Posts Tagged ‘Savior’

Born Again! What Now?

Born Again! What Now?

© 2019, C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 1:23-25; 1st Peter 2:1-5 cp. John 1:12, 13; John 3:3, John 5:24

Introduction:

We often hear people talk about being “born again.” Even secular writers and singers will use this phrase, usually only to describe some sort of life-changing experience or epiphany. But the question we want to address is, what did Jesus mean, when He told Nicodemus, “You must be born again.”?

What does it mean when the Bible talks about being Born Again? Is it just religious talk for becoming a church-goer? There was no church, as we know it, in Jesus’ time, so it can’t have been as simple as that. Nicodemus was already a staunch, important member of his synagogue.

How does a Person become Born Again?

In John 3:3, Jesus told Nicodemus that unless he was born again, he could not see the kingdom of God, let alone enter it…and he addressed both ideas…seeing the Kingdom of God, and entering it. Nicodemus had no idea what Jesus meant. Jesus explained that a person would receive eternal life by believing in the Son of God.

In verse 14, He reminded Nicodemus of the mass invasion of venomous snakes threatening Israel, as a judgement for sin, under Moses. God commanded Moses to make a bronze serpent (bronze is a symbol for judgment, in the Bible) and to hang it on a pole, up high, so everyone could see it. If a bitten person looked to that bronze serpent on the pole as God’s solution for the snakebite, they would not die.

In verse 15, Jesus concludes that, in the same manner, people who look to HIM as God’s solution for sin, will not die…that “Whosever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” He reiterated that truth in verse 16, saying that This was God’s Love being offered to the whole world. He also pointed out (in verse 18) that whoever chooses to not believe is already condemned, not “waiting for condemnation,” and that the issue is the unbelief. Remember, the folk who were bitten by the venomous snakes were already bitten…and without help they would die. Those who looked to God’s answer to sin, lived…those who rejected Him died.

In verse 36, the writer concludes that, “He that believeth on the Son, hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.”

Does that really answer the question of “how” a person can be born again? Actually, yes, it does, but it is spelled out more clearly in John chapter one. John 1:11-13 says that “He (Jesus) came unto His own and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the Sons of God, even to them that believe on His name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Now, that passage will bear some examination:

  • Who were these people, called “His own”, who rejected Him? It was the nation of Israel. As a Nation, they emphatically rejected Him, at Jerusalem. Were there individuals who received Him as their Savior and their King? And even some Gentiles who recognized Him as the Promised Messiah of Israel, and who willingly chose Him as their own master and Savior? Yes, of course there were! And those few who received Him are the ones to whom this passage refers! So what does it say about them?
  • It says “to them gave He power to become the Sons of God”
    • The word “power”, in this passage, is translated from the Greek word “exousia”, meaning “authority.” Those who received him were given the authority to do something, much as one who has become a member of an organization has the authority to enter into a secure building where they are assigned to work. But in this case, the thing they are authorized to do is to “become” a “Son of God.”
    • The word “become,” in this passage, is translated from the Greek word “genesthai.” That word, even in modern Greek, means “to be born!” They were given the authority to be born again!
    • And, interestingly, the word translated “sons” is the Greek word “tekna”, which literally means “born ones”…we would say “offspring”. But the Scottish language has a word, “bairns,” which is an exact translation of this word. It literally means “born ones.” There is a different Greek word that means “sons,” in the sense of “heirs.” We will talk about that one a different time.
  • “To them that believe on His Name.”
    • These people are listed as those who believe on His Name. They have placed their trust in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ for their salvation, just as those people who were snake-bitten placed their trust in the power of God and looked to that bronze snake on the pole.
  • Finally, he says that those “born ones” were not born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
    • Not born of blood: this is not a flesh-thing…it is a spirit thing. Your “blood-line” is not in question. Your spiritual father is in question. At one point (John 8:44) Jesus pointed out that his antagonists, the unbelieving Jews, were not children of God, but of Satan. They were behaving like their spiritual father.
    • Not born of the will of the flesh: this is not the result of two people cohabiting… no physical interaction affects this. And there is nothing “accidental” about it.
    • Not born of the will of man: This is not even human in origin. It is from God.

So the idea of being “born again,” as Jesus expressed it to Nicodemus, is entirely the result of God offering eternal life on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ, to those who receive Him as their Savior. It is completely personal, in the sense that it is not a “group activity.” It is addressed on a one-by-one basis, as each person sees himself or herself as a lost sinner, needing a Savior. The people in Jerusalem, in Jesus’ time, were indignant that He saw them as sinners. They saw themselves as “the best of the best,” and just about as perfect as people could be. And, honestly, Nicodemus was right up there with the best of them…but Jesus told him that unless he became born again, he was lost.

What is the Result of Being Born Again?

We already saw that believing in Jesus as one’s Savior is how one becomes born again. But what is the result?

John 5:24 makes a promise, with no disclaimers, no qualifiers, no “ifs, ands or buts.” Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death into life.”

Notice that He lists two conditions to the promise:

  1. Hear His Word: You do have to hear the good news that Jesus died as full payment for your sins. No one just comes up and shakes His hand and says, “Hey, I’d like to join your group!” That is effectively what Nicodemus seemed to be attempting to do. But Jesus told him that there was something that had to happen, first.
  2. Believe on the One who sent Jesus. Ultimately, we either place our trust in God’s solution for sin, or we come up with some sort of “do-it-yourself” plan of salvation. God’s solution is the preaching of the Cross: in 1st Corinthians 1:17, 18 we are told that the preaching of the cross is how God saves people. They either believe the message or they don’t. So, if we decide to “circumvent the cross,” and find some other way to approach God, then we are not believing on Him who sent Jesus to the Cross…we are believing that our own wisdom exceeds the wisdom of God.

