Lazarus and the Resurrection

Lazarus and the Resurrection

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 11:1-46

Introduction:

This is a rather long chapter, and it has an important central narrative. There are, perhaps, dozens of sermons which could be derived from this passage, but our first priority is to hear and understand the whole story. So: to begin with, this is the story of Jesus’s friend, Lazarus of Bethany: not the “Lazarus” who was the beggar from Luke 16:20. (Same name; different men.)

This Lazarus was a homeowner in Bethany, almost two miles outside Jerusalem. He lived there with his two sisters, Mary and Martha. He was sick, and the sisters sent word to Jesus. Jesus was told, as they hoped, but apparently a little too late to get there in time. (How do we know? Jesus waited two days before responding, but when He arrived, Lazarus had already been in the grave for four days. We can see that even had Jesus left immediately, Lazarus still would have died.)

This is a key testimony to Jesus’s authority over life and death: He restored life to one who had been dead long enough that their corpse was beginning to decay. (That is why He waited.)

So, let’s read through the entire account, in John 11:1-46, and see exactly what happened. Then we will come back and touch on some of the key points we don’t want to miss, in just reading through it. In future messages we will come back again, and dig a little deeper.

Context: Where was Jesus?

Remember the context: In John 10:40, we saw that Jesus had left Jerusalem and had returned to the area where John the Baptist had begun his ministry (About 20 miles or more, east of Jerusalem, by the Jordan River, closer to Jericho.) So, he was probably at least 20 miles away… a long day’s walk, but certainly achievable. With that in mind, let’s read through the story.

John 11:1-46

1 Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.

When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was. Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again.

His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again? Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. 10 But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.

11 These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. 12 Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. 13 Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep.

14 Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. 15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him. 16 Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellowdisciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him.

 17 Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already. 18 Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off: 19 And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.

20 Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house. 21 Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. 22 But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. 23 Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. 24 Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.

25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? 27 She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.

28 And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee. 29 As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him. 30 Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him. 31 The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there.

32 Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled.34 And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see.35 Jesus wept. 36 Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!

37 And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died? 38 Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.

39 Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.40 Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?

41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. 42 And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.

43 And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. 44 And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.

45 Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him. 46 But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done.

Several Points to Consider:

The Time Factor

One, we already noted, was that when Jesus heard the news that Lazarus was sick, it was already too late to just “run over there and heal him.” Jesus was only about 20-30 miles away, and he waited only two days, but when He arrived, Lazarus had already been in the grave for four days.

Perhaps the messengers had searched for Him for some time before they found him. Or… perhaps the terrain is steep enough that such a journey actually took longer than a day. Either way, Jesus delayed only two days, and Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days, when Jesus and the disciples arrived. Evidently, had they left immediately, Lazarus still would have died.

The Purpose of Healing

Another important point, is to see that Jesus was not “acting callous” toward the needs of His friends: in the first place, as we already saw, by the time Jesus got the news, it was already too late to physically “get there and heal him.” Could Jesus have healed Lazarus from a distance? Certainly, He could; and in other situations, He did just that, healing one young man from miles away, without ever seeing him. So: why did Jesus wait?

Jesus said He was glad “for the sake of His disciples,” that He was not there to prevent Lazarus’ death. When someone “suddenly gets well,” there are two ways to see it: We can recognize the authority of God, and (at least) recognize that He allowed them to suddenly get well, and we see it as an answer to prayer. The other is to say, “Well, that was serendipitous!” and thus ascribe the healing to blind chance, not giving honor to the Great Physician.

Sometimes such healings are so stupendous that even the surgeons attending a case are amazed and have no explanation for the healing. One of the missionaries we support (Abby Williams) was the recipient of just such a healing, and the surgeons could only say, “This sort of thing just doesn’t happen!”  (Well… yes, but it DID!)

So, which way would build a “firmer faith” in the hearts of His disciples? Healing Lazarus from a distance (the only available choice, since he died before they could have arrived anyway, and which could have been seen as “just lucky”) or to let him die, and begin to decay, and then raise him back to full health and a normal life? Jesus chose the way that would have the most effect!

The Objective of Jesus

Jesus did not lose sight of His objective: He came to die, as the propitiation for our sins, yes: but before He died, He had to lay a foundation for faith that would last through the rest of time. He was building disciples who could go on and complete His work.

In case you hadn’t noticed, that is still the job of Jesus’s disciples. In 2nd Timothy 2:2, we see the command, “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also.” Jesus never lost sight of His objective, which was to reach the World with the Gospel of God’s Grace; so, the point of this whole “exercise” was to build an unshakeable faith in the lives of the disciples. That is still our objective, here in our church!

It is also interesting to remember that Judas Iscariot was still among Jesus’s disciples at this time, and this obvious miracle did not bring him to faith. Other enemies were there, as well, and the miracle did not change their hearts. But many who witnessed the revival of Lazarus did believe in Jesus as the Messiah because of what they saw. The purpose of the miracle was to build faith.

What is the Difference between Revival and Resurrection?

We tend to lump together all “back from the dead” experiences as “resurrections;” but they are not. Medical staff “reestablishing a pulse” is not “bringing someone back from the dead.” That is a minor revival, at best. Jesus raised those who truly were dead, who had begun to decay. And it was still only a “revival,” not the “Resurrection!” So, what’s the difference?

Revival is Temporary

All the people who Jesus raised from the dead (or who the apostles raised from the dead) subsequently died again, anyway. It was just a temporary reprieve. Now, let’s suppose, for example, that Lazarus managed to stay alive after this event, until after Jesus’s death, burial, resurrection, and His ascension. If Lazarus “re-entered the tomb,” so to speak, sometime after Jesus’s ascension (in Acts 1:9) then his second experience was far different. The first time, he had spent four days in Sheol, the place of the dead, but specifically, in Paradise, “Abraham’s Bosom,” the place of the righteous dead, along with Abraham, and all the other Old Testament Saints.

But the second time (because Jesus literally had “moved Paradise,” he would find himself in the actual presence of God. Jesus had opened the way into the Holy of Holies, through His death at the Cross! That is a huge difference! And …Lazarus will get his resurrected body at the same time we get our resurrected bodies!

Resurrection is Eternal

The coming resurrections of the righteous and unrighteous dead both result in the formerly dead individuals receiving their resurrected, immortal bodies which can no longer die.

The righteous dead will enjoy eternal life with their Savior, in that immortal state…forever.

The unrighteous dead will suffer eternal torment in that never-dying body, eternally separated from God, in the Lake of Fire…forever. I don’t like this fact, and neither does Jesus!

But the Righteousness of God (and His Holiness) will be satisfied, one way or another. In Romans 3:25, we saw that Jesus satisfied the righteousness of God at the Cross, as our propitiation, by God’s Grace, through faith in His blood. But, regarding those who reject His Grace, and do not place their faith in His sacrifice at the Cross? He says “they are already condemned,” because they “have not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18) While they live, they can change their thinking, and place their faith in Him. If they wait too long, they will miss their chance.

It is Appointed unto Man Once to Die, and after this the Judgment

Hebrews 9:27 makes it clear that we get “one shot at life”—no “do-overs,” no reincarnations, etc. As one modern musical performer put it, “Life is not a rehearsal: Life is the Gig!”

Lazarus was already a believer: he was not “getting a second chance.” His death and burial and revival brought many to faith…but he still died again. He got one actual life, and one actual (permanent) transition out of this life. The Eternal life that Jesus promises begins at the moment of faith, but the resurrected body is yet to come. In general, everyone dies once. There have been very few exceptions and God has had a purpose for each of them.

The Rapture provides a huge “single-event exception,” as 1st Corinthians 15:51, 52 says… “We shall not all die, but we shall all be changed.” But apart from that hope, every one of us faces physical death. And as believers, every one of us looks forward to the Resurrection.

The Only Hope for the Resurrection

Jesus spoke the simple truth, when He said, I am the resurrection and the Life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.

He is the Only Source of life, in every sense of the word. He created physical life…all of it, and He provides spiritual life. And He is the only source. Since our mortal bodies are each destined to die (unless the Rapture comes first) we look forward to the eternal resurrection of these mortal bodies, as immortal bodies. And Jesus is our only hope, either way.

We will expect to come back and dig out other, more specific truths from this chapter in the coming weeks.

Lord Jesus, ignite a fire in the hearts of Your servants, that we might shine in the darkness of this world, and that we might desire above all things to honor You, and to reach others with the Good news of eternal life in Christ.

For Judgment I am come into this World

For Judgment I am come into this World

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 9:39-41

Introduction:

Remember, as we read this passage, that Jesus had just healed a blind man, who had been born blind. He had miraculously given the man his sight. The man had suffered persecution, not because he was healed, but because he credited Jesus with the miracle. And they cast him out of the synagogue….essentially, he was excommunicated for confessing that Jesus had healed him, and for refusing to recant.

When Jesus found him again and introduced Himself as the Son of God, the man spontaneously worshipped Him. We still have people today who resent those who worship Jesus…or anyone who prays to Him. They reveal their hearts by that attitude. They reveal what they think of Jesus. And the next verse is what Jesus said in response:

39 And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.

What a strange thing to say! And: who was He talking to? His disciples were there with him…the healed man was there…and some Pharisees were there. Those are the only ones we know of, for certain.

Consider the overall context: Jesus has been under attack all day and the previous day as well. He dispersed the men who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery. He introduced Himself as the Light of the World. He nearly was stoned by the Jews when He announced His own eternality, and the fact that He preexisted Abraham. Then, immediately after miraculously escaping the mob in the temple, he went out of His way to heal a man who had been born physically blind.

This Blindness was not Judgment

The disciples asked Jesus whether that man or his parents had sinned, to bring this “judgment” of congenital blindness upon the man. Jesus said that neither had sinned…God had prepared this man for the purpose of showing His own mighty works. (Unlike Bartimaeus, this man had not even asked to be healed. He knew nothing about Jesus before this day.)

But this man, once he understood who Jesus really was, fell down and worshipped him! He was not only healed of his physical blindness, but also the spiritual blindness of his soul was taken away. He saw Jesus for who He was!

Jesus is remarking the irony that: His presence gave sight to the blind, but also revealed the blindness of those who rejected His light. Remember John 3:19And this is the condemnation; that light is come into the world and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”  The people had an issue with light, there, too.

Blindness Can be Judgment for having Disregarded light

Samson and others ignored the light of God’s direction and His Word, and, in Samson’s case, he was physically blinded by his enemies and enslaved by them.

Romans 11:25 also records that “…blindness in part has happened to Israel.” The majority of the Jews at that time, and ever since that time, have rejected the Gospel of Christ. The few who believed at that time (along with the Jewish proselytes saved at the day of Pentecost,) became the foundation of the church. And they taught the gentile believers who were saved a short time later.

Biblical historians say that the Roman centurion Cornelius (in Acts 10) received the Lord about seven or eight years after the events in Acts 2. I have no scriptural proof of that time passage. All we know is that the church was well established before the Gentiles (as Gentiles, not proselytes), were entering the Body of Christ in any significant numbers. (In Acts 13, we saw the first “mostly Gentile” assembly, and it caused a great deal of controversy, dealt with in Acts 15.)

Blindness happened to Saul

When Saul of Tarsus was confronted by Jesus on the Road to Damascus, two things happened: He was struck to the ground, along with the others in his group, and he was struck blind. Three days later, Jesus sent another disciple, Ananias, to restore his sight… and Saul changed his name to Paul. His physical and spiritual blindness had been healed, and He saw Jesus for who He was.

The rest of Israel remains partially blinded, to this day, and Paul grieved their loss, in Romans 9:1-3. But God promises to restore their sight, as a nation, and they will see Him, physically, and, for the first time recognizing Him for who He is. Zechariah 12:10 says “…They shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and shall mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and be in bitterness for Him as one is that is in bitterness for his firstborn.”

For Judgment I am Come

Jesus had earlier said that He had come to save the lost.  But, in the same verses (John 3:18, 19) He had said that condemnation was already there in the World. He said,  “He that believeth not is condemned already…and this is the condemnation… that light is come into the World, and Men loved darkness rather than light.”

Many people have taught, for years, that “if you don’t stop sinning, you’re going to be condemned!” But the truth is, you can’t stop sinning, and you are already condemned! The whole human race was in this same trap of sin…every single one of us was guilty and lost.

How did we get there?

Romans 1:21, 22, tells us how that happens. “When they (the human race) knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.”

By choosing darkness, we were filled with darkness, and we perpetuated our role as children of darkness. All we were really doing is confirming what God had said from the beginning. He said “In the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die!” Adam ate, and all his progeny (including Eve) were instantly plunged into the darkness of sin: spiritual separation from the Light of God.

Jesus is the Light of the World

His presence revealed the hearts of everyone who came in contact with Him. Those who rejected light, rejected Him. Those who yearned toward the light, turned to Him in faith. Even today, the same truth applies. The Light of Christ appears in the World, through his servants, the believers, and the people will either turn toward that light, in faith, or they will reject that light, and even attempt to extinguish it.

The Blindness of “Religion”

Romans 2:19 tells us that the Jews saw themselves as being “…a light of them which are in darkness.” But Judgment was about to fall on them, because in truth, they were the opposite of a “light to those in darkness:” They shrouded the light with their corruption, and their hypocrisy, to the extent that no one could see the Light of God in them at all. And they tried to extinguish the Light of Christ when He was there among them. They revealed who they were!

40 And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also? 41 Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.

They were not the Only Ones

It would be easy for us to just sneer at the Pharisees and say, “Yeah, those bad old Pharisees!” But the fact is, we are always in danger of doing something similar! We can become so self-satisfied and smug in our “good doctrine,” or our “healthy church,” that we completely close ourselves off from the unsaved world to whom we are sent as witnesses.

