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Judgment, Justice, Grace and Mercy

Judgment, Justice, Grace and Mercy

Introduction:

How does Easter show the Judgment and Justice of God?

We have been studying what the Bible calls the Day of the LORD: the terrible Judgment of God (followed by great blessing) which is to be poured out upon the whole World, but especially upon Israel, since they had the most information, and failed to respond. We saw, last week, how the final warning was given to Israel by Jesus, in His Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem. We saw that the crowd of disciples who had worshipped him as the King, as he rode into Jerusalem, were not the ones, who, three days later were screaming for his death: but rather, it was the citizens of Jerusalem who rejected the King. We also saw how, since they rejected the King, they inherited the promised Judgment. The Judgment described thereafter (specifically the fact that not one stone of the temple would be left standing on another) definitely includes the destruction under the Roman general Titus, which happened in 70 AD, but it also includes the Great Tribulation, which has not happened yet. Judgment is definitely coming!

However, we did not examine the Judgment that fell that Wednesday, upon the Lord Himself: The fact is that, as Isaiah 53:4, 5 says, “He bore our griefs, and carried our sorrows…but we thought he was smitten by God (as an evildoer). But: He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities…”  The Scriptures make it clear that He didn’t die for anything He had done. He died in the place of the whole World, for all that we have done, or failed to do.

Many Easter sermons focus either on the Lord’s sufferings, in gory detail, or upon the facts of the Resurrection, and the effects it had on the lives all those who were there. I would like to focus, instead, on the reason for His suffering, and the result of His resurrection, for us.

The Reasons for Crucifixion

There were many ways in which prisoners might have been executed in those days. Some were relatively quick, others deliberately slow and agonizing. The Cross was one of the latter: it usually took several days of torturous struggling to breathe, and straining against the spikes holding them to the cross. We can compare crucifixion with the Old Testament law regarding “hanging a criminal on a tree,” which was actually only done to a criminal who was already dead (usually by stoning,) to signify God’s curse on that particular criminal:

  • According to Deuteronomy 21:23 they were not to be left hanging overnight. They had to be cut down before sundown, according to the Mosaic Law.
    • Jesus was taken down before sundown, though Crucifixion usually took days!
  • When they wanted the execution shortened, they accomplished that end by breaking the legs of the condemned individual, so that he could no longer lift himself up to breathe. Thus, he died in minutes, instead of days. (John 19:31)
    • But for the Passover Lamb, a picture of Christ, it was specifically forbidden that any bone be broken (Exodus 12:46.)
    • Why did Jesus choose to cut the suffering short and “lay down his life?” (Remember, He specifically said that no man could take his life: He would lay it down of His own accord. (John 10:18)) When they came to break the legs of the criminals, he was already dead. Thus, though they broke the legs of the other two men, they did not break a bone of the Messiah…our Passover Lamb!
  • The scourgings and beatings were described in Isaiah 53 (bruised, stripes, etc.)
  • The crucifixion was described in Psalm 22:7-18 (Read it!)
  • The fact that he was to be crucified at Jerusalem, by the Jews, is given in Zechariah 13:6 What are these wounds in thine hands? …Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.”
  • The fact that it is the eternal God who was wounded for our transgressions is given in Zechariah 12:1-10…and it was God the Son!
  • The Old Testament sacrifices were tied to the altar by the four horns of the altar… they were held by four points, just as in the crucifixion.
  • The Original Passover predicted the crucifixion, in that the people were commanded to kill the lamb, catch its blood in a basin, and to dip a bundle of Hyssop into that blood and then strike it on the lintel and the two doorposts. The physical action of striking the lintel and the two door posts physically described a bloody cross in the air across that doorway. Those frightened Jews, believing God’s Word regarding the imminent destruction of the firstborn, obeying by faith the command of God, and choosing to accept the blood sacrifice that HE would accept, were huddled under the blood of the Cross, 1500 years before the Crucifixion, just as we depend upon the blood of that long-ago sacrifice today.

God’s Judgment for the sins of the whole world fell upon Jesus at the Cross. How do I know? Jesus said so! John 3:16-18 says,

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.