So, if those two conditions are met: we have heard the message, and we have chosen to believe God, rather than believing some other source, then what does the promise hold for us? The Promise has three clauses:

  1. We have eternal life…that is present tense. Notice that it does not say, “…he that heareth my word and believeth on him that sent me will someday have eternal life…” It says “…hath everlasting life!” Now! Not “someday, if you are good.”
  2. We will not ever be condemned by God. This is future tense: He does not say, “…is not condemned now, but, brother, he’d better stay outta trouble!” He says “…shall not come into condemnation!” There are no disclaimers, no exceptions, and no escape clauses!
  3. Finally, he says that we have passed from death unto life. In English, this sounds as though it is a past participle, meaning that something “has happened at some time in the past.” But, in fact, it is perfect tense, meaning that it “happened at some time in the past with permanent results for the future.” In contemporary language, it means “It’s a done deal!” There is no way of becoming “un-born-again!”

These are tremendous promises. There are some who try to short-circuit the promises, saying, “Well, you know, if you continue in sin, God will still reject you!”  Or, they might say, “Well, you are saved by faith, but you are kept by works!”  (I have heard both of these statements.) To say such a thing makes Jesus a liar! He did not offer Himself an escape clause, or any way for Himself to renege on His promise. He made a solid promise, and all He asks us to do is step into the promise, by faith.

And the results are eternal.

What Now?

What do we do once we havebeen born again? Is that all there is to it? “I’m saved, so now I can kick back and wait for Jesus to come?” What does God say that He wants us to do?

Turn to 1st Peter 1:23. We are going to read from verse 23 through into chapter 2, verse 5.

He says that we have been born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which lives and abides forever. Do you remember someone referred to as the Word of God? A Person, called the Word of God? If you remember John 1:1, we read there that “In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God….” and then, in verse 14 of the same chapter, we saw that “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of Grace and truth.” So, Jesus is the Word, by whom we have been born again. We heard the Word, received and believed the Word, and as a result, we have been born again, by the Word of God, who is living and abiding forever.

And what does He say to do about that? Read on into chapter 2: he says for us to lay aside our petty gripes, and politics, and hypocrisies, and (see verse two) “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby.”

Feed on the Word!

God wants to feed his babies! He insists that they be fed on His Word! That is why we only teach from His Word, here at True Hope Christian Fellowship. His Word is “sheep food,” and we are called to feed the flock of God! But every believer is called to deliberately, and personally go to God’s Word to be fed!

  • If you don’t have a Bible, we will get you one!
  • If you can’t read, then you can go where the Word will be read publicly.
  • If you have trouble understanding, then you must go to where someone will teach you at your own pace, and explain at a level where you can completely grasp it, and continue to repeat it until it sticks!

You, personally, are called to feed on God’s Word. Your teachers are called to feed you, but you have a personal calling to feed on God’s Word…and why? So that you can grow thereby…that you will grow, spiritually, as a direct result of feeding on God’s Word. That you will become stronger, and healthier, and able to feed others, as well.

What are the Long Range Results?

Look just a bit further: verses 3-5 point out the long-range results.

Since we have tasted of the Lord’s Grace, and have approached Him as the “Living Stone” on which all of God’s kingdom is built, we have also become the “living stones” of His temple, throughout the whole world. He indwells us, individually, in the person of the Holy Spirit.

But as a group, He says that we are the Temple of God (1st Corinthians 3:16), and, here in this passage, He says that we are “a spiritual house, and a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God, through Jesus Christ!”

Now, if that sounds mysterious to you, then I’d say that you need to feed on God’s Word until you understand not only what it means, but what your part in that “spiritual house and holy priesthood” really is. What does it mean when it says that you are a priest? What does it mean when it says that you are to offer up spiritual sacrifices? You need to learn these things.

But, right now, the only question you have to ask yourself, is “Have I been born again? Have I really trusted Jesus as my savior? Have I placed my trust in His blood sacrifice as full payment for my sins?”

Then, if you are sure that your trust is in His finished work at the Cross, and not your own works, then the next step is to feed on His word. He commands us to desire the sincere milk of the Word. We will try to whet your appetite, here, but the best way to get hungry for God’s Word is to actually feed on it! The more you eat, the stronger your appetite will grow.

Conclusions and Decisions

When you first heard the news that Jesus died to pay for your sins, you had a decision to make: “Will I believe in Him, trusting in His finished work at the Cross, or not?”

Having made the decision to receive Him as your Savior, you now have a decision to make, every day: “Will I set aside everything else, and deliberately spend time reading God’s Word, so that I can grow…or not?

The results of both decisions have eternal results. The decision to believe the Gospel, and receive Jesus as your Savior resulted in your being born again, eternally secure as God’s Child.

The decision to feed on God’s Word, resulting in the growth you experience here, will allow you to serve, and do the things God has called you to do, here on earth.

And that will result in eternal rewards.

The decision is yours, every day. What will you do?

Lord Jesus, stir our hearts to desire to feed upon your written Word, so that we can be molded into the likeness of the Living Word. Raise us up to be the men and women of God that you have called us to be.


Why We Celebrate Christmas

Why We Celebrate Christmas

© C. O. Bishop

(Explication of a Hymn) Luke 1, 2; Matthew 1, 2

 

The Christmas Song

by Don Francisco

The center of the ages, and the Lord talks with a girl
And by the words He speaks He gives a Savior to the world
The fullness of the time has come, and Mary’s Son is born;
The promise’s fulfillment lies asleep now in her arms.

He didn’t come to terrify, to judge or condescend–
To call us all His servants, but to lift us as His friends
To save us all from Satan’s power, to reign at His right hand
In the little town of Bethlehem, when God became a man.

Today the God of Majesty has given to the Earth
A gift of such magnificence we could never plumb its worth
And the rudeness of the setting just ignites the jewel’s fire
A pearl beyond the greatest price, the joy of man’s desire.

He didn’t come to terrify, to judge or condescend
To call us all His servants but to lift us as His friends
To save us all from certain death, to reign at His right hand
When, once for all eternity, God became a man.