At that point, we are no longer allowing the Holy Spirit to reach out through us to the world around us. At that point we are “just a bunch of religious folk.” That is what had happened to the Pharisees, and to a certain extent, to the entire nation of Israel. They were a “very religious” people, but they denied the reality of the Love and the Power of the God they claimed to serve.

A Modern Example:

I visited a church, a few years ago, that had become so ingrown and exclusive, that, when a shabby-looking stranger arrived at their door, they literally didn’t know what to do. (I was the “stranger,” driving a beat-up old Toyota, and wearing clean, but older, inexpensive clothing.)

The “greeters” looked like “deer in the headlights,” clutching their church bulletins against their suit-clad chests. They stood and stared at me, but they did not greet me at all. They never offered a handshake, or asked my name. Never offered me a bulletin, or asked whether I knew the Lord: they said nothing. As ambassadors, they had become irrelevant. They were probably “nice, God-fearing people,” but they were having zero positive effect on the people around them. No one would come back for another visit, after that sort of reception!

Judicial Blindness

The Pharisees had become blind to the light of God. That was Jesus’s judgment of them: He revealed their true blindness. The church at Laodicea (Revelation 3:19) as a group, had become blind, as well, and Jesus shut them down! On an individual one-on-one basis, He still invited them to fellowship with Him, but as a church, they were completely shut down.

Because the Pharisees still claimed to “see,” and even claimed that they saw better than others, they were under the Judgment of God. In John 5:22, we see that Jesus, as God the Son, is the Judge of all the Earth, and He is the One they were rejecting and slandering!

Coming Judgment

They didn’t know it, but, less than 40 years later, the entire temple and everything they held precious would be destroyed. Through a series of bloody revolts, over a period of 70 years, during which hundreds of thousands were killed, the nation of Israel eventually ceased to be a nation, and was renamed “Palestine” by the Romans, in an effort to exterminate the memory of Judaism. It stayed that way until 74 years ago, when it was reborn as “Israel,” on May 14th, 1948. But the blindness still remains, today.

The Job of the Church is to Represent Jesus

We are called to be Ambassadors of Christ…we are to represent Him before the World. But, how we apply God’s Word in our daily lives and how we respond to others because of His presence in our lives will determine the result of our service.

We are told to testify to His love and His Grace, and to demonstrate His Love and His Mercy. We are told to become His hands and feet, and to be His voice, speaking His Righteousness and Love into the ears of the lost World.

Communion

When we partake in communion, we testify before one another that His blood was shed for us, and that we are trusting in His Grace, and looking forward to His return. But the result of that Sacred Relationship should be that we willingly, voluntarily reach out to the people around us, too. This isn’t all about us! Jesus’s agenda reaches out to the whole world.

Changed Lives

The result should be that we desire His righteousness and His wisdom. That we want to see our lives transformed, to be like Him. We should be concerned that the light of His presence is not dimmed because of the “grime” of our lives. The sin in our lives should grieve us as deeply as it does Him. We should want what He wants.

As ministers of the light…servants of the light, we need to make certain that the light we shine is clean and clear. We mentioned some time ago that the headlamps of a vehicle can become so encrusted with road-grime that the light burning within seems very dim as seen from the outside.

Clean Lives

We want our lives to be clean enough and clear enough that anyone looking our way will see the light of Jesus. We are supposed to “Glow in the dark.” We are told to “shine as lights in a corrupt nation.” No nation in history has been completely free of corruption, but God’s people are to shine in the midst of that darkness. We are commanded to draw people to Jesus: (not “to church:” to Jesus!)

We are called to “smell like Jesus.” The Fragrance of Christ is to be emanating from our lives at all times. The only way that is going to happen is if we allow Him to live through us, and allow His presence to permeate our lives.

As we celebrate communion together, please be thinking about what that may mean, to allow Jesus to live through you.

Lord Jesus, we know that we are blind to so much of the truth of God. We yearn to experience Your light in such a way that it transforms us into Your likeness. Let us be true children of the light, and not limit Your light in any way.

How Can We Eat of His Flesh?

How Can We Eat of His Flesh?

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 6:53-59 (Context: v. 47-52)

Introduction:

As we study our way through the Gospel of John, we occasionally run into peculiar passages, difficult to understand, and sometimes hard to accept. This passage is one of them, partly because it has been seized upon to push the notion that the Lord’s Table is literally cannibalism: That we are called to partake in a feast on human flesh and blood. It has been used by some to support their religious stance, and by others (in response to them,) to accuse the entire Church of gross malfeasance and evil thinking.

The very first thing we need to do when we run across any difficult passage is to read the entire context: What was the whole passage saying? What is it teaching?

Eating the Bread of Life

Beginning in verse 47, we see that Jesus clearly said, “He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life.” Keep that in mind as we read the following passage which could seem to contradict that first, clear statement. Remember that this is God’s Word, and it all has to agree: if something seems to be a contradiction, then the chances are very good that we are misunderstanding something.

Verse 48-51. Jesus continued, saying, “I am that bread of life.” In keeping with what He had taught in verses 33-35, He reiterates that He is the Bread of Life. But in verse 51, it would be very easy to draw the conclusion that physically eating His flesh is how we gain eternal life! Please! Read verse 47 over again! He says we enter into eternal life by faithbelieving in Him!

At that point, his audience was beginning to grumble amongst themselves, questioning Jesus’s statement: They thought that they were being invited to physically consume His physical flesh. (They said, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”) (verse 52)

Meanwhile, we keep re-reading that context, in verse 47, and we see it constantly reaffirmed that we are saved by Grace, through Faith, plus nothing, as Paul also tells us, in Ephesians 2:8, 9.

But they were struggling with this whole concept; (and He hasn’t even hit the hard part yet!)

Eating His Flesh and Drinking His Blood

Jesus’s reply to their complaint really pushed them over the edge. He said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. 54 Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56 He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. 58 This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.”

This was the real kicker: You remember, eating human flesh was specifically condemned in Scripture, and, even more specifically, drinking blood—any blood—was absolutely forbidden.

Eating Blood was a Crime!

Leviticus 17:10-14 spells out in no uncertain terms that drinking blood, or even eating meat that had not been properly bled out, was a capital offense. Why?  Because the blood was given to them as a sacrifice on the altar, to cover their sins! (KJV says “atonement’…it means “covering.”) Why was that important? Because the animal sacrifices were limited to covering sin, temporarily. Only Jesus’s Blood could take away sins. That is what He came to do! He came to save us from our sins by taking them away!

So, if animal blood was sacred, and if eating it was a capital offense, (meaning a crime for which they would kill you) how much more sacred should we consider the literal Body and blood of the Savior?

This was the problem the Jews were having with what Jesus taught. It seemed to directly contradict one of the key commandments God had given to Israel.

What was Jesus really commanding?

Keep in mind that Jesus is the Author of both the Old Testament and the New Testament: He was not “changing his mind” about the sanctity of blood. He was comparing Himself to the Passover Lamb: Each family took part in the blood on the night of the Passover: They killed that little lamb, they caught that blood in a basin, they dipped a bunch of Hyssop in that blood, and struck it onto the lintel and the two doorposts. (I love reading this, and physically going through the motions (or at least in my mind,) realizing that they were huddled in faith, under the same blood of the cross which we claim for our redemption.

But as individuals within each family, they were required to make the sacrifice personal: they were each to eat of that flesh, acknowledging that the blood on the lintel and the doorposts was shed for them personally. They were saying, “It was shed for me, personally, and by eating that sacrifice, I am confirming that I am under that blood: that my faith is in the completed work of that Lamb!”

Object Lessons in Scripture

Do we physically “eat Jesus’s body?” No! Do we actually “drink human blood?” No!! absolutely not!

We can further see that in 1st Corinthians 10:4, God declares that the Rock in the desert—that Rock which supplied the millions of gallons of water necessary for the survival of the Children of Israel and their livestock—that Rock was Christ! It does not say “a picture of Christ:” It says it was Him! And they all drank their “life-supply” from Him, personally.

In John 4:14 and in John 7:37-39, Jesus gave us some hints about “drinking from Him.” He told the woman at the well, in John 4, “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”

In John 7, on the last day of the feast of Tabernacles, Jesus cried out, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.  He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.  (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)

What is the answer?

So, what should we conclude about the statement regarding “eating His flesh and drinking His blood,” here in John chapter Six? Given both the immediate context of verse 47 and the remote contexts of chapters 4 and 7, what should we understand that Jesus was saying in chapter six? There are huge numbers of people who ignore the context and conclude that the elements of the Lord’s Table literally become the Body and Blood of the Lord, and that we are committing a literal act of cannibalism, as well as defying the Lord’s clear command to not drink blood.

If we examine the facts of the night when the Lord’s Table was instituted, we see two key things:

When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper:

  1. He was living in his physical body: He blessed, and broke, and offered them unleavened bread, saying “This is my Body, which is broken for you…” When people today speak out against recreational drug use, they may hold up an egg, saying “This is your brain” and then they fry it, and say, “This is your brain on drugs! Any questions?” But NO one answers, “What? My brain is a chicken egg?
    Jesus set out unleavened, blessed, broken bread as an object lesson regarding His coming sacrifice. The disciples felt no confusion about the relationship between that physical bread and His physical Body. They knew that Jesus intended an object lesson.
  2. His blood was in His veins, keeping His body alive! That is what God said it was supposed to do, in Leviticus 17:11 “The life of the flesh is in the blood!” As long as Jesus’s Blood was in His body, He was alive, and we were still in our sins. But when His blood was poured out on the ground, satisfying the righteousness of the Holy God who sent Him, then He died, and our sins were fully paid for: He cried out “Tetelestai!” (It is Finished! Paid in full!”) But His Blood had to be poured out, for that to happen.

Without the pouring out of His Blood, we would still be lost.

The moment you trusted Jesus’s shed blood as full payment for your sins, He took your sins away forever. (Think back again, now, to verse 47: How did He say we are to gain everlasting life?) “He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life.” But in Hebrews 9:22 He says, “Without the shedding of Blood there is no remission.” Without His voluntary, physical, one-time sacrifice, we would still be lost.

But we do not “re-crucify Jesus” when we take communion. I was at a funeral where the presiding priest actually said, regarding the Eucharist, “this is our sacrifice, and Jesus is our victim.” My friends, that is blasphemy! Jesus said, in John 10:18, “No man taketh my life: I lay it down of myself” He is not our “victim:” He is our Kinsman-redeemer. Yes, my sins are why he went to the Cross, but He went there voluntarily on my behalf.

And He did it once, for all eternity. It was never to be repeated, and never to be continued. It was finished at the Cross!

How do we “take part in this sacrifice?”

  1. How do we initially take part in that sacrifice? We enter in by faith, by believing in Him as our Savior: Jesus said that is what God requires, in John 6:29, and 6:47. This is a good example of why it is so important to read the context in which a verse appears…not just the one verse or passage, by itself.
  2. How do we “feed on Him on a continuing basis?” We do so by continuing to feed on His Word, believing that His blood has cleansed us. (In John 1:1-3, 14, and Revelation 19:13, He is identified as being the Living Word of God.”) 1st Peter 2:2 says, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby”
  3. We continue to drink of the fountain that He has opened as we allow the Holy Spirit to fill us and empower us.

But we commemorate that sacrifice when we take Communion. We do not reenact it!

The Lord’s table is not a sacrifice, at all! God says very specifically that Jesus died once for all, and that His work as the sacrifice was completed on that Cross. Hebrews 10:10, 12 says, “…we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all… this Man, after He had offered One Sacrifice for Sins, forever, sat down on the right hand of God.”

He still acts as our High Priest, but He does not continually offer more sacrifice. His work was so completely finished that it says in Hebrews 1:3  “When He had by himself purged our sins, He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on High.” (Where could the High Priest sit? There was only one “seat” in the Holy of Holies…it was the Mercy Seat… the top of the Ark of the Covenant! God’s throne!) So what we see here is thatJesus, God the Son, completed His work as our high Priest, and sat down in the throne with God the Father.

Why do we celebrate the Lord’s Table?

1st Corinthians 11:25-26 says, “Do this in remembrance of Me…as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death until He come.” It is a commemoration only, and a physical, outward demonstration of something that happened historically, and which has taken effect inwardly, and continues to take effect as we walk with Him.

Lord Jesus, please help us to completely understand the sharing that takes place in the Lord’s table and to see it as a holy fellowship before your throne, as well as a testimony to one another as well as the Unbelieving World.

How Should We View the Bible?

How Should We View the Bible?

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

2nd Peter 1:16-2:3

Introduction:

Over a month ago, we began to study through the second epistle of Peter, but were diverted by easter and some other needful things. Peter had spoken of the gifts of God and the goals he sets before us in the first 15 verses. so we are now returning, beginning at chapter 1, verse 16.

Revelation is not of Human Origin

16 For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 18 And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.

First, Peter reminds the readers that there were no “fables” involved in the Gospel; every single point of the gospels had multiple witnesses, and not always the same few “yes-men.” Jesus had enemies, and they confirmed the miracles. (John 12:9-11) Peter then points out that he, James, and John were eyewitnesses of the Majesty of the revealed Christ on the “Mount of Transfiguration:” they saw His glory personally, and up close, and heard the voice of God the Father, calling them to hear Jesus, the only begotten Son. That is pretty amazing stuff!

But what does Peter do with that vision? Does he say, “I was one of the few chosen to see Jesus in His Glory, so you need to pay close attention to what I say!”? Nope: his next sentence (verse 19) is to point out that the Word of Prophecy (God’s Written Word) is more sure. It is more reliable than any special vision Peter had… more reliable than his experience.

