Posts Tagged ‘Faith’

Why is Biblical Christianity different?

Why is Biblical Christianity different?

© C. O. Bishop 2019

Introduction:

There are millions of people in the world who frequently express the opinion that “Really, all religions are the same—they are just different ways to arrive at the same goal—different paths to the same God.”

We need to do some thinking about that statement—is it true? What about when one religion says there are potentially millions of Gods, and another says there is only one God? Are they still the same? (Cp. Isaiah 43:10, 11 re. Mormonism, Hinduism, etc.)

What about the morals taught? Doesn’t that make them all the same, essentially? Don’t they all basically tell you to “be good”? and, what about their scriptures? Aren’t they really very similar? How can we say the Bible is really different? How can we know that what Jesus had to offer is different than, and superior to every other religion throughout History? (Book of Mormon, Bhagavad Gita, I Ching, Quran, etc.) 

Comparative Analysis

In comparing two ideas, it is very well to compare the similarities, but it is imperative that one consider the differences, too, before committing oneself to a decision.

Let’s take a physical object lesson:

I have two clear liquids in two identical glasses. They are both clear, colorless liquids, and I know that water is a clear, colorless liquid; therefore, they both must be safe to drink, correct?

That is ridiculous reasoning!” you say: “Many clear, colorless liquids are not safe to drink.”

OK, then, let’s analyze them a little—it turns out they both have hydrogen and oxygen in them. Aha! Water has hydrogen and oxygen! Therefore they must be safe to drink! Right? No, that is wrong, too! Many liquids have hydrogen and oxygen—what we really need to ask is, “What are the differences here?”

Suppose, then, after further analysis, it turns out that one of these glasses contains H2O, and the other H2SO4 – to speak plainly: one is plain water, and the other is battery acid. The similarities, in this case, are surely trivial compared to the differences! The differences could be fatal.

Compare the Differences:

Let’s attempt to examine world religions in light of the differences between them, rather than the similarities. Incidentally, if anyone is interested in some additional study along these lines, I can heartily endorse Fritz Ridenour’s book, entitled “So, What’s the Difference?”

The difference, ultimately, between one religion and another may not be simply “How is it to live by?”, but rather, “How is it to die by?” What is the eternal result? (A Scarlet King Snake and a Coral snake look very similar: same size, shape and colors…but one is harmless, and the other is a deadly, in spite of its beauty.) What is the eternal result of what you believe?

One of the key issues God asks us to consider is the issue of Sin: How we deal with sin will, in the long run, determine where we spend eternity. Let me make that more personal—“How you deal with your sin, will in the long run, determine where you spend eternity!”

Ezekiel 18:4  says, “The soul that sinneth it shall die.”; and Ezekiel 33:13 says, “ When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousnesses shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it.” So let’s think carefully, here!

Different religions take starkly different approaches to the topic of Sin, and they can be divided into four broad categories.

Dealing with the question of Sin—four categories of religions:

  1. There’s no such thing as sin—there’s nothing intrinsically right or wrong.” This is a relatively rare stance, because people know instinctively that there is such a thing as right and wrong, and they feel guilt when they do wrong. (Interestingly, most are fine on the theory that there is nothing intrinsically right or wrong, but they usually recognize when someone has wronged them.) Taoism seems to fit this category.
  2. “Sin exists, but God is so loving and merciful and kind that there is no judgment for sin, except the consequences in this life, and your own guilt and regrets, etc. So, don’t worry about sin, just do the best you can, and try to be good, and God will take us all to Heaven eventually. God doesn’t punish sin. Some modern churches have embraced this idea. But this is still not especially common, because people also instinctively know there is judgment for sin. Judgment IS coming.
  3. “Sin exists, and God hates sin, so you must work incessantly to overbalance with Good the sins you have already committed, so that you can earn His forgiveness and acceptance. (And, by the way, we will tell you what you need to do, and how much you need to pay…to us!)” This is by far the most common line of thinking, and is prevalent among most cults as well as most organized religions, whether “Christian” or “pagan”. We all want to think there is something we can do to improve. Almost all religions fall into this category.
  4. “Sin exists, God hates sin, and there is nothing you can do to undo the evil you have done, or to earn God’s forgiveness, acceptance, and love. Either Jesus’ blood at the cross is sufficient, or we are lost.” As far as I am aware, Biblical Christianity stands alone in this category. Galatians 2:21; 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4, 17, 18

Another thing regarding which various religions differ, is the teaching regarding Human effort:

“Do”, versus “Done”

Virtually every religion of the world emphasizes the things you must do to earn a right standing with God. Works-oriented religions continually point you to something you should do, with dire consequences for failure, and/or huge rewards for success. The problem with that sort of scheme is two-fold.

  1. It is Man-centered—“What can I do to please God?
  2. It is usually a bottomless pit; it never says, “Enough; you have succeeded!” Some religions side-step this problem, by saying, “Well, here are seven (or some other number of) things you must do, in order to inherit eternal life and God’s blessing.”  Then a person simply goes after those things, as if they were “merit badges,” and when he has attained them all, he is in! He has (someone’s) guarantee that he has eternal life waiting for him. But many works-oriented religions will solemnly tell you that you cannot know that you have eternal life. So you work and work, and you give, and you serve, and you pray: and you hope that you have been good enough to pay for all the sins you have ever committed. But you can never have true security.

In contrast, Biblical Christianity is Christ-centered—God-centered. It doesn’t ask the question “What must I do to please God?” so much as “What has Jesus Christ done for me, to make me pleasing in God’s sight?” Ephesians 2:8-10 makes the works issue clear. We do good works as a result of having been born again into God’s family. I am to act like a child of God because I am one, not in order to become one. All the work necessary to make the believer acceptable to God has already been done, at the Cross. Religions say “Do!” Jesus says, “Done!John 19:30 “It is finished!” 

Man’s Authority, versus God’s Authority

Most world religions produce a hierarchy of human authority, (Popes, cardinals, archbishops, abbots, priests, monks, prophets, gurus, etc.) through whom the believer must go, before they can “get to God,” and through whom God’s will is to be revealed to the believer.