Introduction:

 In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke we read the account of the birth of our Savior, and there is little question why we celebrate that birth, as it was the fulfillment of promises dating back thousands of years, all the way to the Fall of Man…and a plan from before the Creation.

We have all watched Christmas pageants, heard sermons, sung songs, and have read the scriptures, until we may become complacent about the facts of the Gospel. So, let’s review:

The Center of the Ages, and the Lord Talked with a Girl;

God actually could have chosen to carry out the crucifixion prior to the Creation, but it would have made no sense from our perspective, as we are locked in the sequence of time, though He himself is not. In fact, one of the pedigrees of the Gospel, in the Old Testament, is that God tells us the end from the beginning. No one else can do this. He let us know where, when and how, and by whom, the Savior was to be born, as well as what would characterize His life. The determination was made before the Creation, but the fulfillment had to wait.

So the first promise of the Savior was actually made the day the Human race fell into sin, in Genesis 3:15. And the fulfillment of that promise, along with hundreds of other, later promises regarding the Messiah, came about in the “Center of the Ages”, as the song says.

But the fulfillment began with a conversation between God (via the angel Gabriel) and Mary, a young girl in Nazareth; a small town in Galilee. It is interesting to read through the scriptures, looking to see how the spoken Word of God has affected our lives and our History. As it turns out, the creation itself was by the Word…the world was spoken into existence. All that we see around us was initially the creative act of the Word of God. So, it seems fitting that the spoken promise should give way to the Person called the Word of God, who would later assure His disciples that they were already cleansed through the Word He had spoken to them. By the Word of God, the Savior was given.

Mary was betrothed to a man (apparently much older, as was common) named Joseph. But when Gabriel appeared to Mary, announcing that she had been chosen by God to bear the Savior, she was initially shocked and probably a little dismayed, as to how it was going to affect her betrothal. As it turned out, she would have been right to be worried, but she had quickly recovered, and blessed God for the privilege. She accepted the assignment with joy, looking forward by faith to the fulfillment of the Promise.

Mary went to stay with her cousin Elizabeth for a while, as she, too, was bearing her firstborn, but in her old age (another miracle-child: John the Baptist), and the angel Gabriel had told Mary about it. Elizabeth was already six months into her pregnancy. When Mary arrived at the home of Elizabeth, she herself was evidently only a few weeks pregnant by the Holy Spirit, but Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, blessed her, and recognized that she was the mother of her Lord, and revealed that as soon as she had heard Mary’s voice, the baby in her own womb had leaped for joy.

When Joseph discovered that his fiancée was pregnant, he had sadly determined to quietly divorce her, not wanting any public disgrace to come on her. It did require a divorce to break a betrothal, in that culture and time, and he thought she had been unfaithful, so he was planning to break the betrothal. But the angel Gabriel appeared to him, as well, in a dream, and assured him that Mary had been completely chaste, and faithful, and that the child she bore was literally the Son of God. Joseph was instructed to carry on with the marriage. He arose in the morning, and did as he was told, but did not consummate the marriage until after her firstborn son was born.

In the Little Town of Bethlehem

Joseph was required by Caesar Augustus to register for a census, along with all the other inhabitants of the Roman world. Bethlehem was his ancestral home, so he had to return there for the census. He took Mary with him to Bethlehem. Remember that Nazareth was home to both Joseph and Mary. That is where they would have expected their child to be born. But the prophecy of Micah 5:2 said that the Savior was to be born in Bethlehem. Caesar “just happened” to make a decision that would force them to temporarily relocate to Bethlehem, about 80 miles away. (Now, that was a strange “coincidence,” wasn’t it?)

The Fullness of Time

But, Mary was far along in her pregnancy by that time, so when they arrived in Bethlehem, along with the crowds of other people in the same circumstances, she was in critical need of a place to lie down and give birth. The only inn was full, and so they found shelter in a stable where animals were fed. The fullness of Mary’s time had come, as well as the fullness of God’s timing. Daniel’s prophecies had spelled out when the Messiah would come. (And here he was!) She gave birth there, in the humblest of circumstances, without a midwife, without her mother or aunts or older sisters to help her. So far as we know, only Joseph and she were there. God was in control. There was no need for other help. The baby was soon safe in her arms, and was subsequently wrapped in cloths, called “swaddling clothes.”

We always make nativity scenes with a variety of animals and the shepherds, and angels, and wise men. But at that moment, it was just Mary, Joseph, and the infant they would call Jesus, in obedience to the angelic messenger who had spoken to each of them separately. Animals very well could have been there, as the manger would indicate that animals were fed there; but the rest is all speculation on our part. Tradition has it that she rode there on a donkey, too, but we don’t even know that, for sure. It would make sense, but it is still just supposition and speculation. The wise men showed up perhaps a year or two later…not that night, for sure.

However, there were shepherds, in the surrounding fields, guarding their flocks by night. They got an astonishing announcement from God, via one angel, initially, soon joined by a multitude of angels, who appeared, telling them about the Savior’s birth, and praising and glorifying God. The shepherds were told to go and see the baby, and that they would find him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Then the angels disappeared into the sky. (By the way; every single time angels appear in scripture, they appear as men… fearsome men at times: not dainty little lady-angels…sorry.)

But why these particular signs? Swaddling clothes were a rather archaic way of clothing an infant, in which the baby was simply wrapped in strips of cloth. It was similar to the way they prepared a body for burial, and it was not terribly common, even in that time, so that was part of the sign, along with the fact that they would find Him lying in a manger—an animal food trough—not a common bed for a child, at any time in history. It was just a plain, elevated food trough, made so that the animals would not step in their food. But it served well as a baby crib, in this case. So, when the shepherds came to look, they found him there, exactly as promised. They told everyone who would listen, and went back to their flocks excited, and praising God for the fulfillment of His promise. In Luke 2:10, it says that the “good tidings” (also called the gospel– that’s what “gospel” means: good tidings–good news) would bring great joy. That was the immediate response of the Shepherds. They didn’t have the day off because it was Christmas; no turkey, no tree, no “stockings, hung by the chimney with care:” just…great joy, because the Lord, the God of Israel, was finally fulfilling the Promise of the Ages. It seems to me that we all could use a dose of that kind of faith and the resulting joy. Remember, these were not parishoners, pumped up by a good sermon. They were common, lowly shepherds, who had just experienced God’s Grace.