Notice the parallel with what we just saw, regarding Palm Sunday: Jerusalem rejected her King, and inherited the Judgment. All those who do not believe the Gospel, inherit judgment because they, too, reject the Savior…the King. Also, notice that it does not say they will be judged, or will be condemned: it says that they are already condemned, because they do not believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God. So: for the first eighteen years of my life, I was already on God’s “death row”, as an unbeliever; as a natural-born rebel against God. I was already condemned. Had Jesus not stepped in and died in my place, I would still be headed for Hell. (That is the “Bad News” of the Gospel! And it is the reason for the “Good News” of the Gospel!)

What is The Good News of the Gospel?

According to 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4, the Good News is divided into three parts:

  • The Death of Christ, fulfilling God’s Prophecies
  • The Burial of Christ, also fulfilling His Prophecies (including the time lapse.)
  • And the Resurrection, which is God’s confirmation that the sacrifice was accepted!

Why is His Death Good News?

1st John 2:2 clearly states that Jesus is the satisfactory payment, or settlement for the sins of the whole world. “And He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”  (“Propitiation” means the sacrifice that satisfies the Righteousness of God.) The fact that it was for the sins of the whole world is especially reassuring to know: if God had named a list of people, or ethnic groups, or whatever, there is a good chance I might not be on that list. In fact, if I were actually called out by name, it would be possible that it was actually someone else with the same name that he had in mind…not me.

But he included the whole world…so I am “on the list.” Think of John 3:16 “…whosoever believeth in Him…” You see, “whosoever” includes me!ThatBlood Sacrifice, ordained by God the Father, offered by God the Son, and administered by God the Holy Spirit, was full payment for all my sins, past, present and future. All the work of salvation and redemption was finished by Jesus at the Cross. All that’s left for me to do, is to place my faith in His finished Work.

Why is His Burial Good News?

The fact that Jesus died on the evening of the Passover, as our blood sacrifice—our Passover Lamb—is significant enough. But why do I say he was crucified on Wednesday, when tradition has always held out for Friday? The tradition that Jesus was crucified on a Friday is patently false, because Jesus Himself said (Matthew 12:39, 40) that the experience of Jonah, being three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, was a specific prophecy that He Himself would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Between Friday evening and Sunday morning, there are two nights and one day! But, if He was Crucified on a Wednesday, then any time after sundown Saturday, Jesus was free to leave the Grave. This was one of the signs that He was the Messiah! It had to be that specific time-frame.

He also had to have died with criminals, but also with the rich (Isaiah 53:9)…which would usually be a total paradox. The bodies of the criminals were usually taken to the city dump, and left for the carrion-eaters, vultures, flies, etc., as a public demonstration of the result of their evil deeds. The rich people had hand-carved stone mausoleums for their graves. So this would have seemed a contradiction, perhaps, or at least very puzzling. But, in Jesus’s case, two rich men (Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea,) begged to take custody of His body, and they buried it in the tomb that Joseph of Arimathea had prepared for his own burial. So it was fulfilled!

The Best News of All: The Resurrection!

So, three days and three nights later (Wednesday night, Thursday, Thursday night, Friday, Friday night, Saturday) Jesus left the grave behind, forever! Mary Magdalene and the other women showed up at the tomb long before daylight, Sunday morning, and He was already gone. The angels had rolled away the stone for the express purpose of letting the women and the disciples see that He was already gone.

The Result of the Resurrection

Remember the result of the Crucifixion: The disciples (all of them, not just the eleven), were scattered, just as Jesus had predicted, for fear that they were next on the list; slated for execution. When Jesus appeared to the Eleven, they were hiding; locked in an upper room, fearing the Jews.

But what was the result of the Resurrection, in the lives of those same believers? Confusion and disbelief, initially; but, as they gained confidence that Jesus was really alive, and that He was really all He had claimed to be (literally God in the Flesh,) they became completely bold, where they had previously been in hiding. They committed their lives to His service, as those alive from the dead, as they began to recognize that:

  1. His death was in place of their own deaths;
  2. His righteousness had been credited to their own accounts, and that
  3. His resurrection was the guarantee of their own resurrection.