Jesus set aside all those things by becoming our eternal High Priest, and by making every believer a full priest in the Body of Christ. Each true believer is already a saint, has already obtained eternal life, and is already eternally guaranteed a position in Heaven. That believer is also a priest, with the task of offering sacrifices acceptable to God, in the form of prayer, thanksgiving, and praise. That believer also has the responsibility of searching God’s Word to find God’s direction in life, and acting as an ambassador for Christ to a lost world.

This is not to say that God does not provide human “shepherds” for his people—but those shepherds do not stand between the believer and God. Every believer has free personal access to the Father, through Jesus Christ, alone.

Biblical Christianity does not set up roadblocks between believers and God (1 Timothy 2:5)…in fact, when the veil in the temple was torn, during the crucifixion, it was specifically to say, “The way is open! All who come by way of the Blood of Jesus may come freely, and without ceremony!” (Hebrews 10:19-22) 

“Religion” versus “Relationship”

God isn’t interested in “religion”, in the sense we see it used in the world: Biblical Christianity is to be a real, living relationship between two real, live persons—God, and You!

God is not an “idea”—He is a person. He is a Spirit, of course, but a real live person, as well, and He desires to know you personally, on every level.

Spiritually? Absolutely! Jesus said that God is a Spirit, and those who worship Him must do so in Spirit and in Truth. (John 4:24) God wants to “hone” us in this area, “refine us,” so that we are sensitive to Him, and quickly responsive to His leading. (Psalm 32:8, 9)

Intellectually? Sure! He wants you to learn with the mind he has given you, and glorify Him with your mind, and the words you say, the very thoughts you think. This could be in Bible knowledge, learning the “nuts and bolts” of how God’s word fits together and chasing down remote ideas, in obscure passages. (2 Peter 1:5-7) But it could also refer to pulling together outside information, demonstrating the truth of God’s word. (In science, math, history, culture, language, etc. Psalm19:1-6; Romans 1:19, 20) Remember that knowledge is for the purpose of conduct.

Emotionally? Yes! Jesus clearly felt joy, anger, sorrow, pain, etc. during his earthly life, and He doesn’t ignore these feelings in us. He relegates them to their proper place—a response to facts and faith—but He definitely wants to minister to us in sorrow and in joy. The Christian life is not a zombie-like existence outside the reach of feelings. Nor is it a life of slavery to feelings. We are frequently called upon to act in spite of our feelings, in obedience to God’s command. (Matthew 26:39; (Jesus’ example) Matthew 27:44; Luke 23:39-43 (The thief’s example)) Emotions are a genuine part of the Christian life, but they are not to reign over us.

Physically? Yes! God wants to be Lord of our lives in all areas. He wants to be able to bless us in all areas. He wants our lives to reflect His character in all areas. He answers prayer affecting all areas of our lives, and He wants us to submit all those areas to His will, as well. He definitely calls us to a life of holiness and service in our bodies, as well as in heart and mind. See 1st Corinthians 6:19, 20

Materially? Yup! God gives us many gifts, but He never wants the gifts to take priority over the giver. It’s no accident that Jesus chose wealth as the example he used, when he made his famous statement, “No man can serve two masters…ye cannot serve God and Mammon” (Matthew 6:24)

We give as a form of worship, but it is also in obedience, acknowledging that the source of all our sustenance is God himself. When we hold back, and say, “Well, I can’t afford to give to God…” we are forgetting that it all came from His hand. But even our giving isn’t a matter of slavery to a creed– in the New Testament, though it all belongs to God, it is also all free-will giving. (2 Corinthians 9:6-8) You have to determine before God what is right to give. It’s part of the relationship.

Restoring the Relationship

God gives us the means by which to maintain our relationship, in fellowship with Him—1 John 1:9 says all we have to do, when we realize that we have sinned, and that our fellowship with God is broken, is to confess our sins to Him, and he will forgive us, and restore the fellowship. Notice, again, that this is something between God and us—it isn’t dependent upon a human intercessor —Jesus Himself is our intercessor. 

What about You?

If you are not sure how to enter into this relationship with God, I would count it a privilege to sit down with you and try to answer your questions from the Bible. But this relationship requires a personal response from you. No one can force you, but, on the other hand, no one can do it for you, either. You don’t have to come alone to God, but you alone can choose whether to believe or disbelieve His Word.

Jesus says, “…he that heareth my word, and believeth on Him who sent me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed from death into Life.” (John 5:24) That promise is to you!  

All He asks you to do is hear and believe—place your trust in His finished work at the Cross. The choice is yours. There are folks all around you who have made that choice, and would love to help you, if you need someone to encourage you. But the choice is only yours.

So, let’s review:

Human Religions Biblical Christianity
1. Deny, trivialize, or attempt to work off the Sin-debt. 1.  Places full dependence on Jesus’ perfect, complete, final payment for Sin. Romans 3:25
2.  Say, “You must DO….”. 2.  Says, “Jesus has DONE….”  John 19:30; Hebrews 10:12
3.  Have a hierarchy of human authorities and/or intercessors. Believers do not have direct access to God. 3.  Has one mediator between God and Man. Christ alone intercedes between believers and the Father…and every believer has direct access to God. 1st Timothy 2:5
4.  Are just that: Religion— with creeds, catechisms, rules, and regulations, but no life, and ultimately, no hope. 4.  Is a Relationship, of Faith, Love, and obedience to a personal, Living Savior who is our Life, and who is our Eternal Hope. Ephesians 3:17-19
5.  Are fine enough to live by, for the most part, but they are Hell to die by…Jesus said He was the only way to God, and God confirmed it. (John 14:6; Matthew 17:5) 5.  Is humanly impossible to live by, but He doesn’t ask us to do it ourselves. He lives through us by His Holy Spirit indwelling us. (Galatians 5:16) We are offered Eternal life to have now and enjoy forever. (John 11:25)

Remember–“How you deal with your sin, will in the long run, determine where you spend eternity!” How you deal with sin depends on what you do with Jesus Christ:

You will either choose to depend on Jesus’ shed blood, as full payment for your sin, (Romans 3:25) or you will choose to trust something else, or perhaps just deny the problem entirely. But you have to choose. No one else can do it for you. Please choose wisely. Eternity hangs on your decision.

Lord Jesus, help us to continually see the stark differences between what you offer and that which the World offers. Help us to see the difference between the leading of the flesh, and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Feed us on your Word, so that we will grow strong.


