A Triumphal Procession

Triumphal Procession

© 2021 Rick Flemmer

What is a procession?

Procession:
COUNTABLE NOUN

procession is a group of people who are walking, riding, or driving in a line as part of a public event.

…a funeral procession. 

Synonyms: paradetrainmarchfile   More Synonyms of procession

Can we remember any processions in our history?  I think of my daughter Addie getting married soon.  She has a wedding dress and part of the dress is what we call the train an extra-long portion of fabric proceeding down the aisle for the purpose of showcasing or displaying her beauty.

How about in scripture? Can we think of a time when there was a precession?

Matthew 27:27-32 (New American Standard Bible) Jesus Is Mocked
27
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort to Him. 28 And they stripped Him and put a red cloak on Him. 29 And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and put a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30And they spit on Him, and took the reed and beat Him on the head. 31And after they had mocked Him, they took the cloak off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him. 32 As they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they compelled to carry His cross.

Satan wants you:

Do you think there is an enemy out there?  Yes! And he wants to parade you around as one of  his captives, trophies, and show how he conquered you.  Paul gives us warning about this.

Colossians 2:8 (English Standard Version)
8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Jesus wants you:

John 3:16 (New American Standard Bible)
16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.

Romans 6:22-23 (New American Standard Bible)
22 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gracious gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

John 4:14 (New American Standard Bible)
14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never be thirsty; but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.”

John 14:2-3 (New American Standard Bible)

2 In My Father’s house are many rooms; if that were not so, I would have told you, because I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will take you to Myself, so that where I am, there you also will be.

Questions of a nonbeliever to believers:

How do you protect yourself from becoming captive to philosophy and empty deceit?

2 Corinthians 10:3-6 (New American Standard Bible)
3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not wage battle according to the flesh, 4 for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. 5 We are destroying arguments and all arrogance raised against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, 6 and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.

Our king is the conqueror and triumphantly parades us around as “spoils” to show the world that we have eternity with him. 

Ephesians 4:8 (New American Standard Bible)
8 Therefore it says,

“When He ascended on high,
He led captive the captives,
And He gave gifts to people.

What do you mean “Ascended on high?”

Ephesians 4:9-10 (New American Standard Bible)
9 (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)

What is meant by “all things?”

Ephesians 1:21-23 (New International Version)
21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

How did he conquer? 

By beating death on the cross and ascending to heaven.

Matthew 16:21 (New American Standard Bible) Jesus Foretells His Death

21 From that time Jesus began to point out to His disciples that it was necessary for Him to go to Jerusalem and to suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and to be killed, and to be raised up on the third day.

Revelation 1:17-18 (New American Standard Bible)
17 When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.

Ok, so he parades you around as a Conqueror and he beat death: So, what are the gifts?

Ephesians 4:1-14 (New American Standard Bible) Unity of the Spirit
4 Therefore I, the prisoner (or captive)of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 being diligent to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you also were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

 8 Therefore it says,

“When He ascended on high,
He led captive the captives,
And He gave gifts to people.”


9 (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) 11 And He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of people, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;

(The gifts are you!)

Another part about a procession from a triumphal standpoint is: the conqueror will also display the shame that is associated to the defeated.

Colossians 2:14-15 (English Standard Version)
14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Conclusion:

As I read and understand scripture there is no mention of Satan triumphantly parading around his spoils in a procession or a train for display. You see, Satan loses!

So now the question is:  How do I get to be one of those beautifully displayed captives that Paul was speaking about in Ephesians? You know, the kind he puts on display, where he is proud to show them in victory from the battle as Conqueror and King. You know… the kind who have eternal life with the King.  You know…the kind who receive gifts from the King.

How?  The answer is so anti-climactic, because everything is done! The battle has been won, and all the glory goes to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! We just need to believe in it.

Acts 16:30-31 (English Standard Version)
30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Nathanael: An Israelite indeed

Nathanael: An Israelite indeed

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

John 1:45-51

Introduction:

We have been studying through the Gospel of John and have seen Jesus through a number of different viewpoints: we have seen Him as the Living Word: we have seen Him as God, the Creator; we have seen Him as the Light of the world, and the only source of life. We have seen Him as the Word made flesh…the incarnate God. We saw Him as the only source of Grace and Truth. We have seen Him as the Lamb of God: God’s chosen sacrifice for sin. We have seen Him as God the Son, specifically the “Only Begotten Son.”

These are just the introductory views that the Gospel presents. As He begins interacting with the disciples and others, we begin to see more things that deepen our understanding of Who Jesus really is. In John 1:45-50, we have His initial meeting with Nathanael. Starting in verse 43, we see:

43 The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me. 44 Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. 46 And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! 48 Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. 49 Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. 50 Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. 51 And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

Geographic Context

There are some “peculiar” things said in this passage, by both Jesus and Nathanael, as well as a number of other unanswered questions. Perhaps we have some answers, perhaps not. Let’s take it idea by idea: First, remember where they were: they were at a place called Bethabara, beyond Jordan, (John 1:28) This is at least six weeks after Jesus had been baptized by John the Baptist, and about sixty miles north, as John’s continuing ministry moved him from one end of the country to the other. Jesus was baptized near Jericho, at the closest point to Jerusalem (still 20 or thirty miles away…east of Jerusalem, near Jericho.)

They were not far from Galilee, now: They were right across the Jordan, in a province called Peraea, which just means “Beyond,” and about 13 miles south of the sea of Galilee, where most of these men worked as fishermen.

In verse 43, it says that Jesus planned a trip back into Galilee, where His hometown of Nazareth was. He already had called Andrew, and Peter, as well as one other disciple, who was almost certainly John, later to become the Apostle John. (John never referred to himself by name in his Gospel.)

Calling Philip

Jesus found Philip and called him to follow Him as a disciple. We aren’t told much about that exchange, either. Why would Philip want to follow Jesus? Had he heard of Him? Was there some background that we are not given? I can’t be sure…but somehow, Philip knew who Jesus was and was not only willing to lay aside everything else and become his disciple, but he went and found a friend, Nathanael, and invited him to join him, in following Jesus.

Philip was from Bethsaida, the same village where Peter and Andrew lived. Bethsaida means “House of fishing.” We might surmise that Philip was also a commercial fisherman, though we are not told so. We might even assume that he was already friends with Peter and Andrew, and that possibly this was part of why he was easily able to choose discipleship.

Nathanael is named as one of those who followed Peter back to the boats and the fish, in chapter 21. However, Nathanael was not from the same town, but rather from Cana, where Jesus would be going in the next chapter. Cana was about sixteen miles from Bethsaida, as far as I can tell.

(Part of the problem in determining where Bethsaida is in relation to the other places, is that the city of Bethsaida was abandoned after about AD 65, because an earthquake had filled the north end of the Sea of Galilee with silt, putting the fishing village too far from the water, not to mention possibly having buried all the boats. We simply have to accept that things have changed a bit, over the last 2000 years in that area. We have similar occurrences, here: the Salton Sea of southern California is part of what was once a giant inland sea of 2,200 square miles, which today is called “Cahuilla Lake,” But that lake had filled and emptied many times over the preceding millennia, and had been desert again, for centuries, until about 1905, when an accident caused by human meddling diverted the entire Colorado river into that area for about two years, filling it again, flooding towns and much of the local Indian territory. It has dried up again, mostly, but the event significantly changed geography for more than a century.)

But all of these men (Andrew, John, Peter, Philip and Nathanael) were in Peraea, at the village of Bethabara, when Jesus called them: they were 25 miles (or more) away from Bethsaida, and around 20 miles away from Cana or Nazareth, in a different direction. My supposition is that all these men probably had specifically come there because of the preaching of John the Baptist, and all probably had been baptized by him, identifying with his message of the coming Kingdom. And now, in Jesus, they were meeting the King!

Calling Nathanael

Philip either already knew a fair bit about Jesus, or he picked it up from the others very quickly, because he told Nathanael that they had found the predicted King, prophesied by Moses and the prophets, and Philip referred to Him as “Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Joseph.” It is interesting, too, that Philip used the Greek form meaning the heir (huion) of Joseph, not the common “bar-Joseph” which simply means “son of Joseph.” I can only guess that the difference might have specified that Jesus was the eldest Son: the heir. If that isn’t it, then Philip was simply mistaken, as Jesus was not actually Joseph’s son, at all, though He truly was his “Heir-apparent.”

But Nathanael’s response is interesting, too: He asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” We might assume that he simply didn’t think much of Nazareth, and that is certainly a possibility. Even today, people scorn certain towns as being unimportant and even contemptible. (Consider the various towns called “Podunk”—Podunk, MA; Podunk, NY; Podunk, VT; etc.)

But it seems more likely that Nathanael knew the prophecy regarding Bethlehem as being the birthplace of the Messiah, and the bloodline of David being the ancestry. He may simply have been questioning the possibility of the Messiah originating in Nazareth at all. In that case, he would have been correct, but he simply would not have known that Jesus actually had been born in Bethlehem, and was of the lineage of David, fulfilling that portion of the prophecies. But, Philip’s only answer was “Come and See!”

Come and See!

“Come and See” is a good invitation! We can invite a friend to “come and see the promise of Jesus” in John 5:24, and invite them to deal personally with the promise of Eternal Life: Life to be experienced now, not as a vague, “pie-in-the-sky” hope, but as a present knowledge of the Risen Christ. Philip invited Nathanael to come and meet Jesus personally.

As they approached, Jesus saw Nathanael, and said, “Behold: a true Israelite, in whom there is no guile.” (“Guile” is phoniness: sly trickery, deception.”) Jesus was saying that Nathanael was honest, and that he presented no “false front.” No false “show” of religious piety, as the Pharisees were known to do.

And, Nathanael was startled that Jesus (whom he had never met) was making a statement regarding his character. He asked, “Where do you know me from?’ Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.

What about the Fig Tree?

So…what did He see? Was it just that Nathanael “happened to be” under a fig tree before Philip called him? And, did Jesus simply mean, “Yes, I saw you sitting under that fig tree when Philip called you,” Or did he mean, “before Philip called you, back when you were sitting under the fig tree, I saw you.”?

In either case, what was Nathanael doing there, under the fig tree? Was he praying? Was he meditating on God’s Word? Or was he just having a nap? We aren’t actually told, and if it were not for the following exchange, it might not have mattered:

Nathanael completely capitulated on the idea of whether anything good could come out of Nazareth: He blurted out, “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.

Now, how could he come to that conclusion with the extremely limited information he had to work with? Jesus asked essentially that very question: He said, “Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.”