But, why did He Come?

Skip forward thirty years in time: Joseph, Mary’s husband, has evidently already passed away, so that the rest of the family (Mary, four half-brothers and at least two half-sisters) now look to Jesus as the head of the household. Jesus begins his earthly ministry, and it is not at all what the Jews were hoping for. They wanted a King, who would destroy the Romans, and elevate Israel to supremacy, as the prophecies in Isaiah seemed to indicate would happen.

They were not at all impressed with a poor, itinerant preacher who persisted in preaching Grace, and Righteousness, and Peace. He healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead, and, in general, proved that he was, in fact, the Son of God. But they rejected Him…He wasn’t what they wanted!

“He didn’t come to terrify,” as the song says: He didn’t come as a conquering emperor: He came “not to condemn the World, but that the World through Him might be saved.” He did not come to judge, but to offer salvation. He did not call us to be his slaves, but to free us from our slavery to sin, and to elevate us to be on friendly speaking terms with God: He even said “I do not call you my servants, but my friends.” He said of Himself, in Matthew 20:28, “…the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” He has already done what He came to do. He died in our place. And we who believe have already received the gift of eternal life. We have already been raised by Him, to sit with Him in the heavenlies. God says that we believers are already there, even while we are still in our lives here on earth. We have already been resurrected and ascended with Him to sit with him at the right hand of the Father.

The Rudeness of the Setting

Why do we find the story so compelling? Precisely because the setting was so completely plain. Jesus could have been born a royal heir, and lived in luxury, as do the heads of most of the world’s religions, but he chose to come as the son of a very poor girl, with a poor man for his adopted father. He emptied himself of all the trappings of deity and royalty, to become a man, living as a servant, not a king, owning nothing but the clothes he wore, and walking the roads of the tiny nation of Israel, reaching out one last time to a people who had mostly rejected his advances for almost 2,000 years.

His name was “Jesus”, meaning “Jehovah is Savior.” The angel Gabriel told Joseph that they would name the child “Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” His name is “Jehovah is Savior” because He shall save us from our sins! The deity of Christ is made clear, in the scriptures. John 1:1-14 says he is The Word, and that he is the Creator, as well as being God the Son. We can’t hope to understand such things. But all of them are facts!

And the gift God gave to us truly was magnificent beyond our comprehension. The cost was beyond our understanding, too, as we cannot even begin to imagine what it cost the God of Eternity to bind himself in time and space, specifically so that He could be tortured to death by his own creation, and to become sin for them, so as to endure for them the curse of His own wrath toward sin, and save them from certain destruction. 2nd Corinthians 5:21 says that “he who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” It boggles my mind to consider such a thing. We have been saved from our sins, saved from wrath, and delivered from Satan’s dominion over us. We could ask for no greater gift. We are now sons of God, and joint-heirs with Christ, for eternity.

God became a Man

 Philippians 2:5-8 tells us of the “kenosis”—the self-emptying of Christ. He set aside all his prerogatives as God, and chose to be born a human child, in harsh circumstances. He came for a single purpose: to die for our sins. He taught and demonstrated His Grace and Wisdom on the way to the Cross, but he was headed for the Cross from before the World began. Revelation 13:8 says that He was “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the Earth.”

And it could only happen when and if…once, for all eternity, God became a Man. And that is the heart of the Christmas story!

Lord Jesus, help us to grasp and value the gift you have given, and to share that gift with those around us. Awaken our hearts to the need, and allow us to be your hands and feet and mouth, so that you will be free to love the World through us.


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.

 


The Behavior of Faith

The Behavior of Faith

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

Hebrews 11:11-16

Introduction:

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

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

The Response of Faith

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

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

The Result of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Eyes of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Choices of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 


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.


Hebrews: Jesus is Better!

Jesus Is Better

© 12/6/2016 C. O. Bishop THCF 12/18/2016

Hebrews 1: 1-3

Introduction:

Today we will begin a study through the book of Hebrews. This epistle has endured controversy over the years regarding the identity of the writer. The consensus over the centuries has mostly been that the writer was the Apostle Paul, and most Bibles have that printed as part of the title.

However, unlike every other Pauline Epistle, there is no introductory line stating that Paul is the writer, and greeting the recipients with “Grace be unto you, and Peace…” etc. Some have therefore attributed this epistle to Apollos, or some other writer. I tend to think it is Paul, anyway, because of some internal evidence: comments that seem to uniquely fit Paul’s life. There is no clear proof either way, so I will drop that issue, and leave it for others to haggle over. The book was clearly written before AD 70, as a good deal of it regards the temple in Jerusalem, and its service, and there is no mention made of the temple’s destruction (which happened in AD 70). So, most historians tentatively place it at about AD 64, but we can’t be certain.

The general theme is the idea that “Jesus is Better”. The writer shows the infinite superiority of Christ, over seven key aspects of Judaism. He also issues seven warnings to “dabblers” who seem to be believers, but who evidently are just “along for the ride”, and not actually “entering in” by faith. The warnings grow more and more serious, throughout the book. There are forty exhortations of one sort or another, and a great deal of teaching. It is not an easy book to study because there are passages that can be easily misunderstood, if not carefully compared with the rest of the Bible. We will try to address those problematic passages as they arise.