Born Again! What Now?

Born Again! What Now?

© 2019, C. O. Bishop

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

Introduction:

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

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

How does a Person become Born Again?

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

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

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

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

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

Now, that passage will bear some examination:

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

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

What is the Result of Being Born Again?

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

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

Notice that He lists two conditions to the promise:

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

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

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

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

And the results are eternal.

What Now?

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

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

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

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

Feed on the Word!

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

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

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

What are the Long Range Results?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions and Decisions

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

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

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

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

And that will result in eternal rewards.

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

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


Seven Lessons from the Cat’s Ear

Seven Lessons from the Cat’s Ear

© C. O. Bishop 7/22/2019 THCF 8/11/19

Introduction:

Probably most people, hearing the term “Cat’s Ear” would normally assume I was talking about the feline auditory system…but, in fact, I am referring to something even more arcane—the plant (or weed) called “Cat’s Ear”…sometimes called “False Dandelion,” though that is not its name.

You might ask, “Why would I try to take a lesson from a weed?

Good question! In fact, I would not have thought to do so, either, except that one morning, recently, I was driving off somewhere, early in the morning, and (because my lawn mower has been down for repairs, for a while), I could see thousands of weeds blossoming in my yard. Most of them looked like dandelions, except they all possessed branched, wiry stems with multiple blossoms, unlike the hollow stems with single blossoms that characterize true dandelions. And, what caught my attention, as I headed due east, out of my driveway, was that every single one of those little golden flowers was twisted around to face directly at the rising sun! I remembered a song about sunflowers turning their gaze upon their god (the sun, in the song), at morning as well as evening, and wondered whether these little blossoms would do the same, following the course of the sun, throughout the day.

When I came back later in the day, they had all turned to follow the sun, as many plants do. But these are not stately sunflowers…these are weeds, from nearly everyone’s perspective. But something about them caught my attention, and I began to wonder what else was true of them. We frequently hear people admonish believers to “blossom where you are planted!” Well, no human planted these hardy weeds…but neither did they have a choice in the matter. They are a wind-borne seed, producing seed-heads chock-full of little parachute-like seeds, which blow and disperse on the breeze, and, wherever they fall to earth, they simply take root …or die.

Now I was beginning to think more clearly, remembering the parable of the sower (Matthew 13) as I considered what other lessons might be in this little weed. Consider:

  1. They have no choice about where they are planted.
  2. Wherever they land, provided there is soil and water (and not necessarily an abundance of either,) they dig in, and put down roots, aggressively reaching for water and nutrients.
  3. They persistently try to bear fruit and reproduce after their kind, hoping to send a fresh crop of Cat’s Ear seeds blowing in the wind, thus fulfilling their mission, to “be fruitful and multiply”…and most generally, they eventually succeed!
  4. No one particularly wants them, wherever they are: they are nearly universally scorned and rejected, and every attempt is made to discourage them. But they persist…they persevere!
  5. Mowing does not kill them: it only postpones their reproduction.
  6. To those who are willing to see it, they actually have a beautiful, vibrant yellow blossom…but few see it that way.
  7. And, finally, they constantly focus on the Sun. Their faces are turned toward Him, regardless of circumstances.

Parallels in Faith

Probably most of you have already seen the parallels to which I am alluding. But let’s consider them anyway:

Choices—mine, or God’s—or both?

I did not get to choose my place of birth, nor the gene-pool from which I was drawn, nor a host of other circumstances which set me on my way in life. God chose all these things for me.

But I did get to choose how to respond to those circumstances. I was not born to affluence, nor was I reared by a godly father. My mother did her best to set my feet on a right path, but like many young boys, I rebelled. No one forced, me either way. But there were “voices,” all along the way, of relatives, friends, writers, evangelists, and so forth, who kept shining the light of God’s Word into my life, at one level or another. And, I know that there were people praying for me, too, so that my heart was being moistened by the prayers of the believers, and the kindness of the believers who loved me in spite of my unloveliness. In Acts 17:26, 27 Paul preached that each of us has been placed by God so that we have an opportunity to respond to the call of God at some level.

So, within the circumstances in which I was planted, I had to make choices based upon the information I had. Eventually, I “chose life,” as God begs every person to do. Deuteronomy 30:19 says that we have a choice between blessing and cursing, between death and life…and He concludes, “Choose Life!”

Growth is also a Choice

How I responded was up to me. God does “cultivate” the seed, and encourage us to take hold and grow, but we have to make a choice. In 1st Peter 2:2, Peter commands the new believers, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” This is a command to all believers. We are to choose to hunger after God’s Word, and feed upon it so that we may grow thereby. We grow by feeding on God’s Word!

And it is by choice that we dig into His Word, “putting down roots,” as it were. Colossians 2:7 admonishes the believers tobe“rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith…” Ephesians 3:17, 18 addresses that same concept, being a little more specific; that we are to be rooted and grounded in Love, so that we will be able to comprehend along with all the believers, the full magnitude of our relationship with the Lord, and to fully experience His love, which surpasses the bounds of knowledge. Even the Proverbs make it clear (Proverbs 2:1-8) that unless we hunger after God’s Word, and His Wisdom, we will not understand Him, nor His provision in our lives.

It is part of the normal Christian life that we hunger for God’s Word, and deliberately choose to feed deeply upon His Word. It is fascinating, to me, that He refers to Himself as being the “Word.” Not just once, but several times. John 1:1, 14 says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…” and later, when He returns to Earth (Revelation 19:13,) He is called “The Word of God.”

It seems to me that how we respond to the written Word of God, the Bible, is ultimately the way we also respond to the Living Word of God, Jesus, the Savior…our Master.

Consider how those little weeds all put down a deep taproot…and when drought comes, they survive, where other plants dry up and die!

We are called to bear fruit!

Jesus said that this was what we are ordained to do: (John 15:16) “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit…” (By the way, lest you think that this “ordination to bring forth fruit” was only for the apostles, remember that the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) told them to teach us to “observe all things whatsoever He had commanded them!”) (In science, we call that a “chain-reaction!”)