Thus, they had no further fear of death. Their life took on a sense of Eternal Purpose, as they began to allow the Lord to live through them (Galatians 2:19-21; Philippians 1:21), and their priorities became completely rearranged, as Jesus became the center of their existence.

What about Repentance?

We are often told, “Yes, but you have to repent!” That is surely true! But what does that mean? Does it mean “groveling on your knees begging for forgiveness”? Or, “renouncing sin forever?”

The word translated “Repentance” is the Greek word, metanoia. It literally means to change your mind. Change your mind regarding Jesus. Who was He, to you, before you believed the Gospel? A myth? Just a Man? A Prophet? Or, did it even really matter to you? (It didn’t to me: I was lost, and didn’t know or care.) So, when you believed the Good News of Jesus’s Death, and Burial and Resurrection, you “changed your mind” regarding all that you had previously thought about Jesus. You also changed your mind regarding all that you previously thought about sin. You came to realize that you, personally, were a lost sinner, and you feared the judgment of God. You changed your mind regarding Jesus’s work, realizing that you could not save yourself, and you threw yourself upon the Mercy and Grace of God!

According to the promise of Jesus, in John 5:24, at that moment, you received eternal life, and will never face judgment again. You permanently crossed over from being spiritually dead, to being spiritually alive. You were born again! You received a new nature, and became indwelt by the Holy Spirit! All these are true, even if you were not aware of any of these things!

This is why Easter is such a huge joy and relief to all of us. I wasn’t there to see the Crucifixion, the Burial, or the Resurrection of the Lord, but those three together still comprise the best News in the Universe: He is Risen!

Lord Jesus, teach us the importance of the facts of the Gospel and make them a living reality in each of our lives.


What Happened on Palm Sunday?

What Happened on Palm Sunday?

© C. O. Bishop 4/13/19

Matthew 21:1-11; Luke 19:29-40; Zechariah 12, 14, etc.

Introduction:

We have been studying through the Scriptures to see what God has to say concerning the Day of the Lord. I had intended to press on with that study, but last night, Ann reminded me that Palm Sunday has come, and that Easter is next Sunday.

I have frequently heard preachers say that the very people who praised Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on the young donkey, shouting “Hosanna” to Him were the same ones who, a few days later, were howling for his crucifixion. I’d like to examine that claim this morning, especially in light of what we have been reading regarding the coming Judgment of Jerusalem.

We have read so much of the coming Judgment, in various prophecies, that it becomes difficult to even imagine the complete return to blessing that will follow. But let’s look at the frequently made claim; that Jesus’s followers at large turned against Him.

Matthew 21:1-11

1And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples,

Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me.

And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them.

All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying,

Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.

And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them,

And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon.

And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way.

And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.

10 And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this?

11 And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.

Verse five, above is a partial quote of the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9

9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

Not all of the accounts mention that there were two animals, but this prophecy should have been ringing in the ears of the watching Jews.

Luke 19:29-40

29 And it came to pass, when he was come nigh to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount called the mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples,

30 Saying, Go ye into the village over against you; in the which at your entering ye shall find a colt tied, whereon yet never man sat: loose him, and bring him hither.

31 And if any man ask you, Why do ye loose him? thus shall ye say unto him, Because the Lord hath need of him.

32 And they that were sent went their way, and found even as he had said unto them.

33 And as they were loosing the colt, the owners thereof said unto them, Why loose ye the colt?

34 And they said, The Lord hath need of him.

35 And they brought him to Jesus: and they cast their garments upon the colt, and they set Jesus thereon.

36 And as he went, they spread their clothes in the way.

37 And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the DISCIPLES began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen;

38 Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.

39 And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples.

40 And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.

41 And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it,

42 Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.

43 For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side,

44 And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.

Where was Jesus coming from?

If we back up a few verses, to Luke 18:35-43, we see that Jesus had just passed through Jericho, heading up to Jerusalem. En route, if we read all the gospel accounts of this visit, he healed three blind men; one as he entered Jericho, and the other two as he left. He also encountered Zacchaeus, and transformed his life. But he was headed for Jerusalem all the time.