And then He said something really strange:

Prophecy

He said Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” I had a hard time following Nathanael’s “jump” to faith, but I have an even harder time following Jesus’s prophetic response! What does one statement have to do with the other?

Is Jesus simply stating something special in Nathanael’s and the other disciples’ future? He didn’t say “You will see Me coming in clouds of Glory and setting up My kingdom here.” He did tell others some things of that sort…but what He said to Nathanael is only matched in one place in the scriptures, as far as I can tell:

Jacob’s Ladder

It matches Jacob’s vision in Genesis 28:10-17, where Jacob was at Bethel, andsaw a vision of a “ladder,” whose top reached to heaven, and he saw “the angels of God ascending and descending upon it.” What a strange vision! The only thing that cleared it up (a little) was that The LORD was at the head of that ladder, and He used that vision to reiterate to Jacob the promises given to Abraham and Isaac. Is that, perhaps, what Nathanael was pondering and wondering about, when he was under the fig tree? I really have no idea.

But much has been made of that “ladder.” People have gotten the idea that we are somehow to “climb” that ladder: Songs are written about it, saying “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder…every step goes higher, higher…etc.” But that is simply not true!

Believers do not “Climb” into Christ

The day you trusted in Christ as your Savior, you were placed in Christ, and you already have been seated with Him in the Heavenlies, according to Ephesians 2:6. There is no hint of our “climbing into God’s presence,” or somehow by our works gaining worthiness to enter in. Jesus paid our way, and He has entered in, and we enter in by faith… in Him.

So, for what cause are the angels going up and down? (They aren’t doing home renovation, or maintenance work. They aren’t changing lightbulbs!) If I look at Job, the first two chapters, I see that Satan had to get permission to do all the terrible things he did to Job. God permitted it for two purposes: our edification and Job’s education. But angels (both holy and fallen) do have access to this world.

If Satan had to have permission to act, perhaps the vision of Jacob’s ladder and the comment Jesus made, together allow us a peek at a spiritual truth: angelic intervention on earth is only possible through Christ. So, even the holy angels only work on earth as God’s messengers: they are not free to come and go, and just do whatever they think of. And it is further evidence that the fallen angels have no power over us, except as God allows testing in our lives.

And what else did we see…or not see…regarding that ladder? Were there people climbing that ladder? Nope. There were not. Even the Old Testament makes it fairly clear that when a wicked person confesses his guilt and repents, his sins are forgotten. (Ezekiel 33:14-16, compare Psalm 103:12) And in the New Testament, far from our “climbing” into God’s Grace by our works or piety, we are placed into the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit at the moment we trust in Him; and as a result, we are already fully accepted by God and we are permanently His children.

Transparency and Honesty

I don’t know all that Jesus saw in Nathanael, beyond what He told us: “an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile” Apparently Jesus really likes transparency in His relationship with us. He is most certainly not impressed with man-made “piety” and “shows” of “righteousness.” He pretty strongly condemned the Pharisees for that particular behavior:

In Matthew 23:25-27, He said “25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. 26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. 27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.


The English word “hypocrite” comes from the Greek word “hupokrites,” meaning “an actor:” specifically, the kind of actors they had at that time, who literally held up a false-face mask from behind which they read their lines. If they played a “nice guy” they held up a smiling benign-looking mask: if they played a villain, they held up a nasty-guy mask, to show the audience who they were supposed to be. A person who simply fails to do what they really believe is right, is failing, not “acting.” We don’t call a child a hypocrite for falling down when they are trying to learn to walk, nor do we call an adult who has a wreck on a bicycle, a “hypocrite” for failing to maintain his balance…we know he failed. He was in no way “pretending” to ride a bicycle.

The ones Jesus called “hypocrites” were pretending to be Godly men, and hiding a false, evil heart. Nathanael was evidently the opposite of a hypocrite: he was completely transparent, both about his doubts (“How can anything good come out of Nazareth?”) and his faith (“Master, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”) He suffered the same failings as everyone else, but he called them as he saw them. He was not trying to impress anyone. Jesus evidently liked that!

What about us?

Can we be transparent with God, to begin with? Can we then grow in that faith, enough to be transparent with one another? Can we abandon our “Company and Church Face,” and replace it with a Christ-like heart, so that what comes out in the sight of everyone else is genuinely the kind of person Jesus calls us to be?

Believe it or not, people pretty easily see through our “fronts and facades, and fakes” anyway: why not just give up the pretense, confess our faults, and humble ourselves enough to honestly walk with Jesus? Only in that way are we free to love one another, and to help one another, and not suffer shame for who we really are. I may not know, for sure, the connection between Jesus and Jacob’s Ladder; but I can at least lay hold of what Jesus said about Nathanael and try to apply it to my own life. I want to be transparent with God and with my fellow humans, so that the charge of “hypocrite” will never be appropriate.

Lord Jesus, we ask that you open our eyes to the realities of our own lives and allow us to be honest with you and with those around us, about who we are, and the changes that need to happen. Help us to shine as your lights in this world.

Christ the Son of God

Christ the Son of God

© C. O. Bishop 2011 (revised 2021)

John 1:34 “And I saw and bore record that this is the Son of God.”

Introduction:

We have been reading in the Gospel of John, and have seen several themes, so far; Jesus has been presented as the Word of God, The Creator of all things; the Light of the World; the only source of Life, Grace, and Truth; the Lamb of God, and now, the Son of God.

We have problems with this concept of “Son-ship,” as, in our understanding, it always implies a pre-existing Father, while we have seen from the Scripture that the Son has no beginning—He is the Creator, and He has always existed. To cap our troubles, Jesus is described in prophecy as being called “Wonderful, counselor, the Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6, 7) How can I understand the concept of a Son who is the exact same “age” as his Father, and who, in fact, IS his Father? And, to further compound my confusion, Jesus stated that (John 14:28) “…my Father is greater than I.” This is the mystery of the Trinity. I do not claim to understand it, nor do I expect I ever will, unless it can be understood in eternity.

Jesus, the Son of God in Eternity past

It seems we must understand the concept in terms of relationship, not “relative age.” Apart from understanding the Trinity, all we can do is see that the concept of the Son of God has been in place since ancient times, though dimly seen. In Psalm 2:7, God says, in reference to the king whom He shall set upon Mt. Zion (Jesus), “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.”

We see that passage through the eyes of our experience, and think “Aha! There WAS a beginning!” But Hebrews 7:3 states, in comparing Christ to Melchisedec, that the latter had no beginning of days, nor end of life, but, made like unto the Son of God, abideth a priest continually.” I have to conclude that the Christ is the eternal Son of God…that “begotten” is not the same as “sired.” Further, in Micah 5:2, God states not only that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, but that “…His goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting!”

The Hebrew word “yalad”, translated “begotten” in Psalm 2:7, is used over 400 times in the Old Testament—but only in that specific instance is it translated “begotten”. The vast majority of the other usages are translated in the vein of the bearing of children—women in childbirth, or even an egg hatching. In no case is it consistent with the idea of siring a child.

The Greek word used, when that same verse was quoted in the New Testament, is “gennao”—it seems to carry the same idea, but is translated “beget” or “begotten” 49 times, and “born” or related words about 34 times. Most of the time, both words are used in regard to human birth—they are not special “spiritual” words, which were “only to be used in regard to Christ.”

Either way, what has been established is a real relationship. Jesus is really God’s Son…not just called so. When we are born again, we are really God’s children…not just called so.

The Son of God has existed eternally in that relationship with God the Father. The Holy Spirit has existed eternally as God the Holy Spirit. And yet, the Three are One. And yet, they are each individually distinguished from the other by name, and in some instances, by location (consider the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan, with the Father speaking from Heaven as the Spirit is descending in visible form like a dove). The nature of the Divine Trinity does not lend itself to close examination, and simple explanations. I can only tell you that Jesus is and always has been the eternal Son of God, and that he is simultaneously the Creator God who became flesh.

Some weight might be given to the thought that he is the only begotten Son of God—he is the only one so born, physically. He was the Son of God from Eternity, and so, was the Son of God when He finally was born in Bethlehem as well. Further, he is the Chosen Son: born to be King.

I am a child of God, but was not born so, physically. I had to be born again. Jesus is the only one who was born a Son of God. Incidentally, the Greek word for “Son” is “huios”, and denotes a full heir of God. The word translated “child” is “teknon”, and simply means offspring. I am currently a child of God—his legitimate offspring—but will someday be an heir; a Son of God, along with Jesus, the “firstborn”.

Though we will become sons, Jesus is the Eternal Son.

Jesus, the Son of God in Life on Earth

When Jesus was born of Mary, in the Little Town of Bethlehem, we tend to see that as his “beginning.” As we have already seen, that is not the case. That was simply the “right time” in God’s plan, for Him to enter human history as a human. It is possible that this is the day that was referred to when God said “this day have I begotten thee.” But it was certainly not the beginning of the Christ. He is called the Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth” (Revelation 13:8). We saw him appear physically to Abraham, Jacob, and others.

But the Eternal Son set aside the glory of God that had been his for all ages, left behind the worship offered him by myriads of angelic beings, and became a human child. (Hebrews 1:6 tells us that the Angels worshipped Him at His birth…this is the last time they openly worshipped Him on earth.)

He lived out his life in humble submission to the Father. He set an example for us in every way. He was a perfect human, in perfect submission to a perfect God. He had constant fellowship with the Living God. When called upon, he allowed God to work through Him, and miraculous works followed. He healed, taught, corrected, rebuked, and served. He was tired, but kept working; hungry, but fed on the Word; rejected, but not discouraged; denied, but not indignant.

According to Hebrews, Christ the Son was also the ambassador and representative of God. He is compared to the prophets, the angels, the Sabbath, the priesthood, the offerings, the Temple, and the deliverers of the Old Testament. In every case, it is pointed out that the Son exceeds all the earlier emissaries and provisions of God. Ultimately, it is pointed out that to reject the Son is to reject the others as well; and, in fact, to reject the Grace and Mercy of God completely.

Jesus, the Son of God in Death

When Jesus came to live as a Man, though he accomplished many things, he actually came for one specific purpose: He came to die. We see (in Hebrews 10:5-7) that he came in fulfillment of the scriptures, “Lo, I come! In the volume of the book it is written of me.” He further said, “A body thou hast prepared me”, in reference to the sacrifice he was to bring.

Consider the Old Testament figure, Isaac: He walked with his Father, Abraham. There was no dispute between them, but a real love relationship. When God called Abraham, in Genesis 22, and commanded that he sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering, Abraham did not hesitate. We wonder about that, but in Hebrews 11, it states that he simply assumed he would be raised from the dead, since the promise of God had already singled out Isaac by name, stating that he was the promised seed, through whom the progeny of Abraham would come, and through whom, ultimately, the Savior would also come.