So, these little cat’s ear plants don’t have to be told! They just dig in by their nature, in harsh circumstances, and force that little taproot down between rocks, or clay soil or even in cracks in pavement, and find the nutrients they need, so that they can grow, so that they can bear fruit, and multiply! And, that is what we are called to do, as well! The problem is that we have a choice to make, but they just do it, because that is their nature! We are afraid of public opinion, and so we close our mouths, rather than sow the seed of the Gospel.

But we are definitely called to “be witnesses,” to tell what we know about Jesus, the Savior. To share the bread of life with anyone hungry enough to receive it! To pour ourselves out as living sources of the water of life, so that anyone who thirsts will be drawn to Jesus. Jesus Himself made that offer, in John 7:37, 38, saying “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.” (That’s us!) Are you looking to share that bread of life, and extend the living water to other thirsty souls? Or are you holding back? Remember who sent you, and what He told you your purpose is: to bear fruit and bring glory to the Father by so doing.

The World will hate us, just as they hated Jesus!

1st John 3:13 Says, “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate thee!” This echoes what Jesus said, earlier, that the World will hate the believers. (John 15:18) says that “if the World hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you.” You see, we are “weeds”, to the unbelieving world! We are an “invasive species” from their perspective! And, indeed, we are “in enemy territory!” The adversary of our souls, Satan himself, was cast down to the earth. He knows that his own eternal destruction is coming, and he is determined to take the human race with him.

Jesus said that we are “in the world, but not of the world.” We are a foreign irritant to the world system of thought. If they could be rid of us, they would do so. I saw a bumper sticker, a year or so ago, saying “Come the Rapture, we’ll have the whole Place to Ourselves!” It was very sobering, and sad, to see it, because it was clear that the writer knew of the New Testament teaching that the Church will be removed from the Earth, and that he or she not only rejected it but mocked it, saying, in effect, “Good riddance! We will have a great time after you all are gone!” Sorry, no! It is going to be the very worst period of time in the history of the earth!

Notice, however, that “hating the weeds” does not eradicate them. Poisoning the weeds works, but it is dangerous, as we frequently kill desirable plants in the process. We are an irritant to the World, and they will continually try to eradicate the Gospel.

Someone recently pointed out to me that if the Bible was just a myth, or a fairy-tale, no one would have a problem with it. No one burns people at the stake for the sake of Cinderella, or Snow-White, or even Santa Claus! They went on to say that there are currently 52 nations on Earth where the Bible is a forbidden book. There is a focused attempt to eradicate the Person of Christ from all public fora, even here in the United States, as well as from schools, and social media. It’s strange: you can spout off about any sort of conspiracy theory you want, and no one will bother you. Join the “Flat Earth Society”, and, though people will mock you, no one will persecute you for that belief, though it is patently false.

You see, the problem is Jesus! He is the actual object of their hatred. So, if you are being hated along with Him, you are bearing the Cross along with Him. Be blessed! You are right on course! Does that mean it will “feel good” to be rejected and maligned as fools and falsely accused of all sorts of wrong? Nope. But, like the Cat’s Ear weed, we persevere! We persist. We “soldier on,” knowing that we are indeed the soldiers of Christ, and, as good soldiers, we are called to endure hardness. (2nd Timothy 2:3)

Persecution has always strengthened the Church

We don’t like persecution, and we fear it…but, historically, the persecution always had two very positive effects:

  1. Persecution scattered the Church, as they fled the persecution, but every believer, wherever they went, spread the Gospel to their new surroundings, just as weed seeds are scattered by the wind, and spread the weeds to new locations. Acts 8:4 concludes the account of the first persecution, saying “therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word.”
  2. Persecution purged the church: Jesus predicted this in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:21), saying that there are people who gladly respond to the Gospel, but in whom there is no real root, and when persecution arises because of the Word, they are offended. He actually demonstrated the “falling away” idea in John 6:60-66 where He had concluded his teaching about the Bread of Life, and many of those who had been following him said “This is a hard saying, who can hear it?” and they went away. He asked his apostles, “Will ye also go away?” and Peter said, “To whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life!” You see, the apostles persisted! They pressed closer when things got hard. The false brethren will usually drop their pretense when things get rough. So, the core that is left are the real believers, and to them will be drawn others who see the light of their lives and respond in faith.

There is a Beauty in the Church

Not everyone sees the believers as fools or hypocrites. There are some who see the transformation of our lives, and recognize that something real has happened. And they are drawn to it, because they see the person of Christ reflected in our lives. But not all will see us that way. Don’t expect people to respond kindly to your kindness, or respond lovingly to your love. The fact is that most will not receive us well. Consider how they responded to the Lord Himself.

But Jesus is working a transformation in His Bride, the Church, and there will come a day when all will see the beauty of the Bride. The reason we don’t see the beauty of the Cat’s Ear blossoms, as well as that of the Dandelions, and the European daisies, and the Clover, etc. is because they persist in growing in places where we would rather they did not grow.

The Church, regardless of the blessing it bestows upon the world around it, will never be welcome. We are “not of the World!” Try to not allow the World to coerce you into seeing the Church as a whole, through their eyes. Does the church have faults? Yep! It is made up of saved sinners, and every one of them has faults. Also, there are those who have infiltrated the church, and pretend to be believers, but, in fact, they are not. So some of the sins that we are accused of are actually committed by those who have no connection with the head at all. In biological terms, we might call them a parasitic organism, or, perhaps a cancerous growth. But the World sees them as “Just another Hypocrite!” and condemns the entire church and Jesus with them. Try to avoid being influenced by such thinking. You would not reject your precious child because she contracted head-lice. You would deal with the lice, and love the child.

Focus Your attention on the Son!

This is the bottom line for each of us! We are to follow Jesus, not each other. We are to focus our attention on the person of Christ and allow Him to deal with the circumstances around us. Even other believers are not to be our focus. Peter asked Jesus (regarding John) “What shall this man do?” (John 21:21) Jesus effectively told him that it was none of his business, and that he (Peter) was to follow Jesus!

It was such a powerful testimony to me, to see the dawn breaking over the weedy lawn, and to see that, without exception, the army of Cat’s Ear blossoms were turned to greet the rising Sun. They did not do it as a “group exercise:” every single one did it because it was in its nature to do so, whether in a group or alone.