Unreliable Sources

A fellow pastor once told me of a woman with whom he had attempted to share the Lord. She did nothing but argue, and when he attempted to show what the Bible had to say, she blurted, “I don’t care what the Bible says! I have my experience!” That is precisely the opposite of what Peter is teaching us. We are to trust God’s written Word above all experience, even if it seems to be supernatural experience. It is interesting to me that the false prophets who were contemporaries of Jeremiah all had visions and dreams, etc. and God says that they “caused the dreams themselves.” (Jeremiah 29:8)

How did they cause them? I have no idea: perhaps simply by their own desires, since they all desperately wanted Nebuchadnezzar to go away. Possibly it was caused through hallucinogens of some sort. (The Oracle at Delphi was apparently under the influence of volcanic gases inhaled from a crack in the ground under the shrine to Apollos. The Mescalero “seers” in the American southwest used Peyote cactus buds to enter a drug-induced state from which to give prophecies or spirit-messages of some sort. Drug-use to attempt spiritual enlightenment is common all around the world. But so is simple self-deception. Jeremiah 17:9.)

How Should We View The Bible?

What does Peter say about how we should see the Written Word of God?

19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:

He says that we are to pay attention to it! “Take Heed!” Notice also the time-clause in verse 19: How long are we to “take heed” to the written word? “Until the day dawn and the daystar arise in your hearts!” (This is in reference to the Return of Christ!) God’s written Word is to be our central, primary, and, essentially our only reliable source for truth until Jesus comes back!

And how are we to give heed to it? “As unto a light that shineth in a dark place!” Think about this one: When you need to venture into a dark place (perhaps because the power is out) and you take a flashlight with you, where do you look? You always turn your eyes toward the place you have turned the light! You allow that light, however feeble, to guide your steps. Why? Because the character of light is to dispel darkness. And we can only see what is revealed by reflected light. So, how should we use God’s written Word? Treat it as if it were your only source of light in an otherwise dark world. Use it to make your path visible, and your footing secure.


Many Writers, but One Author

20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.


And here is the reason we should feel that way, and respond in that way: it is because, though humans were used by God to transmit His Word, they were no more the “authors” than the “bullhorn” is the authority when police speak to a crowd. Anyone can get a bullhorn; Anyone can hire a scribe to write down words. The Author is the key ingredient in this mix: Peter said that the scriptures are not something subject to private interpretation: They are God’s Word! The Prophecies did not come as a result of human will, but the Holy Spirit, starting out with a godly, submitted individual, moved those men (and sometimes women) to speak his Word. The result is really quite amazing, in my opinion:

Internal Agreement

Here are 66 separate documents (some, like the Psalms and the Proverbs, a compilation by more than one writer) written over a period of about 1,600 years, through approximately 40 different writers…or a few more. And they agree remarkably well, when one considers that in all but a very few cases, the different writers didn’t even know one another, and had utterly different backgrounds. In fact, as one who studies the Bible pretty consistently, I am constantly thrilled with just how completely it agrees with itself.

I have read books in which, though there was only the one (fairly famous) author, a careful reader will find mistakes and contradictions. But when people protest to me that “Oh, you know, the Bible is full of contradictions,” I reply, “Really? Name one!” (I can name a few—very few–and in nearly every case, the error can easily be determined to be a copyist error or translation error. And there are very few even at that level. And we are talking about a change in the age of an individual at a certain time, or the number of soldiers at a given place… not in any way related to doctrine.) But, almost without exception, those individuals don’t know a single one. It is just something they have learned to say, in an attempt to deny, or minimize Biblical Authority.

Over the last 45 years, I have become increasingly convinced that the Bible truly is the Word of God, and as such, it is the only reliable light in our sin-darkened world. The longer I study it, the better satisfied I am that this is the truth.

Other Clues

Let me give you some other examples of the things that have convinced me of its authority:

  • A rather “odd” one is simply the fact that God doesn’t “sugar-coat” or “whitewash” anything. He doesn’t claim that all his people, or all his servants or prophets or whatever, are just “wonderful people.” They aren’t, and He tells you about their failures. God does not allow the failures of His servants to affect the long-range outcome of His purpose. He is never “surprised” by human failure. But, He also doesn’t ignore it. The Bible is unique in that it does not “put people on pedestals.”
  • There were many prophecies within the scriptures which, if they were really true, and really from God, had to be fulfilled immediately or not at all. And they were not only fulfilled immediately, but to the letter, often in the presence of many hostile witnesses. (Example: 2nd Kings 7:17-20) Read it!
  • God uses the foolish schemings of man to achieve His ends, but He does not depend upon them. He is omnipotent, and will accomplish His directive will with or without our cooperation. We see many schemes where people tried to outsmart God. And it turned out to accomplish exactly what He said would happen. (e.g., Joseph the patriarch.)
  • The points at which the Bible touches secular history, where it could logically be expected to be confirmed (or disproved) by archeological evidence, are consistently confirmed by the very people who thought they were about to “disprove the Bible.”
  • The points at which the Bible touches upon science turn out to be entirely correct, as well.
    • The Bible has taught the fact of a primordial mega-continent from the beginning: but it wasn’t “proven” by science until the latter part of the 20th century.
    • God mentioned the “paths of the sea,” (Psalm 8:8) centuries before the ocean currents were known to exist, let alone be mapped out.
    • God said the world was “suspended upon nothing” (Job 26:7) centuries before science knew it.

Peter’s Conclusion

So, on the basis of what he shares in chapter one, Peter is preparing to lay out some key things for his readers to remember, in the remaining two chapters. But he prefaces it with the fundamental truth that the Written Word of God, the Bible, is our only dependable source of light in this dark world. And we have already seen that our job is to “hold forth the Word of Truth” and to reflect that light: we are to “shine as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:15, 16)

The whole structure of the Christian life is founded upon the truth of God’s Word. In Paul’s instruction regarding the armor of the Christian warrior (Ephesians 6:14,) the truth of God’s Word is likened unto the belt that held up all the rest of a Roman soldier’s armor. We are to “stand, therefore, having our loins girt about with truth.”

So what happens if we don’t? What happens if we choose to be lackadaisical about Bible Study?

There will be False Teachers

Chapter Two

But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

Notice that the false prophets evidently knew that what they were proclaiming was not from God, even though they claimed to be His messengers. The false teachers, in similar manner, knowingly turn people away from the Cross, and replace God’s sacrifice with something else.

This has been the pattern since the beginning. Cain rejected God’s plan, thinking he could bring his own ideas, and his own worship offering. Remember, though, that to bring something other than the offering that God demanded is to set Him aside in favor of one’s own ideas.

And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.

This is future tense, showing that God knew from the beginning what would happen: false teachers frequently gain a following. Why is this so? It is because the heart of Man already has a tendency to turn away from God’s light and choose darkness (Jesus said so! John 3:19.) So, when someone comes out with a message that “sounds reasonable,” and also satisfies our natural desire to avoid dealing with the reality of God, then our deceitful hearts gladly receive it.

And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.

Evil Motives

What could be their motive? Why would someone do such a thing? In some cases, it is simply that people desire the honor of “having a following,” (Acts 20:30) even if it just means being able to say, “I have more Facebook friends than you do!” Some people just desire an audience. They don’t want to teach because of a commitment to feeding the flock, but rather because they seek social approval, or public acclaim, and personal validation.

Another motive, sadly, can be money. Verse 3 states that their motive is covetousness. I first assumed that the Greek root was “philargurion,” which literally means “the love of silver.” But this is actually a different, much broader word, “pleonexia,” which simply means “greediness,” not just a desire for money. In other words, there is something they are seeking to gain for themselves. Perhaps it is fame; some people crave power…who knows?

There are different degrees of this sin, and it is not limited to unbelievers, I have known pastors who I am convinced were genuine believers, who still saw their ministry as “a job,” and were always seeking a larger, wealthier church to serve. To me, that is very sad, as it surely calls into question one’s motives. They actually told me that they considered the small church in which they were currently serving to be a “stepping-stone” to better things. But, when I questioned them about their faith, it was clear that they saw Jesus as God in the flesh, and as their only hope for salvation. I do not think they qualified as a “false teacher,” though their motives certainly seemed to be flawed. This is the error of Balaam…marketing their giftedness for financial gain.

But, at the end of this chapter, we will see that the false prophets and false teachers mentioned here are not born-again believers. Their relationship with the Lord was built upon “knowledge,” to some degree, but evidently not saving faith…there was no transformation begun in their lives.

Are there cases today, where the motive clearly is money and they deny the Lord? Certainly! There are modern cults that were begun specifically as a hedge against taxation. The founder of one such cult was a relatively successful fiction writer, and quite cheerfully wrote the books framing his new “church,” knowing it was all a lie, and that it was only geared to make and keep money. But I am told it is now one of the fastest growing cults in the United States, including many rich, famous actors…which somehow seems fitting.

How to Spot a Cult

But one thing that all the cults have in common is that they either flatly deny the Deity of Christ, or they modify it in some way, to deny His authority and Honor, as God in the flesh.

Those who clearly teach any of the following:

  • that Jesus is not God, or
  • that Jesus is not the only savior, or
  • that His blood does not suffice to take away the guilt of those who trust in Him, or
  • that the Bible is not the Word of God, (and thus is not authoritative,)

are clearly crossing the line into “false teaching.”

If a believer has been deceived and teaches false doctrine, believing it is correct, does that make him or her a false teacher? Not the kind mentioned here. Believers do make errors and can teach those errors to others. That is not the focus in this passage but we can still take warning from the verses, as we hope to avoid being like those who deliberately detract from Jesus.

Being mistaken about the intent or meaning of some particular passage is not necessarily “false teaching,” but we are warned to study to show ourselves “approved unto God, workmen who do not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.”  So we study and we pray and we earnestly attempt to gain clear understanding of God’s Word, and to teach it accordingly.

We teach the Bible as being  literally the Word of God. We believe in the literal facts of the Gospel, that Jesus was literally God in the Flesh, that He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. We teach that Jesus is literally the Judge of all the earth, and the Master to whom we owe obedience and worship. We teach that His promises regarding our future are literally true and will be literally fulfilled.

Are there passages in scripture that are less literal: perhaps more symbolic or metaphorical in nature? Surely there are, but they are also easily identifiable as such. Perhaps it begins with “Jesus spoke a parable and said…” In fact, to certain groups of people, He only spoke in parables! And, in certain prophecies of future events, the characters, instead of being named, are only described, often in highly symbolic verbiage. But as a rule: we take the Bible to be meant literally, and to be understood literally, unless there is a specific clue to let us know that in this case, there is a metaphor, a simile, a parable, a symbol, or the like.

Look to God’s Word as the only Light in this dark world. It is completely trustworthy and authoritative. Study it, to clearly understand how to apply it in your life. Feed on it to become strong in your faith, and to be nourished and encouraged by the Lord, in Person. Remember that Jesus himself is identified as being the Living Word of God. As you draw near to the Written Word, be conscious that you are drawing near to Him, and can hear Him speaking.

We will continue to feed the flock here, on the written Word, and seek to obey the Living Word.

Lord Jesus, fill us with a sense of your eternal purpose and allow us to fulfil your heart’s desire and complete the work you have assigned your people. Raise us up as faithful Men and Women of God.

Why Did the Angel Roll Away the Stone?

Why Roll Away the Stone at all?


Matthew 12:40

© C. O. Bishop 2011 revised 2021

Introduction: The Simple Questions

We never really ask ourselves the simple questions. We want to know the answer to the “Big Ones”. We want to understand the Holy Trinity, the Doctrine of Election, the balance between the Sovereignty of God and the Free Will of Man. We want to know why God allowed sin to happen at all. We question the Character of God, and ask how a good God could allow such evil in the world.

But, what about asking some of the simple questions? What about questions such as, “Why did David select exactly five stones from the brook, when he went to confront Goliath?” How about a question such as, “Why were two angels sent to overthrow Sodom and Gomorrah, when one surely could have handled the job?

How about questions such as; “Why did God tell Noah to coat both the outside and the inside of the Ark with pitch (or tar, as the case may be)?”

Those sorts of questions have answers in the Scripture, or sometimes in scriptural reasoning, even if the answer is not clearly spelled out.

Answers in Scripture:

When we read in 2nd Samuel 21:18-22 that Goliath had four brothers (or possibly sons; the meaning is not clear), then we get a clue as to why David took five stones. We see that it was not cockiness that sent him to fight Goliath, but faith; and he was prepared to fight all five of the giants—with one rock each. If that is really the reason, that’s real faith, in my mind. And it must be the reason, or God could have simply said that David selected a bagful of stones, or “several stones”, or something similar. But He didn’t. He told us that David selected five smooth stones from the brook. And later, He let us know that Goliath had four giant brothers who were later killed by either David or his men. God lets us see the “inside story,” to strengthen our faith.

When we read Genesis chapter 19, we see that Lot and his family had to be led out of Sodom by their hands. Two angels; four hands, four people: God knew what He was going to do, and exactly what it would take to save Lot and his family. One angel (or none) could easily have destroyed the city. God did not need to send anyone at all for that purpose; but he sent the two angels to get Lot and his messed-up family out so he could then destroy the place. Grace was why he sent two angels. And he let us know about it, to give us cause for faith.