It is interesting, to me, however, that there is almost no teaching in the book of Hebrews on how to be saved, only multiple warnings and exhortations to not miss out on it. Evidently the writer knew his audience, and knew they were aware that salvation was offered as a gift, and of how it must be received. There is also very little teaching on “what the Church is”, or “how it is to function;” only on who Christ is, compared to the Earthly or Heavenly “star-players” of the Old Testament. So, Jesus is better than:

  1. The Prophets (Hebrews 1:1-3)
  2. The Angels (1:4-14; 2:5-18)
  3. The Prophet and Lawgiver, Moses (3:2-6)
  4. The Sabbath (4:1-16; 5:1-10)
  5. The Priesthood (7:4-28; 8:1-6; 9:11)
  6. The Old Covenant (“He is the mediator of a better covenant.”) (8:6-13; 9:1-28)
  7. The Old Testament Sacrifices (He is a better sacrifice) (9:11-14, 23, 28; 10:1-12)

In every case, Jesus was demonstrated to be far superior to whomever or whatever he was to be compared…hence, the thematic choice, “Jesus is better.

An Abrupt Beginning

The opening lines of the Epistle to the Hebrews actually form one of the problems that make people wonder who the author is: All of Paul’s other epistles begin with a fairly consistent greeting; blessing the recipients and identifying the writer.

The Epistle to the Hebrews dispenses with formalities, so to speak; it makes no “introduction” as to the writer or the recipients, nor even to the theme, but simply slams right into the theme itself. It is interesting to me that the Old Testament Hebrew writings sometimes do the same thing. (Genesis 1:1, for example.) Possibly the reason this book is so different in style is specifically because it is the only epistle Paul wrote for a non-Gentile audience. In Romans 11:13 Paul cheerfully identifies himself as “the apostle to the Gentiles”. So, all of his writings to the Gentiles followed Gentile formats. We have another example by an unbelieving Roman centurion, (Acts 23:35, ff,) and it follows a similar form. So, I am comfortable with the differences between this epistle and the others written by Paul. Most, if not all, of the differences can be attributed to the difference in the intended recipients.

By verse two we can see that a comparison is being made between the Old Testament Prophets and Jesus, with Jesus being shown to be so far superior that no further comment is made. No argument is offered: He is simply shown to be God, while the prophets were simply the mouthpieces or spokesmen for God. In the same short chapter, the angelic hosts are shown to be a servant-class creation, while Jesus is shown to be their Creator and Master; but we will pursue that subject at a later date.

Though the majority of the epistle is written to genuine believers, there are seven warnings to professing believers (sometimes intermingled with exhortations to believers), scattered throughout the whole book:

  1. Don’t neglect the salvation that is being offered. (2:1-4)
  2. Don’t harden your heart. (3:7-4:1)
  3. Don’t fail, through unbelief, to enter in. (4:1)
  4. Don’t fall away, despising the sacrifice of Christ (6:1-9)
  5. Don’t attempt to fall back on the sacrifices…they no longer work. (10:26-31; 35-39)
  6. Don’t opt out for temporal gain. (12:16)
  7. Don’t refuse to hear (respond to) Him. (12:25-29)

There are also about 40 exhortations to believers, which we will address as they arise.

I will be quoting from the KJV. You are welcome to read along in any translation you like.

Hebrews Chapter One: God Speaks to Man

The writer begins with the “Author of all things”—God. Both Genesis and John begin with the same individual. I think it is an effective approach, especially in dealing with an audience of professing Hebrew believers, to begin with the central person of all Eternity: God.

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,

Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
In various ways and at various times, God has approached Man. We cannot approach Him unless He first reaches out to us. Think about it: He is invisible, so that we don’t know where to look; and He’s absolutely Holy, so as to be completely separate from the fallen race of Man. We can only see the effects of His power, and marvel from a distance at His obvious wisdom and splendor. We have no real way to approach God: God had to approach Man.

Even in the Garden of Eden, God called to Adam, “Where art thou?not the other way around. All through the Old Testament, God reached out to Mankind, meeting us where we lived. And it has continued so today. God says in Psalm 14, and reiterates in Romans 3, that “…there is no one who seeks after God.” We have a hard time with that idea: we insist, “Oh, yes we do!” But the fact is that we only seek after that “missing something”, in each of our lives; perhaps motivated by a longing for meaning and direction and Peace; but, most certainly not seeking the Creator and Judge of all the Universe. We fear Him; we flee from Him, and we reject him at every turn, until He comes and confronts us. (E.g. John 1:11, 12; Acts 9:1-6)

God had sent prophets, many times, throughout the centuries, but they were usually rejected, and were frequently murdered. So, God himself changed the game. After thousands of years of sending prophets, judges, and deliverers at various levels; speaking unto the Fathers (the patriarchs) by the prophets, He finally sent “God in the Flesh:” God the Son. He spoke to the prophets in a variety of ways: out of the air, from a burning bush, from the glory in the tabernacle, and from a towering column of thundering smoke at Mount Sinai… but the prophets were sent to speak to the patriarchs. Who did He send to us? Jesus!

Jesus is Better Than the Prophets

He says that, “in these last days”, he has spoken to us by His Son. But not just any son… the only begotten Son—the heir, “whom He hath appointed heir of all things”. And, lest we forget just who that Son really is (not just a Jewish Carpenter), he reminds us that it is Jesus who carried out the creation of the universe. (Greek “aeonas”—the ages…this is not the Greek word “kosmos”, which can mean a world or a world system. But we see in Genesis that the “time-pieces” (Sun, moon, and stars) were created after the creation of the earth that we inhabit. So, if Jesus is the creator of the ages…all time as well as the whole earth, as we will see, then he is truly the Creator of the universe.) Also; though we see things from the perspective of those locked in time and space, God sees from Eternity, the eternal “Now,” and He decreed before the foundation of the Earth that the Only Begotten Son was to be the means of our salvation. Jesus is “Plan A”—and there is no “Plan B.” (Ephesians 1:4; 3:8-11; 1st Peter 1:20)

He goes on to describe the person and work of Jesus Christ in astonishing ways, so that any reader can see the unquestionable superiority of the Son, but in ways that are especially tailored for Jewish readers:

Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high:

What Does He Say?