How would it affect the testimony and behavior of the church, if every member of every assembly was as fully focused on the person of the Risen Christ, as those simple little weeds are upon the rising sun? Give this some thought, and meditate upon God’s Word. See if you can be drawn, as they are, to set your affections upon Him, instead of all that surrounds you here on Earth.

Lord Jesus, fix our hearts and minds upon yourself, so that we no longer see ourselves as the center of our existence, but readily, continually recognize our utter dependence upon you. Change us into your likeness, and lead us to follow in your footsteps, in Jesus name.


Judgment, Justice, Grace and Mercy

Judgment, Justice, Grace and Mercy

Introduction:

How does Easter show the Judgment and Justice of God?

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

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

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

The Reasons for Crucifixion

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

What is The Good News of the Gospel?

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

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

Why is His Death Good News?

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

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

Why is His Burial Good News?

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

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

The Best News of All: The Resurrection!

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

The Result of the Resurrection

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

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

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

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

What about Repentance?

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

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

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

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

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


Making Informed Choices

Making Informed Choices

© C. O. Bishop 3/2019 THCF 3/17/2019

Isaiah 1:27-2:5

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

Coming Judgment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ultimate Exaltation

Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Invitation to Practical Holiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Judgment and Righteousness

Judgment and Righteousness

© C. O. Bishop 2/27/2019

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

Introduction:

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

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

The Coming Judgment  

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

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

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

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

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

The Basis for Judgment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deserved Judgment

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

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

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

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

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

Redemption through Judgment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion: Escape from Judgment

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

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


Problems (and Answers) in Genesis

Problems (and Answers) in Genesis

© C. O. Bishop 2018

Genesis 7, 8, compared to other passages

Introduction:

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

Problem #1

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

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

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

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

Problem #2

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

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

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

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

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

Genesis 7 and 8

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

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

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

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

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

Problem #3

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

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

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

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

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

What can we Conclude?

The two things I especially see here, are that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Putting on Christ

Putting on Christ

© C. O. Bishop 11/15/18

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

Introduction:

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

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

A New Position: in Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Choice

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

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

Our Choice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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


Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 13

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 13

Faith and the Promise of the Bride

Genesis 24—A Wife for the Promised Son.

Introduction

We have been working our way through Genesis, looking for pictures of Jesus, or for personal appearances of the Messiah. This chapter has a delightful account that bears some serious attention: The “players” are the Father (Abraham), the Son (Isaac), the Servant (unidentified), the Bride (Rebekah), and the Bride’s extended family (named in the text, but, significantly, related to the Son.) The Mother is out of the picture, dead and buried.

There is an oath taken (a strange way of taking oath, but evidently culturally significant.) There is a journey made to seek a Bride for the Son. The whole purpose of the Servant and his journey is to call out a Bride for the only begotten Son of the Father. Is this starting to sound familiar?

If one sees this as a simple narrative of a servant sent to purchase a bride for a rich man’s son, it is not terribly interesting, beyond the fact that Isaac wound up marrying his “first cousin once removed”—the daughter of Bethuel, who was his first cousin. But, if we bear in mind the fact that Isaac is highly “typical” of Christ—a prefiguring of the Messiah—then the story becomes a lot more interesting, because that makes this whole story a picture of Christ and the Church:

The Father

Abraham, the Father, sends an unnamed (in this passage) Servant, to call out a Bride for his Son. That is what is happening today—the Holy Spirit, who is himself God, but who always “takes a back seat,” so to speak, and virtually never speaks of himself, but only of the things of the Son—is calling out a people, who, collectively, are called the “Bride of Christ.”

The Servant went with Great riches to offer to the Bride, as well as precious gifts for the relatives of the Bride. There was a “Bride-Price” to be paid, as there still is in many cultures today. We may find that repugnant in this day of “social correctness”, but the fact remains that there are in excess of six thousand languages in the world—closer to seven thousand, actually—and each language has one or more cultures associated with it. We are not in a position to dictate what is proper for another culture: The fact is, there was a bride-price to be paid, and the servant went there prepared to pay it. He gave precious gifts to the family of the Bride, and assured them that her Bridegroom was wealthy beyond measure, and that he was the heir of the Father.

The Holy Spirit gives precious gifts to the called-out ones, (That is what the Greek word “ecclesia” means…translated “assembly”, or “church.”) and He blesses the people from whom they are called out, as well, though it is not always appreciated.

The Oath

Abraham extracted an oath from his servant: the bride was not to be taken from among the Canaanites, but from among his kindred, back in the city of Nahor, in the land of Ur. (Abraham’s brother Nahor had not left Ur with their father Terah in Genesis chapter 11.)

There are two ways to look at this: Jesus had to be related to the Bride: He became human for the express purpose of being related to us, so that He could be our “Kinsman-Redeemer”—the Hebrew word is “goel”. Boaz was a picture of Christ as the kinsman-redeemer. He fulfilled that office toward Ruth and Naomi, as a picture of how Jesus would fulfill it for us. The Kinsman Redeemer had four requirements:

 

  1. He had to be a near relative.
  2. He had to be free himself.
  3. He had to have the price of redemption.
  4. He had to be willing.

 

Boaz qualified on all four counts. The other potential “goel” (or kinsman-redeemer) in the story, who remained unnamed, was qualified on the first three counts, but he was not willing.

So, the Bride has to be entirely of the human race—no angels were invited. The Gospel is only extended to human sinners. The fallen angels, or demons, were never offered salvation.

The other side of this oath, is that the Canaanites were extremely idolatrous, as well as practicing unclean lifestyles. The people of Abraham’s family had a background of idolatry as well, as we see later on, but they were still of a closer cultural and religious background than anyone in Canaan. So, the second way to see it is that the Bride had to be of the “same faith” as the Groom. No unbelievers can become part of the Bride of Christ—the Universal Church. It is impossible to “infiltrate” the true church. God sees the heart, and no one can fool him.

It is, however, ridiculously easy to infiltrate the local church, and unbelievers fool us constantly, even becoming teachers and pastors. A fellow recently told me of a pastor he had once had, asking him, “You don’t really believe Jesus walked on water, do you?” That is a shocking question, coming from one who has been entrusted with the task of feeding he flock of God—the Bride of Christ. (“Yea, hath God surely said?” This is the voice of the Serpent!)

