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Judgment and Righteousness

Judgment and Righteousness

© C. O. Bishop 2/27/2019

Isaiah 1:20-28; Ezekiel 34:1-17;

Introduction:

We are beginning to study through the book of Isaiah. Last time we saw the opening charges of God against Judah and Jerusalem. That is who the book is to, though it will eventually address itself to several other nations and peoples as well. We are wise to remember to whom the book is addressed, and not to attempt to co-opt all the promises and judgments for other use, even when they seem so appropriate to us. On the other hand, the fact that they seem so appropriate to us, is due to the fact that they can indeed apply to us, though they were not directed to us.

Judgment is truly coming for sin: all sin! How that judgment comes may vary a great deal, but God’s Righteousness will not be denied, and Judgment must come.

The Coming Judgment  

20 But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

Beginning in verse 20, God begins the warnings to, and His view of, Judah. He says that if they continue to rebel it will cost them their lives. Judgment is definitely coming. God has given “fair warning,” and Judah has been notified, that if she refuses to be reasonable and accept His offer of Grace, then destruction will be the result. God has given His Word regarding the coming Judgment, and it is going to happen. It is imminent. For the Jews, it was coming in the form of invasion by their enemies, and for the whole world, it is coming in the form of the Great Tribulation. The only escape is through the person of Christ.

Consider the Judgment of the Flood, in Noah’s day. God announced the coming Judgment; Noah apparently preached it as a fact, durimg all the time the Ark was being built (he is called a preacher of righteousness), and, when the judgment finally came, the only lives that escaped the destruction were those people and animals who had sought safety in the Ark…those who had placed their faith in God’s Word, and entered into that Ark by faith. They chose to follow God’s Word, and trust in His promise.

We have had nearly 3,000 years of warning of the coming Tribulation, if one counts the veiled warnings in the early prophets; more than 2,500 years of very explicit warning, from the major and minor prophets of the Old Testament, and 2,000 years of rather graphic, explicit warning, as portrayed in the Revelation, and the other New Testament writings. There is no question that more than half the world’s population will be destroyed in the Great Tribulation, and that most of those left will still be judged for their wickedness, as Jesus returns to halt the tribulation. We read that one quarter of the world’s people will die in the wars beginning the tribulation, and that one third of those left will die of famine and disease, thereafter. But in Matthew 25:31, ff, we see that the Judgment of the living nations, by Jesus Himself, will immediately follow his return, and that those who treated Israel and the believers well will enter the Kingdom-age alive. Those who mistreated Israel and the believers will enter eternal Judgment immediately. The judgment of the living nations is still not the final judgment. The Kingdom of Heaven, wherein Jesus reigns here on earth, from Jerusalem, will last 1,000 years, and will also end in Judgment, as the secret rebellion on earth becomes outright revolt under Satan’s influence. Those rebels will be destroyed, but immediately thereafter comes the final Judgment, at the Great White Throne.

Keep in mind, as we read, who the Judge actually is: Jesus said “The Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment unto the Son.” (John 5:22) So, the Judge in all this terrible, coming destruction, is God the Son! Our Savior is also the Judge of all the Earth! He gives us warning, so that humans may escape the coming destruction, if they are willing, and be saved.

The Basis for Judgment

21 How is the faithful city become an harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.

He goes on to decry their moral decay, and their apostasy, saying, “How the faithful city (Jerusalem) has become a harlot (a prostitute, an adulteress, a slut.) This is using an object lesson—he has referred to Israel, elsewhere, as the wife of God, but here, He compares Jerusalem to a wanton, sexually unfaithful wife; the people are spiritually unfaithful, rebellious against God, and continually seeking out idolatry of one sort or another.

God considers idolatry to be spiritual adultery. Both Israel and Judah were unfaithful to God through idolatry, with Israel being first and worst, but Judah following hard after. It is instructive to note that after the Babylonian captivity, you do not see much about physical idolatry in Judah. They at least seem to have learned that lesson. God addresses another kind of idolatry as well, later on. And, in the New Testament, He identifies covetousness as being a form of idolatry.

He does say, however, that she had started out differently—under David, Jerusalem had been the city of the king, and the city where the original temple of God was to be built, under Solomon, (before he, himself, began his own slide into self-indulgent sin.)

By the time of Isaiah, the descent into sin had grown into a national epidemic of idols and immorality. In fact, before Hezekiah ascended to the throne, the temple had completely fallen into disuse; it was full of filth (unspecified, but one can imagine) and had ultimately been boarded up, while outside of it, there were literally idolatrous shrines on every street corner, being used daily in the worship of a variety of heathen gods and goddesses. Under Hezekiah, the last King under whom Isaiah served, we saw a national revival, and the blessing of God, once again protecting Judah. But it did not last long.

We, today, have filled our lives with any number of things that we hold to be more interesting, more valuable, and more important in our lives than a right relationship with the God who created us. God calls that idolatry. In our hearts, we begin to “board up” our hearts against God, as we spend most of our time and money on other pursuits. Though many of those pursuits are innocent in themselves, the fact that they ultimately supplant God, and render us deaf to His voice, eventually makes them a trap, and a hazard to our spiritual lives. We are very easily distracted by the World, and the results can be disastrous.

22 Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water:

In verse 22, God compares Judah to a precious metal whose purity has been impaired to the point that Judah is now the dross that should be scraped off the surface of the molten silver in a refiner’s fire—not the silver itself, which He is trying to purify. Silver is a good metal to use for such a comparison, because, though it does have intrinsic value, and is sought after as a precious metal, unlike gold, it also combines rather easily with other elements (including other metals, such as tin) and tarnishes badly, even after purification.

Aluminum is another such example: metallic aluminum did not exist until the early 1800’s, and, as a result, aluminum was once considered the most precious metal, as it is very difficult to purify. What miners are digging up when it is mined, is Aluminum oxide ore, called “bauxite.” It can be purified into metallic aluminum, by application of enormous amounts of electricity. It takes great power to purify the metal…but it can easily return to nonmetallic form in a corrosive environment.

Does that sound familiar? It took miraculous power to purify our lives, at salvation: we were resurrected with Christ, and are eternally linked to Him. But, we believers live in a corrosive environment. The World around us draws us away from the purity of a relationship with Christ, and, in doing so, corrodes all areas of our lives. We lose the strength and beauty provided by God, and become contaminated with the dross that was once destined to be thrown away.

God further compares Jerusalem to “watered-down” wine. How often I have heard the accusation against some pastor or teacher, saying “He waters down the Word of God!” Personally I don’t like wine, so the metaphor is somewhat lost on me, but a person who waters down wine (or any other expensive beverage) is ruining the whole jug. How interesting, that Jesus’ first miracle, at the wedding feast of Cana, was to turn water into wine. Only God can do this.

Anyone can extract the alcohol from wine, through distillation, but only God can make it back into wine, when once it has been diluted with water. Alcohol is easy to remove: water is less easy. Getting the water out without losing the alcohol is very difficult…and to restore it to being a quality beverage, approved by those who judge wine by taste, was a genuine miracle. But I doubt that anyone at that wedding feast made the connection with the accusation here in Isaiah.

Deserved Judgment

I think sometimes, we “judge God”, as we think that He is “too harsh” toward sin. But, in this passage, he points out that the culmination of sin is not just the general immorality and deadness toward God: it always results in predatory behavior toward other people, especially the defenseless. So, the widows and orphans in Jerusalem were being preyed upon by evil people, especially by rulers who had the authority and the responsibility to defend them, but instead, as Jesus said, they “devoured the homes of widows.” There are people today who specialize in attending sheriff’s auctions, buying up items confiscated by the courts (ostensibly to satisfy debts or court judgments) at such cheap prices that the debt is not cancelled, and the person whose property was seized is still in debt. There is no defense against such practices, and, when judgment falls, there will be no defense for those who practiced such evil.

23 Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.

In verse 23, God says their leaders had become corrupt; companions of thieves (bad company, even for politicians), and were accepting, even loving, bribes. They perverted justice for the sake of money (is this sounding familiar again?), and did not render justice for the poor, specifically orphans and widows.

In the news today, we constantly hear of justice being perverted in favor of the rich and famous, with little defense for the poor. Jerusalem had gone down that same path, and they were facing the Judgment of God as a result. We shake our heads over such injustice, and say “they deserve judgment.” But we forget that God sees all sin as having the same source: He does not judge only the sins that are obvious. He judges all sin. It all resulted in Jesus’s death at the Cross. All of it was paid for by Jesus’s blood at the Cross. And all sinners, including us, are deserving of God’s judgment…though we don’t like to think such things. But this is why Romans 3:23 says “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” And Romans 6:23 says that “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus.”

Yes, we deserve judgment! But God has provided Redemption.

Redemption through Judgment

Remember that the means of our redemption was through Jesus fulfilling the demands of the Law on our behalf. The Law requires the death of the sinner. Jesus died in the place of all sinners, as a substitutionary sacrifice, just as the Ram in the thicket died in place of Isaac, as a substitute for him.  We are redeemed through Judgment, in such a way as to not be destroyed by judgment. (Galatians 2:19 “I through the Law am dead to the Law, that I might live unto God.”)

24 Therefore saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies:

25 And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin:

26 And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city.

God says that He will rid himself of this repulsive group, thus easing himself of his adversaries, and taking vengeance on His enemies. Does that sound harsh? Does it seem judgmental? Call it “tough-love” if you want, but God calls it right judgment. God says we are not to coddle sin. Both the Old and New Testaments clearly teach that we ARE to judge sin…the Old Testament calls for it in both civil government and the Jewish religion. The New Testament addresses it in the Church. In no place does God suggest that sin is to be winked at, nor, especially, that fame or riches should pervert judgment.