So the two of them walked together, toward Moriah. They left the servants behind (Abraham told them, “I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and return unto you.” and just the two of them approached the place of the sacrifice. Isaac was no dummy—he saw the fire, the knife and the wood, but no lamb. He asked his father Abraham about that lack, and Abraham stated that God would provide the Lamb. So the two of them walked on together, we are told.

When they arrived at the place, Isaac evidently rested from carrying the wood (enough wood to burn up a body) while Abraham built an altar. Then Abraham arranged the wood for the fire, and turned to Isaac. Isaac was no weakling—he was not a little child, but a strong, vigorous young man. Had he not been in complete fellowship with and submission to his Father, he could certainly have outrun him, or overpowered him. But he allowed himself to be bound, and to be lifted onto the altar. Who knows what thoughts he may have had? Isaac was simply a picture of Christ, without protest at his crucifixion. But at the moment Abraham lifted the knife, God stopped him, and “in due time” (Romans 5:6) the substitute was seen and implemented. The Ram was the substitute for Isaac. The Lamb of God was and is the substitute for the world. There is no substitute for Jesus. He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

Jesus demonstrated full submission to the Father. In Philippians 2 we are told that he set aside his position as God, and became a servant, specifically a man, a poor man at that. He lived in full submission to the Father, and was obedient unto death, even though it was a demeaning, agonizing, shameful death usually reserved for criminals. He died as a criminal, in place of a race of criminals. We do not like to think of ourselves in that way, but God states in Romans 5:10 that we were all enemies of God.

Jesus the Son of God in Eternity Future

As you know, Jesus was resurrected. His resurrected body was no longer subject to death, nor even to the physical laws of nature. He could transport himself, vanish at will, and yet He was physical…he could be touched, handled, and seen. He could eat if he chose.

He spent forty days reassuring and teaching his disciples before leaving to ascend back to heaven. But they were told that he would return in like manner (literally, physically, bodily, and visibly), and as we read the scriptures we realize that the Old Testament accounts of his coming are frequently in specific reference to that coming—the Second Coming—not the first. He will come in victory and vengeance, not meekness and grace. He will set up his kingdom on Earth and will judge the nations. He will reign for 1000 years on Earth, and then turn over all things to the Father. Then eternally, he will be the light of the City of God…and, eternally, the God-Man.

Jesus the Son of God in Us

We who have received Jesus as our Savior are in him, just as Noah was in the ark…and we are eternally secure in that position. He is also in us as a King is in his kingdom, but, he is not always allowed to reign. We do not always subject ourselves to his rule. He is resident there, but not president.  He is seated on the throne, but we rebel frequently—perhaps constantly.

If we are to truly follow his example and allow him to rule, we must submit ourselves to Him, as he submitted himself to the Father. We must set aside our own agendas and embrace the agenda of God. We must drop our own priorities and choose the priorities of God.

What are the priorities of God? Consider Jesus at the well in Sychar of Samaria (John 4:1-42). When the disciples begged him to eat of the food they had purchased for him, he stated (seeing the crowd coming to him) that there were higher priorities—in fact, that there was a higher food—he said, “…my food is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish his work.” I would like to be able to say that my priorities are set that way, as well, but I am too frequently caught up in what I want to do or accomplish, not what God wants to do and accomplish. Can there be a balance? Yes, I think so.

God knows what we need to live—and in most of our experiences he has provided the means for support, but it requires our work to bring it to fruition. We use our time partly to reach out to the lost around us, and partly to meet our physical needs. There is nothing wrong with that. Had Jesus felt otherwise, the disciples would not have been off in Sychar, looking to buy food. They could have simply waited with Him. But they had gone, with his blessing. However, confronted with two choices—the opportunity to win souls or fill his belly—he chose to win souls. Therein we see the priority of God.

Conclusion:

There was a woman at Cornell Estates some time ago, Helen Meade, who had lived her life with those priorities. The deacons in her church were men whom she led to Christ as small children when she hosted “Good News club” in her home. She continued to reach out to others with the good news of salvation as long as she was able, at Cornell Estates, and involved other believers, saying “Come! There’s work to be done!” She was still doing so at one hundred years of age, and beyond.

There is nothing preventing us from doing as she did. We can embrace the priorities of God and pray for opportunity and the wisdom to see it. We can share with others, as she did.

We can watch the Son of God as He walked in scripture. We can observe Him as He walks among us in other believers; and, finally, we can imitate Him as we walk with Him.

Jesus the Son of God still lives. He invites us to become imitators of Him and live our lives in submission to the Father.

So, how will we respond? Let us respond with joyful obedience.

Christ the Lamb of God

Christ the Lamb of God

© C. O. Bishop 2011 (revised 2021)

(THCF 2/19/12) Revised 2021

John 1:29 “…Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the World!”

Introduction:

John has already introduced us to Jesus, as the Word of God; the Creator; the Light; the Life; the Source of Grace and Truth. And we have seen him in His incarnation, as the Word made Flesh. Now John (the Apostle) introduces another concept…”Christ, the Lamb of God”.

When I was young (and an unbeliever, by the way), I had no idea what this phrase meant. I knew what a lamb looked like, acted like, and smelled like…and heard people refer to lambs as gentle, or harmless, or cute and cuddly, but I didn’t see how any of those things applied to Jesus, and honestly found the idea somewhat repugnant—silly and sentimental at best.

What I did not understand was that to the Hebrew culture, a Lamb was primarily a sacrificial offering, and that they understood perfectly what kind of Lamb was meant when John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God!”  They probably did not understand how it could apply to a Man, but they definitely knew what a Lamb was all about.

Further, they probably doubted the second clause: “…which taketh away the sin….” They knew that the blood of the lambs they sacrificed only temporarily covered their sins: so the idea that sins would be permanently removed was somewhat foreign, although we will see that the Old Testament scriptures predicted just that.

Finally, I am sure they completely balked at the idea that the blood of the Lamb could take away “the sins of the World”. It was their idea that the Messiah was to come and save Israel—not the world. And yet, the Prophets had predicted that he would be the savior of the Gentiles as well, and that the Gentiles would be given to Him as His inheritance.

So, John the Baptist really said a mouthful:

  1. He said that a Man would be the sacrificial Lamb.
  2. He stated that that Lamb would take away sin; and
  3. Finally, that He would take away the sins of the World.

Let’s see how that holds up in the light of God’s Word.

Jesus in Genesis

In the Beginning, we saw the creation (and Christ was the Creator), and we saw the Fall of Man into sin. The curse that fell as a result of sin included the prediction of the destruction of the Serpent—not the snake specifically; the Serpent— later identified as Satan. (Genesis 3:15, cp. Revelation 20:2) The One who would fulfill that promise was someone called the “Seed of Woman.” And the only one in History who could qualify as being specifically the Seed of Woman was Jesus, in the virgin birth.

Adam trusted God’s promise of a coming Savior, and God sacrificed animals to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve. This was the first blood sacrifice: it was conducted by God, not Man. The first recorded blood sacrifice brought by a human was by Abel, in Genesis chapter 4. God accepted that sacrifice, and told Cain that if he, too, would do right, then He (God) would also accept his offering. But, Cain refused, and was lost.

Later, in Genesis 23, Abraham was commanded to offer his son Isaac. Abraham had no way to know that this was “only a test.” But he passed the test: he built the altar, laid the firewood, bound Isaac, and lifted him onto the wood. When he picked up the knife, to actually kill Isaac, God stopped him, and provided a substitute…a ram, which had been there all along, but unseen by Abraham or Isaac until the proper time.

Isaac had earlier asked Abraham, “where is the Lamb?” Abraham had answered with a statement of faith: “God will provide Himself a lamb”. God certainly did provide the Lamb, and He has done so once for all time, at the Cross. But, in Genesis, in the cases of Adam, Eve, Abel and Isaac, there was one lamb for one individual.

Jesus in Old Testament History

In Exodus 12, Israel was in bondage in Egypt. God was about to take them out of that bondage and remove them to another land. Pharaoh had refused permission for them to leave, so God sent ten plagues on Egypt—the last being the death of the firstborn of every household. But He offered an escape from that judgment, through the blood of a lamb.

Every family, house by house, was to choose a flawless lamb from their flock: they were to kill that lamb. They were to catch his blood in a basin, and then dip a bundle of hyssop in the blood and strike that blood onto the lintel and the two doorposts of the house. (try these motions—you are making a cross in the air.) They were to stay inside their houses that night, under the protection of that blood. When the destroying angel went through Egypt, He would pass over that house, sparing all who were under that blood. One lamb died for each family, though each individual was to eat of that lamb, personally. In every house without the blood, someone was dead. The blood of those lambs looked forward to the Cross.

The Passover was to be celebrated every year. They celebrated it as a commemorative feast, every year, with one lamb per family. There were other sacrifices, as well: each to cover sin. The Day of Atonement (“covering”) was observed once every year: one animal for the whole nation. Individual lamb offerings were brought for both individual sins, and for the covering of the firstborn.

In every case, these blood-sacrifices looked forward to the one Lamb of God that would come into the world and bear the sins of the human race. One lamb for the whole world. Judgment has fallen on the whole world, because of sin. We are given the option to place ourselves under the blood of God’s sacrifice and be saved. Every soul who fails to place himself under that blood is lost.

Romans 5:6 says that “in due time” Christ died for the ungodly. Revelation 13:8 says Jesus was “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the Earth”—he was there all the time, like the Ram in the story of Abraham and Isaac, but we had not seen him. He died at the proper time in history.

Why So Many Lambs?

Over the centuries, millions of lambs had died sacrificially, in hope of the salvation of Man. Obviously, some were offered by unbelieving hearts, only following a “form.” That is true today as well. Many recite catechisms, or creeds, without applying that truth to their own case. They say the words, but they don’t believe. In those days, the lambs died, but to no advantage. In a sense, that is true today, as well. Jesus truly died for the sins of the whole human race (1st John 2:2,) but for those who do not believe, it is to no advantage.

The lambs, bulls, and goats of the Old Testament sacrifices had three major flaws:

  1. Not being human, (unrelated to the sinner) they could not be the Redeemer—and could not cleanse the sinner. The Law of the substitute (and the Kinsman-Redeemer) required a willing, voluntary substitution of a free individual who was a close relative of the sinner.
  2. Even as a “covering,” though ordained by God, the animal sacrifices could only cover sins temporarily. The Day of Atonement was yearly, by necessity. The sin offerings were repeated every time someone sinned. We need a permanent solution for sin, and animals simply cannot serve that purpose.
  3. Though they truly were ordained by God, the animal sacrifices were only effective until the “Real Deal” came through. Once Jesus was offered at the cross, the animal sacrifices no longer covered the guilt of the sinner. If we reject the offering of Jesus at the Cross, then the animal sacrifices are no more acceptable than the sacrifices offered by pagans.