We need to be very watchful regarding the people we allow to feed the flock. Remember that the trade-marked “D-Con™” Mouse poison is 99.99% clean mouse food, and .01% poison…but it is still quite lethal. The false doctrine and disbelief taught by false teachers is fatal to faith. God is calling out true believers, and no unbelievers can enter the door of the real sheepfold. But we need to recognize that the World and Satan are very interested in weakening the effect of the local assemblies as examples of that Bride, and ambassadors of Christ. If he can either water down the truth of God’s Word, or convince us to swallow false doctrine, then he succeeds in corrupting the Church, and weakening our effectiveness as God’s representatives on Earth.

The Servant and the Bride

The Servant immediately set out to accomplish the will of the Father. He took ten camels and an unknown number of other, lesser servants along with him, and set out for Ur of the Chaldees, and the city of Abraham’s brother, Nahor, as directed. When he arrived, he did not “rest up, and re-group” but immediately was “on task.” He knew he was in the right town, but wanted no false starts. He prayed, not for himself, but for the sake of the Father and of the Son, that he would be given sure guidance. He asked for a very specific answer, and immediately stepped out to see the result. God answered that prayer, to the letter, and the Servant was thrilled with the result.

Do you see the parallels here? They are kind of hard to miss, are they not? Let’s look at the specifics, which do not seem to apply to the typology. The Servant asked that the one he approached for a drink of water would be the “right one” and that the proof would be that when he asked for a drink of water, she would volunteer to water the camels as well. That is a tall order! Camels drink large quantities of water; especially when they have just completed a trip across a desert (600-1000 miles depending on the route and the actual locations of both ends of the journey.) But, immediately after he prayed—in fact, while he was still speaking—he looked and saw Rebekah coming to draw water. He evidently thought she was “just what the doctor ordered”, because he ran to meet her and asked for water. She immediately responded with “Drink, my lord, and I will draw water for your camels as well, until they have done drinking.” The servant kept quiet, and just watched, as she made trip after trip to the well, and kept filling the watering trough until the camels had their fill. I am told that a camel can drink 20 gallons… so she may have had to haul in the neighborhood of 200 gallons up out of that well. The servant asked of her family, as he gave her the gifts he had prepared. She answered that she was the daughter of Bethuel, who is the son of Nahor. So, she was Isaac’s first cousin, once removed.

The Servant blessed God for answering his prayer so directly. (Compare Isaiah 65:24) He uses a peculiar phrase: “I being in the way.” The servant was on the way to do his master’s bidding. He, being in the way, (that is, doing what he was commanded to do), asked for specific direction, and immediately received an answer. I wonder how often we ask for specific direction, but do not receive such an answer, because we were not “in the way”—not on course—not on task. We are not headed in the direction we were commanded to go, so we don’t get more direction. That is something to think about, isn’t it? And, if we are disobedient in the things we know, why should He give us further information? Or answer prayers at all, for that matter?

Rebekah’s Family made no objection, and the Bride was thrilled with the offer. She gladly consented to go with the Servant, and eventually meet the Son. Once the decision was made, the Servant demanded that the journey begin immediately. The family did object to that, and wanted to keep her around for a while. The Servant would have none of it, and requested that they not hinder him. So, they put the question to the Bride, and she chose to go. The Servant gave precious gifts to the family, but the full inheritance, and the Son himself awaited the Bride. She received relatively small gifts initially, compared to what was waiting in the Father’s House.

Incidentally, I believe that Rebekah’s response, “I will go!” is the normal, correct, healthy response of the believer to the leading of God. When we balk, and whine and procrastinate, we are not behaving like the Bride. Yes, this was referring to her initial response, and we are not told how she felt on the long journey to meet the Groom. But we are given to believe that her response did not change. I really like that, because it is how we are supposed to respond as well.

In fact, whether we are thinking of our initial response to the Gospel, or our daily response to the leading of the Holy Spirit, the question is always the same: “Will you go with this Man?

Initially, we are told of Christ, and what he has done for us, what he offers…and the claim he makes upon us; but we are still invited to decide. Then, having made our decision, we are daily called upon to re-commit ourselves, in daily acts of faith—being willing to trust God, and not to whine. Being willing to speak, to pray, or to wait…being willing to obey. Being willing to accept loss and hardship. The question is constantly, “Will you trust and obey God, or not?”

The answer to that first question, regarding our salvation, permanently decides our position with Christ. The answer to the reiteration of that question decides, moment by moment, the character of our relationship with God. If we are constantly balking, withdrawing, and running off on our own errands, then we have a poor relationship with the Bridegroom. If we are constantly obedient, and rejoicing in His presence, then we have a good relationship with Him. But the choice, day by day, moment by moment, is ours.

Consider the plight of Rebekah: She had chosen to take off on a long trip across a bleak and dangerous desert with a man she didn’t know and his colleagues whom she also did not know. She was allowed to take along her entourage of female servants (We are not told how many), but they would not be much help if this was a bad decision. She is taking a journey from which she will never return. And she has not even seen a picture of the man she is to marry. Once they are out of sight of her home town, she is utterly committed, for better or for worse.

If she tries to go back, she cannot hope to survive. If she runs off into the desert, she will be lost and will perish. Her only hope is to trust that her initial decision is the right one. She must allow her guide to carry her through the wilderness to her Groom-to-be. As a matter of fact, the Servant has a trust to keep. The Bride is precious beyond description to Him, as he not only knows it is the fulfillment of the Father’s will, and the Bride for the only begotten Son, but He has seen that God brought this woman to him in a miraculous way, and there is no question in his mind that she is “the right one!” So, nothing will separate her from him! He will see her through to the end, until she sees the Son, face-to-face! His only task is to bring her safely through the wilderness to the Father’s House, to the glory of the Father and of the Son! (I really hope you are seeing the precious parallels here, in this story!)

God the Father sent God the Son to pay the Bride-Price. He paid it in full, at the Cross. He had to buy the entire World to get the Bride. He paid for the sins of the whole world, to win the few who will become the Bride. The question is put to each culture and language, by the Holy Spirit, using Human ambassadors: prophets, missionaries, evangelists, teachers, etc. They describe the Father, the Son, and the Price that has been paid. They tell of the riches of His coming Kingdom, sometimes in vague terms, simply because they themselves have also never seen it. But the Holy Spirit has seen it, and He lends credibility to their testimony. Some hear the news, and are stirred to faith. Other hear and simply shrug, or perhaps are repulsed. They all hear the question, “Will you go with this Man? Will you trust yourself to the completed work of Jesus at the Cross, knowing you will not see him face-to-face in this life?” But those few who believe the Gospel say “Yes! I will go!