When Jesus arrived in Bethany and Bethphage, just outside of Jerusalem, he was in the town where he had raised Lazarus from the dead, and where his friends Mary and Martha still lived with their brother, Lazarus. He was among friends, and his disciples evidently gathered to walk with him to Jerusalem. We are not talking about just the twelve, now: Luke says it was a whole multitude of His disciples…a crowd. But they were a crowd who genuinely liked Jesus, even if they weren’t really sure who he was. So, Jesus was coming from Bethany into Jerusalem.

Who said What?

Turn back to Matthew, and notice what happened when this multitude of His disciples began to announce His coming as the King, coming in the name of the Lord: as they entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, and asking “Who is this man??” and the crowd of disciples answered that Jesus was the prophet of Nazareth, of Galilee. Did they really not understand that He was the Savior? Maybe not, but the word “Hosanna” means “save us now!” They at least saw Him as “a” savior, of some sort…a deliverer. Perhaps they only thought He would deliver them from the Romans. But we need to differentiate between the crowd of disciples, confused though they may have been, and the city of Jerusalem, whose response, eventually, was to kill Him.

Turn back to Matthew 23:37-39, please: Jesus is weeping over Jerusalem again.

37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.

39 For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till YE shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.


Now: compare this passage with the one we just read, in Luke 19:37, 38. In that passage, who were the ones shouting “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord?” It was the multitude of His disciples! The inhabitants of Jerusalem were just “stirred up” by the call—they did not receive Him as their King.

Why Jerusalem?

Jerusalem is the City of the King: they were the ones who had to officially receive Him. When the Jews finally will turn to Jesus as their Messiah, weeping over their sin, and the fact of their guilt, having crucified the Messiah, where will it occur? At Jerusalem! When will it occur? After the tribulation! How do I know?

Matthew 24:29-31 gives the time frame: after the tribulation. Jesus says so!

29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:

30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.


Zechariah 14:3-5 gives us the location: on the Mount of Olives, just outside Jerusalem, just as the angelic messengers foretold in Acts 1:10, 11.


Zechariah 14:3-5
Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle.

And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south.

And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azal: yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah: and the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with thee.


Acts 1:10, 11 (At the ascension.)

10 And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;

11 Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.


Zechariah 12:10 says the inhabitants of Jerusalem will completely repent, weeping over the One they Crucified.

10 And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.

Conclusion:

This is what Palm Sunday was all about: Jesus made His final offer to Jerusalem during that visit, and was rejected. But the One they judged, illegally, and with total prejudice, is the Judge of all the Earth, and who Judges righteously, without prejudice…without respect of persons. How do I know? Jesus says so! He said that the Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment to the Son. (John 5:22)

So, the Day of the Lord about which we have been learning, is the entirety of what Jesus warned against in Matthew 24. There, He described only the Great Tribulation and the coming of the King: Why? Because Jerusalem had just rejected the King. His disciples were scattered, during the trial and the crucifixion: they were not the ones howling for his death. It was Jerusalem, proper, finally rejecting their King by calling for his execution, just as Jesus had predicted.

This is why the whole message in Isaiah, predicted Judgment on Jerusalem, (among other places) as the chief offenders. It was Jerusalem who routinely rejected the prophets, as Jesus said.

The ones who shouted “Hosanna” (the crowd of disciples) were terrified that they would be executed next. Remember that when Jesus first met with the eleven after the resurrection, they were in a locked room for fear of the Jews. All the disciples had been scattered. Jesus had predicted this: (Matthew 26:31 “Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.”) And that is exactly what happened!

Next week, at Easter, we will examine “The Rest of the Story.”

Lord Jesus, direct our hearts to apply your Word correctly: to read carefully, seeking earnestly to see the light of your countenance in the written Word. Help us to apply your Word to our lives, and to walk as your disciples.


The Day of the LORD (1)

The Day of the LORD, Part One

© C. O. Bishop 3/30/2019

Isaiah 2:6-22

Introduction:

We have been studying through Isaiah, and are already up against some of the central themes of the book: the awful Judgment and Holiness of God, as well as the Grace of God, and His desire to reason with fallen Man.