  • He says that Jesus is the brightness of the Glory of God. (Think about the tabernacle! Remember how the Glory of God shone out from the Tabernacle so brightly that no one could go in? That was Jesus, personally showing up to bless the new structure, though it was just a tent at that point! Later, in the great Temple of Solomon, the same thing happened: The “Shekinah” Glory shone out. Jesus is the Brightness of God’s Glory!)
  • He says that Jesus is the exact manifestation of the Father. (Compare John 14:8-11) We have a hard time with this, because it exceeds our imagination, but the Jews had an even harder time, as they denied that it was possible for a man to be God, or for God to become a man. And yet, had they thought it over, they would have realized that God had many times appeared in the form of a man in their history. He had eaten with them, fought for them, and wrestled with one of the patriarchs! If they read Zechariah 12:1-10, they should have even seen that the one that was pierced was Jesus…and Jehovah!
  • He says that the Word of Jesus is what is “upholding all things”…maintaining the Universe… (Compare Colossians 1:15-17: “holding everything together”.)
  • The Greek word for “Power”, here, is “dunamis”, not the word for authority—“exousia”. This refers to the sheer magnitude of His ability. And yet, he does it by His Word.
  • He says that Jesus himself purged the sins of the human race…he alone did it. There is no other work to be done. The sinner can add nothing to the completed work of Jesus at the Cross. His blood stands for eternity as the full payment for the sins of the Human race. His work is finished!
  • He further says that when Jesus had accomplished that task, he sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high. (Note—in the tabernacle, or the temple (our only glimpses into the “arrangement” of the throne room of God) the Ark of the Covenant was the only piece of furniture in the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies. If Jesus completed his High-priestly duties, where could he sit? Especially, how could he sit down “at the right hand of God?” The answer is that he is God, and has the right to sit between the cherubim, on the Mercy Seat, in the place of God. Consider John 5:22) Further, the Old Testament high priests could never sit down. Their work could never be completed, even had there been a place to sit.

To me, these are mind-boggling premises. And the writer did not ease up on the ideas, or even try to “build a case,” culminating in the explanation of these facts. He simply, bluntly stated them, and allowed the Jewish readers to draw their own conclusions. The Jewish believers, then and now, were pretty awed by the prophets…and rightfully so. But the writer of the book of Hebrews immediately points out that Jesus surpasses the Prophets in every way.

Conclusion

If we haven’t already caught on to the identity of Jesus Christ, we need to open our eyes and see it! Paul spoke to a mixed audience: not all of them really knew the enormity of who Jesus is/was. Some still had the idea that he was just the most recent in a long line of Jewish Prophets. Some may have thought that he was some sort of exalted spiritual being, along the lines of an angel. The writer gives no room for such thoughts.

Who do you say that he is? Jesus asked that question of the disciples, and Peter responded, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” That turned out to be a great answer.

But there are those who are uncomfortable with it. John 1:1-14 reveals that Jesus is God in the Flesh, and Hebrews 1:1-14 reveals the same truth in more stark terms. We cannot relegate Jesus to a lesser status than who he really is. He has to be one of the following:

  1. The Almighty God, the Creator, who became a Man, so that He could die in our place,
  2. A lesser god of some sort, or
  3. Not a god at all.

Some people diminish Jesus to the state of a demi-god…a great spiritual being of some sort. This means he was not truly Man (which would disqualify Him as Savior) nor was He truly God (which would also disqualify Him as Savior.) So the religions and philosophies that deny His deity also have to deny him as Savior. (By the way, one of these groups, which lifts its name from Isaiah 43:10, where it says “I am Jehovah and you are my witnesses” in their Bible, ignore the next few verses, which say that there has never been another God before or after Him, and that apart from Him there is no savior!

Others go further and declare him to be only a man, possibly a good man, but deluded, at best. Some even go a step further and deny that he ever existed at all, as though he were simply a creature of mythology and wishful thinking…perhaps like Santa Claus. Not only would both of these accusations completely disqualify him as savior, they fly in the face of history.

The secular historians of Jesus’ time knew who he was. They denied his deity, but they surely knew of his existence. And the many thousands who believed on him in the first century were martyred because they knew who and what Jesus was, and because they believed in Him. Theirs was not a faith built on hearsay. They had known him personally, and had personally witnessed the crucifixion and the resurrection. People don’t willingly sacrifice their lives for something they know to be a lie. They knew the truth.

The fact is, we know the truth too! So we need to live as those who know the truth, and who, by that truth, have been set free to serve the Living God. As we study through Hebrews, we can be set free by the sure knowledge of the Person of Christ. It seems especially appropriate to think on these truths, at this season of Christmas, when we commemorate His birth. The following song by Mark Lowry, addresses this question:

Mary, Did you Know?

Mary, did you know that your baby boy would some day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when your kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

Oh Mary did you know

The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak the praises of the lamb?

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great “I AM!”

Personally, I find that concept absolutely beyond comprehension! But that is the Truth! The One whom we have come to know, and trust as our Savior.

Lord Jesus, lift up our eyes to see your face. Help us to see you in your humanity, but just barely cloaking your full deity. It is hard, perhaps impossible, for us to understand your deity, Help us to accept that truth, and see your face in the Scriptures as well as in the Creation.


Dealing with Grief and Avoiding Despair

Dealing with Grief: Avoiding Despair

© C. O. Bishop 12/27/14 THCF 1/4/15

Job 1:1-23, 2:1-10, 19:25; Daniel 3; Habakkuk 1-3

Introduction:

This past week, the week of Christmas, some neighbors around me had terrible things happen. One, an elderly man, the day after Christmas, lost his workshop to a fire, including tools, a classic car, racing motorcycles, and other things that had been his joy and private hobby for many years. One may philosophize, saying, “Ah, but no lives were lost!” Yes, that is true, but we humans hope to leave some heritage to grandchildren (if we have any) and that car and the motorcycles, his skill in building a race-bike, and whatever racing trophies he might have had were part of his legacy in his eyes. His most prized memorabilia were destroyed in the fire. Those cannot be replaced.