But there was definitely a time of full forgiveness coming, when God said he would remember their sins no more (Jeremiah 31:34.) And, in Isaiah 1:18, God promised that He would cleanse them from their sins: that though their sins had been red like crimson, they would be clean as newly washed wool. Covering and cleansing are two different things. Maybe the Jews thought that this would only happen in the Messianic Kingdom. They were partly right—it only happens in the Messiah!

And when Messiah comes, God promises that the gentile nations would rejoice in his presence. (Isaiah 11:10, 60:3) These things had evidently been passed over or ignored by Israel. I can understand that—I have frequently found passages that I know I must have read dozens of times and suddenly I see it clearly, as if it had not been there before.

Jesus in New Testament Doctrine

Let’s look at Hebrews chapters nine and ten: In Hebrews 9:19-22 (read it), we see the sprinkling of blood in the Old Testament sacrifices. This was ordained by God. He approved this practice. But, in Hebrews 9:23-28, God goes on to show the superiority of the sacrifice of Christ. (Read this, too). Hebrews 10:1-10 continues the thought, and states that it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Finally, he points out that if we reject Jesus’ sacrifice then the Old Testament sacrifices are no longer valid. (Hebrews 10:26-31 …remember the context: the comparison of animal sacrifice to that of Christ.) The people to whom he was speaking were believing Jews; they had the history of the sacrifices. They evidently felt that they could always go back to the animal sacrifices if they decided they didn’t like Jesus. God warned them that they could not go back: the old animal sacrifices would no longer do any good.

Now: we can compare this with John 1:29, which we read at the beginning, and see that Jesus came to take away sins. He satisfied the holiness of God, as our propitiation (1st John 2:2) and He took away the sins of the whole world, just as John predicted. So, if the sins have all been taken on Christ, and judged at the Cross, why does anyone still face judgment?

In John 3:18, 19 Jesus said,  “He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”

Jesus said that the judgment people now face is for not believing the Gospel…not trusting in the blood of His sacrifice. In effect, just as the Egyptians in Exodus, and Cain in Genesis, they have refused to place themselves under the blood of God’s chosen sacrifice—the Lamb of God—and so they fall under the judgment of God, just as if He had not died for their sins.

Finally, unlike the Old Testament temporary sacrifices, Jesus’ blood has a permanent effect. In Hebrews 10:14-18, God explained that Jesus’ one offering cleansed forever those who trusted in Him. A believer becomes literally a child of God, and as such, begins to demonstrate the attributes of God. The sins of a believer are already purged at the cross, and are not being held against him/her. God sees you, the believer, as being Holy…exactly as Holy as Jesus.

Conclusion—Jesus in You

When John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God” it raised some questions in the hearts of those who heard. They probably found it confusing: they thought they knew all about lambs and sacrifices. We may have the same response. The questions we should be asking ourselves are:

  1. If Jesus is truly the chosen sacrifice of God, how can I lay my hands on that sacrifice, and endorse it as the one sacrifice for my own sin?
  2. Am I under the blood of that sacrifice?
  3. Do I care about those around me? Are they under that protection as well, or am I leaving them to be lost? What attributes of God do I demonstrate by my choice?

The answer to the first question, (“…how can I lay claim to that sacrifice?”) is simple: You lay hold by faith; by believing that Jesus died for your sins and placing your dependence on His shed blood as full payment for your sins. Jesus said, “Verily, verily I say unto thee, he that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed from death unto life.” (John 5:24)

The second question is one that only you can answer. Either you already have trusted Jesus as your Savior, believing that his blood alone can take away your sins, or you have not. If there was ever a time in your life when you believed that Jesus was your only hope for salvation, and you trusted in Him, then you are under the blood of His sacrifice, and you will be there forever!

The answer to the third question must be addressed daily: Will I show the love of God, and reach out to the dying lost world around me with the hope of the Gospel? Or will I just let them stay lost? What possible excuse could I offer the Lord for having allowed those around me to perish without my having at least made the effort to reach them?

It seems to me that if I am truly under the blood of that sacrifice, and have become literally a child of God, and if am to be displaying the attributes of His character, as His ambassador, then the care that He extends to the world should be mine as well. Sadly, I have to confess that it frequently is not. I am frequently too caught up in my own issues. Yes, I have shared the Gospel with those with whom I work. I have led a few to the Lord, but not many. And usually, when I pray, I am not praying for their souls, but only that I can “get through the day without collapse or anger.” My first concern should be for the salvation of their souls, not my own comfort and happiness.

When I hear John the Baptist’s cry, “Behold the Lamb…”, I need to consider these things, and remember that his blood was shed not for just my sins, but also for the sins of the whole world. This is a call to faithful service, and evangelism, all to be tempered by humility and love, which are also attributes of God.

Please consider daily the challenge of John the Baptist, and behold the Lamb from the perspective of those who have been born again, and who owe our allegiance to the Cross.

God help us as we step forward by faith.

The Word Became Flesh

The Word Became Flesh

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

The Incarnation (Part Two)


John 1:14; Philippians 2:5-8

Introduction

Last week we introduced the subject of the Incarnation, going all the way back to Genesis, showing that while God the Son had appeared repeatedly throughout the whole Old Testament, until He was actually born as a human, with the express purpose of having a mortal body, so that He could die for us, He could not be the Savior; God’s chosen sacrifice for Sin.

We talked about the concept of the Kinsman-Redeemer, (pictured in the person of Boaz, in the Book of Ruth) who had to:

Jesus became our relative by being born: a genuine human, in a genuine human body, lacking only the sin nature. (Evidently the Sin Nature is passed through the man, as we are all called the “seed of Adam.” But Jesus was born without a human father, as “the Seed of Woman,” sired by the Holy Spirit, and so lacked the inborn slavery to sin—He was Free!) Having that clean Human body, unencumbered by Sin, He possessed the price to be paid. And, finally, He went to the Cross willingly. He told his disciples, “No Man taketh my life from me, but I lay it down of myself.” (John 10:18)

Without the Incarnation, as spelled out in the Scriptures, Jesus could not be our Savior…nor could he be the Messiah, nor the King of the Jews as promised in scripture. But “The Word was made Flesh:” the full, Biblical Incarnation is critical to God’s entire plan of Salvation!

So, we need to consider how that affects our lives. What resources does the Incarnation of God the Son, the Living Word of God, provide for our lives?

The Resources of the Incarnation:

What impact does it have in our lives?

We know Jesus really lived and died, and we know that He really was God in the flesh. So…What now? Is this just “good, fun stuff to know and tell?” No!

The Rebuke of the Incarnation.

The Incarnation, as spelled out by the entire Bible, stands as an eternal rebuke to our wayward hearts, because we have no excuse for our bad responses to our circumstances, or our bad responses to those around us. Our irritations, angers, jealousies, vengeful thoughts, and general self-centeredness have to be set aside if we will embrace the Incarnation of Christ.

His perfect life stands as an eternal challenge to those who follow Him. We cannot surpass Him, but He calls us to emulate Him. Ephesians 5:1 says “Be ye therefore followers (imitators) of God, as dear children.” And, 1st John 2:6 says that he who says he abides in Christ “ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.”

So, when I am finally able to recognize that my anger, my impatience, and my self-centeredness are all sin, what can I do to change it? If I had been able to clean myself up, by my own efforts, by self-abasement, self-flagellation, self-denial, or other religious works of “do-it-yourself” piety, then I would not need a Savior! Paul said, in Galatians 5:21, “I do not frustrate the Grace of God, for if righteousness is come by the Law, then Christ is dead in vain.”

In fact, Jeremiah 2:22 says that no matter how hard I scrub, and no matter how harsh the cleansing agent is, my sins will still be with me. But Isaiah 1:16-18 says that I can become clean! Psalm 51:7 tells me how: David said, “purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean: wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.

God has to do the cleansing… the “hyssop” refers back to the Passover, where the blood was struck upon the lintel and the two doorposts, using a bundle of hyssop to apply the blood. The means of our cleansing is still through the blood of the Cross. 1st John 1:7 (speaking to believers only)says that “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.”

In John 13:8, Jesus told Peter, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me.” Jesus has to do the washing. But then, restored to fellowship, we are free to stand up and walk in the Light with Him again. And that is what we are exhorted to do!

The Exhortation of the Incarnation: Following Jesus

Paul addressed this truth in Philippians 2:5-8

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.


This is the eternal challenge, or exhortation of the Incarnation: Paul first described how we are to live, in verses 1-4,

1 If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,

Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.


Notice what Paul did, here: He spelled out the key issues of self-centeredness and pride, but contrasted then with the Love, and Mercy, and Comfort, and Consolation, and Fellowship, and Unity in Christ, resulting in peace, humility, and unselfishness. Then he capped the argument in verses 5-8 by saying that we are to live the way Jesus demonstrated in His Incarnation:

I have no idea what the future holds for any of us, whether individually, or as a church, but God says that we are to embrace the mindset of Christ, in His incarnation.

Every single child of God is also called to be His full-time ambassador. Romans 8:28 says “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called, according to His purpose.”

You know, it is strange: I have never heard anyone quote that verse and then say, “Well, yeah, but I don’t feel called!” Furthermore, we often forget the next two verses which clearly state that if you belong to Him, then you are called! There is no “special” order of believers who are “the called” and others who are just saved, but not called to function. We are all called to grow into the full stature of Christ, to become His hands and His feet in this sin-ruined World, and to offer Him as the living Bread and the Living Water to all who will receive Him. We are all called to offer our bodies a living sacrifice to God, which is called our “reasonable service of worship.”

Answering the Call of the Incarnation

If you can grasp the fact that you are called by God, then the only remaining question is “How will I respond to the Call of God?”

Isaiah responded (in Isaiah 6:8) with the famous “Here am I, Lord, send me!

Jonah, of course, ran away, and tried to hide: God gave him a “free water-taxi ride” back to the beach, so he could reconsider the call.

Balaam obeyed, initially, but then went and acted as a traitor to God’s priorities, trying to make money in the bargain, and sell out the nation of Israel.

Jeremiah was called by God, but tried to beg off, saying he was too young to serve. God told him, “Before I formed thee in the womb, I knew thee and ordained thee as a prophet to the nations.” And Jeremiah reluctantly obeyed the call. He had a rough ministry, too: very few responded well to his ministry.