Isaiah is distraught at the wickedness of Israel, and begs God to not forgive them, as he sees that all the coming Judgment is fully deserved.

Therefore thou hast forsaken thy people the house of Jacob, because they be replenished from the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they please themselves in the children of strangers.

Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots:

Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made:

And the mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself: therefore forgive them not.

The remainder of the chapter promises the coming judgment on Judah, reminding all readers that it was specifically because she has forsaken her God, and sought her sustenance from everyone and everything except Him. In verses 6-9, Isaiah is speaking to God, commenting on the spiritual condition of the nation, and the reasons for the coming judgment. He specifically lists all the things upon which they have depended instead of God—and the things in which they have found pleasure instead of God’s values. He complains that from the least to the greatest, they have all bowed themselves to idols, as a nation (not excluding the possibility of a righteous remnant, which God says will always be there.) So, Isaiah begs that God not forgive them. This is an interesting insight into how a man of God may see the holiness of God, and demand retribution for sin.

In Luke 9:54, 55 (Read it), two of Jesus’s disciples, James and John, wanted permission to call down fire out of heaven to burn up some people (Samaritans) who rejected Jesus. But Jesus rebuked the two disciples for the idea, saying that they were wrong, and that He had not come to destroy lives but to save them. So, I need to recognize that even wicked, self-centered enemies of God (whomever they are) are still folks for whom Jesus died.

In the Psalms, there are many examples of “imprecatory prayers”, where the Psalmist called for judgment on sinners. Yes, Judgment is coming, but it will be in God’s timing, and under His righteousness, not our self-righteous indignation. The coming Judgment has a name, in fact: it is called “The Day of the LORD”, and it is first mentioned here in Isaiah 2:12.

The Name of the Coming Judgment

The Day of the Lord becomes a powerful theme in all the prophets, as we begin to see the various parts of it, and how widespread its effects will be.

10 Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty.

11 The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.

12 For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low:

13 And upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan,

14 And upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills that are lifted up,

15 And upon every high tower, and upon every fenced wall,

16 And upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures.

17 And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.

18 And the idols he shall utterly abolish.

19 And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

20 In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats;

21 To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

22 Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?

In verses 10-22, he speaks to the people, outlining the coming judgment. He says that all the things they have depended upon will become worthless. Looking at verses 11, 12 and 17-21 we see that the Judgment in question is the culmination of the Great Tribulation. Three is no other time when all the earth shall be judged in that fashion, and in the Revelation, he describes just such fear and trembling, and attempts to hide in the rocks.

What is the Day of the Lord?

The Day of the Lord, mentioned here, and many other places, begins with the removal of the Church-age believers from the earth, as seen in 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18 (Read it). But then (1st Thessalonians 5:1-3 (Read it)) it immediately transitions into the tribulation; next, the second coming (Zechariah 12:1-10; 14:1-15), the Kingdom age (Zechariah 14:16-21) and finally the ultimate destruction of planet earth (2nd Peter 3:10-12). All five aspects are clearly taught in both the Old and New Testaments. The immediate judgment coming upon Judah is very minor, compared to the ultimate judgment described here, though I am sure that they saw it as pretty major.

God says Judgment is coming (both immediate and ultimate), and that it will affect absolutely everyone (not just the Jews), and remove from them all the things they have depended upon and found foolish pleasure in. Verse 22 says that above all, they need to quit relying upon humans…which would include dependence upon themselves. (Cp. Proverbs 3:5-7) Part of our sin nature, our incurable arrogance, is that we continually trust ourselves over God, even though we have proven untrustworthy time and time again. Now: Am I advocating piously “trusting God” as opposed to going to a doctor? No! I trust that God will guide the doctor, and, unless I know a solid reason to do otherwise, I usually take the doctor’s advice. Do I mean, when I am forced to respond to a legal summons, that I should “just trust the Lord” and not get the best lawyer I can afford? No… I am to pray for God’s guidance, and look for the most honest and competent, intelligent legal counsel I can find. But my dependence is to be upon God.