Far worse were the circumstances of another family nearby who, two days before Christmas, received the news that their youngest son (16 years old) has inoperable cancer, and that his only hope is very aggressive chemotherapy, as the tumor is on or very near his heart. He is still alive, but only a miracle can save his life. They will remember this grief and pain every Christmas for the rest of their lives. If God miraculously heals this young man, then they will also have the joy of remembering God’s supply.

How does one deal with such things? How can one endure the loss and not collapse under the weight of the grief? How can one find comfort, and even joy, in the face of such circumstances? How did people in the Bible deal with such things?

What about Job?

Job is the first person who comes to my mind: though his “friends” goaded him into some wrong statements, it is good to note that God (prior to his testing) said that he was a righteous man, a “perfect and upright man”. So the accusations later leveled by his friends were completely false. They were wrong, pure and simple. Not only were they wrong about Job, they were wrong about God…God says so, in Chapter 42. So, then, whenever we study the book of Job, we will do well to carefully examine who is talking, to see what God says about their comments.

Since today we are only touching on Job’s initial response, we will only hear four voices—God’s, Satan’s, Job’s and that of his wife, whose name is not recorded here. God makes authoritative statements regarding Job; Satan questions Job’s motives and character, thus saying God is wrong; God allows the test, and both Job and his wife respond. She broke under the pressure: Job did not. It is important that we do not join Satan or Job’s sorry “friends”, in accusing Job. If we differ from what God says, God is not wrong; we are.

Job’s response is one of the best recorded, in terms of handling grief: Job tore his clothes and shaved his head, in the classic reactions to grief for that time; but rather than railing against God, he fell on his face and worshipped God for His unchanging goodness, and for his authority. He made the statement that we so often piously quote at funerals: “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away…”, but he continued with the part we very seldom include: “…blessed be the name of the Lord!” This was not a religious platitude; it was pure worship. He confessed that his maker had the authority to take away, as well as to give: he worshipped God, in spite of his grief. God’s comment, twice in these chapters is that “…in all this Job did not sin with his lips.”

Later, under goading from his friends who wrongly believed that “bad things only happen to bad people”, Job made another famous statement of faith: “I know that my Redeemer liveth and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth…and that… I shall see him with my eye, and not another…” Job rested his faith in the coming final justice. Eventually, it is true, the friends goaded him into self-justification, but they and not he were judged for their actions. God corrected him, but rebuked them, saying, “My wrath is kindled against thee…for you have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath.” That is a good final note on Job’s life and discourse, and a cautionary note about Bible study. It is important to check who is talking in scripture…about two thirds of the book of job is recording the words of his friends, and God says they were wrong! We need to read carefully, and not make assumptions.

What can we learn from Job? First, that he was submissive to God’s will in his life: if he could have changed the circumstances, he would have—he loved his children and prayed for them daily, and offered sacrifices on their behalf; but when they were taken, it was through what even today, many people call “an act of God” (or, as the atheistic, secular world may say, an “act of nature”.) Job knew that there was nothing he could have done to ward off such an occurrence, nor certainly anything he could do to undo the damage. He was grieved at the loss, but accepted it as being from God, and stated that God had the authority to bring calamity as well as blessing.

He also knew that calamity is not always the result of sin…which his detractors had not learned. This is a hard one for us, too, even as New Testament believers: we tend to think that bad experiences must be punishment for some sin, even though both the Old Testament and the New Testament clearly teach that this is not necessarily the case. In Job’s case he had the confidence of a steady walk with God to bolster his spirit: he knew that the calamity was not punishment. It was only the accusations of the men he thought were his friends that moved him to defend against false accusations, and eventually he was bordering on self-justification, so God stepped in and stopped the test.

I can either rest in the character of God (bless God for his goodness, as Job did) or I can tear myself apart, looking for the hidden cause, the secret sin that must be the root of the calamity. I can worship, or I can wail. In a sense, as long as I choose to worship, I can still wail…but to God, not at Him.

One more thing to point out, here: Job evidently understood positional truth and the security of the believer, because he said that he knew (not just believed) that he himself, with his physically resurrected body, and his own eyes, would see his redeemer “at the latter day” when his redeemer was to stand upon the earth. How could he make such a statement if not for knowing the security of the believer? He did not just know that Jesus would make a triumphant return to Earth as the king (he is referring to the second coming, not the first) but he also stated that he himself would be there to see it, in a physically resurrected body. That is confidence…that is faith, the assurance of things hoped for; the sure knowledge of things not seen.

What about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego?

This is may not seem exactly the same thing, as what they faced was execution for Godly behavior, under an ungodly King. But consider: any “fiery trial” we may imagine can be seen in parallel to theirs. They had no children, nor would they ever, as they had been made eunuchs by this king’s decree; they were captive servants under a terrible regime. They were in imminent danger of being burned alive for refusing to commit idolatry, but they stood fast. Remember what they said: “We know that our God is able to deliver us…but if not (in other words, if He chooses not to deliver us)…we still will not worship your idol!” They chose to stand fast whether or not God would defend them. They were willing to die before disgracing their God.

We can choose to stand fast against the temptation to abandon faith, to question God’s character, to deny Him His due in our lives. Or we can give in, hoping to gain some peace of mind, as at least we will no longer find ourselves trying to justify God in circumstances that are beyond our understanding. I have known a number of believers to fall prey to this very thing. They felt they could no longer defend God’s actions so they joined his attackers.