Saul of Tarsus got “slapped off his mule” by the vision of Christ and the brightness of his glory: But, when Jesus identified himself, Saul gave the straight-forward reply, “What wouldst thou have me to do, Lord?” He committed himself to obedience, carte-blanche…sight-unseen. He accepted the call unquestioningly and took his marching orders immediately thereafter. He eventually became the Apostle Paul. (Incidentally, the name “Saul” means “asked for:” He was named after the first king of Israel. But he abandoned that name and was called “Paul,” meaning, “little” or “insignificant.” That is an interesting transformation: Paul never sought personal glory or pay for his service: He obviously remembered that it was Jesus whom he served.

So…How will you respond? Like Jonah? Like Jeremiah? Or like Isaiah and Paul? One way or another, each of us have been called to serve the Risen Christ. You have to choose how to respond. God help each of us to consistently respond in such a way as to become the men and women of God we have been called to be.

Lord Jesus, add Your divine Mercy and encouragement to the preaching of Your Word, and raise us up as disciples, honoring you in our lives, acting as your ambassadors, Pouring out your Grace to the World around us.

Peter’s Closing Admonition

Final Encouragement

© 2021 by C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 5:5-14

Introduction:

We have been studying through the book of 1st Peter, since October of last year. We have finally arrived at Peter’s closing admonition in this first epistle. I hope we will continue into 2nd Peter, next, unless something more pressing arises. For the last three weeks, we have focused on the teaching regarding elders and church leadership. Now, I realize that a preacher is supposed to speak to exhortation, edification and comfort: I am primarily a teacher, so perhaps the messages have lacked in the “exhortation and comfort” departments. I ask your forbearance: bear with me, and perhaps you will ultimately find the teaching encouraging.

However, as we approach this last passage, I must begin by confessing that I do not knowwhat the first sentence of this passage is intended to convey: (“likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder.”) I realize that some people would try to use it to give themselves authority over anyone younger than they, but the very next sentence undermines that idea, by declaring that we all are to be subject to one another; and it then introduces what seems to be the key idea in the rest of the entire passage: humility.

Humility

Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.

ALL of you be subject one to another! This is not a hierarchy of authority. We are all to be clothed with humility: God resists the proud, and gives Grace to the humble. Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you! Don’t be looking for authority: look for service, and if God puts you in a position of responsibility, so be it. Remember Joseph the patriarch, who humbled himself as a slave, and was falsely accused of a crime, and still humbled himself in the prison; the dungeon into which he had been cast. He rendered thirteen years of humility under God’s hand, knowing that he had been chosen for something better! And we know what eventually happened: he was raised out of the prison directly into the throne room of Pharaoh, where he continued to faithfully serve for many decades.

Interestingly, the word “clothed” in this passage is completely different than any of the other words for clothes, or for clothing oneself: The Greek word “egkomboomai” means to “bind onto oneself” and it is only used this one time in the scripture. It is not meaning “in contrast to nakedness,” as the word “enduo” is used to convey, over in 2nd Corinthians 5:4, where the contrast is made that a human spirit not having a body would be “unclothed” but that we are destined to be “clothed upon” by God, in the interim between our deaths and the resurrection of our physical bodies in 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18.

Rather, this phrase seems to be an admonition to take to ourselves this particular “garment” of humility, and put it on, as if it were part of the armor of God, or perhaps part of the “uniform” of God’s army! Choose it! Embrace it, and dress yourself in it. Why? Well, for one thing, He says that if we “choose humility” now, not seeking to place ourselves more highly than God may want us, and not “looking down upon” others for any reason, then He will raise us to our proper station at the appropriate time, just as He did Joseph. In contrast, on a day-by-day basis, we can see that if we indulge our pride and self-will, then God will resist us: but if we choose humility, as He says, then He will supply us with His Grace within which to live. This is not about His Grace in salvation, but rather about the Grace that we need moment by moment, daily, in order to walk with Him. If we hope to walk with Jesus, it has to be done in humility, not self-will.

But there is another reason to “choose humility” that is extremely practical for the “here and now:” Turn back to James 4:6, 7, please. This is a companion passage:

James says “God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble: Submit yourself to God! Resist the Devil and He will flee from you!” You cannot resist the devil if you are not in submission to God. When we were working through the book of James, we used the illustration that coyotes are not particularly fearful of horses, as a rule…but they will flee from a human on a horse. If you are self-directed rather than submitting to God, then nothing you can do or say has any effect upon the evil one. But if God is “the one in the saddle,” so to speak, then, under His control you can resist the Devil and he will flee. So Peter goes on to say nearly the same thing. Let’s turn back to 1st Peter 5:6:

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.

Notice he says that, part of “humbling oneself under the hand of God” is to cast one’s cares upon Him. If we are reluctant to cast our cares upon Him, then we are disobeying a clear command, and we are choosing self-sufficiency over the Grace of God. In 2nd Corinthians 12:9, when God told Paul, “My Grace is sufficient for thee,” Paul could have said something like, “Oh! Well, then, I guess I’ll have to take care of it myself!” or, “God is not answering my prayer! I will just have to suffer on alone!” But, He did not: he submitted himself to God’s will in his life. And, on the basis of that willing submission to God, he was kept and sustained by Grace. That is the nature of Godly humility. We see that the next verses clearly tie to the passage in James as well: Peter described our active enemy, the devil; and says that we are to resist him.

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.

We are to take this fight seriously, not lightly: with sobriety, not silliness. He says that we are to be sober, and vigilant: watchful, not lax! If you think that an enemy of some sort may be near, you are alert at all times, keeping your eyes open against a sneak attack. But we don’t just think that the enemy may be around: we are assured by God that he is around, prowling, searching for an unwary believer whom he can subvert, and make ineffective and unfruitful. He can’t take us away from Jesus, but he can take away our joy and peace, if he can trick us into unbelief.

Further, Peter says that the whole body of Christ faces this same enemy, and that we are to resist him together as well as individually. We pray for one another, as Jesus did for Peter. Jesus said that Satan had desired to “sift” Peter like wheat… but that He himself had prayed for Peter.

Testing and Trials
It would be easy to think that somehow we ought to escape such testing, but we are told repeatedly that this sort of testing and trial is for the whole body of Christ. Notice it says that we are to resist Satan. Hebrews 12:4 chides the Hebrew Christian recipients, saying that they “have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” This may have been in comparison to the many martyrs who had been listed in Hebrews 11.

But we are given three different commands in regard to three different types of trials:

  1. Resist: We are to resist sin, and resist Satan. (Hebrews 12:4; James 4:7; 1st Peter 5:9)

  2. Flee: We are to flee sexual immorality (1st Corinthians 6:18), flee youthful lusts (2nd Timothy 2:22) and flee temptations (1st Timothy 6:11.)

  3. Endure: We are told to endure hardship, and trials and suffering, and injustice, etc. (Hebrews 10:34; Hebrews 12:1, 2; 1st Peter 2:19; 1st Peter 4:12, 13; 2nd Timothy 2:3)

10 But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.

The word “suffer,” here, means to endure: to allow these realities to have their effect. When Jesus assured John the Baptist that his baptism was the right thing to do, he said “suffer it to be so, now…” (allow it to be so!) Provided we respond well, God uses such trials and testings to stabilize us, and strengthen us, and settle us in our faith. Greenhouse plants have to be gradually exposed to the harsher realities of life out in the open air, in a procedure called “hardening off.” The gardener exposes them to direct sunlight and the breezes and the unregulated air temperatures for longer and longer times, each day, until the plants are mature enough to survive planted in a garden or orchard. Otherwise they will not be strong enough to survive. But we have to allow the trials to have their desired effect.

As baby Christians, we were not particularly stable: any strange doctrine or rumor could shake us in our faith. Any apparent “lack” of what we thought we needed made us doubt the character of God. But Ephesians chapter four says that we are to grow up out of that babyhood, and become mature believers.

The epistles of Hebrews, James and Peter all tell us how God chooses to bring about that stability. Part of it is through feeding on the Word of God. (And you have been doing that, to varying degrees!) We are told to feed on the sincere milk of God’s Word. We are also told that through the exceeding great and precious promises of God’s Word we are to become partakers of the Divine Nature. And all of that is true! But part of it is by going through hard times with Jesus. When we walk with Jesus, we go where He goes. And he doesn’t often take the easy way. He doesn’t take the easy path! And we are called to walk with Him!

Closing Comments:

11 To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

Peter is beginning his closing comments, here: his benediction to the recipients of the letter. He begins by glorifying God for His Grace, as mentioned in verse 10, and the incredible gift of the calling of God. He offers eternal Glory and dominion to the God of Grace. Then he “says his goodbyes.”

12 By Silvanus, a faithful brother unto you, as I suppose, I have written briefly, exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand.

Apparently Peter did the same thing as Paul did: he used another person to scribe his writings. In Paul’s case, as an educated man, he was certainly able to write well, but there is scriptural evidence that his eyes were bad: possibly affected by the stoning he received at Lystra, or possibly an ongoing infection. The one time when he wrote the letter with his own hand (Galatians 6:11), he wrote in very large letters, as (perhaps) one whose vision did not permit him to write normally. Also there were several other remarks in other passages, which make us think his eyes were failing.

In Peter’s case, I have no idea why he was using a scribe. But remember that the Jews were astonished at his supernatural wisdom, saying that he was too uneducated to have learned it normally (Acts 4:13). So perhaps he was really not able to write the letter himself. That is a possibility; however in the second letter, no such credit is given to the scribe. Did he use a scribe and simply not mention him? That also was very common. So we just don’t know. In any case, he was sure that the readers knew the scribe, and counted him a faithful brother. We know nothing else about the man.

Agape Love

13 The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son.

Peter closes with an interesting salutation from the church at Babylon. Some try to say that Peter was not actually referring to the “real Babylon,” but was using a euphemism for Rome. That is not at all indicated by the scriptures: Babylon had a small but thriving community up through the time of Christ. The fall of the Babylonian kingdom did not bring about the destruction of the city of Babylon, proper. The ruins are still there, though essentially uninhabited, and it currently being rebuilt. The destruction promised to Babylon in Isaiah 13:17-20 is yet to come! It will evidently happen during the tribulation. The primary reason for the decline of Babylon over the years was the fact that the Euphrates River was gradually changing course, and their only source of water was just too far away, now, to be reliable. So, they finally gave up and moved away.

But there had been a population there, and a good church at one time; and they sent their greetings to the Jewish believers to whom Peter was writing.