The story has been told (countless times, I guess) about a man who was trapped by rising floodwaters. He sat on his front porch roof, and a boat came by, with a man offering to take him to higher ground. He piously replied, “No; I am trusting God. He will help me!”

The water rose higher, until he was on the peak of his upper roof, when a larger power boat came up, and the pilot offered to take him to high ground. He was frightened, but clung to his “faith” and said, “No, I am waiting on God!” Finally, when he was clinging to his chimney, and about to drown, a helicopter hovered overhead, dangling a ladder, and offering help. He made his final choice, to depend on God, and finally was swept away by the flood.

He appeared before God, and asked, “Why did you not save me? I trusted in you!” God replied, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter! What did you want??”

I do NOT think that the command to not place our trust in Man is an order to abandon sensible behavior, but rather to allow God to define what sensible behavior is. A hospital employee may say, “This child will never have a normal life, you need to have an abortion.”—and we should feel quite secure in saying, based our understanding of God’s principles, “No, I will not kill my child…I will give him the best life I can, and, though it may not be much, I will not deny him the right to live!”

Someone else may say, “Well, I would never stay married to a person like that…” and it may be that we feel the same way. But, we must have the conviction to do as God leads, not man. Marriage is sacred, and not to be lightly disposed of, though God does recognize both divorce and remarriage, according to John chapter 4.

The same things are true in Business, Politics, and Church Government. The “bottom line” must not be “Does it work?” or “Is it profitable?”, but, “Does it Honor God? Is it obedient to His revealed Word?”

As far as we know, the only two times Joshua got into any trouble were the two times when he simply forgot to ask God what to do. He thought he knew the answer, and went off to battle at Ai, when, in fact, there was sin in the camp, and God would not have allowed them to go to battle at all, without having dealt with the sin. So, 36 men lost their lives in a fiasco at a very small city. (Joshua 7)

The other time, he was fooled by the Gibeonites, because he trusted his eyes, and did not seek God’s counsel. (Joshua 9)

Joshua was a good leader and a good soldier. He made decisions on a daily basis that affected the entire country, but he also kept very close accounts with God, and, as a rule, he was always where he was supposed to be, and doing what he was supposed to be doing, because he walked closely with God and had His constant guidance.

That is what we need, too, as we approach the end times: we need to keep close accounts with God, and seek God’s constant guidance. We cannot see our deadly enemies, in the spiritual battle around us, but we are given some things we can do to be on guard. The first, is: follow Jesus! (The closer the better!) The second is that we are to arm ourselves as He directs us, and learn His wisdom from His Word, as part of that armament.

The battle is not ours, but we are in it, nevertheless. We need to take the coming judgment seriously, and live as those who have been freed from a death-sentence.

Lord, help us to see the coming judgment, as you have described it, and live to free others from the destruction to come.


Making Informed Choices

Making Informed Choices

© C. O. Bishop 3/2019 THCF 3/17/2019

Isaiah 1:27-2:5

Introduction:

We have begun walking through the book of Isaiah, and we have seen the Righteousness of God and the coming Judgment on Sin. We have seen that the book is primarily directed to Jerusalem and Judah, though there is later mention of all of Israel, as well as a number of named Gentile nations, and even the whole world as it will be affected by God.

It is difficult to keep things separate, and to see that the warnings and the promises, here, are not to the Christians in the United States, but to God’s chosen people, the Jews. However, as we read carefully, we can at least see which portions should apply to us, in such a way that we can use God’s written Word to change our lives.

The following three points, though directed to Jerusalem, can be applied to our individual lives, in a limited sense.

  1. The Coming Judgment,
  2. Our Ultimate Exaltation, and
  3. God’s Invitation to Practical Holiness.

Coming Judgment

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

Zion (God’s spiritual name for Jerusalem) will be redeemed with Judgment…and her converts with righteousness. This may reflect upon the means by which God will purify Jerusalem during the coming Tribulation. But it could also be a prophecy concerning the Cross: It was through God’s righteous judgment being poured out upon Jesus, at the Cross, that we have been redeemed. And, due to His righteousness being imputed to us by faith (just as it was to Abram, in Genesis 15:6) we believers now have a right standing before God. That is good news for believers. But He goes on to say what will happen to the wicked, in verse 28.