God, in this case, states that He himself will purge away the “dross” in His people, the Jews. (Remember that “dross” is the contaminants mixed with a precious metal, which can usually be removed through great heat.) He repeatedly used their pagan enemies as His “refiner’s fire”, and purged the idolatry out of the nation through defeat as a nation. The (future) result will be that Jerusalem will once again be called the city of righteousness (verse 26), and the faithful city. This has never yet happened, and will only occur during the Millennial Kingdom, also called the Kingdom of Heaven, here on earth. Jesus spoke much about this coming time period.

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

Zion (Jerusalem, that is) will be redeemed with Judgment…and her converts with righteousness.

I’m not sure what this may have meant to the people of that day: it may reflect upon the means by which God will purify Jerusalem during the coming Tribulation: that would certainly fit. Or it could be a prophecy concerning the Cross. It was through God’s righteous judgment being poured out upon Jesus, at the Cross, that I have been redeemed. And, only due to His righteousness being imputed to me by faith, just as it was to Abram, in Genesis 15:6, I now have a right standing before God. This is the only way God offers eternal redemption to anyone. In fact, it is the only way He has ever saved anyone in history: by Grace, through Faith; not through works. (Ephesians 2:8, 9)

But God goes on to say what will happen to the wicked:

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

Jesus himself warned that “…they who believe not are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18) And, finally, at the Great White Throne Judgment, we see the eternal loss of all the rebels of history, who defied God, and rejected His offer of redemption. The “consuming” fire will be the Lake of fire. John the Baptist gave that warning, before Jesus made his appearance; that, “…he (Jesus) will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:12)

Conclusion: Escape from Judgment

Judgment is truly coming. And, we deserve it. But the Judgment for all sin was poured out upon Jesus at the Cross, so that through His being judged, we could be redeemed. Those who understand that a righteous God must judge sin, and who wish to escape that judgement, have the offer of Eternal Salvation through the Cross. There is no other approach to the Holy God, and no other escape from His Righteous Judgment. This is the “Bad News” and the “Good News:” this is the Gospel we have to offer to all around us. It is our privilege and responsibility to do so.

Lord Jesus, awaken our hearts to see the reality of sin, and the lostness of the people. Stir our hearts to care, and to care enough to speak, and to offer the same eternal life to them that you have given to us. Help us to speak wisely, and to see a harvest of souls. Make us able ambassadors of your Grace.


Beginning the Book of Isaiah

Beginning the Book of Isaiah

© C. O. Bishop 2/16/19

Introduction:

Regarding the Prophets:

The prophetic books are usually listed in two divisions; Major and Minor—this has nothing to do with importance or authority, but only volume. Also, the prophets are not in chronological order. So, Isaiah is not the first (Jonah is), nor is it necessarily the most important. (In terms of how it ties the whole Bible timeline together, it might be argued that Daniel is possibly most important.) But in terms of the frequency with which it is quoted by New Testament writers, as well as sheer volume, and how thoroughly it points to the person of Christ and the coming kingdom age, and warns of coming judgment, Isaiah is foremost, in every sense.

Further, remember that, in all ages, a prophet was/is a mouthpiece for God…a spokesman for God. In the Old Testament he was also (frequently) a “seer” or a teller of what was to come. God claims this as His own peculiar credential as bona fide Deity: He is the only one who can tell us precisely how things will turn out. No educated guesses, or vague, smoke-and-mirrors type “prophecies.” He called by name, people who were not to be born for decades to come (Cyrus, in Isaiah 44:28; Josiah in 1st Kings 13:2); and He told in exquisite detail, things that would happen in hours, in a day, or a month, a year, or even thousands of years in the future. (Isaiah 48:5)

A Look at Isaiah

Isaiah was one of the most important prophets, in that: he was quoted by most of the New Testament writers, he was the writer of the most lengthy of the prophetic books, and he ministered to Judah under four kings (though only briefly under Uzziah, also known as Azariah.) The first five chapters are a rather lengthy introduction to the themes of the book, as his apparent call from God occurred in chapter six—at least that is the way it looks…he does not specifically say that this was his first call—he only says what happened—and also says that he served under four kings (verse 1).

Isaiah gives us a great deal of information about the coming Messiah: his virgin birth, his suffering, his resurrection, his return in judgment, his earthly kingdom, and his eternal reign. Another important theme is the remnant of Israel, preserved by God. Yet another is the eventual blessing of the gentile nations (predicted earlier, by Moses, in Genesis 22:18).

As we read the book, it is very important to remember that this book of prophecy is to Israel and Judah (the divided Kingdom), though mostly (verse 1) to Judah (southern portion) and her capital city, Jerusalem; and NOT to us, as Christians, or as Americans (or whomever else). It is for us all, but not to us all…this is an important distinction, in that when God says “Israel”, He means Israel, not the United States, Britain, or some other gentile nation. We are to learn from their experience, and be warned by the consequences of their behavior. But the book is definitely concerning Israel and Judah, not (primarily) any other nation, except as named in the text.

When reading this book, it is nearly impossible to avoid the tendency to try to apply the condemnations and warnings directly to our country(s), because they seem so applicable;  but that is the key—remember that they were directly, literally to Israel; usually Judah in particular, and only by application…careful application…is it for us. The same goes double for the promises: unless it is part of the promised blessings to the gentiles, don’t try to apply any of the promises as a blanket promise to all who believe—it might be (and most probably is) specific to Jerusalem in particular, Judah, Israel, or the combined reunified tribes as a nation.

The book begins with a solemn warning to Judah and Jerusalem.

Chapter 1

1The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.

The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.

Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.

After addressing the book (verse 1) to Judah and Jerusalem, God begins by calling the whole creation to bear witness (verse 2): He has reared up a people, a privileged people, whom He has nourished and cared for, as if He were rearing children; but that nation has rebelled against Him. He compares them unfavorably (verse 3) to barnyard animals: oxen and asses…pointing out that even lowly, relatively unintelligent animals recognize the one who feeds them (verse 3)…but that Judah has forgotten her God, and deliberately turned her back on Him (verse 4.)

I have observed this behavior among even the lower animals, as well; birds, for example. A flock of chickens will quickly learn to recognize the one who feeds them, and will come running when that person calls. Even fish (sea bass) are currently being experimentally trained to come to a particular sonic signal, in hopes that fish farming and harvesting will become simpler.

But: we humans have a distressing tendency to forget who our sustainer has been. We do this both in human relationships and in our relationship to God. Ingratitude, and a short memory of the benefits we have received, seem to be ingrained into our fallen nature: Even though we usually find it personally offensive if another human fails to recognize a service we have done toward them, we constantly do the same thing, particularly in our relationship with God. And it costs us dearly: In the case of Judah, it brought national chastisement from God.

Notice, too, that he says they are loaded down with sins, and that they are a brood (seed) of evildoers. This is who they are by nature. They did not just “somehow become that way.” Jesus addressed this idea in John 8:44, where he said that the Jews to whom He spoke were the children of the devil…He said “ye are of your father, the devil, and his works will ye do….” It was natural for the people to respond the way they did, because of their pedigree. Judah, in Isaiah’s day, was no different: God said they were not only corrupt, but they were “corrupters.” They influenced others to corruption, as well. Sin is always contagious. When we rebel against God, we influence others to do the same.

As a nation, Judah had forsaken the LORD, and turned away completely. There were still believers around: under Hezekiah there was a great revival, and Judah turned back to God, in a great way. (Read 2nd Chronicles 29-32) But there had already been a terrible apostasy in Judah, which had begun much earlier in Israel, the Northern ten tribes. As a nation, they were in sin; and, God states (in verses 5-8,) that He has punished Judah until there is nothing left to punish.

Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.

From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.

Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.

And the daughter of Zion (Jerusalem) is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.

The custom in that day was to erect a small shelter for a night watchman in vineyards and gardens, to keep marauding animals away. But when the season was over, and harvest was past, the shelter was left to fall apart, as it was only a temporary shelter anyway. Far from being the prosperous nation they had once been, Judah was in poverty, now, and Jerusalem was in ruins.

They were a destroyed, desolate nation, cast down by the God they had once claimed to serve. He was now offering to try something else in order to reach Judah. He offered to reason with them. Incidentally, this is nothing new—He has attempted to reason with Man since the very beginning (Genesis 3:9-13, 4:6, 7, etc.). But He is once more attempting to reason with a fallen people. God extends reason to us, as well, via the Gospel. We always consider ourselves to be “reasonable” people, but the historical facts do not support that claim. We rebel as a matter of principle, as if it is somehow a noble cause, and a right thing to do. We forget that a puppet who “cuts his strings” is completely helpless. The strings were what made him seem to be alive and functioning. We are not puppets, in the strictest sense, but we are utterly dependent upon the God who created us and who sustains and defends us…and, whether we believe it or not.

Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.

10 Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.

Hypocrisy Stinks

Judah was still practicing “religion,” but their hearts have long ago abandoned His worship. (Careful, now…this is Judah, not the USA, or any other modern, post-Christian nation.) He compares them to Sodom, and to Gomorrah (verses 9 and 10.) So, knowing that their hearts are far from Him, he tells them (v. 11-15) to take away their sacrifices, services, incense and prayers. He wants nothing to do with their pretense.

11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.

12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?

13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.

14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.

15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

God could no longer stand the sight and smell of their offerings: he wanted to hear no more of their prayers. He states that when they lifted their hands to Him in prayer, what He saw was that their hands were red with the blood of the innocents they had killed as a nation.

I don’t know whether He meant criminal attacks, or gross governmental negligence which has cost people their lives, or something else entirely. In our nation, the United States, it might well apply to the huge numbers of abortions every year, or, possibly to our having sold weapons of war all over the planet, or simply to the many who lose their lives every year, to crime in our streets and homes, while our governments are filled with people who claim to be good, and “Champions of Justice,” but adamantly refuse to put away the evil from among us. We parole violent criminals, and allow them to go back and repeat their crimes and worse. We promote the lottery, and then decry the gambling addictions that ruin our people. We glorify violence and immorality in television shows and movies, and then wonder why our people continue to slide into more and more violent crime, and gross immorality. We are reaping what we have sown.