When we read a narrative as seemingly-simple as the instructions Noah was given in Genesis 6:13-16, by which to build the Ark, it is easy to “brush over” details such as the fact that the pitch, or tar, was to coat all of the outside, and all of the inside of the hull. But, we can see, as we read the whole passage again, that there seem to be distinct parallels between Noah’s Ark and the Messiah:

  1. The Ark was built according to definite directions from God.
    1. Jesus came in fulfillment of hundreds of very specific prophecies that had to all be literally fulfilled, in one person.
  2. The Ark was made of a common, but very specific wood.
    1. Jesus came of ordinary human lineage, on his human side, but from a specific genealogy—Joseph had to be his stepfather, to establish his right to the throne, but couldn’t be his father, as that lineage also included a curse. Mary’s lineage is where he traces his bloodline to David. The virgin birth fulfills prophecy too.
  3. The Ark was sufficient to save all who were in it, animal and human.
    1. Jesus’ blood paid for the sins of the whole world, Jews and Gentiles alike, and whether or not they would actually respond in faith.
  4. The Ark had only one door—one way in…and God closed that door.
    1. Jesus is the only way to God, and the one way to approach Him is by faith…those who come to him can never be lost—God closes them in.
  5. The Ark had no rudder, sails or oars…it went where God sent it. And Noah went with it.
    1. Jesus went where God sent Him, and all in Him go where He goes. We have no say in the matter.
  6. The Ark had only one window, and it did not allow Noah to see the wreckage of the world as it died around him—he could only look upward.
    1. Jesus does not allow us to see the process of His judgment on the earth—we can see the results, but our only clear view is of Him…by faith.
  7. The Ark was tarred outside with what the King James Bible called “pitch”, but what contemporary scholars claim to be tar—which is likely correct—there were many tar-pits in the area. Either way, the substance rendered the Ark waterproof: immune to the judgment that fell on the earth…it fell on the Ark as well, but the Ark rose above the judgment.
    1. Jesus bore the judgment of God at the Cross. But His righteousness made him immune to death in the final analysis. He rose above the judgment, in the Resurrection. (Ah! That’s what we are here about, isn’t it!?)

So, what about the tar on the inside?

  • The Ark was coated with tar on the inside, making it immune to the corruption within. What corruption, you ask? Well, there were thousands of animals in that ark, and eight people, for over a year, with no convenient way to “clean it all out,” if you catch my meaning. That might be enough to compromise the integrity of the hull, I would think—except for the fact that the tar kept the filth from coming into contact with the wood. The microorganisms could not begin to attack the Ark.
    • Jesus is immune to the “corruption within”, as well. His work of salvation is complete: our sins were completely paid for (past present and future), and the sins we still commit, as saved sinners, are no threat to His plan of salvation. Our sins cannot compromise the integrity of God’s salvation.

And God let us see the security of our position in Him—“in the Ark,” as it were— in “picture form,” long before he stated it explicitly in the New Testament. God wants us to know about His Grace, and He wants us to clearly see that our approach to Him is by faith, and our walk with Him is by faith. He spells all these things out in the New Testament, but they were there in the Old Testament as well.

So… What about that stone?

Consider the following: Jesus had clearly stated that he would be in the tomb for three days and three nights. (Matthew 12:40) We know that the women went before daylight, the first day of the week, to add more spices to the embalming that had been begun by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea. Working backward from that time, we can see that the crucifixion must actually have been on Wednesday. Traditionally it was posed as having been on Friday, because we also are told that the next day was a Sabbath…but the Passover was the next day, and regardless of what day of the week the Passover came, it, too, was a Sabbath. (Not all Sabbaths were on Saturdays.)

If the crucifixion was around 3 PM on Wednesday, then Thursday, Friday and Saturday were the three days, while Wednesday night, Thursday night, and Friday night comprised the three nights. By Saturday evening, then, the prophecy was complete! Jesus could have left the tomb any time after sundown, Saturday.

So why would you suppose the angel would have waited so long to roll the stone away? Did Jesus have to wait there in that cold, dark tomb for the angel to “let him out?” No! He did not need to be “let” out. Remember that, after his resurrection, he entered a locked room to show himself to the disciples—He just appeared in their midst, with the door still closed! The stone could not have held him in.

There were also sixteen Roman guards outside that sealed tomb…did Jesus “need help” dealing with them? No! Even before the resurrection, at Gethsemane, he had flattened two hundred Roman soldiers by simply speaking; saying “I am He!

So why did God send the angel? Why roll the stone away at all? Why couldn’t Jesus simply appear in that upper room, and let ‘em all see him? Isn’t that proof enough of the resurrection?

The answer is “NO!” The empty tomb was necessary as well. The fact that the women and the disciples saw the empty tomb before they saw the risen Lord dispelled any idea of a fake—a counterfeit—an impostor. That empty tomb was the confirmation that something had happened; the Lord’s body was gone, and, specifically, having left the winding cloths undisturbed—an empty shell; and the face-covering folded neatly and laid aside. No grave-robber could have accomplished the evidence left behind. Also, because of the angel, the Roman soldiers fled, leaving the disciples free access to examine all that evidence, in the empty tomb.

Some of the disciples believed immediately; some doubted. Some did not know what to think, and all were very confused. Jesus met with each of them, singly or in groups, as needed, to confirm their faith, and let them know that He had truly risen. He appeared to over five hundred at one time; to the eleven at another time; to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus; and to Peter alone…and later still, as we know, to Saul of Tarsus who would become the Apostle Paul.

But why is it so specifically recorded that an angel appeared, and rolled the stone away? Why could the disciples not have rolled it away, once the soldiers were gone? The Governor’s seal was on that tomb—anyone breaking that seal would have been risking their life to do so. But the seal and the guard was only for three days, according to Matthew 27:64.  Evidently the women were hoping that they would be allowed to complete the embalming, since the three days were over, but they still were wondering as they walked in the darkness, “Who will roll away the stone?” (Mark 16:3)

Well, as it turned out, the guards were still there when the women approached. They probably would not have cooperated at all, but God had other plans. Matthew 28:2 says an Angel of the Lord came, shining like lightning, and rolled away the stone and sat on it. The guards were so afraid they passed out. The women were evidently not so affected, and the angel spoke directly to them saying, “…see for yourself—He is not here—he is risen! Come and see where He lay!” And the same invitation is given to us, today.

We do not get to go and see the physical tomb, necessarily, though it is claimed that the specific place is known. Nearly two millennia have passed, and it seems unlikely to me that the tomb has remained empty, since it was only borrowed in the first place, and since the land has been in the hands of unbelievers for most of those long centuries. In any case, the invitation to us is to examine the textual evidence, and the historic evidence.

The stone was rolled away so that we could know that Jesus lives…that he is not a ghost, or an apparition of some sort…he was physically, bodily resurrected, and He lives today. The Roman soldiers were paid to claim that the Lord’s body was stolen by the disciples while the whole guard slept. This was a ridiculous lie, as the penalty for sleeping on guard duty was death…the chances of the entire watch nodding off and staying asleep while a huge stone was noisily rolled back from the mouth of a hewn-rock cave are exactly zero. The soldiers knew the risk of such a lie, but with the assurance that the priests would keep them from being punished, they accepted the pay and spread the lie.

The disciples themselves were initially reluctant to believe the resurrection, because it just seemed “too good to be true…” and they were not stupid. But Jesus rebuked them for their failure to believe, as He had told them in advance that this was what was going to happen, so they should have grasped the fulfilled promise immediately, rather than doubting.

What About Us?

We can see the whole story—the prophecies, the actual crucifixion, the burial, and the aftermath of the resurrection. No one was “in the tomb” watching to see the Lord’s resurrection. All they saw was the aftermath as well. We can read and see that Jesus met with the disciples, showed him his hands and feet and side, and they touched him, confirming that he was the “real McCoy”, as they say. We can read of the empty tomb. But the reason the angel rolled the stone away was for us to see, through the eyes of those disciples, that the tomb was truly empty.

The resurrection is one of the best supported facts of human history. The prophecies giving rise to the expectation, the witnesses present at the time, and the total change in the behavior of the disciples should all be enough to show the truth of that event. The disciples were changed from grieving, cowering, defeated men, hiding for fear that they would be the next to die, to being bold evangelists who cheerfully died for the truth of the good news they shared. Something transformed them!

The enemies of Jesus could have stopped the spiritual “avalanche of joy” that was about to happen: All they had to do was to produce the body! But they couldn’t do that—because he was no longer dead—he had risen! The disciples had been completely cowed, before, and were in hiding. They did not even consider stealing the body. Had they really wanted to, they could have done so before it was buried, while Nicodemus and Joseph were preparing it for burial. But they didn’t. And, after it was sealed in a stone tomb, with a huge stone rolled over the door, and soldiers guarding it, they had no further opportunity.

And the simple fact was: they never had a motive. How would it benefit them to have a dead Messiah? They had no hope of conquest, nor did they make any such attempt after he had risen. There was no profit for any of them, beyond the joy of knowing and serving their risen Lord. All of them (with the possible exception of John) died as martyrs, early or late. All died in relative obscurity and poverty. There was no motive for a lie.

The bodily, physical, literal, visible resurrection of the Messiah is as important as His crucifixion—because without that resurrection, the crucifixion would have been just another tragic murder in history. Instead, the death and burial and resurrection of Christ are the heart of the Gospel. (1st Corinthians 15:3, 4)

The Good News of the Easter story is the message we are to take to the world. It is that message which, being believed in, is the only power of God to save those who believe. (Romans 1:16) That message is the only light in this dark world. I pray that all of our hearts may catch fire from that light, and burn as a witness to those around us.

The Angel rolled the stone away for a reason! Let’s make that reason known!

Lord Jesus, we rejoice with the disciples that you are truly Risen! We ask that you would transform our lives as you transformed theirs, so that we, too, may serve as your witnesses in this dark world. Remold us into your image and fill us with the desire to serve You.

Why aren’t we catching any fish?

Why aren’t we catching any fish?

(An Evangelical Allegory)

© 2004 C. O. Bishop, revised 2020

1st Timothy 3:15; 1st Corinthians 2:2; John 12:32; etc.

Introduction

When a person goes fishing, usually it is because they hope to catch fish. I have heard of folks who went fishing not desiring to make a catch, because they simply wanted some peace and quiet. But those are not the ones to whom this message is directed.

When an individual who fishes fairly frequently does not at least occasionally catch at least a few fish, they often say that they “have bad luck.” But this may not be the case at all!

There are seven very good reasons why an individual may be “having no luck”.

       1. Wrong Bait

       2. Tainted Bait (Right Bait, Wrong Smell)

       3. Bad Technique (Right Bait, Wrongly Presented)

       4. Bad Timing (Right Bait, Wrong Time)

       5. Wrong Location (Right Bait, Wrong Place–No Fish)

       6. No Experience (Any Combination of Above Reasons)

       7. No Teacher or Guide

Let’s discuss the possibilities:

  • Wrong Bait: Fish usually don’t eat tomatoes. Or chocolate bars. So we don’t bait hooks with them. On the other hand, some fish are terribly hungry, and will eat anything thrown into the water. (Those kinds of fish usually find themselves in trouble very soon.) But you do need the right bait, as a rule, so it pays to learn what it is.
  • Tainted Bait: Fish frequently like worms, but not when they are coated with mosquito repellent. Or gasoline. That’s why it’s important to have clean hands, or at least that your hands be coated only with the bait itself, when baiting your hook.
  • Bad Technique: Fish may like worms, salmon eggs, marshmallows, corn, or many other baits, but they unanimously turn away from anything tied to a large weight, and thrown carelessly into their midst. It frightens them, and they leave the area, or simply stay away from the offending fisherman.
  • Bad Timing: Fish eat at a variety of times, but there are certain times when they almost never eat. Bait presented ever so skillfully will be ignored if it is presented at the wrong time, or under the wrong circumstances.
  • Wrong Location: Fish don’t eat bait they can’t get to. If one fishes in a pool behind a gravel bar, formed by water seeping through the stones, one cannot hope for success. There cannot possibly be any fish in that pool. On the other hand, if you make a perfect cast into a pot of coffee being shared by other fisherman, the very best you can hope for is an empty hook!
  • No Experience: As you gain experience, and learn from your own mistakes and those of others, you hope to eventually avoid all the reasons why you would not catch fish, and begin to see success. One of the sure signs of inexperience is a lack of preparation: not having done your homework results in mistakes that could have been avoided.

    Inexperience will produce a hodge-podge of mistakes, any of which could render the fishing trip fruitless. But don’t give up hope! There are usually some fish hungry enough to overlook minor errors, and give you the early successes, encouraging you to press on and hone your skills for bigger and better catches!
  • No Teacher or Guide: The fastest way to learn, and the most effective way to fish, is to have an experienced Teacher and Guide along to help you, to prevent the errors, and bring good results on the first attempts.

Equipment?

We haven’t discussed this aspect of fishing because that this is where the allegory breaks down. In fishing for fish it is often necessary to have specific equipment, to have any hope for success. But this message is really about fishing for people! And the Christian who hears the Lord’s command to fish for men already has all the equipment needed (God’s Word), and only needs to learn to use it.

So What’s The Application?

  • Let’s start with the “Bait:” What is the “bait” we are continually to proffer to the world? Please read 1st Corinthians 2:2. (“For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him Crucified.”)

    This was the Apostle Paul writing. He said, effectively, “This is the only bait needed.” Every believer has this “bait” available without limit. “Fish” can and may “bite” on a variety of things (witness the myriads of cults), but the only message that can save, and change a life for eternity is the simple message of the Gospel, “Jesus Christ and Him Crucified”. Any other “bait” will eventually condemn the person who swallows it.
    This is why God so strongly condemns those who preach a false Gospel. (Galatians 1:6-9) Jesus Himself said (John 12:32), “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.” Jesus himself, crucified, is the “bait,” if you want to call Him that. He says that He is the One drawing all sinners to Himself. So—if He is to be what we hold out to others, we need to bear in mind why they might find Him attractive: Only people who see themselves as sinners see a need for a Savior. So, if we ignore the “bad news” of the Gospel–the fact that Jesus died for our sins–then there is no “felt need” for a Savior! You see, the “Bad News” of our sin is a necessary part of the Good News of Salvation from the eternal consequences of Sin! The Gospel must include that bad news!
  • Now we should talk about “Tainted bait”, or “the right bait, but the wrong smell.”  You can preach the gospel, and be “doctrinally correct,” but fail in your efforts simply because of an impure, careless lifestyle.