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

This could have referred either to the coming destruction of Jerusalem, under Nebuchadnezzar, or to the ultimate destruction of the lost at the Great White throne Judgment. In the immediate context, verses 29-31 are definitely addressing the specific sins of Judah, in their idolatry;

29 For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen.

It specifically refers to being ashamed of oak trees in verse 29. The oak groves in Europe were often places of heathen worship in many cultures; and, in the Middle East, the groves were specifically shrines to the goddess Asherah. So the reference is again to their idolatry; the groves and gardens of their shrines… And God says their judgment is definitely coming (verses 30, 31.)

It is interesting, too, to see the change in pronouns, here, where it says that “they” (3rd person plural) will be ashamed of the oaks which “ye” (2nd person plural) have desired. Usually, that is an important thing to notice, as it may indicate to whom a promise or warning is being delivered. If this refers back to the context of verses 27 and 28, then possibly it means that the “redeemed and the converts” of verse 27 will be ashamed of the idolatry of the “transgressors and sinners, and they that forsake the LORD” of verse 28.

I suspect that is the case, here, as the ones against whom he is leveling the charge of idolatry, in this passage, are the ones upon whom the judgment is falling, while the “redeemed and the converts” of verse 27 are evidently a different group, possibly far in the future, as Judah is reclaimed by God. He switches the pronoun back to “ye”, in verses 30 and 31, as he issues a final judgment against the idolaters:

30 For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water.

31 And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.

He uses the image of their idolatrous objects of worship (the oaks and the garden shrines) to predict their demise: he says they will end up like a dead tree, and a dry, shriveled garden. He goes on to say that the best among them will be as weak and combustible as tow—the loose fiber from which cheap rope is made—and that they will burn together with a fire which no one will quench. This does sound more like the Great White Throne judgment, because it ends in unquenchable fire…but the immediate fulfillment was coming soon, in the destruction of Jerusalem. Jerusalem has been destroyed many times in history, but God keeps bringing the city back to life. As we get to the latter part of the Book of Isaiah, we will see just how thoroughly God will ultimately restore Jerusalem.

Ultimate Exaltation

Chapter 2

1The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

Verse one reminds us (again) who these prophecies are about: Judah and Jerusalem…not the gentile nations.

And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord‘s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.

Verse 2 begins with a prophecy of the Last Days. Notice that it speaks of the exaltation of Zion (v.2)—this will only happen during the Millennial kingdom…so when we back up and look again at chapter one, I would say that at least some of the previous verses must be a long-range look at Armageddon, and the whole tribulation, not just the (much sooner) Babylonian captivity which was also coming. The Temple mount, itself, will go through some physical changes, as we shall see, further on. All the nations of the world will come there, in peace. Jerusalem will be literally the capital city of the whole earth.

And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

Further, then, we see an international desire to walk with God (verse 3), and God (in the person of the Messiah) will be ruling personally from Jerusalem. The result (verse 4), will be genuine world peace, for the only time in the planet’s history.

There is no question as to when these particular things will happen, given the rest of what God has revealed it the whole of Scripture. Throughout the book of Isaiah, however, there will be short-range and long-range prophecies, intermingled. So we need to keep our eyes open, so to speak, as to when they are to be fulfilled. This one is definitely an end-time prophecy.

We look forward to that time, as well, as the Church, knowing that Israel will be reinstated as the recipients of God’s blessing, and that Jesus, the Messiah, will reign over the Earth, from Jerusalem.

We know that we are not Israel, but rather, are the Church, the Bride of Christ. We do not know what is in store for us; as He said, “…eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what the Father hath in store for them that love Him.” So, we wait in hope, knowing our bridegroom is coming soon.

We know that the world faces judgment for sin for rebellion, for cruelty, for hatred…but we also know that our judgment for the same sins was poured out upon Jesus at the Cross. We do not look down our noses at lost sinners, because we know that except for God’s Grace at Calvary, we would be there, too…headed for hell.