They then begin a long (or sometimes short) journey across the wilderness of this life, trusting in His written Word, and in the Holy Spirit who guides them. They know they cannot go back, and that there is destruction all around them, but they trust the guide (to one degree or another) and He always brings them through safely. That is His only goal: to glorify the Father and the Son, and in doing so, to bring home the Bride. That is why the scriptures say that we are “sealed in Christ” by the Holy Spirit “until the redemption of the purchased possession!” The Holy Spirit is not about to allow anyone to turn Him aside from his assignment! He will bring us home even if we change our minds, and “throw a fit” along the way, just as the Servant was to bring Rebekah home, once the transaction was complete. The Price has been paid, and we have placed our faith in His shed blood. The Holy Spirit Himself has been given to us, as an “engagement ring”—the Earnest of our Inheritance. We are sealed, and we will be delivered!

Conclusion

The only question left, really, is “how will you go with this Man?” Will you walk in obedience to Christ? Will you accept each day of travel in this wilderness as being a day that brings you closer to Jesus? Or will you struggle, and fight, and doubt, and try to run off into the desert?

The decision is yours. You can see the beautiful, clear portrait that has been painted for you in God’s Word: you can take your place in that picture, and daily choose to walk with Jesus, in the person of the Holy Spirit, or you can struggle and doubt him.

I frequently am guilty of the struggling and doubts. I expect that there are others who experience this as well. Go back to 1st John 1:9 and confess your unbelief, and then continue the journey, by faith. Every step draws you closer to Christ.

Remember how the story ends: When Rebekah saw Isaac in the distance, she asked the Servant, “What man is this?” He said, “It is my Master!” She got down off the camel, and she covered herself with a veil, recognizing him as her Groom. Our day is coming, too, when we will also see the Bridegroom face-to-face, and we will find that we are already clothed in His righteousness!

Lord Jesus, open our eyes to the reality of the journey, and our responsibilities along the way, as ambassadors of Christ. Teach us to walk in faith and Joy, not doubting Your Grace.


Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 12

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 12

Faith and the Promise of the Land

© C. O. Bishop 9/17/18

Genesis 23the Death of Sarah.

Introduction:

As we journey through Genesis, watching for pictures of Jesus, the Messiah, we also see some pictures of those who believe in Jesus. Bear in mind that Abraham spoke with God face-to-face on at least one occasion, and was spoken to by him (and had a conversation with Him, not necessarily face-to-face) on several occasions. We saw, by comparing these passages with New Testament passages, that the person with whom Abraham spoke was unquestionably God the Son, in a pre-incarnate appearance called a “Christophany.”

But, in this chapter, there is no such conversation: no such appearance. Instead we see what could be just a quiet, sad story of a very old man purchasing a burial place for his dead wife. But God chose to include that story, in quite a bit of detail, so there must be something here of value. If all He had chosen to say, was “Sarah died at 127 years of age, and was buried in Hebron.” we might pass it by and not worry about missing much. But, if we summarize the 20 verses of chapter 23 to read as a terse, 12-word sentence such as the one above, we run a great risk of missing something of real importance. So, let’s stop and consider what is really there.

Sarah’s Death at Hebron

Sarah died at 127 years of age (thus, Isaac was 37 when she died—remember that Sarah was 90 when Isaac was born—we have no idea how much time had passed between the last chapter and this one). Abraham had been with her most of her life, and most of his, though we don’t know how long—she was 65 when they left Haran, and they already had been married long enough to know, by human standards, they were not going to have any children. They just didn’t know that God was going to change that future.

Sarah died in Kirjath-arba ( meaning “City of Arba”), or Hebron (“alliance.”) The place is about 20 miles due south of Jerusalem, and is still called Hebron by the Jews and the Western nations, but Al Khalil by the Arabs. This place has been purchased by the Jews at least twice—maybe three times, as after World War two, the Jews migrating to Palestine routinely purchased any land they gained, buying it from the Jordanian people who had drifted in from the east.

At the time of Sarah’s death, Abraham was sojourning among the Hittites—the children of Heth. He went to them and asked if he might purchase a piece of land to bury his dead wife. (He had a particular plot of land in mind.) They graciously declined, saying that he was a great man among them and that he could simply bury his dead in any of the existing tombs, there, and that he did not need to make a purchase. This would imply that they considered him (at least at some level) to be one of them: they thought of him as family!

But Abraham had other ideas…he knew that he was not one of them, and he knew that God had called him out from the world. He specifically wanted a piece of land that he owned, there in the land of Canaan. He knew that the land—all of it—had been promised to him and his heirs, but the Hittites did not know that. Abraham wanted a gravesite that could be undisturbed, hopefully, and to which his heirs could come back, generation after generation. So he asked, before all the people, that they sell him a particular field wherein was a cave.

Abraham Purchased Land already Promised to Him by God

The owner of the field (Ephron the Hittite) may just have been grandstanding, or may have truly been generous, but, at first, he offered to simply give Abraham the field. Abraham insisted that the owner actually sell it to him, at the full value, and that he specify as terms of the sale, that the whole field, the cave (Called the Cave of Machpelah, still today), and the trees of that field would be part of the purchase. I don’t know how the Hittites felt about it all, but historians say that the price finally named—four hundred shekels of silver—was quite high, compared to other fields sold in the Bible. I don’t know how much it was, in terms of wages at that time, but it was evidently an extremely high price for such a piece of land. However, I think it is important to notice that Abraham did not dicker, or quibble over the price—he simply paid it, and made sure he had plenty of witnesses to that fact. Genesis records that the field, the cave, the trees in the field, and the trees that made up the border of the field were all included in the bargain.

Abraham believed that the land of Canaan would be the eternal dwelling-place of his people: so he bought a piece of it, up front. This is faith, with shoe-leather on it. The Hittites had no idea of his motives, and undoubtedly thought him a total fool, to pay that sort of price for what had been offered as a gift. They may have also seen that Abraham was quite elderly, and that his only son was still unmarried. They may have reasoned that there was a good chance they would get it all back anyway. (In fact, they actually may have done so: according to the record in Joshua 24:32, regarding Joseph’s burial, Jacob had purchased that land again, from the same tribe of people, many years later, for one hundred pieces of silver…a quarter of the price Abraham had paid.)