    Look at 2 Corinthians 2:14-17. “Now thanks be unto God, who always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour (smell) of His Knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other, the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as many which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.”  

    Our lives are supposed to “smell like” Christ Himself. To everyone! To unbelievers, His righteous deeds in us reek of judgment. And so they should. But not judgment from us, or by us. They are simply to be convicted by our way of life, as well as the words spoken in Christ. But, to those who choose to believe the message, our lives are to be a fragrance of Christ: a constant reminder of the victory now present in their lives. A new believer needs the constant encouragement offered by the pure, cheerful, loving, committed lives of older believers. We are to smell like the sweet newness of the resurrected life in Christ.
  • There is then the matter of “Bad technique”, or, “the right bait, but wrongly presented.”
    Each of us have heard someone say something that was actually true, but said in such an offensive spirit, or manner, that the truth of the words is lost upon the hearer.

    Take a look at James 3:18: “And the Fruit of Righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” Also, in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

    Now, notice it doesn’t say, “They shall become the children of God,” or “only peacemakers can possibly be the children of God,” but rather they shall be “called the children of God”. By whom? By God? No: He recognizes His children even when they miserably fail the “peacemaker test”. But people, the people we are to reach, will only recognize God’s children when we act like God’s children, offering the Gospel in the Spirit of Peace.

    Remember this verse? John 13:34, 35. “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.” (Maybe we need to work on this one, too: how we get along with other believers definitely affects the message!)
  • How about “Bad timing”? (The right Bait, offered at the wrong time.) Is it possible to present the Gospel at the wrong time? Yes, it really is!

    Let’s look at Acts 28:1-10 (Read it in your Bible, and get the whole context.)

    Paul and his entourage (of prisoners and soldiers) had shipwrecked on an island (Malta), during a terrible storm. All had escaped with their lives, but all were soaked, weak from hunger (having fasted for two weeks just prior to this episode), and cold. The natives of the island treated them very kindly, and started a big fire, to warm them all up (A big fire—there were 276 people who came out of that wreck!) So this would be the ideal time for Paul to preach the Gospel, right? Wrong! Paul got to work and helped gather firewood. He was just as wet, cold, hungry and tired as all the other prisoners, but service came first.

    And then, as if to reward him for his faithfulness, a viper came out of the bundle of wood he had gathered, and bit him on the hand. That really got everyone’s attention. They thought, “Aha! This guy must be really bad! He got out of the sea alive, but justice is being served anyway!” But Paul shook the venomous creature off into the fire, and suffered no harm. Then the people, after waiting for some time for Paul to swell up, or drop dead, decided that he must be some sort of god: a deity visiting the island! So, they are really focused on Paul!

    As a result, the chief of the people wanted Paul to stay at his house. And when Paul got there, he found that the chief’s father was deathly sick. Paul prayed for the man, and he was healed. Then lots of people wanted to be healed!

    Do you think Paul may have had their attention now? You bet he did! The scripture doesn’t say when or even if Paul preached the Gospel on this island, but from what we know of Paul, it seems likely that during their three-month stay on Malta, the Gospel was thoroughly preached. And the response must have been favorable: it says the people honored them greatly, and loaded them with everything necessary to continue their journey when they left.

    Be conscious of timing. You can’t take time that is supposed to be used for work you were hired to do, and profitably preach the Gospel. Nor can you hope to catch a sports-enthusiast’s interest while he’s watching a football game, or something like that. There is such a thing as bad timing!

    On the other hand, developing a sense of good timing depends upon always being ready, and constantly looking for the opportunity. Remember 1 Pet 3:15. “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”
  • Now there’s the matter of “Wrong location.” You can’t catch fish where there are no fish. Nor can you see souls saved where there are no unbelievers. If you only share with believers, you are fishing for those who should be fishermen!  (Romans 15:20Yea, so have I strived to preach the Gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation.”)

    Also, if the person with whom you are attempting to share the Lord steadfastly refuses to hear, don’t continue to waste your time and theirs! Look at Acts 28:28—Paul said to the hard-hearted Jews, “Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it:” Paul knew when to stop talking and move on. (Also in Acts 13:50-52, Paul did the same thing.)
  • Then, there is “No experience.” This one is a little tricky, since all believers have the “experience” of Salvation by Faith, and therefore are equipped to share it with others. But there is room for improvement, and as you examine your bait, cleanliness, technique, timing, and location, you will see experience beginning to pay off. Also, when it comes to preparation, your preparation is in the Word, in Prayer, and in a track-record of Faithfulness.

    Ephesians 6:15 “…having your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of Peace;”

    2nd Timothy 2:15Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

    1st Timothy 2:1, 3, 4  “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;…For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

    Will you make mistakes? Very probably. But the biggest mistake you can make is to not try. If you are not moving, God cannot guide you.
  • Finally, our Teacher and Guide is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, in the Person of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Jesus said “…apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5), and He meant exactly that.  Without the Teacher and Guide, your efforts will bear no permanent fruit. This is why we are exhorted to “be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18)

What can we conclude, then?

A good “fisherman,” then, needs to be well-informed, so as to present the right bait (Jesus!) He/she must be clean, so as to present an untainted bait. He/she must be wise, so as to present that clean, correct bait in an acceptable manner.

Patience, and the guidance of the Master Fisherman are necessary, in order to choose the correct time, and yet not miss vital opportunities. We need wisdom and sensitivity to the direction of the Lord so that, when it’s time to change locations, to move on, to find deeper, richer fishing grounds, we know it, and we can respond promptly. Jim and Judy Burdett, missionaries we have supported for many years, had to do exactly this. They packed up and moved to a different village. The result was that, besides their planting a church in the new village, the genuine (but persistently carnal) believers they left behind, got serious about their walk: they straightened up, repented of their sin, and became a profitable church, too! There are solid, teaching elders and soul-winners, in both places, now!

Finally, persistence and perseverance are needed so that experience will result in our becoming successful, joyously productive “Fishers of Men,” as Jesus promised! But, the single most important factor is your Guide. Allow the Holy Spirit to direct and teach you, and it will be He who does the “fishing.” Then there needn’t be so many stories about the “big one that got away.”

I feel like just saying, “Good fishing!” now, but there’s something else to think about, too, here:

We are here to take communion together this morning. Communion is also a testimony; a remembrance together, declaring the facts of the Gospel; agreeing together upon the Person of the Gospel, as the one message we are offering to the World. If unbelievers are here, that is what they should be seeing; not some sort of “mysterious ritual.” We celebrate our Unity in the Person of Christ, our Security in His promises, and our Position in Him as His redeemed people. And, as His Ambassadors, we offer that hope to everyone around us.

Lord Jesus, center our thinking upon Yourself! Help us to take seriously our job as “ambassadors of Christ,” “holding forth the Word of Truth,” and “shining as lights” in a dark world. Teach us to walk in Your footsteps and behave as You would behave.

How should we Live (Part 3)

How should we Live (Part 3)

© C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 3:5-7; Ephesians 5:18-33

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the first epistle of Peter, and have arrived in a place where the specific topic seems to be “how husbands and wives are to relate.” But the broader context was “How are we to live, as believers?” and we see this admonition to husbands and wives as a continuation of that topic. So, in keeping with that idea, we took a side-excursion to talk about the whole spectrum of marriage relations. That will include Ephesians 5:21-33, and other such passages, so we are going there today.

Remember as we study, that the “mirror” of God’s Word is for you to see YOU: apply these truths to your own life, not that of your spouse or someone else.

Ephesians 5:21-33

21   Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

This passage is a continuation of verse 18—people who are “filled with the Spirit” as commanded in verse 18 (meaning “under the influence of” the Holy Spirit) are characterizedby the things we see in verses 19-21 They rejoice, they give thanks, they worship, they fellowship with the brethren, AND they submit themselves to God and to one another. Submission to God and to one another is the “introduction to the rest of the chapter.” Then he spells out an underlying “hierarchy:”

A hierarchy and pattern for Submission

Now—as we continue into verses 22 and following, you will notice there is a continuing pattern of submission. Many people don’t like these verses. You have to determine how you are going to respond to God’s Word. It is all God’s Word, and whether we like it or not, it is there, and we have to deal with it. We will be held accountable to it. Some things are more comfortable than others. But if you are going to choose to be “under the influence of the Holy Spirit,” as the command in verse 18 is given, then you must remember that it is part of this same context. People who are Filled with the Spirit, or “under the influence of” the Holy Spirit, act like this! Please don’t brush it off as “not applying to you.” It does apply to you.

But, read the whole context—from Ephesians 5:18-6:9, and then see how it all ties together. Yes, it means what it says, but remember there is no individual who is not called to a life of submission to God, and no person who has no responsibility to another human, somewhere.22   Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.23   For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.24   Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

I underlined some words and phrases in this passage:

  • Own husbands” you are not told to be subject to any other man, just because he is a man. This is part of the marriage relationship, only!
  • As unto the Lord” It is possible for a bad husband to attempt to force he wife to do something that is simply wrong. That is not “as unto the Lord,” because the Lord would never try to get you to sin. We actually used to have laws to protect women against this, so that if it could be shown that she acted on her husband’s orders, she went free. Those laws have changed, for obvious reasons.
  • Head”…not abuser. The head in a normal body does not usually (knowingly) do things that endanger the welfare of the body. This is one reason to not get married as a teenager: (sorry!) sometimes teenagers do take foolish risks! (So do some adults.) And, you need to know an individual quite well before you agree to a marriage. If he (or she) acts like a fool (or angry, or arrogant) before marriage, there is no guarantee that he or she is going to change after marriage. Check out how he/she treats his/her parents…and how he/she treats your parents, siblings and friends.

I am going to let the rest of this passage speak for itself, apart from the underlined emphases added by me, but, remember: Sisters, this is to you…husbands, you have no right to “beat your wives over the head” with this passage—you will have more than enough trouble with “living out” the part that is to you—and if you are in full submission to God in that part (loving your wife as Christ loves the Church,) then you will not be using this passage in that manner, anyway.

James compares God’s Word to a mirror (James 1:22-25), with which we are to examine ourselves, not our wife, our husband, our neighbor, or whomever else. The mirror is pointed at you—look at the part that “reflects you” until you have that under control—then you can see clearly to help others with their part. I can’t emphasize this enough.

As Christ Loved the Church

25   Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

Here again is the Agapé love: this is the self-sacrificing love that calls me to work for my wife’s benefit, to care about the things she cares about, and to strive to make her dreams (wholesome dreams) a reality. Not just my dreams, my goals, my desires. There is no room for self-centeredness in marriage. That goes for both husbands and wives.

When relating to your wife, you can ask yourself, “is this how Jesus treats the church?” Kindness, and respect, and absolute tenderness are to be your whole demeanor. Jesus never mocks us for our silly fears, nor does He condemn us for our constant failures. He consistently treats us with Grace. Remember, too, that Grace is “unmerited favor”. We do not earn the good treatment Jesus offers to us. He cares for us because we are His bride. We cannot require our spouses to “earn” the Love and Grace that God so freely gave us. Jesus said, “Freely you have received; freely give!”(Matthew 10:8)

An important cross-reference to this verse is Colossians 3:19; Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.” Notice that there are no “qualifiers” listed here: no “unless”, or “except” or any other means by which we can “wiggle out of” what it actually requires. If I am growing irritated or angry, or bitter, or sour toward my wife, I am wrong. It is that simple. Jesus said that there would never be any condemnation from him toward the believers (John 5:24), and He has maintained that stance (Romans 8:1). There have been local churches which have become corrupted to the point that he shut them down as a group (Revelation 3:14-19), and there have been individual believers whose lives have become a bad enough example that Jesus called them home (Acts 5:1-11), but He never offers condemnation. I am not to deal harshly with my wife, under any circumstances.

According to Knowledge

Another important passage would be 1st Peter 3:5-7, speaking of the whole marriage relationship: especially verse seven where it states that I am to honor my wife “as the weaker vessel, and as a fellow-heir of the grace of life that my prayers not be hindered.” Let’s read it:

For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.

So, we can see that there are potential consequences to not treating our wives with the grace and kindness, and honor that Jesus requires. Let’s take a brief look at that passage in more detail:

  • Dwell with them according to knowledge. You have been given a fair amount of information in God’s Word about the gift of marriage, and the nature of the marriage relationship. Use that knowledge wisely. Relate to your wife “according to the instructions” in God’s Word. (We will see another aspect as well, in a moment.)
  • Giving honour unto the wife. This is talking about respectful treatment: no belittling, or shaming, “talking down to,” or disrespecting the person God had given to be your partner in life. It means living in such a way as to make her life easier, not harder.
  • As unto the weaker vessel…I had trouble with this one, because, rarely, one does find a woman who is actually physically stronger than her husband. Does that negate the principle? (No, it doesn’t!)
    You might ask, “But who says it means physically weaker?”
    OK, that might get us into a dangerous area, but let’s examine that: I have known lots of women who were intellectually superior to their husbands, maybe especially in certain areas. So “intellectual weakness” is definitely not the question.
    I have known even more women who were spiritually better-equipped than their husbands. Better-taught in the word, blessed with greater wisdom, faith, or whatever: so I don’t think it means “spiritually weaker” either. “Physically” looks most likely, but there are definitely exceptions to that. So what could it mean?
    An elder Christian woman set me straight on this: she told me quite bluntly that the issue is the fact that once a month, a woman’s body essentially “drugs her” with a sudden change in hormones, and she may be emotionally unstable for a few days because of it. (Bingo!)
    And husbands are advised to know that (dwelling with them according to knowledge,) and respond kindly, acting in a supportive manner until that period of time is past. It does no good to argue or criticize, or try to “explain” why her feelings are not “logical.” You are to respond in love and patience, maintaining respect for her as a person, and (more importantly) as a fellow-heir of God’s Grace!
  • As being heirs together of the grace of life. We are in this together! Treat your wife as your precious teammate! Your partner in Life! If you are both believers, then she has the Holy Spirit the same as you do: God is living in her, same as He is in you!