God doesn’t need my defense. He is perfectly capable on His own, and has proven it on countless occasions throughout history. The three Hebrew youngsters were right and they knew it, but they also knew that God had made no promise to them, personally, to deliver them from harsh circumstances. So they took their stand with God, choosing to risk being incinerated rather than deny the God of their salvation. It seems that they shared Job’s confidence in the goodness of God, regardless of circumstances, and, that, like Job, they knew that the things that God does are not always explainable in human terms. Many times they are beyond our comprehension. I can either accept that truth, or, childishly, insist on an explanation.

God is not obliged to explain his actions, any more than I am obliged to explain to a saw-blade why I am filing away a portion of each tooth, to make the remaining portion sharp and usable. God can prune his vineyard, shear his sheep, sharpen his tools, and discipline his children. Discipline, again, does not mean punishment—it means training. Even in school, we might ask what discipline a student is pursuing…it means “what specific training are they hoping to attain?” A wrestling or football coach may demand that the members of his team run laps around a practice field as part of the discipline of their sport. It is not punishment at all, though it may feel like it. It is training, and has the goal of excellence in the sport.

In the case of Job and the Hebrew teenagers, we saw that God did reward them with a defense and a response of blessing. But what if He does not? Can we find joy in the person of Christ, even when the circumstances admit no compromise, and will certainly end in ruin?

What about Habakkuk?

Habakkuk was confronted with the evil of his own nation. He cried to God for Justice, but what he got was Judgment…and it was Just. God let him know that He, God, was about to judge the nation of Judah, using the Chaldean nation as the instrument of His judgment. Habakkuk knew that this judgment would result in utter catastrophe for Judah, as the Chaldeans (also called Babylonians) were a ruthless people. He protested that the punishment was too great, and that the “cure” was worse than the “disease”. But he was wrong and God was right (no surprise there….) God corrected his thinking, and declared that the judgment was coming.

Habakkuk accepted the coming judgment and declared that, though all the circumstances in which he usually found happiness and sustenance should fail, he himself would still find joy in the LORD (Jehovah); and that he would rejoice in the God of his salvation. That may seem a “pat answer” but you want to remember that Habakkuk was going to be right there in the judgment…there was no guarantee of a free pass through the judgment for him. He was about to see his whole way of life destroyed, and a high percentage of the people he knew and cared for destroyed, and all the rest enslaved. (By the way, this is the captivity that took Daniel and his friends, resulting in their castration and enslavement…this is not a theoretical test. It was the real thing.) We never heard from Habakkuk again. We don’t know what happened to him, whether he even survived the siege or possibly died before it began. But he had taken his stand with God, and chose to find joy and comfort in the person of his Creator and Savior.

The last phrase in chapter 3 of Habakkuk states that “He maketh my feet as hind’s feet, and setteth me upon my high places.” A “hind” is a type of deer that loves to climb in mountain crags. It is extremely sure-footed, and so “stays above” all the trouble below it. We might liken it to a mountain goat, here in the Americas, or an ibex (steinbok) in the Alps. The point is that while Habakkuk set himself to find Joy in the eternal God instead of the circumstances, he also placed his trust in his savior to keep him confident in Christ, not affected by circumstance.

That is easy to say, of course, but remember that these fellows made these statements while confronted with the loss of all that was dear to them, and probably their own lives, as well. Job had already lost all his children, and all his belongings, and his wife and  friends seemed to conspire against him…she begging him to give it up and die (possibly, from her perspective, for his own good) and his friends urging him to confess nonexistent sins. The Hebrew children were facing the furnace in person. They could feel the heat, and knew that execution was imminent. Habakkuk only knew for sure that the destruction and captivity of his people was inescapable, and that everything he loved in life was about to be taken away. This was not a “maybe”—it was a definite event about to happen. Each of these believers chose to find their peace in Christ.

So…What about Us?

We, too, can choose to trust God. We can choose to find our joy in Christ. We can choose to believe that His Justice is greater than our sense of what is “fair”. We can choose to believe that His Love (demonstrated at the Cross!) is greater than our feeble affections, though we may love with all our hearts. Feelings may be strong, but actions are what get things done, and God acted! He went to the Cross in the person of Christ, and personally paid the price of our sins. Just “feeling sorry for us” would not have accomplished anything. He acted on our behalf.

I don’t know whether I would choose well under the circumstances I listed above: The loss of a shop building or other belongings might discourage me for a while, but the loss of a child or of my wife would surely destroy me, if it were not for the person of Christ. I hope that I would be faithful to trust Him even in hard times. So far, I have been able to do so…but, honestly, my circumstances have been pretty easy compared to what some believers endure.

We can pray for one another, and go to one another in time of need, encouraging those who suffer, helping those in need. We can support one another as we endure hard times. We can share with one another, working together to overcome adversity. But ultimately, our trust has to be in the One who created, saved and sustains us. We have to practice this daily, in the small things, to prepare ourselves for the hard things to come. Can you do it? Will you?

Ultimately we have to be committed to trusting Him even if he chooses to not rescue us from our trial. Job said (Job 13:15), “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” That has to be the “bottom line” for us as well, or we will be enslaved to circumstances. When we only recognize blessing if it is something we like, we are enslaved to circumstances. That is not OK.

The blessing and mercy of God may include our early “graduation” from the “school” of life. The son of Jeroboam, in 1st Kings 14:13 was rewarded for his good by an early death, as the prophet said: “because there is some good found in him toward the LORD God of Israel.” He was the only one of Jeroboam’s household who received a proper burial, and his early death was provided so that he escaped the coming judgment. We do not always know God’s purpose, but we do know His character.

Learn early to trust the Lord in every circumstance, so that when the hard times come you are already fortified against them. Otherwise they will come without warning, and you will be overwhelmed. Choose continually to find your Joy, Comfort and Peace in the Person of Christ.

God give us Grace to trust you in every trial, to seek your Light no matter how great our darkness, and to seek your Love though all others have deserted us, and to find our Joy in You.

Amen!