“Marcus” is probably in reference to John Mark, the author of the Gospel of Mark. He was not Peter’s literal son, but apparently they had that sort of relationship. Remember that Paul had been displeased with Mark’s unreliability as a young man, and refused to work with him anymore. But Barnabas took him and trained him, so that he became a valuable servant of God, recognized as such by Paul, and apparently held in high esteem by Peter.

14 Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity. Peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus. Amen.

“Kissing” is still a proper form of greeting in many societies. Our culture has moved to handshakes, over the last several hundred years, and is now in the process of devolving further into “fist-bumps,” supposedly to prevent the spread of disease.

I do not believe that the means of the greeting (kissing, handshakes or fist-bumps) is the issue: the central issue is the motivation of the greeting: Agapé love is to be the core value in our lifestyle. We are to maintain that sort of relationship with all the believers in our sphere of experience. Disunity is not acceptable with God. Telling someone else “I don’t need you,” even if you are only thinking it, should be a real cause for alarm in your thinking. 1st Corinthians 12:21 makes it clear that we do need one another. We cannot be dismissive toward one another. We need to value one another as fellow members of the Body of Christ.

When one part of our physical body is in pain, the whole rest of the body tries to help, by compensating, shifting loads elsewhere, etc. We may see that as limping, or something, and wonder what is wrong: but what we are seeing is the body attempting to care for its own members. We are to do the same for one another.

The “Love one another, as I have loved you!” is the Law of Christ! That is the one law that encompasses all the others. We may learn many things as “rules for living”, but this one trumps them all, and if it is missing, then no matter what else we may be doing, we are failing to live as Jesus commands! That is the bottom line!

For the last ten years or so, in my observation, this little church has done very well in this department. You have loved one another, and prayed for one another, and rejoiced with one another in victories, and wept with one another in shared griefs. Well done! Press on! Keep loving one another with the Agapé love! And God says that, as we continue to walk with Him, we are to have His Peace, as His gift.

Lord Jesus, in these uncertain times, we truly desire your peace. We see the deep need we have for your guidance, and we desire to walk with you in humble submission to your wisdom. Guide us by your Word, and protect us by your Grace and power, so that we may serve as your witnesses, here on earth.

Change is On the Way!

Change is On the Way!

© 2020 C. O, Bishop

1st Peter 2:1-10

Introduction:

We have begun a study through the book of first Peter: For all practical purposes, the first half of chapter one was given to a lengthy “salutation,” making it clear who were the intended recipients of the epistle (and it included us!); but then outlining their (and our) collective and individual position in Christ, our security there, and all that this position implies.

Then, in the last half of chapter one we began to examine Peter’s exhortations as to how to respond to the reality of our new position in Christ. Because we are “In Christ,” there are certain changes that are to occur. Because He is holy, His followers are to be holy. We are literally His children: members of His family, and members of His Body, the Church. Therefore we should expect to see the “family resemblance” in ourselves. And the world around us should expect to see those changes also. Remember that Jesus gave three criteria by which the World is expected to judge the Church, in this Age:

  1. Love (John 13: 34, 35): this is the supernatural Agape love between the brethren.
  2. Unity (John 17:21): this is the supernatural unity of the Spirit taught in Ephesians 4.
  3. Good Works (Matthew 5:14-16): this is the result of the Holy Spirit working through us, which is supernatural by definition, but may look completely normal, in a way, but as a whole, it is to exist as a light in a dark world, bringing glory to God the Father.

Those things are not the result of our personal piety or goodness. Unsaved people can certainly do good works in their own strength, for the purpose of advancing their religion or philosophies, or to earn merit from their gods for their good works, or simply because “that is the way they were raised,” and they think it is what “ought to be done.” But I cannot earn God’s Grace.

Grace is defined as “unmerited favor:” unearned favor from God. If we are saved individuals, we recognize that we were saved “by Grace, through Faith”, according to Ephesians 2:8, 9. And in gratitude for that Grace, we serve, out of love. That is what the world needs to see, in terms of good works.

Our unity, also, is to be a genuine outworking of Agape love and faith, not a “truce” created by “glossing over” important teachings in God’s Word. (By the way, that is “Ecumenicalism:” It is the effort to create and maintain a false “unity” by simply ignoring or ceasing to consider any teaching that may be controversial or which could offend someone. Think back: did Jesus “skirt issues,” in fear of offending the Pharisees? No! He went ahead and taught the hard doctrines! And the common folk loved Him for it!)

Now; here in chapter 2, Peter begins to be specific about what those changes should look like:

What should we “drop and leave behind?”

1 Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings,

Notice that he first lists five things that should be left behind in the darkness of our old lives:

  • All Malice: Mean-spiritedness…the desire to torment or “get back at” people that we don’t like. Taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune or discomfort.
  • All Guile: deception at every level. Presenting a false front to others, as well as saying things we know are untrue. If we are acting or speaking in such a way as to hide who we really are, that should warn us that something is amiss.
  • Hypocrisies: This goes right along with Guile. The old word “hypocrite” simply meant a “false-face actor:” those old-time performers who literally held up a smiling face-mask when playing a happy part, or an angry face-mask when playing an angry part, etc. They were just reading lines, and holding up a mask on a stick, so that the audience would “feel” the correct emotional response to the play. But when we pretend to be something we are not, we are doing just that; and Jesus repeatedly condemned that behavior in the Pharisees.
  • Envy: desiring to have the honors offered to others, not by earning them but by supplanting that person: wishing to take their place, and desiring to drag them down, because we can’t stand the fact that they are receiving honor. This is frequently the source of strife between the brethren.
  • All Evil Speakings: This is a“catch-all”phrase that at least forbids “bad-mouthing” others. It would also seem to rule out general “snarkiness,” as they call it today: taking verbal cheap-shots at others; put-downs, etc. Possibly it could even include just a complaining spirit, in general. This is something to think about and ask oneself how it might apply in one’s own life.

What should we use to replace the old ways?

Having commanded us to “lay aside ALL our old wicked ways,” he then says what shouldbe used to replace that old, evil behavior: and the first thing listed is the Word of God! I’m reading from the KJV: if your translation is different, bear with me, and we will address that difference.

As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.

This makes it clear that if I am a believer, (If I have tasted of His Grace) the normal response is to hunger for God’s Word. Even a newborn lamb, or a baby mammal of any sort, has an instinctive desire to feed, and be nourished on its mother’s milk. Our food is the Word of God. God says that we are to desire the sincere milk of the Word, that we may grow thereby. If you ever have a question about what God considers to be proper “sheep-food,” this verse should answer that question. In Matthew chapter four, Jesus also said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceedeth out of the Mouth of God.” This is what we are to feed on: The Word of God!

I am aware that other translations handle this differently: the Greek word here, translated “Word” in the KJV is “logikon” which could be translated “logical,” but which comes from the root word “logos.” While it can be translated in several different ways, “logos” is the word used when John 1:1 says “In the Beginning was the Word.” Possibly even more instructive is the passage in 2nd Peter 1:4, which says that by the “exceeding great and precious promises” in God’s Word, we are to become “partakers of the Divine Nature.” As we might tell a small child, “If you want to grow up to be big and strong, like Mommy and Daddy, you need to eat your healthy food!” And He just told us that the “food” we are to consume is the “exceeding great and precious promises” of the Word of God!

So the core change in our lives should begin with a hunger for God’s Word, as opposed to philosophy, politics, human logic, or human rationalization. The World offers all of these. We try to avoid any of those things and only offer God’s Word as our source of nourishment. We don’t preach politics, opinions, or current events. We preach the Person of Christ; The Word.

God says we are to center our thinking on His Word, and allow Him to reshape our outlook. And what does He say about the nature of the relationship? He says something very strange: He refers to us as “living stones,” and to Jesus as a special, precious stone, as well as a Rock of offence.

Living Stones

To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.

This whole passage seemed very strange to me. When the scripture refers to Jesus as a stone, it is strange enough, because I don’t think of a person as a stone, at all. (In this passage the Greek word for “stone” is “lithos”, meaning a building stone, or, in some cases, simply the material, “stone.”) I see stones as specifically non-living objects: mineral in substance, completely inorganic and, in most cases never having possessed life of any kind. So how can I see Jesus as a stone? And when it calls Him a Rock of offence, the Greek word is different: it is “petra”, which usually is a monolith: the kind of rock of which mountains are made, or upon which buildings are founded. How is He a Rock of offence?

And when he begins to address us as “living stones” I used to find it completely repugnant, as I imagined sitting forever as a “stone” in God’s temple, unmoving, and fixed in place in a wall or something, throughout eternity. That really does not sound attractive to me!  But as I was reading in Ephesians, it finally dawned upon me that the “temple” he is referring to in Ephesians is the living Church, scattered all over the World, but united in Christ. That we are the (singular) “habitation of God,” now; not just sometime in the future. I am not “sitting, imprisoned in a wall, as a non-living piece of rock,” but rather, I am a living part of a single organism called the “Body of Christ” which also happens to be the Temple of God on earth, as well as including all those believers who have gone before us into Heaven. I am only “cemented in place” in terms of my security in Christ: I can never be removed from Him. He can move me or have me stay put, according to His will, but wherever I am within the Body of Christ, I am to be an active, functioning part of the body of Christ! We are living stones, or, as the KJV says, “lively” stones.

By the way, that is the essence of “positional truth!” I am literally, permanently cemented in Christ!”  But I am an integral, organic part of the Body of Christ: not a parasite or a transplanted foreign organism. How did we get into this position in Christ? We became His children through the new Birth, being born again. We entered in by faith and are permanently joined to Him. Whether we knew it or not, we were each planted in the church-at-large, as a “living stone,” a part of His Living Temple! In 1st Corinthians 12:13, it says that the Holy Spirit “baptized” us into the body of Christ. We are eternally joined to Him in one Body.

We are part of what God presents to the World as His army of ambassadors: we each have a part in the task He has assigned the church: “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel!

Further, Peter points out that the World sees Jesus as a “stone of stumbling” and one rejected by the builders (quoting Psalm 118:22, Isaiah 8:13-17, Romans 9:32, 33) but we also see that to those who are believers, He is precious beyond description. That puts us in a different category than those who reject Him. It clearly spells out a different response expected from those of us who see Him as Holy, and Precious, than from those who stumble over His claim to be the Incarnate God, the Savior and the Judge of all the Earth.