And, here’s the “kicker!” He says that if you do not respond in this way, your own prayers will be hindered! Give this some thought! Take it seriously!

By the Word: (Back to Ephesians 5)

26   That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,

This is an important verse, too, as it gives us a clue as to the relationship of “Water” to salvation and sanctification: The Water is the Word of God. This is in keeping with John 15:3 where Jesus told the eleven that they were “clean, through the Word” that He had spoken unto them. We are saved through hearing God’s Word and believing it. 1st Peter 1:23 confirms this, saying that we have been born again by the Word of God.

But it also has practical application: the life we live, soaked in God’s Word, and loving our wife, will also have an effect upon our wife: it opens her heart further to the ministry of the Word, and we see our relationship deepening and improving. I frequently tell people that “marriage just keeps getting better!” and it is true…but it is especially true because God has continued to mold us into His likeness, and has deepened our love for one another.

27   That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

This is what Jesus does regarding the Church at large—the whole Body of Christ—and why: He is “producing the Bride” and is preparing her for an eternity with Himself. But how is He doing it? He is preparing and perfecting us through the Word, and by the Holy Spirit.

Think back to Genesis 24, please: What we see in Genesis chapter 24 is a beautiful picture of how the Lord is calling out the Church; the Bride of Christ.

In this chapter, Abraham sent his chief servant to find a bride for His only begotten Son (the Heir of all things…sound familiar?) and he gave specific commands as to where to find her, and how to select her. One criterion was who the family was from which she was to be chosen, and another was where that family was to be found. Another, the final clause, was that she had to be willing to come. If she was not willing, then the deal was off. (No one becomes part of the Body of Christ through force, coercion, or trickery. Every single member of the Church-at-large gained that status by hearing the news of Jesus’s payment for their sins and willingly, by faith, choosing Him as their only hope for salvation. There are no exceptions.)

The Servant followed the instructions to the letter, submitting himself to the will of the Father, as well as looking to God for direction. He found the Bride (Rebekah, in this case) and made his case before her and her family. And she stated clearly that she was willing to become the bride of the Son (Genesis 24:58), and immediately the Servant demanded that the journey begin: that they begin the trek across the desert, to get to the Son. (As a new believer, there is no “waiting for the transaction to be completed:” the moment you trusted Jesus as your Savior, you were placed into the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit (see 1st Corinthians 12:13), and the “journey” was begun. You were indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and He began shaping you for God the Son.

We know for a fact, when they were drawing near (Genesis 24:65), that the servant identified the Bridegroom to the Bride: and I am going to surmise, that, since we also know that he began the relationship by telling her about the Son, then the time during their travel across that huge desert was often spent telling her more about the man she was going to meet, and whose Bride she would become. The Holy Spirit, especially through the Word of God, will tell you all about Jesus, His character, His Grace, His authority and His Love…if you are willing to hear Him. And the result will be that the “journey” does not seem so long, nor the “desert” so bleak and barren. The “relationship” was well under way before Rebekah ever actually met Isaac. The Servant had spent the weeks of travel telling her all about him.

Throughout the Journey, too, Rebekah and her companion were under the full protection of the Chief Servant and his fellow servants. For their purposes, they had the single “most precious and irreplaceable treasure in the world,” and their only objective was to deliver the Bride to the Son. The Holy Spirit will never lose you: you were made part of the Bride, and you are precious and irreplaceable in His sight: not just a “cog in a machine:” not something unimportant or “dispensable.” This is how the Holy Spirit and the Bridegroom sees YOU!

Do you see your wife in the same way as Jesus sees you? Because that is precisely what he is demanding of you, here in this passage! Love your wife as Christ loves the Church!

As His Body

28   So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.29   For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:30   For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.

The Bride of Christ is also called the Body of Christ. Technically, I suppose, it should be said that we are currently the Body of Christ, and when the Church is complete, it will then be the Bride of Christ. But to teach how I am to respond to the needs of my wife, the Lord uses my own physical body as an object lesson:

One day, years ago, I carelessly closed my thumb in the door of one of our out-buildings. It was a heavy, metal door, and there was a solid “thump” as it caught my thumb. Right at that moment, had you asked me a question about current events, or a theological question, or even the current project I had been building, I would not even have been capable of understanding your question: I was completely absorbed in the needs of my thumb!

My whole body, in fact, responded very oddly: I seemed to be imitating a kangaroo, as I frantically hopped up and down toward the house, rushing to get some ice, to relieve the pain and swelling. Why is that important? Because my wife is to have that level of priority in my life. We care for our bodies instinctively, and, depending upon what we understand about health, we care for our bodies “according to knowledge” as well. There is to be both a baseline “because she is my wife” care and a growing, learned “this is how I meet my wife’s needs” care, for our wives.

A Picture of Christ and the Church


31   For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. (Quoting Genesis 2:24)32   This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

What we are seeing here is that, back in Genesis, before sin entered into the world, God ordained marriage: not just as a precious gift to the human race (which it is) but also as a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church, though the Church would not be revealed for another 4,000+ years!

If you think you have this all “under control” and can flawlessly love your wife as Christ loves the church, then I personally think you are fooling yourself, or at least that you are “comparing yourself with other people,” and not with the living Christ. Compare yourself with Him, and smugness will never be part of your life. Remember Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Don’t become self-satisfied.

33   Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

You know what I think? I suspect that a wife whose husband was loving her in the ways listed above, consistently putting her first in their relationship, would have very little trouble seeing him as her head, and responding to him accordingly.

Lord Jesus, help us to respond to your Grace, and to pour out that Grace upon our spouses, not demanding from them, but pouring out Your blessings upon them. Let us become living portraits of your divine love for the Church!

Remembering Jesus, the Redeemer

Remembering Jesus, the Redeemer

© November 15th, 2020 C. O. Bishop

1st Corinthians 11:23-26; 1st Peter 1:18-25; (Cp. Genesis 1:1; Hebrews 11:3; John 1:1, 14)

Introduction:

We are taking communion today: Because we make a practice of sharing communion every month, on the third Sunday, it ought to be very easy for me to remember, but since the first Sunday of this month also happened to be the first day of the month, it feels as though the month has hardly begun, yet, here we are at the third Sunday. If Ann had not reminded me, I would have simply forgotten again. I’m grateful that she always remembers.

We have been studying through 1st Peter, and the message I had prepared for this morning was really too long to share the time with the Communion service. Besides, we have been studying about some pretty special things regarding Jesus our Redeemer and our new relationship with Him, so, since Communion is all about remembering Jesus’s sacrifice for us, it seems appropriate that we re-focus on some of the things right here in 1st Peter, that ought to be remembered, as well as looking back to the Beginning, since we are also learning some pretty precious things about Jesus in Genesis, in the Wednesday night Bible study.

1st Peter 1:18-25 Remembering The Redeemer

This is pretty recent, in our studies, so we ought to find it easy to remember: we talked about the fact that there are three words in the New Testament, used to describe our redemption:

  • Agorazo, (bought in the marketplace)
  • Exagorazo (bought out of the marketplace)
  • Lutroō (bought with the purpose of being set free.)

The whole of what we know about the concept of redemption is in the compilation of those three words: We were bought by Jesus, in the “agora”…the marketplace of sin. We were bought out of that marketplace, (exagorazo) never to be returned, and He bought us with the intent to set us free, forever. We know those things, according to 1st Peter 1:18…and more specifically, He says we know the price that was paid:

The Price of Redemption

He says in verse 19 that we were not redeemed with Gold or Silver or anything else of corruptible, temporal value: We were redeemed (bought out of the marketplace of sin, never to be returned there, and specifically to be set free) by the price of Jesus’s death at the Cross: by His sinless blood being deliberately shed on our behalf. (“By His stripes we are healed!”) By His death, we have been set free forever.

The Plan of Redemption

We saw, too, that before the foundation of the Earth, Jesus was “Plan A,” and that there was no “Plan B.” He was God’s only provision for the salvation of sinners, and the provision was made before there were sinners to save!

The Path of Redemption

In John 14:6, Jesus told the disciples, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; No man cometh unto the Father but by me!” Here in 1st Peter 1:21, we see that he is way we approach God: It says, that “by Him we believe in God.” It is not just a conceptual question: anyone can “believe in God:” James pointed out that the demons also “believe, and tremble!” But that sort of belief doesn’t help anyone. Believing in God through the Person of Jesus is our means to approach God.

Adam heard the very slender promise of Hope in the promise of the coming Savior, the “Seed of the Woman,” in Genesis 3:15, and he believed that promise. He stated his faith in that coming Savior by naming his wife Eve,” the “Mother of all the Living.” And God accepted His faith, and Eve’s along with him, and clothed them in the skins of animals, making the first blood sacrifice, prefiguring the Sacrifice of Jesus, at the Cross, some 4,000 years later.

That approach, through the Blood of the Chosen Sacrifice, has been the only approach, ever since. The Passover Lamb, looked forward to the Cross. Consider the motions needed to fulfill the command regarding the blood at the Passover: They were to dip the bundle of Hyssop (a weedy shrub that grows in that area) in the basin of blood from the freshly slain lamb, and strike it on the lintel and the two doorposts of the home. Run through those motions in your mind, and see that you are necessarily making a cross in the air, of the literal blood of the lamb! Those believers, 1500 years before Christ, were huddled under the same Blood of the Cross as we share today!

So, these Jewish believers, to whom Peter addressed this letter, had celebrated the Passover every year of their lives, and, at the day of Pentecost had finally come to know the Lamb personally, and, through Him, finally were able to approach God freely. Some had been Old Testament believers, but had known their limitations: no one but the High Priest could ever enter the Holy of Holies in the Temple, and draw near to God. Now, through Jesus, and the Redemption He made at the Cross, they were able to walk right into the presence of God …just as we are! They had always believed in God at one level or another: but now they believed in Him by means of Jesus!

The Power of Redemption

Finally, in verse 23, we see that they (and we) are born again, not of any fleshly, or biological process, but specifically, by the Word of God. Let’s give that some thought:

Over in Hebrews 11:3, we can see that the World was created by the Word of God. If we compare Genesis 1:1 and all that follows it, we can see that God literally “spoke the World into existence.”  But if we look at John 1:1 and following, we see another facet to this truth: It says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God!”  If we find that puzzling, we can keep reading: when we arrive at verse 14, we will see that it says, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His Glory, the Glory as of the only Begotten of the Father,) full of Grace and Truth.” In short, we can see for sure that “the Word” was Jesus, in Person! And He was not only with God, but actually was God, so that as Jesus the Messiah, walking the roads of Israel, He was literally, “God, in the Flesh!” (That is what “Incarnate” means, by the way: “in the flesh.”) Finally, when we turn to Hebrews 1:10,we see God the Father, speaking to God the Son, saying “And, Thou, Lord, in the Beginning, didst lay the foundations of the Earth, and the Heavens are the Works of thine hands.”

Jesus is the Word! And He is the Creator! So, when Adam and Eve were dealing with the kind, but stern Creator in the Garden, it was Jesus! Later on, in Genesis 18, we see Him identified as the Judge of all the Earth! And Jesus confirmed that, in John 5:22, 23, saying, “For the Father judgeth no man, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all men may honor the Son even as they honor the Father.

So, when it says in Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed God, and He (God) counted it unto him (Abraham) as Righteousness,” we can see that Abraham believed the promise of Jesus, just as Adam had done, and was declared righteous (justified) on the basis of his faith.

Jesus made the promise to us and all who will ever live, that if we place our trust in Him, we have eternal life now, not waiting until we die to find out whether we “made the cut.” John 5:24 says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my Word and believeth on Him who sent me, hath everlasting life and shall not come unto condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.” And He wants us to know it: In 1st John 5:11-13, he says “And this is the record, that God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in His Son, He that hath the Son, hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of god, that ye may KNOW that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” (Emphasis mine… )

Finally, in Romans 1:16, we read, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto Salvation to everyone that believeth” There is nothing else in the scripture, defined as being the Power of God unto salvation. The Good news (That’s what “Gospel” means) about Jesus, the Living Word of God, is called the Power of God to save those who believe in Him.

So, do you see why it is important that we take time to “Remember the Redeemer?” He has given us eternal life by His Blood: When the Jews celebrated Passover, they looked back to their own redemption from physical death, the night before they left Egypt forever. And, unknowingly, they looked forward to the Cross, where their sins would be “taken away forever,” instead of only “covered,” which is all the animal sacrifices could ever accomplish. John 1:29 says, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the World!” They looked back to the original Passover, and looked forward to the Cross: When we celebrate Communion, we look back to the Cross, and look forward to His return.

Looking Back, to the Cross

When we look back and remember the Cross, we share in a tiny memorial feast called “Communion,” or “The Lord’s Supper,” or, sometimes, “The Lord’s Table.” We believe His Word, as did Adam, and Abraham, and the disciples, and the people at the day of Pentecost, and every believer since then: we trust in His promise of eternal life, though we scarcely understand all that it entails.