Judah had done the same sorts of things, and was coming to the end of their cycle. Notice that God is not saying that the religion itself had anything wrong with it—the problem was the people. Judaism and the Temple services associated with it, was ordained by God: but, the people repeatedly allowed themselves to first become perfunctory, and then lax, and finally completely false in their response toward God. Their religion had become irrelevant to them, and repugnant to God. What does God say they needed? Repentance and cleansing.

Repentance and Cleansing

16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;

17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

Verse 16 and 17 describe repentance—the kind of repentance God wants: first, a turning from evil (which first requires recognizing it,) and then a turning to good. Repentance does not simply mean halting—it means reversing direction. They had to return to their relationship to God being central to who they were as a nation, not just a peripheral point of interest, or a national peculiarity, and “trademark” of sorts. It had to be the core of their thinking, not a “veneer” pasted to the outer shell: it must be the structure, not the “paint.”

Social justice was to be the fruit of that change, not the change itself. Attempting to change the results without changing the core issue is akin to hanging fruit on a dead tree. It will only be a temporary change, and impossible to maintain; while a genuine revival of the tree would produce life, and fruit in its season. So, God calls to them to restore their relationship with Himself. The proof of that restoration would be the fruit He describes.

A nation can produce righteous legislation, but it is impossible to “legislate righteousness.” You cannot produce righteousness by laws, or even by external obedience to righteous laws: Paul emphasized this in Galatians 2:21; “I do not frustrate the Grace of God, for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” David recognized this truth in Psalm 51:17, where he recognized that a broken and contrite heart would not be rejected by God.

Be Reasonable

So, now God attempts to reason with His people:

18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:

This is God’s offer to “settle out of court”, so to speak—a plea for them to be reasonable—to be entreated, and to accept good counsel. Notice the phrase “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” God is offering cleansing. His command that they wash themselves has become an invitation to be washed. The self-cleansed man is no cleaner than when he began to wash…God points this out in another passage: Jeremiah 2:22 and 4:14 tell the other side of that challenge. (“Though thou wash thee with nitre (washing soda), and take the much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord GOD”, and “O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness that thou mayest be saved”.) One could find a parallel with John 13:8, where Jesus said to Peter, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” God has to do the cleansing, or the sinner can never be clean.

Judgment is Coming

20 But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

This is his warning to Judah of coming Judgment. The whole world has also been warned of coming Judgment. We know that God is righteous, and that He judges sin. How we respond to that knowledge reveals who we are. If we are grieved by our own sins, and throw ourselves on His Mercy, as offered in the person of Christ, then He offers to permanently set our sins aside. But if we ignore His warning, then we stand condemned because of our unbelief. There is no middle ground. Jesus said those who put their faith in Him are not condemned, but that those who reject Him are condemned already, because they do not trust in Him. (John 3:18)

We need to keep these things in mind as we study through the book of Isaiah.

Lord Jesus, help us to look into your Word and see your face as the King of Kings, the immortal eternal and sovereign God of all time and space—and our Savior! Make us able ministers of your Grace to the dying world around us.


Prayer Requests, Final Instructions and Greetings

Prayer Requests, Final Instructions and Greetings

© C. O. Bishop 2/16/19

Colossians 4:2-18

Introduction:

We have been studying through the Epistle to the Church in Colosse, and we have finally come to the last chapter. The final comments actually begin in verse two, as we saw last time: the first verse is actually in reference and conclusion, to the last part of chapter 3. But, here, even in the midst of Paul’s closing thoughts, there is food for our souls:

Prayer Requests

Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving;

Prayer is something that Paul treated as serious business. He did not see it as a “last resort,” to which we are to turn when all other avenues of hope have failed. Far from a last resort, he saw it as a continuous calling, for us to be in close communion with God, and so that we can have guidance from God, as well as expressing gratitude for His supply in all things. But it is interesting to see what Paul prayed for: notice his prayer request in the next verse:

Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds:

That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.

Paul was in a prison, because of the Gospel, and because of his preaching the faith to others. He did not ask that he be freed from prison, or that he would escape punishment for having preached the Gospel: He asked for more opportunities to speak, and the ability to make it clear (manifest) to his hearers. He recognized that he was in prison for that very thing, and all it did was to make him more earnestly desiring to make it all worthwhile by leading more people to Christ.

It shames me to realize how little effort I give to prayer for the souls of those around me, and the opportunity to share Christ with them, compared to the energy I expend, pleading for my own “release from bondage” to whatever circumstances I find “unbearable.” And my circumstances are far less ugly than the Roman prison in which Paul was languishing: not even worthy of mention, let alone comparison.

Final Instructions

And Paul, along with the prayer requests, had some final words of instruction for the believers at Colosse:

Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.

Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.

Paul gave the preaching of the Gospel “top billing” in terms of priority. And, he commands that we see ourselves as having that same responsibility, and to use our time well, in that regard. We are to consider how we use our words, seasoning our thoughts and words with Grace, as if it were salt, to enhance the flavor of life, so as to reach out to any willing to hear the good news of Christ. Redeeming the time by “walking in wisdom toward them that are without…:” reaching out to unbelievers.

You may have noted that people often state their “last requests” as the thing most prominent in their mind: Paul gave this final admonition regarding the witness of the believers to those around them that final place of importance, and demonstrated that it was his own top priority, as well. We need to examine our own hearts as to how we see those around us. Do we see them as precious souls for whom Jesus shed His blood, or mostly as aggravations and annoyances, whom we wish would just leave us alone? Give that some thought: Remember that the people to whom Paul hoped to bear witness were those who had imprisoned him, and who intended to kill him.

Final Introductions and Greetings

The remaining passage is nearly entirely devoted to personal introductions, regarding the messengers who were to bring the letter to Colosse, and personal greetings, extended from those with Paul, to be delivered to those among the believers at Colosse who knew them.

All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, who is a beloved brother, and a faithful minister and fellowservant in the Lord:

Whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that he might know your estate, and comfort your hearts;

With Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They shall make known unto you all things which are done here.

These men, Tychicus and Onesimus, were sent to deliver the letter to Colosse, to encourage the believers, and to bring back news to Paul as to their condition as a church. He commended them personally for their faithfulness and referred to them as beloved brothers, and fellow servants. On several occasions, Tychicus served as a messenger for Paul, travelling to distant cities to carry a word from (or to) Paul. We might turn up our noses at being a “messenger-boy,” but, in reality, that was quite a privilege, if you consider whose “messenger-boy” he was: whom he was serving: and know that it resulted in his being mentioned five times in God’s Word.

Interestingly, Onesimus is the same individual that we can read about in the epistle to Philemon, where we can see that, when Paul first met him, he was an escaped slave, running away from Philemon, who was a believer. Paul led him to Christ, and returned him to Philemon, as a brother, not just a slave. In this passage, however, it seems that he is pretty much acting in freedom, and Paul points out that he is from Colosse, as well. These two were to let the believers in Colosse know all that was going on with Paul, and return to Paul with news of Colosse.

10 Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;)

Aristarchus had travelled with Paul on his missionary journey, had worked with him, and had been abused by the crowds along with him. He had been “through it all” with Paul, and now was in prison along with Paul. And, he sent his greetings to these fellow-believers.

Remember, too, that Mark (John Mark from Acts 13:13, 15:36-39…nephew of Barnabas) had previously been rejected for service by Paul, but had been subsequently mentored and made a disciple by his uncle, Barnabas. This is also the “Mark” who wrote the Gospel of Mark. Paul eventually recognized that the young man had been transformed by God and made to be truly worthwhile in the ministry. (See 2nd Timothy 4:11, where Paul said Mark was “…profitable to me for the ministry.”) Perhaps we can use that fact to engender hope in our own lives, when we may feel “rejected” in some particular area of service, knowing that the Lord is not finished with us and that he can make us “profitable for the ministry” as well.

11 And Jesus, which is called Justus, who are of the circumcision. These only are my fellowworkers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me.

We don’t know much about this last fellow, however, all these men were all identified as Jews, but were also identified as his fellow-workers unto the Kingdom of God. I am not sure why he says they were the “only” ones, even at the moment, because there were definitely others.

12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.

13 For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis.

Evidently Epaphras had brought the news to Paul regarding the church at Colosse, and possibly was also the one who “planted” that church, but he was also from that area, himself. We don’t know a great deal about him, so the following is only a guess: Possibly Epaphras had gone elsewhere, heard the Gospel, become a believer, and had been fairly thoroughly trained in the Word. He subsequently went home, and shared with others, with the result that now there was a blossoming church there.

This pattern has been repeated over the centuries, by people who “took the Gospel home with them,” and led others to Christ. It has happened countless times in families, where one person was saved, and led the whole family to faith. It is still happening today, in third-world countries, where a missionary has contact with a single tribal person who is out of his “home area”, but who seizes upon the Gospel as a treasure, and feeds upon the Word, as spoken by the missionary. He then goes home to his village, and tells others what he has found. Those others are thrilled by his testimony, limited though his understanding may be, and they also believe. Later, they go back to find that missionary, to get “the rest of the story”, and the missionary travels with them to the village, where he finds that there are whole families of believers, yet untaught, but who have believed the Gospel as they understood it, and who are wide open to more teaching. What a thrill that would be! Pretty overwhelming, actually.

There was a book, years ago, called “Fire on the Mountain” (If I remember correctly) in which the story of the evangelical church in Ethiopia was recalled. When the missionaries were forcibly deported, under Mussolini, during the outbreak of WWII, there had only been 48 believers or so, and they were largely untaught.

The missionaries were absolutely devastated, and sick about it, thinking that they were “leaving a flock unattended,” and that the work would have to begin all over again, if they were ever allowed to return. But the “Good Shepherd” was in charge: ten years later, when the war was over, they did return, and found that there were now ten thousand believers, all saved through the testimonies of those forty-odd spiritual “babies” left behind. These were very poorly taught, as the original believers had very little teaching themselves, and very little of the scriptures had been translated. But they had committed themselves to obedience to the little they knew, and God had blessed His Word. The missionaries were free to re-teach, and train up these Ethiopian disciples, to understand God’s Word, and joyfully go on living for God.