Whatever their thoughts, the sale was made, and Abraham buried Sarah there; Abraham himself was later buried there; Isaac and Rebekah were buried there; Jacob and Leah were buried there (Genesis 49:29-32), and Joseph was eventually buried there, among others. It was the family mausoleum for centuries to come. In Acts 7:15, 16, it was mentioned by Stephen in his defense, before he was stoned by the Jews. The people of Israel knew this place, and it is still important: Hebron is a holy city to them, still today, second only to Jerusalem, itself. Nearly four thousand years of promise are marked by that tomb, the Cave of Machpelah, at Hebron.

Can we see any parallels, here?

We already have a promise of eternal life with Christ. All the riches of His kingdom have already been given to us, though we can’t see much of it, really. We know very little: just what He has chosen to tell us, though many books have been written, claiming to tell us “all about heaven.” But God says “…eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” (1st Corinthians 2:9)

So, how can we “buy a piece of it” up front? How can we put “shoe-leather on faith,” and claim part of what Jesus says we already own?

  • We have to “buy it” in the face of adversity, while the World thinks us fools, just as Abraham did. (We have been called out from the World, just as he was.)
  • We have to make choices that seem the picture of foolishness to those who are lost, but are ultimately wise, before God.
  • Abraham reached beyond death, to purchase a home beyond death. What choices can we make to accomplish something similar?

Jesus had some things to say about this subject:

Matthew 6:19-21;

19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Notice that He did not say, “Where your heart is, there will your treasure be also.” It is the other way around. We have to choose where to lay up treasure, and that will affect where the eyes of our hearts are turning. We read in Daniel 6 that the prophet Daniel habitually prayed toward Jerusalem. Why? Because that is where his treasure was (the city itself, the ruined temple, and the homeland of the Jews), and his response revealed that this is also where his heart was.

As we begin to “lay up treasures in heaven,” our hearts will increasingly turn in that direction, and it will change our perspective on life, and our desires, our ambitions, and, ultimately, every aspect of our lives. So, what indications might I have as to “where my heart is” and what my “treasure” really is? Jesus addressed that, too, in a couple of ways.

Matthew 12:34-36;

34 O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
35 A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.

36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.

The Pharisees had just accused Jesus of being possessed by Satan, and working by the power of Satan. Why? Because he cast out a demon, and healed a blind and mute man, who had been sick because of the demonic possession. So, Jesus did something Very Good, and their response was to accuse Him of being the ultimate evil. They revealed their hearts by their accusations. (Who is the “accuser of the brethren?” According to Revelation 12:9, 10, it is Satan himself!) So the accusers, by their words, revealed whose servants they really were. They revealed what was in their hearts: the “evil treasure” of their hearts, by their words.

Matthew 19:21;

21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

A young man came to Jesus, asking what he should do, to earn eternal life. (He did not use the word, “earn”, but he implied that he wanted to DO something to have eternal life. Jesus knew his heart, and suggested that the young man should “keep the commandments.” The young man asked “which ones?” (Already “hedging” a little, I think…)

Jesus quoted only six commandments, not all of them even part of the Ten Commandments, and leaving out several of the Ten. The young man confidently claimed that he had kept all of them all his life. Jesus knew that the young fellow was wealthy, and He also knew his heart, so He said, “if you want to be perfect (complete), sell everything you own, and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven…and you can come and follow me.” The young man went away, sorrowing…why? Because he loved his riches! His treasure was very definitely here on earth, and he was not about to give it up. What commandment, of those which Jesus deliberately omitted, was the young man violating? Covetousness, and Idolatry, perhaps? Paul confirms that covetousness is idolatry, in Colossians 3:5. So, this young man revealed where his treasure really was, by his actions.

Hebrews 11:24-26

24 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;
25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;

26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.

Moses chose to attach himself to the People of God, rather than continue in the court of Pharaoh. He could easily have been seen as a fool by the World: Pharaoh saw him as a traitorous, murderous turncoat, and would have killed him. But God saw his heart, and took him into a “40-year course in shepherding.” Why? Because, after he graduated, he would spend the next 40 years shepherding the Flock of God! Moses revealed where his treasure really was, by his choices. And there was a Reward coming, as a result of his obedience.

How can we apply this today?

1st Corinthians 3:10-15

10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.
11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

We can see, then, that the foundation laid in our lives is the Person of Christ. What are we to build on that Foundation? Jesus said, (John 15:5) “…apart from Me, ye can do nothing.” Notice that He did not say, “Apart from me you can’t do as much.” The fact is, only the things we allow God to do in us and through us, will have eternal value. The things that we allow Jesus to accomplish in our lives will have eternal value, and He says that there is reward attached to that value. Treasure has been laid up ahead, to our account: a reward, for obedience.

As believers, we can reach beyond death, just as Abraham did, and, by faith, we can claim some of what Jesus already has in store for us. And, by so doing, he says that we will gain reward. Salvation is a gift. Reward is the result of obedience.

The rich young ruler thought that he could purchase eternal life by his works. He did not see himself as a sinner, needing a Savior. Jesus pointed out that he was a sinner, and left him to think it over. I hope that, perhaps later, the young fellow caught on to what Jesus had really been teaching, and received the gift of eternal life, by faith…but we are not told the rest of that story.

Behave like a Child of God, because you are one.

All the teachings regarding the believer’s perfect position, and his perfect standing, in Christ, became completely true of you the moment that you believed the Gospel: the moment that you received Jesus as your own Savior.

Are you living in the reality of those truths? We do not live that way in order to “become a child of God:” it is the other way around! We live that way, because we already are a child of God! Ephesians 5:1 says, “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear Children.” Why? Because that is who you are, as a believer in Jesus Christ!

Lord Jesus, open our eyes to the reality of our position in Christ: help us to reach into eternity by faith, and lay up our treasures there! Let us see beyond the grave, like Abraham, and claim the promised reward, like Moses. Let us serve as your holy ambassadors, in Jesus’ Name!