We first read of the Lord’s Supper in the Gospels, and again, as the only directive to the church regarding the celebration of communion, in 1st Corinthians 11:23-28. (Read it)

Here we see that there is a practice to be followed in all churches worldwide, as a memorial we have in common. The scripture in this passage simply says “the cup” with no mention of the contents, only stating that it represented His Blood. The bread is also somewhat non-specific, as the staple food varies all over the world, and this feast will fit in any society on earth. In Papua New Guinea, we are told by the missionaries we support, there are no grapes: water is the liquid in the cup. There is also no bread. The staple food there is sweet potato. So, water and sweet potato are the elements of communion among the believers, there in Papua New Guinea. Here, there is a narrower choice. Some insist upon using wine, as that truly was the staple drink in the land of Israel at that time; but it is not the standard drink, here, and there are many who are trying to escape a past addiction to alcohol. So we have chosen to offer grape juice as the contents of the cup, and some sort of unleavened cracker as the Bread. The elements themselves are not terribly important: the meaning behind them is very important, as is our attitude toward the Lord’s Table: The believers in Corinth had taken communion lightly, and flippantly, and took it in combination with some sort of community feast, such as we might call a “pot-luck.” But, if we read the whole context, starting in verse 17, we can see that they weren’t even sharing the food at the “pot-luck.” Communion means “Sharing” or “Fellowship… Having in common.” How could you take the very thing that expresses our commonality in Christ and make it into a show of “who has food and who doesn’t?” So they were being judged for their unworthy behavior.

The scripture warns against taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner: it has nothing to do with the person being unworthy, nor even of having unconfessed sin in one’s life (though it is certainly a good time to reflect on that as well.) The warning is against an unworthy approach to God’s memorial feast: perhaps a manner by which God is dishonored, or by which fellowship is denied, rather than strengthened. We approach the Lord’s Supper in reverence, “Remembering the Redeemer” and all He has done. We approach in Unity, knowing that the ground is truly level at the foot of the Cross. We approach in Love, truly desiring God’s best for one another. The scripture says, that, having examined ourselves and our motives, we are to go ahead and eat. It says, “So let him eat!” So we will share together in the Lord’s Supper now.

(Communion Service)

Final Hymn and Prayer

A Warning to the Wealthy

A Warning to the Wealthy

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

James 5:1-6; Psalm 73:1-12; Psalm 37:1, 2, 16

Introduction:

We have been working through the book of James for quite some time, taking excursions to address other matters from time to time, but in general, pressing on with James. James has proven to be a very practical book, and in chapter five it becomes quite “pointed” for the first six verses. In keeping with the topic of the last month, the next few verses give us some insight into our response to the world around us.

It is easy for us to become disgruntled or envious as we see others prosper, especially if we know that the persons in question are living in such a way as to dishonor God, so that they are prospering in spite of their ungodliness, or possibly because of it. What we are going to read today is God’s response, both to them and to us.

Interpreting James Chapter 5

1Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.

There are several questions we should be asking, as we consider this passage:

  • Who is speaking?
  • To whom is this passage speaking?
    • Is this a general condemnation of wealthy people?
      • How much do I have to have, to be “wealthy?”
    • Is this passage speaking to believers or to unbelievers?
  • What does it say?
    • Is this a statement that wealth itself is evil?
    • If not, then what is the issue?

Obviously, this is a good time to be very careful to “compare scripture with scripture,” in order to ascertain what God is saying, and to whom, as well as what effect it should have upon believers as a whole; and, finally, “how does this affect me?”

Let’s take the above questions one at a time:

Who is speaking? To us, as believers, and specifically as those who believe the Bible is literally the Word of God, the answer is simple: God is speaking. There are believers who begin to sort out the scriptures “by writer,” as if one writer had more authority than another, or more credibility. If that is the case, then the Bible is a bewildering mixture of authoritative and non-authoritative writings, and we are effectively declaring ourselves to be the “authority” who determines which is which. I hope you can see the problems inherent in that approach to the Bible. I choose to place my confidence in the Bible as the Word of God. Yes, there are human writers, but the result is God speaking through them.

To whom is the writer speaking? It is important to ask this question, too, because, while all of the Bible is for us as believers, not all of it is “to” us. There are portions which are pronouncements of judgment on enemies of God, and are not to us at all.

As we read through the book of James, we can see that up to this point (and beginning again in verse seven), James has clearly addressed the “brethren;” specifically speaking to the needs of believers. Here, he seems to change audiences for a moment, and speaks briefly to a different group. How can we tell? Back in chapter one, verses nine and ten, he addressed the poor and rich “brothers”, and rather than condemning the rich, he asks that they rejoice in being “brought low.” Also, comparing the many references to kings and wealthy men in the Old Testament, there is not a condemnation of wealth, nor the wealthy, but a recognition that, as a rule, God has blessed them (the Godly, wealthy men, such as Abraham.)

So, the question we finally have to answer is whether the passage speaks to believers or to unbelievers: unregenerate men whose wealth was not from God.

I read, not long ago, that, because open land is scarce in Japan, and golfing is extremely popular, golf-courses were becoming crowded to the point of being unusable, until the owners raised the fees high enough to “thin the ranks” and make the courses less crowded. Their shameless intent was to make golf completely inaccessible to people of modest income, thus making it a “privilege of the rich”, while making themselves very wealthy as well, through the green fees. But there was an embarrassing, unintended result: Only very wealthy people could play, certainly, but that meant that, very publicly, now, the politicians, industry potentates, and the organized crime leaders together, shared the clubhouses: Everyone could see the “connections.” They all seemed to be “together,” as…they were “together.”

I don’t know what eventually became of that; I am not a golfer, but if I had been, and if I had found myself in such a situation, I would have abandoned the game. Actually, there was a similar situation at work years ago, wherein it became common knowledge that “the way to get promoted was to join the golf league, and schmooze with the bigwigs.” I would not have believed such a story, except that I saw it in action numerous times, and some of the “beneficiaries” of this “insider” gamesmanship bragged about having “golfed their way” into their current jobs. I found such goings-on deeply repugnant, and, when invited to join, I was glad I could honestly say, “I don’t play golf.”

Since God does not condemn people for how much they have, nor how little, and He warns believers not to give special attention to believers who are wealthy, I think it is correct to conclude that the “rich,” here in James 5:1-6 are unbelievers, who are literally guilty of the crimes he lists. What is coming for these “rich,” then? And why? Why is it worthy of “weeping and howling?” Let’s compare Psalm 73:1-12 (read it.)

The Unbelieving Rich

The Psalmist says (Psalm 73:3-12) that, in their lifetimes, these wicked rich prospered; and they did not even seem to suffer in death, but were strong all their lives. He says that this bolstered their personal pride, and gave them confidence that they could do whatever they wanted, including violence and greed, and exalting themselves against God. We have “celebrities” today who speak boldly against the God of Heaven as the psalmist describes in verse nine, and wealthy politicians who oppress the very people they claim to represent. I recall various celebrities even claiming to be God, while others claimed themselves to be more popular than Christ, and still others insist that God does not exist, and they “re-invent Jesus” in various vile forms, far removed from His holy, omnipotent reality, as both the “Judge of all the Earth,” and the Savior.

Does this behavior of the wicked, who rant against God, go unnoticed? It surely seems to do so, from our perspective, doesn’t it? And it did from the psalmist’s point of view, too! He said that his own attention to the ways of God had been for nothing (Psalm 73:13-16): “I have cleansed my heart in vain…I have been plagued…and chastened every morning.” He was becoming bitter, and frustrated, but when he entered the temple, (Psalm 73:17-23) God gave him something to change his mind. He allowed the psalmist to see the “end” of the wicked. He saw that they had been lulled into complacency by their own sin, and were trapped in their wickedness, and despised by God: and that their final destination was an eternity in Hell. The psalmist then repented of his own bitterness and resentment, as he realized that, while things had not been “comfortable” from his own perspective, he, in fact, had continually been with God.

That is a good thing for us to keep in mind, as well, when we see the wicked flourishing. They always have done so: this is nothing new. They open their mouths against God, and league themselves with the enemies of God. So, the enemies of God reward them, and they flourish. But the final result is the total disaster of eternal damnation. So there is a warning, here, in James, to exactly that sort of person: “Repent, because judgment is coming!”

Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.
Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.

We make jokes about this sort of thing, saying, “You can’t take it with you!” But the fact is, you not only will not prosper by it, eternally, but, if you fall into this category of ungodly “prosperity”, the very riches themselves will stand in the judgment, as testimony against you.

When the “books are opened”, as in Revelation 20, these things will testify against you, not for you. We tend to see the rich as having been “blessed by God,” but it entirely depends upon two things: How did they get the wealth, and what did they do with it? There have been wealthy individuals who inherited wealth, and regardless of how it was originally amassed, they used it faithfully, once it was under their control

We can read the account of Hezekiah, in 2nd Chronicles 29. It says that, when Hezekiah became king, he immediately used his inherited authority to open the doors to the Temple, which had been closed up by his ungodly father, and to exhort the Priests and Levites to use their divinely-appointed authority to go in and clean out the interior of the Temple (where he had no authority.) He then saw to it that the idols were dragged out, broken up and thrown into the muddy creek east of Jerusalem—the Kidron. The ultimate result of his inherited wealth and authority was a full-scale revival in Judah. (Read chapters 29-32.)

There have also been wealthy industrialists, (R.G. Letourneau, for example) who started out with nothing, who earned the money through inventions and entrepreneurship, and who not only did not mistreat their employees on their way to such wealth, they gave heavily to support missions or other humanitarian works. I do not believe that such persons fall under this condemnation. But to those who cruelly exploited their workers, and ignored the plight of the poor, and ignored the call of God, all these things will testify against them. Judgment is coming!

Notice, too, that it specifically warns that the treasure is being heaped up for the “last days”…the tribulation, or the judgment day. This is not addressed to a believer. We will not be involved in those things.

Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.
Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.
Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.

What a terrible indictment against these individuals, whoever they are/were. Obviously it is not an indictment against every rich person in history, but it seems that it could easily apply to many, whose lives actually have matched these accusations. There are counter-examples within the scriptures, and there are counter-examples alive today. But the fact is, the very wealthy of this world have frequently gotten there by “stepping on” the poor. Not always, of course, but it is certainly an observable phenomenon. And this warning is to those persons.

Consider the Book of Ruth, though: God does not condemn the wealthy Boaz, for instance, because he was definitely treating his workers well, and reached beyond the legal requirements, with Grace, in order to meet the needs of Ruth. It is also clear that he had no designs upon her, at the start: her mother-in-law, Naomi was the one who initiated the move to have Ruth approach Boaz as the “Kinsman-Redeemer”; Boaz had only given instructions to his workers to add Grace to her gleanings. (I love that book, by the way, as it is such a clear, tender picture of Christ.) But the workers blessed Boaz voluntarily, and He blessed them in return, as well as eating with them in the field: he did not see himself as “above them,” socially. He chose to eat with them in fellowship, as Jesus chooses fellowship with us.

Finally, the accusation is that they have condemned and killed the “just” (singular), and he (singular) has not resisted them. Who is that one Just man? I think the condemnation here is specifically against the ungodly of this world, who, collectively, down through the ages, have approved the crucifixion, through their own choices and actions. Our sins put Jesus on the Cross! All of us bear that burden. But whether you will meet Him as your Savior or as your Judge is up to you! If you meet Him as your Judge, remember what you have done to Him by your life! If you would rather meet Him as your Savior, then throw yourself upon His mercy, offered through the Cross!

If you know that you will meet Him as your Savior, then consider how you are responding to Him today as your Lord. He is the Judge of all the Earth, and that includes the Judgment seat of Christ, where our works will be judged. Nothing escapes His attention. Yes, my sins were judged at the Cross, but my works are still awaiting judgment and will either be eternally worthy of reward, or eternally worthless.

As I look back at my life, I can easily see that much of my effort has been directed at things which were ultimately a waste of time. That is pretty sad, but it is true. God sets the standard. We can either believe it or not believe it, but the standard remains the same.

So, how should we respond?

I can truthfully say that this verse is not speaking “to” me, as:

  1. I am not an unbeliever, and
  2. I have no employees, regardless of whether I could be accused of being “rich” in anyone else’s opinion. (We know that, to people in very poor nations, the poorest people in the United States would be considered very wealthy, by their standards. But that is not the issue, here.)

I also know that this passage is written “for” me: The whole Bible is! So how can I profit from this specific passage, and how should I respond to it?

If nothing else, it should alert me to the fact that while the possessions and actions of this life are passing and temporary in nature, our actions and attitudes are by no means unimportant, in light of eternity. God doesn’t miss anything at all! According to Jeremiah 17:10, He will render “…to every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doing.”

Further, Psalm 37:1-4 tells me how I am to respond to those around me: I am not to “fret” about them, nor to envy them, nor try to “right their wrongs” myself: I am to “trust in the Lord and do Good,” and to commit my way to Him and allow Him to take care of my needs.

I don’t know what the eternal rewards are, because we simply are not told. But I do know they are eternally worthwhile! So, since the rewards for proper response to God are eternally worth having, a proper response to God is also worth the effort. I can ask myself:

  • How do I use my time?
  • How do I use my belongings?
  • How do I use my money?
  • How do I handle relationships?
  • How do I treat people who have not treated me well?

Each of these is a part of how we can determine whether our lives are fitting the pattern set by The Lord as being “Lights in a dark world” and “ambassadors of Christ.”

Lord Jesus, allow us to see ourselves clearly in the light of your Word, and to see the World clearly, through the eyes of your Love. Help us to repent of the things that fall short of your honor, and to live as ambassadors of Christ.

The Sources of Wisdom

The Sources of Wisdom

©July 2020 C. O. Bishop

James 3:13-18; John 7:40-53

How can we tell Godly wisdom from Worldly wisdom?

13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.