By the way, while we are talking about Christ as a stone or a rock, I want to point out that when we read about the children of Israel wandering in the desert, and Moses bringing water from a Rock in that desert, we need to look just a little further: in 1st Corinthians 10:4, Paul clearly states two incredible truths:

  1. The “Rock” from which they drank followed them in the desert, so that they found water wherever they went, and,
  2. That “Rock” was Christ! (Exact same Greek construction as when John 1:1 says “The Word was God”)

How’s that for a mind-boggling truth? The physical Rock that the people approached, and from which Moses demanded water, was literally Christ! (In fact, it says, “the Christ” in Greek.) This is not stated as a metaphor: it is stated as a truth: they were followed by a spiritual Rock, in physical form, and they drank fresh literal water from it. Remember, too, that there were around 2-1/2 million people in that group, plus all their livestock: and all of them had to get their water from that Rock. We aren’t talking about a little “stream:” it had to be millions of gallons of water coming out! And this is the Rock to which we have come as well, seeing Him as our true source of sustenance, both physical and spiritual!

God says that He is also the Stone (lithos, again) rejected by the builders. Jesus was rejected by the religious authorities of His day, but He turns out to be the foundation and the cornerstone for all of both Judaism and Christianity!

But You!

So, what else is true about us?

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light; 10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

These all were quotes from the Old Testament, and initially were specifically stated about Israel. But a change has happened: Yes, Israel was to be a priesthood and a “kingdom (singular) of priests” standing before the Lord according to God’s promise in Exodus 19:6, and they still shall be, according to Isaiah 4:3, Isaiah 61:6, and others.

But there is a similar and yet different promise to the Church Age believers: we are called “kings (plural) and priests,” in Revelation 5:10, which is not the same thing as a “kingdom” (singular) of priests. The Body of Christ is never called a kingdom: it is a Body, with a Head, not simply a Kingdom, with a King. We, as the Body of Christ are part of the greater Kingdom of God, but we are there as part of the King, not simply subjects in the kingdom. We are the Bride, whereas believers from other ages are the guests at the wedding feast of the Lamb.

Peter, speaking to Jewish believers, quoted passages that were familiar and precious to them. They knew of the old promise from Exodus, but they also knew that it has never yet been fulfilled. During the Church age, it is partially fulfilled, in the sense that every believer, Jew or Gentile, is declared to be a priest in the Body of Christ: we can stand before God and pray for others, and offer “sacrifices of Praise and Thanksgiving.” But, in the Millennial Kingdom, it will be completely fulfilled, in that every Gentile nation will come to Jerusalem to worship the King, and Israel will literally be a “kingdom” of priests. But we will still be the Bride of Christ, seated in the throne with Him.

Even the passage about not having been a people, etc. were from Hosea chapters one and two; messages originally directed to Israel; not the Gentiles, but they now apply to us according to Ephesians 2, where we are described as having been outcasts, and foreigners, lost, without Christ in the World. That is a fact! We have to be very careful when we attempt to apply promises or commands to ourselves which were actually directed to someone else. But if God says they now apply to us, then we can apply them with confidence. In this case there is a direct application to the Church Age believers. This is reiterated in Revelation 5:9, 10, where the Church (which is called out from every nation, every language, every ethnic group and every tribe on Earth) confirms that they have been made “kings and priests” and that they shall reign on the earth.

Yes, we have obtained mercy, and yes, we have been called out of darkness, and, yes, we are now filled with His marvelous light, because Jesus, the Light of the World, indwells us! And the result should be that we will demonstrate His Glory and honor in our lives: “…showing forth the Praises of Him who called us!”

So, perhaps we can each individually consider this small verse as a “standard” or a “measuring stick” against which we measure our behavior. We can ask ourselves these questions:

  • Am I living in such a way as to “show forth the Praises of Him who called me?” Or am I pretty much living the way I have always lived?
  • Does the Agape love shine as a central motivating factor in my life, or do my motives seem to be pretty much the same as everyone else’s motives; self-centered, rather than pouring out the Love of Christ to others?
  • Do I see the people around me as precious souls for whom Jesus has already shed His blood, and then value them as He does? Or are they primarily irritating, contrary “blockheads” who only exist to annoy me? There is an old ditty that says, “To dwell in Love with the saints above, O, that would be Glory! But to live below with the saints I know; well, that’s a different story!” Can you treat the believers around you as the holy, precious saints that Jesus says they are?

I can’t answer any of those questions for you: each of us has to stand before God, and, along with David, say “Search me O God, and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!”

This is a direct quote from Psalm 139:23, 24. You can go and read it in your Bible and spend some time dwelling on it, allowing God time to speak to you. This is what we call “meditating on God’s Word”…it is not “blanking your mind and leaving yourself open to any vagrant thought:” it is specifically shining the light of God’s Word on your heart and allowing Him to speak to you through His Word and by His Spirit. We all need God’s Word to speak to our hearts and change us into His likeness.

Lord Jesus, take charge of your people, the Body of Christ! Train us up in the way that we should go, as your children. Send us as capable ambassadors, to do your work on Earth! Allow us to serve with you.

The Believer’s Security (Part 2)

Introduction to Peter’s Epistles:

Security of the Believer (Part 2)

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 1:2-5

Introduction:

Last week we began a study of Peter’s first Epistle. We didn’t even complete the second verse, because there was so much information packed into the words themselves. Today we will continue and attempt to finish the first five verses, as Peter continues his greeting to the recipients of the letter. Remember that you are among the intended readers.

Security of the Believer, (continued)

As you recall, we had underscored about thirty key words in the first five verses:

Chapter One

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.


The Terminology:

We only got through the first thirteen of those key ideas, last week. Let’s read on! We saw that, in the first two verses we have the security of the believer introduced. And we were only halfway into verse two! The next concept is “Grace:” so we will start there, and continue.

“Grace:” this word can be easily misused, so we want to think carefully about it. It means “unmerited favor.” We might use it in a variety of ways, but the key word, there, is unmerited favor. Unearned favor. One might do something special for one’s employer and be rewarded by the bestowment of honor, or by particular privileges…but in those cases, the honor was earned.

I did not and cannot earn the honor that God has bestowed upon me; to be made an ambassador of Christ…to be made a real child of God. To be seated with Christ in the Heavenlies (Ephesians 2:6 says if you are a believer, you are already there!) and so much more…I haven’t earned any of those. That is why it is called “Grace.” Keep that in mind, when you see that word in scripture. It is not a “feeling” type word, as in “that was so gracious!” It is a fact! It means “I did not earn this, but it was given to me anyway, in spite of my not deserving it!”

“Peace:” There are several kinds of Peace in the believer’s life: the initial one is the fact that you are no longer “at war with God.” You may think that you never were at odds with Him, but Romans 5:10 says that all of us were initially the “enemies of God.” But, the day you trusted Jesus as your Savior, that “Peace” became a permanent reality. You have Peace with God, because you have been justified (declared righteous) by faith. (Romans 5:1 is a positional truth.) We are encouraged to seek the Peace of God in our daily lives. (Philippians 4:6, 7 is a conditional truth.) We are to seek to make peace with other people and to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers…” which is probably that same kind of peace.) But please notice that all peace is dependent upon prior Grace. The Biblical order is always Grace and then Peace, as a result of Grace..

“Blessed:” The Greek word here is “eulogetos” meaning “to speak good words”…this particular aspect of “blessing” is the voice of worship, giving blessing back to God, not a “conferred blessing.” When He blesses us, we benefit. When we bless Him, we also benefit, and draw closer to Him in worship and praise. This idea can also be used to bless other humans, in which case it is not worship, but genuinely wishing good for them. We are commanded to bless them that curse us. That is this word. (There is another Greek word, makarioi, which means “happy, because of God’s approval.” When Jesus preached the Beatitudes: that was the word He used, there. “Blessed are the poor in Spirit,” etc. That is a different concept.)

“Lord:” The Greek word “kurios” is translated “Lord,” virtually every time it is used. It literally means “Master,” and “Lord,” but was often used casually, in about the same way as we say “Mister, or Sir.” Both of those English words came from English and French words, meaning “Master, or Lord.” Regarding Jesus, it is not a casual term of reference: We are not simply politely saying “Mister Jesus.” He is literally our master, our creator, our owner… our Lord: the One to whom we owe honor and obedience and loyalty and Love. It is the exact same meaning as the Hebrew word “Adonai.” It has nothing to do with deity; it means “master.”

“Mercy:” This is the “reverse” of Grace. Grace was “God giving me what I don’t deserve.” Mercy is “God not giving me what I do deserve.” I have earned the full wages for my sins! That is what I deserve! Romans 6:23 says “the wages of sin is death:” meaning, “that is what I have earned and deserve.” Not giving us those “wages” is Mercy. It goes on to say, “But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We have not earned that! That is Grace! I need both the Mercy and the Grace of God. Without both of those, I would have no hope.

“Begotten Again:” This is a key issue. The idea, here, is not just a “trendy thing to say,” as it has become over the last fifty years, but a reality! You were born again the moment you trusted Jesus as your Savior, whether you knew it or not. You became God’s real child, through that new birth. The word “begotten” is the same idea as the word “sired”…in that He not only “claims” you as His own, but, as he says in 1st John 3:9, “His seed remains in you.” At a spiritual level, you are His child, genetically. The New Man, your new nature, is literally the child of God. Your old nature could never approach God, even if it wanted to. Now you can approach Him in confidence as His true child, because you have been “begotten again.”

“A Living Hope:” The word translated Hope, here is “elpida” and it just means “hope.” The word translated “lively” in the KJV (or “living,” in most of the newer translations) is “zosan.” (“Zoē” means “Life,” in Greek.) So what is our ‘hope”, and why is it a living hope?

Hope has essentially a three-part definition, in scripture, as well as in “just plain English:”

  1. The happy confidence of good, for our future. (This is how God wants us to feel and think toward our future: not the hopeless, despairing, defeated thoughts of unbelief.
  2. The ground, or evidence on which that confidence rests, (our hope rests in the character of God and the truth of His Word.) and finally,
  3. The Object of our confidence (in our case, it is Jesus. He is the one toward who we direct all our hopes. He is our only Hope.)

And it is a living hope: it is to be realized in our lives, now, not sometime after we die. In John 17:3 Jesus says, “…this is eternal life; that they may know Thee (present tense), the One True God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.”  We are to be “knowing Jesus” on an experiential basis all the time, not “just hanging on and waiting to die,” to get out of our distress. In John 5:24, Jesus says we have eternal life now! Present tense! 1st John 5:11-13 says that God wants you to know that you have eternal life…again, present tense. It is a living Hope! And the Person who is our hope lives in us; and that miracle is called the “hope of Glory!” (Colossians 1:27.)

How did we enter into that Living Hope? By faith! How do we maintain that hope? Also by faith. Faith is not a “force,” nor is it a “feeling.” It is something you choose to do. Faith is believing God enough to act on that belief.  The root word in Greek is “peitho” which means “being persuaded.” But “peitho” can also be translated “obey” as it means “persuaded to the point of action.” Faith is not just mental assent, but “an obedient response to a revealed truth.”

