in the living God.

But what about the fact that he refers to us as his “brethren?” He himself is God the Son, the only begotten son…the crown prince! But he has “begotten us again” through the Holy Spirit, when we trusted in Him, and now, yes; he call us brothers, as well as his “little children.” What does that say about the idea of the Universal Fatherhood of God, and the Universal Brotherhood of Man? I haven’t heard this doctrine preached for quite a while, but the idea is still out there: the notion that God considers ALL humans his children, and loves them all equally.

In the first place, Jesus debunked that, personally, in John 8:44, by telling the Jews that they were not the children of God, but rather, the children of their father, the devil. (Odd…they took that rather badly.)

 

How does one become a child of God?

John 1:12 says that those who received Him by faith were given the authority to become children of God…again pointing out that they had not been His children before that point. Ephesians 2:11, 12 says that we were once strangers and foreigners, without God and without hope, in the World.

There is no hint of a universal Fatherhood or universal brotherhood taught in the Bible. By the way, those terms, “Father” and “brother” are exclusive by nature. They are meant to confer special status upon the individual to whom they are applied. Familial terms are all “inner circle” words. If one tries to expand them to cover everyone, then they lose their intended meaning. The same is true for nearly any word—if one tries to expand the meaning of any given word to cover too much, then it loses all significance.

 

It is not only significant that Jesus refers to us as his “brothers”, as well as the children of God: it is part of our security in Him. Unlike the royal families throughout secular human history, in many different countries, who simply murdered all their brothers and/or sisters, in order to secure the throne, Jesus values his brothers and sisters, his children, his joint-heirs, and He protects us against all enemies. He is our security. He has no need to secure his throne, because it cannot be taken from Him. But of us, he says (John 6:39) that he shall lose none of us, but raise us up at the last day. In fact, He says that we shall be with him for eternity, and that the Holy Spirit will indwell us until His return for us, and that we cannot be taken from him by any means…even by our own effort or failure. (Romans 8:39) we are truly secure as His children, and as His family. We can never again be lost.

13 And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me.

The first half of this verse is a quote from Isaiah 8:17, from the Septuagint, a very important early Greek translation of the Old Testament; it does not read the same in the Hebrew version. (By the way, every single time Jesus quotes the Old Testament, He is quoting the Septuagint.) The second half is from the next verse, Isaiah 8:18. But, in both cases, I never would have known that the verses were prophetic concerning Jesus. I would have seen only the primary interpretation, concerning the prophet Isaiah, his faith, and his sons…who were named in Isaiah 7:3 and 8:3 (Shear-Jashub—“the remnant shall return”, and Maher-shalal-hashbaz—“hastening to the booty; speeding to the prey”.) I never could have seen the final fulfillment in the person of Christ and his church. But God did! That is why we compare scripture with scripture, and let God speak. Otherwise we frequently miss the point.

 

Jesus joined us, so that we can Join Him!

14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;

Again, by joining us in our low estate, specifically in death, he carried out the judgment that had been pronounced upon sin, and freed the human race from that judgment. In doing so, he dealt a mortal wound to our ancient enemy, Satan. This is actually the fulfillment of the very earliest prophecy concerning Jesus, the “Seed of the Woman”…who would crush the serpent’s head. That is where it happened: at the Cross!

15 And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

Thus, He delivered us from the death we fear throughout life. We no longer fall headlong into a pit called death, but literally “walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” The substance of Death has been taken away for us, leaving only the shadow. And the pit has become an open-ended rite of passage, not a final defeat. We no longer have to be in bondage to fear.

16 For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.

Jesus chose to become a man…not an angel. And he chose the Jews, out of all the world’s peoples, to whom to join himself. Why? I really can’t say. There was literally one person in that group when He made his choice—it was Abraham. And the choice has been sub-divided several times: narrowed in some areas (the land and the priesthood, etc.), so as to exclude many who were physically born to Abraham; but broadened in others, to include all who trust in God’s plan of salvation.

17 Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.

Jesus lived as a poor, underprivileged Jew, in a nation that was a slave-state to Rome, an evil regime predicted by Daniel. The word “tempted,” here, is the Greek word “peirazomos”, and it can be used to mean a trial—a test—or it can be used in the same manner we do, as in being lured to some bad choice. But it is made clear in James 1:13, 14 that God does not lure people to do wrong, as He is not lured in that manner, and does not lure others in that manner—but that we ourselves, having a sin-nature, as evidenced by our evil desires, are lured away by our own evil desires. However, the testing that we all endure is definitely by design—God says that He will not allow us to be tested beyond our ability to bear it, and always makes a way of escape, so that we will be able to walk with him, and not fall into sin. We do not have to sin. We now have a choice. We can walk in obedience to God.

18 For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.

Jesus did undergo the same kinds of testing that we do, but he was not drawn to sin: He avoided it entirely, and approached the cross undefiled. He became our sinless sacrifice. In this manner he proved He would be a helper to those of us who believe in Him; we who are still in the struggles and the trials of life.

We enter into an eternal relationship with Him by faith…believing that He alone is our Savior: that He alone has paid the full price for our redemption…and that He is our only hope for eternal life.

In the years since I became a believer, I have more and more intensely understood the grievous fact of my sins. I have more and more painfully seen the fact of my sin nature, and that, apart from Christ, I literally have no hope. So: more and more earnestly, I turn my eyes to Him, and look for His guidance and depend upon His supply. I have no other hope; no one else to whom I could turn. He is the living Savior, the Messiah.

 

The Results are Eternal

I had a fellow angrily tell me “Chet, I’m talking about real life!” when I had tried to share some particular truth from the Bible. He wanted me to shut up, and so I did…but I thought about it and realized the total irony of someone calling the very temporary experience of humanity on Earth “real” life, when what God is offering is absolute permanence. Which one is more “real?” The one that lasts 70-120 years, tops, or the one that, after ten thousand years, has just barely begun?

We each have decisions to make, in regard to life: do we want the REAL life that God offers, or only the shadow of life that we now experience? Jesus said “This is eternal life; that they may know thee, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3) Even as a believer, I have to choose to walk with God…or not. Every day can be an eternal treasure, or a total waste of time. The choice is ours.

Lord Jesus, help us to understand your Word, and to apply it in such a way as to make good choices, with eternally good results. Teach us to walk with you, day by day, and moment by moment, so as to make the most of life.


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.