Godly Wisdom

The scripture says that we are to “show” or demonstrate by our lives, the result of the “wisdom” to which we claim to adhere. People need to:

  • See a consistent walk that emulates the Savior; to
  • Hear kind, gracious, wise speech;and thereby to
  • Smell (metaphorically speaking) a consistent aroma of the fragrance of Christ, not the reek of the old nature. The words we speak, and the things we do, will accomplish either the one or the other.

Therefore, the results in our own lives (our lifestyle and works) are what will ultimately reveal the source of that “wisdom.” The old English word “conversation” never refers to “people chatting:” it either has to do with our way of life (as in this case: the Greek root is ‘tropos’) or, in a few cases, (Philippians 3:20, for example, where the Greek root is ‘polituema’) it means citizenship, or commonwealth.In no case it is referencingtwo people involved in verbal interaction. In this particular passage it specifically means “the way you live your life.” This reveals to those around you how they should regard your wisdom.

The Greek word (prauteti) translated “meekness” is sometimes translated “gentleness”, and it can mean just that, but it also carries the idea of “yieldedness;” being yielded to God, and being willing to yield to others, as a result. Not “insisting on proving oneself right,” but, having stated one’s case, willing to allow others to make up their minds about issues.

Worldly Wisdom
14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

So, then, even when there is someone who, by all accounts, is considered to be a real source of genuine “wisdom”, if any of the listed attributes are a consistent part of their life:

  • Bitterness
  • Strife
  • Envy

Then, we should not automatically consider the “wisdom” they have to offer to be “Godly Wisdom.” We should at least take it carefully, knowing that it has definitely been mingled with other sources. This begs the question, “what are the other sources?”

Three Sources of Non-Godly “Wisdom”

James lists three other sources. He states that, when bitterness, strife or envy are present, such “wisdom” is:

  • Earthly, (meaning, in keeping with the World’s way of thinking)
  • Sensual, (after the natural manner of thinking; “soulish;” from the Flesh) and/or
  • Devilish (From the enemy of our souls, Satan, who is also called the Devil.)

As a matter of fact, this is how we know that the Christian actually has three real enemies: the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. The World is the enemy “outside the gate”, so to speak. The Flesh is the enemy within the gate—residing within each individual. And the Devil, as always, will seek to strengthen the World and the Flesh against us, and use them to defeat us if possible. In fact, just as a military force, if unable to hold a bridge, or some other vital piece of territory, will seek to render it useless to the enemy…blow up the bridge, fill up a well, burn down buildings, etc., in the same manner, our enemy, Satan, wants to render you useless to God. He desires to destroy your joy, destroy your testimony, and, if possible, destroy you, physically, through slavery to sin. We need to take this seriously!

So: What does Godly Wisdom look like?

17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

Godly Wisdom, then, should produce a different sort of fruit than the other sources:

  • Purity
  • Peaceable-ness
  • Gentleness
  • Approachable-ness
  • Mercifulness
  • Good fruits (fruit of the Spirit?)
  • Impartiality
  • Genuineness…no hypocrisy
  • Producing Peace, as it is given in peace.

Nine evidences of Godly Wisdom, just as there are nine evidences of the Fruit of the Spirit, given in Galatians 5:22, 23. If this is not the pattern you are seeing, then you can conclude that the “wisdom” may not really be from God. Knowing that the “wisdom” may not be from God, and that there are only three other sources, all of whom are our enemies, should give us serious pause about where we look for wisdom.

Proverbs 2:6, 7 states that God himself is the only completely reliable source of wisdom, and that His wisdom specifically comes “from His mouth.” So, the Word of God should be our constant primary source, and the standard to which we compare whatever comes from human counselors. As long as the wisdom we receive from human counselors matches that of the Word of God, and we see a pattern of Godliness, then it is very likely sound teaching and counsel.

Further: Jesus Christ, as the Living Word, is identified as THE Power of God, and the Wisdom of God. (1st Corinthians 1:24)So, the more closely we can walk with Him, the more firm our grasp will be on the leading of the Lord. Without exception, His leading will always match His written Word, because He is the Living Word. (See John 1:1, 14; Revelation 19:13)

Some time ago, a younger friend, a missionary whom our church has supported, who had been forced by circumstances to “retire” from missionary work, shared how two different couples had responded to her needs:

The first couple, who were also retired missionaries with a very similar background, offered to have her join them in the work they were doing (a relatively new ministry.) They were completely kind and supportive; they discussed the options with the governing board of their mission, and stated that they would put the whole thing in writing for her to consider, but made no demands on her. She stayed in their home for a week, and had a good opportunity to really get to know them.

The other couple, whom she met in her home church, seemed determined to “take her under their wing”. They were somewhat dominating, and directive, and stated that she needed to get more education, so as to gain “educational credibility”, etc. They did seem concerned about her well-being, but when she mentioned the offer the first couple had made, they were quite dismissive, even suggesting that the first couple were trying to cheat her, and take her support money. They said all this, knowing nothing about those people, and never having met them. They did not consider her 25 years of full-time ministerial experience (specifically in linguistics, Bible translation expertise, literacy-teaching, Bible-teaching, and cross-cultural communication) to have “educational credibility”. And they seemed very sure that she was not making good decisions, though they gave no scriptural reasons.

Since both couples seemed “caring”, and both seemed “wise”, she felt torn, since she could not respond favorably to both. But hidden in the behavior of both there were clues as to where their “wisdom” originated. She called me, asking for my counsel, and we had a long phone conversation.

The exchange with my friend triggered more pondering, in my own mind, regarding wisdom: What is the ultimate origin of real wisdom? What does the whole counsel of the Bible have to say about it? What is the character and source of “false wisdom?” What is the motive? Why would someone bother to try to coerce another person with bad advice? What could they hope to gain by it?

Genesis 1:1 begins with four “packed” words, which are easy to miss, because we tend to focus on the last six words of that sentence. We are so familiar with the “Created the Heavens and the Earth” portion, and argue endlessly about the meaning, truth (or untruth) and limitations (if any) of that portion that we ignore the first four words: In the beginning, GOD! He is the origin of all things—He existed before all things; the causeless cause, the ultimate source of literally all things. He exists outside of time and space, without limits except those imposed by His perfect character and wisdom. Nothing is too hard for him, yet there are things He says He cannot do, because of His perfect character.

So, if He is the ultimate source, but, as we see in our own experience, and read in the Scriptures, there is also “false wisdom” out there, waiting to trip us up, we need a pattern of thinking or a litmus test, or something, by which to determine which is which.

James offers some of that test: we saw that “where bitterness, envy or strife are present,” we are not to see this “wisdom” as being from God. In the next verse (v.17) James goes on to say that the “wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.”

Thinking back, then: What was there in the behavior of the friends from her church that might give us a clue as to the source of their wisdom?

They were somewhat domineering, and were not open to her thoughts: they dismissed her training as not having been worthwhile, though it had definitely been from God, and had been used in service already for 25 years. They were suspicious of the motives of a godly couple whom they had never met, suggesting that they were somehow trying to rob my friend. (In reality, the support-structure of that mission was set up in such a way that no one but the intended recipient of the funds could touch it.) Their behavior was neither producing good fruits, nor acting in a loving manner. They were not “easy to be intreated,” as James said. So…we had to conclude that their counsel was at least “not necessarily from the Lord.” No accusations were leveled at them, or anything. She simply thanked them for their concern and went on to make a decision based on God’s Word.

I had a Bible-teacher, more than 40 years ago, who had more of the scriptures memorized than anyone else I have ever known. More than that, he had a better understanding of how it all fit together than anyone else I have ever known. During a Bible-study, one evening, there was a man who had an argument. The teacher answered his questions with scripture, but that was not enough. The man kept insisting and arguing. Rather than asserting his superior knowledge and considerable pedigree in any way, the teacher began answering with a simple “OK…” to every accusation and argument. Finally the dissenter quieted down and the study could continue. This teacher had a gentle spirit, and was “easily intreated.” He did not allow his natural desires for “personal validation” to interfere with a productive study of God’s Word.

I was in a different venue, once, a public meeting with that same teacher, when a much younger person raised their hand and questioned something he had just said, bringing up a scripture to back their question. He immediately answered, “You are right! I was wrong, and the change will be in the next revision of my book!” Now, that is being approachable! His wisdom was from God’s Word, and he proved it by his responses. There was no “vying for position,” no envy, no strife, and he was a man of impeccable purity, and proven integrity. I wish he were still alive and teaching today.

What about those other Sources?

The World

Frequently the argument is offered, “Well, look! This is what all the scholars agree to be true!” Hmmm… So there has never been a case where “everybody” was wrong, and one person, the dissenter, was right? Even in secular history, there are countless times when a researcher or an inventor proved that “everyone” was, in fact, full of baloney, and that (for instance) the earth really does orbit the sun rather than the other way around; or that, in fact, it is possible to achieve true flight by means of a machine, or that it is possible to travel faster than sound…etc.

John 7:40-53 tells of a time when people were beginning to draw conclusions about Jesus. Some were convinced that He was the Messiah. The argument of the Pharisees was that “Nobody who knows anything would believe that! These people who obviously don’t know God’s Word are under a curse! The Messiah isn’t going to come from Galilee, nor does any prophet!”

Well, they were wrong about the prophet, at least: according to 2nd Kings 14:25, the prophet Jonah was from “Gathhepher,” which happens to have been a city in Galilee! And, had they asked where Jesus was born, or checked the genealogies in the temple, they would have found that He was born in Bethlehem, of Judea (not Galilee) just as the Prophet Micah had predicted! But they made their false accusations, and they stalked off, feeling triumphant.

In some circles, this is known as “argumentation by sneer!” If you don’t have a rational answer, then you try to intimidate the other person, either by shaming them or by pointing out that they are alone in their belief. Neither is a valid argument, but both are common in “worldly wisdom.”

We are to find our truth in God’s Word. If someone has a clear argument from God’s Word, then we are to carefully consider it, as it might very well change our outlook. The people in Berea (Acts 17:10, 11) responded correctly, in that they listened to what the Apostles had to say, and then went and “searched the scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” And they were commended by God for so doing.

The Flesh

There have been times in scripture, where some other source of wisdom was sought…and the results have not been good. We are cautioned, in Proverbs 3:5, 6, not to lean upon our own understanding alone, but to constantly look to God’s Word to find God’s Way. Jeremiah 17:9 makes it clear why this warning is needed: “The heart (also called the “flesh”) is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked…” The World constantly says, “Follow your heart! It will never lead you astray!” Really? When God says that my heart is the single most likely source of a bad decision, you want me to follow it unquestioningly? That does not sound like good advice! In fact, it sounds like exactly what an enemy might say, if I were so foolish as to ask an enemy for advice! Well, guess what? It is what the Enemy advises!

The Devil

2nd Chronicles 18 tells us the story of a wicked king (Ahab) who was planning to go into battle, and had convinced a good king (Jehoshaphat) to join forces with him. Ahab had a multitude of false “prophets” who all unanimously told him he would be victorious in the battle.

Jehoshaphat was not so sure, and he wanted counsel from God. So, they called in Micaiah, a prophet of God, and he told them in effect, that this was from God, for the express purpose of bringing about Ahab’s death!  Verses 18-24 tell how God chose a “lying spirit” to speak through Ahab’s “prophets,” to convince him to go into battle! (This is Ahab’s final warning to repent!) And what was the response of the false prophets? One of them walked over and punched Micaiah in the face! (Real “spiritual response,” there, bud! No envy, bitterness or strife there!)

But Ahab went on into battle, and died, as Micaiah had prophesied. Jehoshaphat survived, but on the way back home, another prophet of God, Jehu, met him on the road, and Jehoshaphat got a scolding from God for having joined forces with someone who was an enemy of God. (2nd Chronicles 19:1-3)

The Result of Non-Godly “Wisdom”

Ahab listened to a lying spirit, just as Eve did, in the Garden of Eden, and it cost him his life. When Adam went along with Eve, in the Garden of Eden, and fell into sin, it cost us ALL our lives! (Romans 5:12)

Whenever we choose to follow some other counsel, rather than that of God’s Word, we are, at the very least, “straying from the Shepherd,” and we are in danger of attack from the enemy of our souls. It could seem a minor issue, and we may excuse the wandering astray in our own minds. But if we persist in such folly, it will destroy our walk with God, it will produce irreversible results in our lives, and ultimately, it will render us fruitless in God’s Service.

What is the result of Godly Wisdom?

Verse eighteen makes a peculiar statement: “The seed of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” (KJV) Modern translations render the passage, “The seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” That is pretty clear language. So, what does it mean?

In Matthew 5:9, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the Sons of God.” (Greek “huioi”—sons…mature offspring of God.) If a child of God approaches a situation in peace, seeking to make peace, and to sow seed that has the intended fruit of righteousness, then there is a good chance that righteousness will be the result.

If the person sowing the seed is either not a child of God coming in peace, or not acting as a peacemaker, then the results are truly doubtful, even if the “seed” itself was correct. But if the source of the “seed” is not God’s Wisdom, then it almost doesn’t matter who “sows the seed,” nor how they went about it: the results will not be good.

We, then, have to not only be sure that the “wisdom” we offer is from God’s mouth, as it were, because it is His Word; we also have to be sure that our hearts desire is to produce and maintain peace, and righteousness. Otherwise the results may not be what we hoped for.

At the beginning of this chapter, James says we have a problem with our mouths; in other passages we saw the reason why: our mouths reflect our hearts. The wisdom or the folly of our hearts is expressed in our actions and our words. In the next chapter, James says, “purify your hearts!” God’s Word, by His Spirit, is the only cleansing agent by which our hearts may be purified.

I pray that we will all repent of our frequent folly, and look to God for our leading, so that we may be the men and women of God and the peacemakers He has chosen us to be.