14 Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.

Luke, the physician, is the one who wrote the Book of Acts, as well as the Gospel of Luke. We can see that he was a favorite of Paul. Demas was with them at the time, and had also served faithfully, but later, there is a sad footnote that Demas was drawn away by the lure of “this present world,” and abandoned the work and his fellowship with Paul. (2nd Timothy 4:10)

15 Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.

We see in verse 16 that this epistle and others were intended to be “circular” letters, circulating among the believers, and to be read in various church assemblies. Peter confirmed that the writings of Paul were to be considered “scriptures”, in 2nd Peter 3:15, 16. And today, we have the whole of God’s Word, and circulate it everywhere.

16 And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.

Verse 17 includes the only personal admonition in this epistle: It leaves me to wonder: what was the problem with Archippus?

17 And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.

Was Archippus getting “sidetracked?” Was he, as Peter was being drawn back to a professional life, in whatever trade he possessed? Or was he being drawn away by the world in some other way? Or was he simply being “distracted” by some pressing need or personal interest? We really don’t know. But we do know that Archippus was personally admonished, in a public letter, to “get back on task.”

How much we could apply this verse to our own lives? What ministry has been entrusted to us? How faithfully are we fulfilling it? What level of priority do we assign to the service of God, and to the particular responsibility that is ours? To what degree are we being “drawn away” by the world, or by personal interests, passions, and desires?

There is nothing wrong with having a variety of interests. Let’s consider “fishing,” as an example. I know a man who, once or twice a year, goes on a fishing trip. That is his “vacation.” The trip lasts for a weekend, each time, but the rest of the year, he is absolutely faithfully focused on ministry, as a deacon, taking care of the physical needs of a church.

The difference between his actions and those of Peter (when Peter said “I go a fishing,”) is that Peter was returning to his old job as a commercial fisherman, and taking the other disciples with him. Jesus had specifically called him away from the boats (and the fish,) three times. He was not doing it as a “weekend off…” he was abandoning his God-given job. He was doing exactly opposite of what Jesus had personally called him to do.

Perhaps we need to consider what God’s call is for our own lives: we can go to God’s Word to find out what that call really is, and then follow His leading to find, specifically, how he wants us to carry it out. Perhaps we need to consider how we are responding to the call of God, as well. Are we actually following what He says to do? I fervently hope that I will not fail to fulfil the ministry to which I have been assigned.

Closing Benediction

It seems Paul may have signed the letter in person, for once, though he usually had someone else do the actual writing of the letter. (Galatians was the exception. Evidently that particular time he had no scribe to help him, and had to write it himself, in large letters, due to his damaged eyesight.) This time he simply signed it after the letter was written.

18 The salutation by the hand of me Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you. Amen.

This is the only place in the epistle where Paul seems to ask for prayer regarding his imprisonment. I cry out every day to God, to relieve whatever little problem I am facing, none of which even remotely approach the level of suffering endured by Paul and the other apostles and prophets. But Paul was mostly concerned with the task at hand, and the circumstances were only mentioned in passing, as a rule.

Perhaps, even here, we can find an admonition to “toughen up a bit”, and to not allow the daily, ordinary vicissitudes of life to distract us from the job we have been given to do. We are to remember the Grace of God that sustains us, and stand firm.

I pray that God’s Word will have that effect upon each of our lives.

Lord Jesus, touch our hearts by your Holy Spirit, through your Word, and change us into your likeness, transforming us into the faithful men and women of God that you have created us to be. Strengthen us to endure and to glorify you in our lives. Let us shine as lights in this dark world, to honor you in every way.


Authority and Responsibility

Authority and Responsibility

© C. O. Bishop 2/2/2019

Colossians 4:1 (comparing Colossians 3:18-25 and others)

1Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.

Introduction:

In my opinion, this verse is actually part of the previous passage (Colossians 3:18-25): The chapter divisions were not put in place until about 1,300 years after the letters were written, and there is no evidence that the chapter and verse divisions are divinely inspired, though they are very handy as points of reference. It seems to me that this verse belongs with the previous chapter, as it simply completes the train of thought begun there. (The next verse completely changes the subject and the context.)

Authority and Responsibility

The pattern of submission to authority (and the responsibility that goes with authority) was being laid out, and, as fathers were given the responsibility to respond well to the needs of their children, the masters (we could read “employers”, in today’s world) are responsible to God, that they treat their employees well, and equally. There is not to be harsh treatment, nor favoritism. An employer is to remember that he is under the hand of God, and will be held accountable for his actions toward his employees.

Bear in mind that, in the culture and time where this was written, slavery was still rampant. Indeed, we, in Western civilization, seem to think that slavery was eradicated 150 years ago. Nothing could be further from the truth. Within Africa and Asia, in many places, slavery not only continues, but has increased, to the extent that we are now told that there are more slaves in the world than at any time in history. This is sad, but true.

We seem to be more concerned about the wrongs of 150-200 years ago than we are about those that are happening at this very moment. Perhaps we need to change our focus: If someone were drowning in a pool, right in front of us, we would not scoff and say “That’s nothing! Over a thousand people drowned in the sinking of the Titanic!” We would focus on the need at hand. We need to do that in terms of social injustices as well. We can’t undo history, nor should we deny it; but we can try to correct our current faults.

I think it would be proper to use this principle, of the responsibility of authority, to temper the “authority” aspect of relationships across the board. Yes, it is specifically referring to master/slave relations, or, in today’s world, employer/employee relations… but, notice that God had already hinted about the mutuality of such relationships, in commanding that fathers not “provoke” their children to wrath, or “exasperate” them, as some translations handle the passage. Doesn’t it follow that all such relationships carry an aspect of mutual responsibility? I think it probably does.

Further, there is the fact that it is unreasonable (and spiritually impossible) to assign responsibility to someone who has not been given authority to make decisions. One more point: ultimately, while we can “delegate authority” we cannot delegate responsibility. I may delegate authority to someone else to do my job (child-rearing, for example), but the results were still my responsibility, and God will hold me accountable for those results.

Christ and the Church

We are told in Ephesians 5:21-33 that the husband wife relationship, specifically, is a picture of Christ and the Church. In several passages, the husband is commanded to Love his wife as Christ loves the Church. (Agape Love) He is also told that he is to treat her compassionately, and with honor…and, that, if he does not, then his prayers will be hindered. (This is an interesting connection: if I am not dealing correctly and kindly with those under my care, then God will limit how He responds to me, as well! 1st Peter 3:7) We are to extend this principle throughout our lives. There is not a “chain of command”, in the sense that one has to go through his or her supervisor to get to God; quite the opposite! God’s authority (and His care) reaches across all levels of authority, and He is accessible to all who approach Him for who He is. (Hebrews 11:6 states that it is impossible to please God without faith: those who approach Him must believe that He exists, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him diligently.)

God does not obligate Himself to answer the prayers of those who reject Him. He says that we are not His children by nature, but that we become His children through the new birth. (John 8:44; Ephesians 2:1-3; John 3:3, ff; John 1:12; 1st Peter 1:23) Finally, He also says He will not hear even His children, when we persist in rebellion and stubborn self-will (Psalm 66:18.)

But as members of the Body of Christ (as explained in 1st Corinthians 12:12, 13) we are all directly connected to the Head. His will is made clear in the scriptures, and by His Holy Spirit, and no one has to ask another person for a word from God. We are all directed to approach the throne freely and personally. Each believer is a priest, in the Body of Christ!

The Pattern of Authority and Responsibility

Parental Authority and Responsibility

The fact that Fathers are warned to not exasperate their children does not exculpate women who are abusive toward their children. If either a father or a mother (or both) are dealing harshly with their children, then they are in trouble with God. We can look to see how God deals with his children, in Psalm 103:10-14. He is tender and compassionate toward those who fear Him, recognizing our frailty, and our innate inability to function at a Godly level. Jesus clearly told his disciples that, apart from Him, they could do nothing…and He meant it literally. (John 15:5)

Civil Authority

Civil authority is ordained by God for the good of society, and God says we are to submit ourselves to that authority. Notice again, that they are ordained by God to provide a necessary, beneficial service…and we are accountable to them, even if they are not acting in accordance with their built-in accountability to God. God will deal with them.

Spiritual Leaders

God lays out the responsibilities of shepherds in Ezekiel 34:1-10, as well as in Acts 20:28-31, and is quite clear that He will hold them personally accountable for either laxity or wrongdoing. He tells us to submit to their authority (Hebrews 13:17,) but also tells us to search the scriptures to evaluate whether we are being led astray. We are not to be led astray by false teachers. Very stern warning is given to this matter. (Ephesians 4:13-15; 2nd Peter 2, Galatians 1:6-9)

Conclusion:

So, what can we get from this whole passage? For one thing, we can see the pattern of authority, submission to authority, and responsibility of those in authority. Faith tells me to believe God, that HE will be the one to hold those people accountable if they are guilty of nonfeasance or malfeasance of their duties. Many of the rulers in history, who were most wicked, were never “tried and convicted” in a human court. Some lived out a very full and evil life: others were cut short, either by God’s judgment (see the death of Herod the tetrarch, Acts 12:23), or by assassination (see the death of Sennacherib, 2nd Chronicles 32:21). But in either case, it always seems that they did not really get their “comeuppance.” That they suffered a short, possibly ugly, death, and were gone, whereas the millions who died under their reigns of terror, suffered and died without help, and they seem to remain unavenged.