So, since we see the coming judgment, and know, at least a little, of our coming exaltation with Christ as His Bride, perhaps we ought to take seriously the invitation which the LORD next offers to Judah: He makes an invitation to Practical Holiness…to walk with God.

Invitation to Practical Holiness

O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.

On the basis of this prophecy, (verse 5) the house of Jacob is being invited to join the Lord in His light (cp. 1 John 1:7, Amos 3:3), and to walk with Him. When we read a parallel passage in Amos 3:3, we see that fellowship between any two individuals is only possible through agreement. (“Can two walk together except they be agreed?”) When there is a disagreement between me and God, the fault lies with me, not God. For us to agree, I have to change my mind (Greek, metanoia—change of mind—repentance.) I have to confess, and I have to walk in HIS light…not the other way around. (Notice, again, the change of pronouns: “come ye, and let us walk” the one issuing the invitation intends to walk beside the ones invited.

1st John 1:7 says, “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” (ALL sin.) What does it mean, then, to “Walk in the Light, as He is in the Light?” Jesus may have given us a hint, in John 14:21He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

What is the prime commandment from Jesus? “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:34, 35)  So, what might be a good litmus test, for believers? The Agape love is the main test we are given. In fact, it is the test by which the world is to judge us.

Over in Romans 13: 8-10, the apostle Paul confirms this, saying, “Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the Law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law.”

That is a pretty firm, clear statement! The problem we have as modern Christians, is that we have no idea what that Love entails. We think it has to do with an emotional response, when it is nothing of the kind. When we read 1st Corinthians 13, where the Agape love is defined, we see that every single one of the descriptors has to do with actions…not feelings. It is doing, for the other person, what is truly in their best interest, and the things that most honor God.

The things we read just now in Romans 13 are all things to not do, because they would not be agape love. They all also happened to be things from the Mosaic Law, which Paul chose to illustrate his point that the fulfillment of the commandments is to be carried out by “walking in the light”, and “loving one another.”

This is not a return to legalism, as some would portray holiness: it is an invitation to a life overflowing with the goodness of God. God said “Be ye holy as I am Holy.” If that is a command to be as free from sin as He is, then the only way it could happen was that my sins were purged at the Cross. But if it is a reminder that, when He bought us with His own blood, he bought our entire lives, and that we are now set aside for His purpose and His pleasure, then it stands as a constant call to be alert to God’s direction in our lives, and to respond to Him in Joyful obedience.

I want my life to have eternal value. I am aware that Jesus said “…apart from me ye can do nothing.” So, unless I respond to Him in such a way that He is free to use my life as He wishes, then my efforts will essentially be wasted. Remember, He did not say, “Apart from me you can’t do as much…” He said, “…apart from me ye can do nothing!”

The invitation was to all of Israel, in verse 5, here—that’s who the “house of Jacob includes. But Jesus said “come unto me, ALL ye that are heavily laden.” And the implication, there, is the same as here: we, too, are loaded down with our individual propensities for sin, whether overt or covert, and we also utterly fail to approach the holiness of God. That is why Romans 3:23 says “ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” That is also why Jesus said “and I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw ALL men unto me.” (John 12:32) And the invitation He gives is to “Whosoever will.” “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely…” (Revelation 22:17)

Are you willing to take God up on that offer? Do you see the coming judgment and desire to be sheltered in the Grace of God? Then the invitation is to you, just as it was to Israel. We are not promised the land, but, even better: we are promised a place with Jesus, wherever He is.

All He asks us to do, is to confess our sins to Him, and then accept His free forgiveness: then we can choose, moment by moment, to walk with Him. When we fall, we confess, we rise up, and we walk again. He has called us to walk together with Him in the light.

Let’s strive to choose daily to walk in that freedom and holiness.

Lord Jesus, free us from the bondage of our sin and our fleshly desires. Raise us up to walk with you in the light of your Word, by the power of your Holy Spirit. Make us the reflected lights in the World around us, as you have called us to be.


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.