Read Psalm 73:1-21: We can see that the psalmist was grieved for the same reason we are: he saw that the wicked seemed to have a great life and an easy death. He was beginning to question the value of living a Godly, temperate life, and was on the verge of becoming quite bitter, until he went into the temple, and God revealed to him that the thing that really mattered was not the short time of a man’s life on earth, but the eternal result of that life, afterward. He says (verses 17-20) that their lives have been a slippery slope leading to eternal terror, and punishment. Hell is eternal, just as Heaven is eternal. We all face eternity, one way or another.

It is easier to accept the damage we may have received through abusive authorities, whether parents, teachers, civil authorities, church rulers, or employers, if we bear in mind that God has never forgotten anything in the history of the Universe, except his deliberate forgetfulness toward the sins of those who have trusted in Him as their Savior. The pain that he suffered at the Cross was God accepting the loss and damage we caused by our sins. That is what it cost Him to provide for our forgiveness. We can either accept the loss and damages we have suffered, as we seek to imitate the savior, or… we can stay bitter. But, bitterness is sin. (Ephesians 4:31)

But if we choose to see those violators as precious souls for whom Jesus shed His blood, then it is easier to forgive them, and pray for their salvation, instead of yearning for vengeance. And if we are the one in authority, then we need to make sure we never abuse that authority.

The result should be that we lead lives characterized by the peace of God.

Lord Jesus, help us to see all those around us through Your eyes, and to see those you have placed in authority as being under your hand. Teach us to extend Grace to all around us, whether they seem to be a blessing or a curse to us. Let us lead others to Your Cross, and salvation.


The Principle of Submission

The Principle of Submission

© C. O. Bishop, January, 2019

Colossians 3:18-25

Introduction:

We last talked about what it meant to act or speak “in the name of Jesus”…and how it meant being completely in submission to His will and acting in accordance with that will: acting and speaking in accordance with His Word and His will. Our words and deeds should match, and both should line up with the commands of Christ.

The next eight verses lay out a pattern of submission, which is not simply a “chain of command,” such as military organizations use, and which many commercial companies mimic. This is both more powerful and less oppressive than a “chain of command.” Since the Church is the Body of Christ, and every believer a member of that body, there is no one who “has to go through a chain of command” in order to approach the throne of God. My elbow does not tell my finger when it itches: it tells my brain, and my brain sends my hand to relieve the itch. I always have access to the throne, directly. So does every member of the body of Christ.

I may be an employee, or even a genuine, bought-and-paid-for slave, in some country, but I still have direct access to the Throne of Grace. No one can cut me off from that privilege. A wife may be married to a loving, Godly husband, who makes few, if any, demands upon her, or she may have a miserable wretch of a husband, who is very demanding, and not at all loving. In neither case is she required to “go through the husband” to get to God. Every single believer is a priest in the body of Christ, and every one of them has full access to the throne of Grace.

Submission to God through submission to others.

With all of that in mind, consider that God has established some order in the world. All of us have some person (or persons) to whom God calls us into submission. I do not have to like a police officer who gives me a lawful order, but I do have to obey that order, because of the authority of the Law…and it would be wiser to do so without making a fuss over it. So God gives examples of that submission, here:

18 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.

Is it possible that a husband can require something of his wife that is not “fit” in the Lord? Yes, I believe it is: he cannot force her to disobey the law, whether civil or divine. He cannot force her into immorality. But, within the godly relationship there is some authority. A wise husband does not abuse that authority. A godly wife respects the authority of God, even in her flawed husband, but it is much easier to do so when the husband is obeying God, as well. Further, notice that this submission is to her own husband, not to men in general. There is no injunction in the Bible saying that women should be subservient to men. There are examples in scripture where women gave commands to male servants or stewards. There is definitely not a “male-dominance” taught for society in general.

19 Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.

The key, here, is in the nature of the relationship itself: A husband who is unconditionally loving his wife (as Christ loves the Church) will inspire her to want the best for that relationship, too. Notice that the command to the husband is not only to “Love” his wife (remember that the agape love is always an action, not a feeling), but also to not be bitter against her. That one is a heart-issue, not just an outward act. A husband who is loving his wife, and who is never angry toward her, inspires her to want his approval.

If I am angry toward my wife, or critical against her, even in the secrecy of my own mind, it is sin: it is that simple. There does not have to be an outward manifestation for it to be wrong. Bitterness is an inward thing, and God forbids me to have it toward my wife. So, when I am feeling grumpy, and begin to blame my feelings on my wife, God convicts me immediately, and I recite this specific passage to myself (“Husbands love your wives and be not bitter against them!”) as I confess to Him that I am wrong to be angry.

Jesus does not see the Church (the Body of Christ) in a negative light! I am to imitate that attitude toward my wife. He does rebuke local assemblies for their sin and their bad testimony, but the Church as a whole (often called the “universal church”, but this phrase can be misused) is beyond rebuke. God sees us only in our new natures. We husbands are called to see our wives in that light, as well. We are not to be critical. The reverse is true as well: wives are not to be disrespectful or critical toward their husbands.

20 Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.

Again, I think there are limits, here. When we hear in the news of some horrible parent selling his or her precious child into sexual slavery, or worse, we never think, “Well, children, make sure you obey your parents!” We recognize that those evil parents and the pedophiles to whom they sold their children are all criminals, and we desire to see the criminals punished, and their victims delivered from that abuse and bondage! No decent person wants those children to be subjected to such evil. So, obviously there are limits. But where are those limits?

In the first place, it seems to me that the command must be directed primarily to juvenile children, probably not to those who have reached majority, and who are making adult decisions. For instance, in any military organization, the commanding officer does not have to check with the parents of his troops (most of whom may be young, unmarried men) before he gives a command. They are adults, and their oath of obedience is no longer to their parents. They have chosen to bind themselves to obedience to their officers. Similarly, employees, in this very passage, are commanded to obey their supervisors: So, what if their supervisor disagrees with their parents? These are adults, and they are no longer bound to their parents.

There are folks who believe that the children, as offspring, are bound until they are married, or even beyond. But this is not borne out in scripture. So, it seems that there is such a thing as reaching adulthood, and being “on your own.” There are examples in scripture, however, particularly early in Israel’s history, when sons were obedient to their fathers, long after reaching what we would consider adulthood, so, perhaps “adulthood,” even from God’s perspective, varies from culture to culture. Marriage norms certainly vary from culture to culture, and apparently so does the age of assumed adulthood. I know people who insist that their grown children should be obedient to them, long after the rest of the culture considers them to be an adult, and it causes serious strain in their relationship, because of the unreasonable demands by the parents.

Responsibilities of Leadership and Response to it

21 Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.

We need to realize that, as parents, we can make it much more difficult and discouraging for our children to live in subjection to our authority. We (fathers, particularly) are commanded to not do things to provoke our children. Making unreasonable demands on our children, and/or not allowing them to “grow up” in a reasonable time frame, could easily contribute to such frustration and anger. We will see in the next chapter that the same is true of Employer/Employee relations…and that the person in responsibility is answerable to God for his or her actions toward those who have been subjected to his or her authority.

22 Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God;

This is where we can readily apply the scripture on a daily basis…or fail to do so. Most of us have human taskmasters. Some are quite reasonable, some are not. But, in every case, the servant is to serve from the heart, not just grudgingly doing as little as possible.

I saw a story, possibly a joke, about a welder, applying for a job. The stated pay-range was 18-24 dollars per hour. The applicant made two welds; one looked terrible, one was absolutely perfect. The employer pointed to the ugly weld and asked, “What happened here?” The applicant replied “that is an $18/hr weld, the other is a $24/hr weld.” The story was supposed to be either “funny” or some sort of social comment, pointing out that “you get what you pay for.” But, to me, if I am capable of doing good work, and deliberately do substandard work, I am in violation of the principle, here in verse 22.

I am to serve from the heart, regardless of pay. If I take the job, I am to do my best work. If I am dissatisfied with the pay, I can either negotiate for more money or leave. If I am asked to do something illegal or immoral, I can refuse, and explain why. And it will very likely cost me my job to do so. But it may not. On several occasions over the years, I have had supervisors demand that I lie for them, or sign off on a document that was false. In every case I have refused, and in every case they have been angry, but ultimately relented. I am sure that it has cost me a number of raises, as they then accuse me of not being “a team player,” or some such thing. One told me that he thought I should leave my morals at home. This was a mid-level manager, who evidently did not see the other side of that issue: that, if someone will abandon their morals, and lie for him, they will certainly also lie to him, and about him.

Practical Conclusion

23 And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;

That is the bottom line: we are to live our lives, in every detail, as though it were Jesus, in person, whom we serve…because it is! He is not some mystical being who lives in some imaginary plane of existence. He is a real person, present with us, and living in us. And He is still our Creator, Sustainer, and Savior. He deserves our full obedience, as well as our love and worship.

Further, we should be aware that our reward—our “wages”, as it were—are coming from Him, not from our earthly paymasters. It is very easy to become distracted by the “current events” of our lives, and not see the overall picture: then we fail to see the long-range results of our lives.

24 Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.
25 But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.

This is a good place to remind ourselves of the coming “Judgment Seat of Christ”, where the works (not the sins) of believers will be evaluated and judged. (2nd Corinthians 5:10)  

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”

This is not a judgment as in a criminal court, but rather an “awards ceremony”… everyone on the team at least has that blessing: we are “on the team.” All believers are “in Christ,” permanently. In 1st Corinthians 3:11-16, Paul points out, however, that there will be those whose works result in reward, and there will be those whose works had no eternal value. It is not that they were doing “bad things”, necessarily, but perhaps that they were doing everything for the sake of their own glory or to look good before others, or something of that sort.

This passage in Colossians tells us the key to having reward: serve Jesus personally, being conscious of His presence and authority, so that your reward comes from Him and not from human approval. This is a difficult thing for some of us, as we are so conscious of the world around us and its pressure to conform and gain approval from other humans. But the standard is the same for all of us, and a teacher or pastor is judged more critically than others as his failure will affect others. It is very easy to fail in this regard. When a teacher is feeding a flock, or teaching a class, he or she will either be consciously looking to teach faithfully, responding personally to the Head of the body, or…not doing so. And if not, then the teaching becomes an effort to prove a point, or to prove oneself to be knowledgeable, or “more spiritual” than others, or some such thing. It lacks eternal value, because it was not “Jesus teaching through the teacher.”

The same principle applies, regardless of what it is God has called us to do. We are to serve from the heart, and cheerfully subject ourselves to those He has put in authority.

Lord Jesus, help us to walk with you, and to learn humility at your feet, walking in your shadow. Give us the Grace to serve from our hearts, and to willingly be a blessing to all around us. Teach us to see through your eyes, and to respond as you would respond.


Christ the Creator

Christ the Creator: the Deity of Christ Displayed


© C. O. Bishop 2011

Introduction:

One of the themes of the Bible that is universally rejected by the cults, and perhaps not even well understood by believers, is the question of the Deity of Christ. Some cults have gone so far as to wrongly “re-translate” the whole Bible, trying to eliminate that doctrine from the scriptures. But, even in that deliberate mistranslation, we can demonstrate the deity of Christ. The fact is that the scriptures are so permeated with the Deity of the Messiah that it is impossible to eradicate the doctrine without simply destroying the Bible.

The Word

The Word was and is Godand He is the SonJesus Christ

John 1:1 says the Word was God. That is a key verse, but by no means the only one. Notice that it does not say the Word was a god. There is at least one cult who teaches that that is what is said here. But the deity of Christ is on display throughout the Gospel of John in particular, and is demonstrated throughout the Bible. John goes on to state that the Word is specifically the creator: John 1:3 says he made all things, without exception—all created things are his handiwork. In case we forget who “The Word” really is, John 1:14 says that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and that we beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father. (This means the only begotten Son of God, in case anyone missed it.) John 1:17 names him…it is Jesus Christ.

We have trouble with this concept because it involves the doctrine of the Trinity. I have become convinced over the years that, though we do have all the facts concerning the Trinity, we fall short of understanding the concept. How can three be one…or one be three? There is no question that this is the correct teaching—it is repeated throughout the scriptures. Ironically, even when the scripture is proclaiming the unity of God (Deuteronomy 6:4), the word used for God is “Elohim”—a plural noun, indicating three (Hebrew has singular, dual and plural nouns). When we get as far as Isaiah 9:6, 7 where the promise of the Messiah is repeated, it specifically states that the promised SON shall be called “the everlasting Father”. At that point, remembering that Jesus repeatedly stated that the Father was greater than He, one has two choices: either accept the doctrine as a Divine paradox, to be accepted, but not necessarily understood, or, barring that, to reject it as a contradiction, since we can’t see a way to reconcile the two statements. Unbelievers choke on the mystery and abandon faith. Believers savor the mystery, recognize joyfully that the God of the Universe is certainly going to exceed the understanding of man, and their faith is deepened.

The Word—the Son— is the Creator

Some try to take the doctrine piecemeal, saying that, yes, the Word was God, but that the Father did all the creating through the Son, and that the Son is NOT the Creator. At some point one has to admit that they are splitting hairs, but this one is pretty clear– Hebrews 1:10 states that the heaven and earth are the handiwork of the Son—and it is God the Father speaking to God the Son, confirming that the creative work was his.

Hebrews 11:3 states that the Word of God created the worlds. (I don’t know the significance of the plural, there, unless it is simply recognizing all the heavenly bodies as worlds. Possibly it is a veiled reference to the fact that he also will create the new world that is coming. Remember that the Creator lives outside of Time and Space, so He establishes the eternal “Now.” He could refer to the New Heaven and New Earth in past tense, though, for us, it has not yet happened.)

Colossians 1:16, 17 states that all things were made by him and for him, and that they are, in fact, held together by him. It seems to me that we must guard against limiting any member of the Godhead. In Acts 20:28, the Ephesians elders are given a final commission, and in the midst of it, the statement is made that they are to “…shepherd the Flock of God, which He purchased with His own blood.” There is no mention of the Son in that passage. You can either violate the scripture by adding the Son into it, or accept that it is clear teaching of the trinity—that the Godhead is not divided—that God truly died on the Cross. (Let that one sink in!)

The Word of God is the King of Kings

Jesus stated that ALL authority had been given to him in heaven and earth. (Matthew 28:19) I think we tend to not always believe it when God says “all”— we modify it in our own minds, and make it “most”. Jesus possesses all authority.

Revelation 19:11-16 shows us the returning King, whose name is “The Word of God”…and who holds the title, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords”  We are given a panoramic view of the whole spectrum of time, in the Bible. Not only do we see the workings of God from the creation, we see his continuance after the end of time, and we are given hints as to his work before time began. Revelation 13:8 says he is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth. Jesus referred to the “glory he had with the father before the World began.”

Aswe already observed, Isaiah 9:6, 7 states that the Son shall be called The Mighty God, and The Everlasting Father. This is a hard idea to grasp, and I suspect that the Israelites simply brushed over it as un-knowable. I can understand that reaction, as, essentially, that is what I am also forced to do. But they rejected the Deity of the Messiah, when He came. They denied his authority to forgive sin.  In a way, they were logically required to do so, as only the offended party can extend forgiveness. If he is not God, he cannot forgive sins.

Jesus Forgave Sins…which only God can do!

Remember that our sins are an offense to God. (Psalm 51:4) Whenever we sin, we point our fingers in the face of the Eternal God of all time and space, and declare ourselves to be master, thus denying his sovereignty. This is what happens every time we sin, whether we recognize it or not. Whether it is a “big sin”, or a “little sin”, we declare ourselves to be God. We determine that WE are the managers of our lives and that we will do as we please. There is only room for one sovereign, and we declare ourselves to be that sovereign ruler in our little sphere. Thus, God is the offended party—we have usurped his authority, and rebelled against the throne of God.

Please turn to Mark 2:1-12 (read it). When Jesus looked at the paralytic man who had been lowered through the roof, and said “thy sins are forgiven”, the Pharisees were offended, saying, “Who can forgive sins except God alone?” And they were right! So Jesus posed the question, “Which is easier to say—‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Rise up and walk’?” Obviously the first statement could be cheap talk…just empty words. When a mere man makes that statement (and the priests of many religions do so), it is just empty words. Men have no such authority, but there is no outward result to determine whether the forgiveness actually took place. The second phrase, however, demands an immediate, visible, physical result. Jesus asked which statement was more demanding of the speaker. The Pharisees wouldn’t answer, so he said to the paralytic man, “Take up your bed and go home.” And the man obeyed. The point was to prove that Jesus had the authority to forgive sins. He did not deny that only God can forgive them. He simply proved that he was God.

The Visible, Speaking God in the Old Testament

Throughout the Old Testament, an individual called “the angel of the LORD” frequently appeared. We are not going to read them all right now, but in every case he was subsequently revealed to be the LORD, himself…Jehovah, Yahweh…in visible, physical form. You probably remember some of these accounts:

  • He wrestled with one guy (Jacob), and ended up having to dislocate his hip in order to finally subdue the man. Jacob limped, throughout the rest of his life, as a result of that encounter.
  • Abraham met with three men on the road, at Mamre…and all it says is that The LORD appeared to Abraham… physically. He ate the bread, and beef and milk that Abraham served him…he and the two angels he brought along. He appeared as a physical human being: a man.
  •  (Jeremiah 1:4, 5) (turn there) Jeremiah was spoken to by the LORD, who claimed to have created him…forming him in his mother’s womb, and knowing him before the fact…and choosing him for the task at hand.

So what is unusual about all these appearances? Perhaps just the fact that when Moses asked to see the LORD face to face (Exodus 33:20), he was told “…no man shall see my face and live….” Evidently Moses was talking to God the Father…why? Because John 1:18 agrees, saying, “No man has seen God at any time, but the only begotten son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him.”

Now; either God’s Word is really inspired or it isn’t. Either John 1:18 is true, and “No man has seen God [the Father] at any time,” or it isn’t true. Since it is true, we can deduce that the person talking to Jeremiah (who is the same one, by the way, as the person who showed up and wrestled with Jacob, talked with Abraham, etc.) must be the Lord Jesus in his pre-incarnate ministry. The Son, the living Word, has been the “spokesman” of the Godhead from the beginning…and the Creator. So the one talking to Jeremiah is the Son, and he says “I made you!” (…and then proceeds to give Jeremiah his marching orders.) The Creator has the authority to order his creation!

Does it really matter?

How should we respond to this information? Does it matter that Jesus was really the creator in the flesh? How would it change things if we saw that Jesus, that man walking the dusty roads of Palestine, 2000 years past, was actually the creator of every molecule of the dust he walked on, as well as the creator of the men who eventually crucified him?

In Romans 12:1-3, Paul has some things to say about that question (read it): he begs us to choose wisely and to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God.  If we are created by Christ, and have become a part of the Body of Christ, does it not follow that we should behave appropriately? That we should willingly present ourselves as the tools for his hands, the vessels for his Grace and Love?

2 Corinthians 5:18-20 (read it) states that we have been made ministers (servants) of Christ, and ambassadors for God, with the assigned task of reconciling to Him a lost World. How can that happen if we don’t treat him as the Savior, the Master, and the Blessed Creator?

In John 5:23 Jesus states that we are to honor the Son in the same manner as the Father—and that, if we do not, we are not honoring the Father. What would that look like, “honoring Jesus in the same way as the Father?” How do we tend to think of God the Father? Ultimate authority? Judge of all the earth? Omnipresent, omnipotent master of all the universe? Well, Jesus said (John 5:22) that the Father was NOT judging anyone, but that He had committed all judgment to the Son, so that all men would honor the Son even as they honor the Father—and that if they do not honor the Son, they do not honor the Father who sent him. Beyond that, yes, all of the above is true of the Father—and the Son. But Jesus is the “Judge of all the earth.” (Genesis 18:25)

I would suggest that most humans, even believers, have had a difficult time seeing Jesus as the Creator. Some flatly deny it; some hesitantly agree, but are unsure how it can be so. Some agree whole-heartedly, but still are unrealistic as to what it means. The fact is that we have known Jesus through the eyes of the flesh—we have seen him as a man, and we can’t shake that image. In a way, that is good: Jesus is eternally the God-man—fully God, fully Man. But we have a problem with the “God” part of the picture. I think the Lord understands that. He chided Philip (John 14:8, ff) over that very issue when Philip asked that the disciples might see the Father. He said “Philip, have you been with me so long and yet you do not know me? If you have seen me, you have seen the Father!” Somehow, I suspect even that profound statement failed to fully explain to Philip (or most anyone else) how the Son can be the Father. As I mentioned earlier, the Trinity seems to be beyond our grasp…which is as it should be. He is God…we are humans. And yet, something needs to change. Jesus calls on us to see him through the eyes of faith.

2nd Corinthians 5:16 says, “Wherefore, henceforth, know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now, henceforth know we Him no more.”

So: what must we change?  

  1. We must confess that, in the past, at least, we have primarily seen Jesus through the eyes of the world, as a mere man, possibly even mythological; or through the eyes of religion, as a demigod, a lesser deity, or a “great Spiritual being”, or a prophet, or perhaps just a great teacher, and an example to live by, but not as The Creator. We have essentially “known Christ after the flesh”. Even when we confess that he is “God in the flesh,” we have not really seen him that way. We still tend to think of him in his humanity.
  • We must consider how one should behave toward the real, eternal God of the real, visible (and invisible) Universe. Consider the difference, if you will, between how the disciples saw Jesus when he was in the bottom of the boat, asleep, and how they saw Him, minutes later, when he had arisen to calm the storm. (Turn to Mark 4:35-41…read it.) Before they awakened Him, they were terribly afraid of the storm: they thought they were going to be drowned. Afterward, they were even more afraid of Him, when they recognized His Deity. Perhaps we could use a good dose of that Godly fear, today. Perhaps that is why Psalm 111:10 states that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.” And Psalm 19:9 says that “The Fear of the LORD is clean, enduring Forever.” No one who has truly seen the Lord in His glory has ever treated Him as a mere human afterward.
  • We must confirm His deity by our attitudes and behavior, stepping beyond the casual, familiar, back-slapping, “hail-fellow-well-met” attitude we too frequently seem to apply to Jesus Christ, and start seeing Him as God in the Flesh. Immanuel. God with us. We need to recognize His true authority, and seek to obey Him in all things. He’s not our “buddy”…He is our master.

These are the things that have to change. And, may God help us to do so quickly, as the time is growing short.

Lord Jesus, awaken in us a spirit of worship, and obedience, so that we continually treat you as the Holy God of the universe, not just a distant, powerful ally, and a friend in time of need. Allow us to redeem the time we have left, and apply it to eternity.


In the Name of Jesus

“In the Name of Jesus”

© C.O. Bishop 12/15/2018

Colossians 3:17 compared to other passages.


Introduction:

We have been studying Colossians for some time. Last time, we discussed the command to allow God’s Word to “dwell in you richly, in all wisdom.” The result of allowing God’s Word to deeply affect our lives, as commanded in verse 16, should be that everything we do is under His authority, and is to be done as ambassadors of Christ.

When a police officer (in times past) said “Open up, in the name of the Law!” the order he was giving was given under the auspices of (and with the full authority of) the Law of the government he served. The phrase “in the name of” is not to be taken lightly. It is not just a “charm” to apply to everything we do, or a magic spell, an incantation, or something. It is saying that we are operating under the Authority of Christ…not our own authority.

When an Old Testament prophet spoke “in the name of” God, his prophecy had better have been absolutely correct. In Deuteronomy 18:20-22, God said that a person who claimed to speak “in the name of God”, and who was proven to be lying (because the sign he claimed would happen did not happen), was to be put to death. So, this is not a light thing, to claim I am doing or saying something “in the name of Jesus.” And yet, here it is: we are commanded to do so! In fact, there are to be no exceptions! Everything we do or say is to be under that mantle of authority.

Do All in the Name of Jesus

17 And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

So, I’m not at all sure that when we pray, and just say, “We ask these things in the name of Jesus, and for His sake” that we are properly using that concept. Possibly we are, in the limited sense that the only reason we can talk to God at all is that we are “in Christ”: we must come to God under the mantle of Jesus’s authority. But, over in 1st John 5:14, 15, we are also told to pray “according to God’s will”…in other words, we are to be learning what God’s will is, so that we can be obedient to His will and pray in accordance with what we know to be His will.

I don’t think it just means to tack on the “disclaimer”, saying, “If it be thy will.” That just makes it sound as though we really don’t expect results, so we are leaving the option open for God to say “No,” since we already expect that answer. I hope that is not our real motive, as that is not His intent, at all: in Romans 12:2 he tells us to “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” That means we have to learn His will, and put it into practice. If we really are living that way, then it would be very likely that when we pray, we really are praying according to God’s Will, and that we should expect solid responses from Him. We are to know that we are in His will, so that we can ask confidently, and expect to see results.

Is it possible that (frequently) we genuinely don’t know, and are simply confessing that to be the case? Of course it is, and there is nothing wrong with that. We need to be completely honest in prayer, and be confident that the Holy Spirit knows our hearts in all things. There is nothing wrong with subjecting all things to the will of God.

Being in the Will of God

The other side of the question is that “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the LORD will not hear me.” (Psalm 66:18) If I know that I am not doing what God wants, then why should I expect Him to answer my prayers? How ironic it seems, that, while I am stubbornly going my own way, I simultaneously have the gall to claim that I am asking in His best interest, and in His name!

This really ought to call each of us to confession! We need to see that, far from actually acting under the authority of the eternal God, and our Savior, we are mostly acting under our own authority and only asking—praying—in order to fulfil our own desires. James 4:3 drives this point home pretty clearly. We “ask amiss….”

Perhaps we need to do some soul-searching, as to where our hearts really are in this matter: think back to the Old Testament charlatan; the false prophet who claimed to be speaking “in the name of God.” He said those words, all right, but he was not acting on behalf of God, which is what that phrase actually means!

How repugnant it must be to God, to hear His Name bandied about as a “charm,” instead of being treated with the respect it deserves. I suppose that the false prophets were in far worse trouble, as they knew they were lying: we don’t even understand the meaning of the phrase, and so we tend to use it too casually. It seems that, rather than curtailing our use of the phrase, we need to change the nature of our prayers and actions. We are commanded to “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” We are not commanded to simply say that they are done in His name. We are to do all in the name of Jesus.

What are some things we can know to be God’s Will?

  • God says he desires all to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
  • God says that he wants us to lead others to Him.
  • God says that he wants us to live holy lives, in obedience and faith.
  • God says that he wants our lives to shine as lights in the darkness of this world.

We can find many things in scripture that God says are His will. We can find long lists of things for which Paul prayed for other believers or for himself, and we can take these as examples of what constitutes appropriate prayer. Then we can confidently say “we pray these things in the name of Jesus and for His sake.”

Acting on behalf of God

Just as an illustration; if I were to go to a hardware store, and make a purchase “in the name of” my employer (that is, to be charged to the account of my employer), when in fact it was for something I intended for my personal use, it would be fraudulent at best.

When we ask for something in prayer, saying “in Jesus’ name”, we are “attempting to buy something” on the account of our master, Jesus, and we need to be thinking in that way. It is fine to ask for something in prayer because it is something we desire, too, but we need to realize the difference. If we don’t know which things are “for the sake of Christ” and which are “because I want it,” then we need to be honest and say so. That is when the “not my will, but thine be done” should come into play. I need to remember who my Master is, and that I am always “on the job.”

Here’s another, very negative, example: If I were to commit a crime, as a uniformed police officer, driving a marked police vehicle, it would be taken as being far more serious than the same crime committed by a civilian, and I would be punished accordingly. During hurricane Katrina, there was surveillance video footage of a pair of uniformed officers, looting a store in New Orleans, and loading the stolen items into the back of a marked police car. It was a shameful act, and universally condemned, nationwide. It not only condemned those particular officers, it also called into question the character of all other police personnel, everywhere. It shamed Law Enforcement servants everywhere, and shamed all Americans who support the Law Enforcement professionals. Why? Because they were in uniform, acting against the will of the people they serve and against the laws they are sworn to uphold. They were far worse than a common criminal, because the criminal has never taken oath to obey the law. This was a treachery against the principle of Law Enforcement.

Give this some thought: When a Christian sins, regardless of the severity of the failing, it reflects badly on Jesus, personally. Like it or not, as a believer, you are “in uniform.” You are part of the body of Christ: you are an ambassador of Christ, everywhere you go, and in every circumstance. Consider yourself to be constantly “wearing the uniform” of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and that there are always witnesses to your behavior and attitude. We are to maintain that awareness, and act accordingly. The Name of Jesus is a serious matter. Treat it that way.

Putting on the “Uniform”

A few weeks back, we spoke of the command to “put on the new man.” We also pointed out that Galatians 3:27 says we “…have put on Christ.” That is a permanent reality. We now havebeen commanded, as those who have put on Christ (in terms of salvation,” to continually “put on” the new Man, and to put on the characteristics of that new life: the humility and the gentleness, and the love of God. We are told to also “put off” the old way of life, and lay aside our old priorities.

All of these things could be considered the “standard uniform” of the believer. On top of these, we are also commanded to put on the full armor of God. The pieces of that armor (the belt, the shoes, the breastplate, the helmet, the shield, the sword and prayer) are to provide us with the protection and confidence we need to face the daily struggles of life, as well as to guard against the deliberate attacks of the evil one against us.

But, be aware, we are not doing anything “in secret.” Those around us are aware of our position in Christ. If they see that what we claim to be is not matching what they see us to be, they will not be “sympathetic” and say, “Well, he’s trying…give him credit for that!” They will simply dismiss us as “hypocrites,” and assume that everything we say must be false. It is a harsh, inaccurate, unjust judgment, but it is what the World has to offer.

We do not want to bring shame on the name of Jesus, and we do not want to use His Name in an inappropriate manner. We are to change our way of life and the things for which we pray, so that we really can “pray in the name of Jesus,” and confidently look for God’s answer. So that we really can speak and act in His name and for His sake.

The evil high priest, Caiaphas, commanded Jesus, by the name of the Living God, to tell him whether he was the Messiah. Jesus answered to the authority of the Name, even knowing that the man wielding it really had no right to use the Name at all, as everything he was doing (secret trial; trial at night, abuse of the accused, etc.) was illegal. But the answer Jesus gave was not to the man, Caiaphas, it was to the authority of the Living God. Even though it came from an evil, ungodly man, the Name of the Living God was sufficient for Jesus to respond clearly and resoundingly that He was the Messiah. And, he was immediately condemned for doing so. They did not want the truth; they were looking for an excuse to execute Him.

In spite of this knowledge, Jesus responded to the authority of God.

That is an important idea to keep in mind as we move into the following passages, regarding our submission to God and our submission to those he has placed over us:

Conclusion:

We are commanded to “do all that we do, in word and in deed,” in the name of the Lord Jesus. This is a tall order for most of us, and completely impossible apart from the indwelling Holy Spirit. We simply cannot function in a way to please God unless we are in submission to His Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “Apart from me ye can do nothing.” He meant just exactly that: unless we learn to walk with God on a daily basis, we will still be muddling along in the flesh, and frustrated, as believers, knowing that we are not being the witnesses He has called us to be.

God help us to learn this critical, fundamental lesson.

Lord Jesus, fill us with the desire to live for you, and, by your Holy Spirit, give us the ability to serve faithfully, resting on Your Grace for all things. And this is truly something we can ask in the name of Jesus, and for His sake.


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.


Problems (and Answers) in Genesis

Problems (and Answers) in Genesis

© C. O. Bishop 2018

Genesis 7, 8, compared to other passages

Introduction:

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

Problem #1

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

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

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

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

Problem #2

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

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

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

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

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

Genesis 7 and 8

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

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

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

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

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

Problem #3

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

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

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

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

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

What can we Conclude?

The two things I especially see here, are that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Putting on Christ

Putting on Christ

© C. O. Bishop 11/15/18

Colossians 3:10-16; Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27 Ephesians 4:24

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the book of Colossians; these last chapters are very practical, direct commands, but they are based on the premise that the recipients of the letter are believers: people who have deliberately placed their trust in Jesus as their savior, and, as a result, have been placed into Christ. We are now “in Christ.”

In verse eleven, in confirmation of what was taught in Colossians 2:10 (“…ye are complete in him…”) Paul confirms that such people have been unified in Him, that their old differences are of no further importance. Their new position in Christ supersedes all other issues.

A New Position: in Christ

11 Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.

Whatever you were before you were born again is of zero importance, now. In Christ, the old divisions no longer exist. The ground is truly level at the foot of the cross. Where the Jews were once completely separated from the Gentiles, and slaves were once shunned by free men, and commoners shunned by noblemen, as a rule, they all have been leveled by the Cross. None of those “differences” are of any significance when compared to the Majesty of the Messiah, nor do any of those “differences” alleviate to any degree the total lostness of the human race, apart from the Cross.

He commands us, on the basis of our new position in Christ, to “put on” certain things. The “putting on” is a deliberate choice to behave in a manner in keeping with my position in Christ. In Ephesians 4:24, He said something similar: that we are to “put on” the new man…the new nature which we received the moment we trusted Christ as our savior. He says that the new nature is already there, created, in the likeness of God, in righteousness and true holiness. But he says we are to “put it on”, as an act of the will

Galatians 3:27 addresses the “positional” truth that, as believers, we have put on Christ: (“For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”) When you first trusted Jesus as your Savior, the Holy Spirit baptized you into the body of Christ…at that very moment. And God says that you have put on Christ. That is simply a fact, reflecting your new position in Him.

But Romans 13:14 addresses the “conditional” truth that, as believers, we are commanded to “put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” That either will be done or will not be done, as we either obey or disobey.

This passage in Colossians is addressing the latter idea; that, as believers, we are to live in accordance with our new position, in Christ. It is a moment-by-moment act of the will, to either obey or not obey.

12 Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;

We are to choose to live as the chosen ones of God, who are set aside for his service, and beloved of God. There has been a question raised at times as to how one can know that they are one of the “chosen ones” of God. It is a fair question, but notice that Paul addresses the believers, all the way through this epistle, and addresses them as “holy”, as “Saints” (which means the same thing), as “the faithful” (believers), and now as “the elect of God.” The “elect” means the “chosen” of God.

God’s Choice

An older teacher once painted a “word-picture” for me, saying that (as he imagined it); We find in our lives a wall, which separates us from God. The wall is made of our Sin, and God’s Righteousness. We cannot approach Him, though He calls us to do so. Eventually we are told that there is a gate, or a Door: One Way through which we can enter, piercing that wall. We find the door, above which the sign says “Whosoever Will May Come”. The door is fairly narrow, and there is no glamor to the appearance of it. But the invitation is there, for anyone who will believe. We see our sin, and the judgment of God: We hear the good news of the full payment Jesus made for our sake, in His blood at the Cross, and we enter in, through that narrow door, by faith, because the invitation clearly says “Whosoever will may come.” God receives us on the basis of that faith, and we enter in of our own free will.

But, from the inside of the gate, or the door, we begin to look around and learn, and understand a little more. We begin to see the “edges” of the glory of God, and wonder how anyone could miss all this. We hear that, actually, God chose us! Finally, we look back at the door through which we entered, and we see that on the inside of the door, there is another sign, which simply states, “Chosen in Him, Before the Foundation of the Earth!” Both are true: God chose in Christ (there’s that issue of position again) those who would believe in Him. We chose to believe.

Our Choice

We have chosen to believe God. Now we are told to choose to have a heart of mercy toward those around us, filled with kindness, as opposed to judgment, and humility of mind, rather than the secret opinion that we are somehow “superior to the wretches we have to put up with.” (Jesus said that “an evil man brings forth out of the evil treasures of his heart, that which is evil, for out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.” If you are hiding arrogance in your heart, it will eventually show itself, revealing your true heart. Don’t think that “as long as I don’t do or say anything bad, it isn’t sin!” God says it always starts in the heart…in the mind. That is why he said that the Pharisees were like whitewashed tombs, looking great on the outside, but full of dead things inside. I really do not want to be like that. I’m sure that you don’t either.

Further, we are to be gentle, and yielded to God: flexible in His hands, so that He can mold us into His likeness. We are to choose to lovingly endure one another’s irritating idiosyncrasies, rather than secretly despising them. “Forbearing” means “putting up with” one another, not allowing ourselves to become exasperated.

13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

Remember what sort of things Jesus has forgiven you—the enormous debt He cancelled on your behalf: is it too much for Him to ask, for us to “cancel one another’s debts” as well?

14 And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.

As the capstone to all he has already listed, he says to “put on” Charity. This is the Old English word the translators chose to express the Greek noun “agapé”…the love that Jesus demonstrated at the Cross. True, unadulterated altruism. Being committed to the good of those around us, without regard to how it affects us personally. Remember that this is specifically what Jesus gave as His “New Commandment”: that we are to love one another (agapé, again), as He has loved us. To “put on” this sort of Love, is to choose to act in a manner carrying out that Love. Go back and read 1st Corinthians 13. It is the most complete description of that Love, and every single attribute has to do with actions, not feelings. No exceptions.

15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.

I have been told that the particular word for “rule,” here (Greek brabeuete) carries the idea of “presiding,” as, perhaps, an umpire, rather than a king or a judge. The word is only used here, in this one place, in scripture, so there is little to which we may compare it. If the meaning is to “act as a leader, or president,” then an umpire is not far off the mark. Let’s say, for example, I am desiring to change jobs, because I am frustrated with my situation at work (a common problem), but I do not have peace about just quitting, unless I have a firm directive from God, and a place to which I plan to transfer. Do I heed the clamoring of my never-satisfied flesh, or do I wait on God?

Psalm 37:5 says, “Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.”…and verse 7 says, “Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him.” So I think maybe it would pay off to wait for clear direction, and learn to be patient, rather than responding in anger. (Verse 8 says “Cease from Anger, forsake Wrath, fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.”)

Conclusion:

So, how do we make such choices? We allow God’s Word to begin changing us from the inside out. We allow it to “dwell” in us…live in us, and work in our hearts. Psalm 91:1 states that “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. The only way we can expect God’s Word to “dwell richly” in us, is for us to dwell in the Word.

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

The results should be, that as a group, we encourage and teach one another, and that our hearts will lean toward singing songs of praise and love for God. We have a mutual bond in Christ, and a shared task, as ambassadors of Christ. We are not only to share the work of the Gospel, but to encourage one another as we pursue our common goals. As God’s Word “dwells richly” in us, “in all wisdom”, it should affect us in ways that draw us closer to Him, and closer to one another, as well as making us more effective in evangelism, and discipleship. The burdens should become joyful, rather than grievous, as we share the heart of Jesus, when he said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work!”

God’s Word, rightly applied to our lives, is the only thing that God says He can use to transform our lives. As we feed upon it, we give the Holy Spirit a “toolbox” to work with. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit “…shall teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:26) If you don’t actively allow the Lord to speak to you by being in the Word, the Holy Spirit hasn’t much to bring to your remembrance, has He? Load up the “toolbox” with the written Word, and allow the Living Word to dwell richly in your heart.

Lord Jesus, draw us into a love relationship with yourself, through your Word, through your Spirit, and by a daily consciousness of your presence. Teach us to love one another, and to bless those around us with your overflowing grace.