“Resurrection:” Greek “anastasis.” This literally means “a rising up from” or “a standing up out of” death. An argument frequently brought up by unbelievers is that “Jesus wasn’t really dead…just passed out.” Or, on the other hand, claiming that the many medical revivals of “those who otherwise surely would have died, but who rose up to once again enjoy good health” are the same as what Jesus did. Jesus was dead…not in a coma. His body cells were dead. The reason for the three day “limit” was that at four days, he would have begun to decompose, and the prophecy of Psalm 16:10 stated clearly that he would not experience corruption (decay.) Lazarus was in the grave four days: and the bystanders warned Jesus that he would be stinking by this time. God says he can easily bring a truly dead body back to life. Don’t mistake “revival” for resurrection. Revival is only a renewal of life: resurrection is a restoration of a truly lost life.

“Dead:” One thing to keep in mind when reading scripture is that there are three kinds of “death” called out in the Bible:

  1. Spiritual Death (first recorded in Genesis 2:17 compared to Genesis 3:7-12. The sinning couple were separated from God the moment Adam ate that fruit.)
  2. Physical Death (Adam died physically, 930 years later. (Genesis 5:5) His spirit and soul were separated from his body.)
  3. The Second Death. (Eternal punishment, separated eternally from God, in the Lake of Fire. Revelation 20:14)

Do you see what all three have in common? All have to do with some sort of “separation.” Physical death requires that the spirit and soul (the non-material parts of the human) are separated from the physical body. It is not just “flat-lining” on a heart-monitor. We all start off “spiritually dead,” separated from God. There is a “modified form” of this death, which can be experienced by believers: when we are in sin, we are separated from fellowship with God, although we can never again be separated from either His presence or His love, forever. But when we are in sin, we are no longer pleasantly aware of either His presence or His love, and are effectively living as if we were spiritually dead. Resurrection, for us, will mean a permanent, conscious reconnection with a body that can never die, a Savior who will be visibly, physically with us, and the permanent escape from sin and destruction. In Jesus’s case, it was a permanently resurrected body, and a never-again-to-be-separated connection with the Father. It is utter mystery to us that the Immortal One died at all! It is utter mystery that the eternal Unity of the Godhead was temporarily separated, for our sake. But it is a fact. And it will never be repeated.

The Inheritance

“Inheritance:” We are not told a lot about the inheritance, but the following points are important to remember:

  • We have this inheritance in Christ, because we are joined to Him eternally, and are part of His family. (see verse 3)
  • The Inheritance itself is eternal (1st Peter 1:4; Hebrews 9:15)
  • The Holy Spirit is the “earnest” (down-payment) of that inheritance (Ephesians 1:14)

Notice that the next four descriptive words or phrases are all in reference to the inheritance. It is:

“Incorruptible:” We usually associate this idea with an absence of moral corruption, but the idea here is that our inheritance cannot rot, mold, or by any other means, deteriorate. This is about our inheritance. It has nothing to do with “reward,” to be discussed later.

“Undefiled:” There is nothing negative about your inheritance: there is no “seamy side,” unlike our present lives and experience. It is untouched by any sort of destructive or polluting influence. Again, this has to do with your eternal inheritance…not your current condition, nor your eventual reward.

“Fadeth not away:” Your inheritance will not be affected by time. It does not wither, or oxidize, or die on the vine. It is eternal, just like Jesus. He is the heir: we are joint-heirs with Him, and the inheritance we have is ours through Him.

“Reserved in Heaven for you!” The inheritance is yours and it is reserved for you! This is not like an earthly hotel or airline “reservation” which may be accidentally “double-booked,” or “sold out from under you,” leaving you with nowhere to go. God’s “reservation” of your inheritance in Christ is for you eternally. By the way, I have been using the word “eternal”, a lot: the Greek word for eternal is “aeoneon” and literally means “to the ages of the ages.” Some unbelievers have claimed that it therefore does not really mean “forever,” but rather only “a very long time.” The problem with this idea is that the exact same word is used to describe the eternality of God! So, we (and our inheritance) are “only” going to last as long as God does! And, I think that will be sufficient!

Finally, the last phrase I want to address in these five verses, is about the believers, not the inheritance:

The Believers

As believers, we are:

“Kept by the power of God!” Why is this so important?  Because there are those who claim that “Well, you are saved by faith, but you are kept by works!” Let me share with you: if at any point, my salvation is dependent upon my works, then, ultimately, it is entirely dependent upon my works, because, I can guarantee you, “My works are definitely the weak link!” But, if, on the other hand, I am “kept by the power of God unto salvation,” as this verse clearly says, then how much more secure can I feel in my position in Christ?  How much more confidence should that give me regarding my future and my current service, knowing that I literally cannot lose, and I absolutely cannot be lost? It is hard to even grasp the concept, because, from human perspective it seems not only illogical but impossible. But that is also true regarding the rest of the Gospel! The entire plan of salvation is unthinkable from human perspective: How can God become a man? How can there be a virgin birth? How can the blood of His sacrifice have any effect on a sinner like me? How can I have the righteousness of Christ applied to my account, through His blood? And, because of the human “disconnect” from the truth of God, we must enter in by faith: But we are kept by the power of God!

“Through Faith:” This was and is the avenue of approach. God’s Grace is what saved us, and His Power is what keeps us (Compare Ephesians 2:8, 9) Faith is simply the avenue by which we are required to approach Him. (Hebrews 11:6Without Faith it is impossible to please God.”)

“Unto Salvation:”   We are kept “unto salvation.” Our inheritance is reserved in Heaven for us, and secure, because we have been declared to be the children of God, through the new birth, and we are also eternally placed into Christ by the Holy Spirit. (1st Corinthians 12:13) The end result of all that we experience, all that we hope, all that is promised, is Eternal Salvation. We have it now, but we don’t feel it, necessarily. It is ours now, but we don’t see it. The day is coming when it will be visible and tangible, and, in every way a part of our permanent awareness. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me, and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish!” (John 10:27, 28)

Conclusion: The “Helmet” of Salvation

In case it had not occurred to you, the security of the believer is the “Helmet of Salvation” described in Ephesians 6:17. This Knowledge and Faith that we are Eternally Secure in Christ, is what gives us the confidence to walk with Him and to serve Him, knowing we cannot fail. The Helmet of Salvation protects your mind from the attacks of Satan.

Spend some time mulling this over: Consider how it affects your relationship with God and with the World around you, knowing that you are eternally secure in Christ, and that He is eternally your Lord and Savior…the Master of all things.

Lord Jesus, we are so limited in our understanding of who you are! Please open our eyes to the spiritual realities surrounding us and allow us to see the world through your eyes. Raise us up to serve you in faith and confidence.

What Am I Missing?

What Am I Missing?

© Chet Bishop, April 2012 (THCF 4/1/12)

Luke 19:1-44 (whole Passage)

Luke 19: 1-10 (read it)

1 And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

Introduction:

In the parallel passages in the other gospels, we have read how Jesus traveled through Jericho, headed for Jerusalem. We read about the blind men who were healed before and after Jericho…but what happened in Jericho?  A mob of people followed Jesus. They had heard of him, and had seen him heal people. Funny, though, these people were not encouraging those blind men to be healed, but rather were telling them to be quiet. They saw them as a nuisance. Jesus saw them as people—souls whom he created and for whom he was about to die as a life-purchasing sacrifice.

As Jesus passed through Jericho, a man named Zacchaeus saw the mob of people surrounding Jesus as he passed, but could not see Jesus, because he himself was very short, and evidently didn’t even know who he was. He was gripped by curiosity, though, enough to run ahead of the pack and climb a tall tree, because he “…sought to see Jesus who he was…”. This is an odd phrase, and perhaps it is just the King James language for “wanted to see who it was” but it specifically says he wanted to “see Jesus, who he was”. He could have simply asked, as the blind man had asked…but he really wanted to see Jesus, who he was.  I don’t know of anyone else of whom this peculiar statement is made. He had a God-given hunger…I will assume he had heard something of God’s word, simply because he was a Jew….

Remember that there was a whole crowd of people “seeing Jesus” as he walked along. They had seen the healings. But they were missing something.

What about Zacchaeus? Who was he? He was chief among the publicans…a Jewish born tax-collector for the Romans…a collaborator with the enemy. But he wasn’t born that way. He had his training in the synagogue school, his “bar mitzvah”, etc.  It is just that at some point he wandered from the God of Israel, and followed the God of money…he was a rich man as a result. And he had been paying the price for that sin. He was rejected by all his neighbors, so he had no fellowship with them, and no fellowship with his Creator either.

Perhaps the old prophecies that he had memorized in his youth echoed in his mind from time to time, and he wondered if the Messiah would ever come—and whether he himself would even be worthy to own him as his Lord. And then Jesus came to town…. But I don’t want to guess:

Whatever the true background, Zacchaeus climbed that tree because he desperately wanted to see Jesus, “Who he was”. And Jesus saw him “who he was”…and called him by name. Jesus said “Zacchaeus! Hurry down from there…I must stay at your house today!”

What a transformation! Zacchaeus hurried down and received him joyfully. The neighbors (ALL those who saw the transaction) grumbled, saying that Jesus had gone to be a guest with a man that is a sinner. (I’ll bet that made Zacchaeus feel great…he was right there…he knew what they were all saying.) But Zacchaeus responded with works fit for repentance. He stood, during dinner, and told Jesus that he would give half of all he owned to the poor, and that if he had wrongly exacted money from anyone he would restore it fourfold. (That made him the best investment in town. 300% return. J)

I don’t know how the neighbors felt about that. I’m not sure Zacchaeus really cared—he was concerned with a relationship with Jesus. And Jesus saw his heart, because He responded in these words: “This day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham.”

That might have raised some eyebrows too. Paul had to explain the concept later, pointing out that those who were physically the offspring of Abraham were not necessarily the children of Abraham, but that the children of faithful Abraham became so by faith. This man had just demonstrated that he believed in Jesus. Jesus said he had become a son of Abraham. Then (evidently for the benefit of those listening) he stated his purpose in coming. “…the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Zacchaeus had great joy, because his Messiah had come, had called him by name, had eaten at his table, and forgiven him of his sins. As far as we know, he did not see any of the healings. The others did see them, and had walked across town with Jesus. But when Jesus healed the life of “nasty little old Zacchaeus”, they were not filled with joy—they grumbled about the Grace that was extended to Zacchaeus. They missed the joy that was there amongst them—but Zacchaeus did not miss it. He received it. Am I missing the joy that is around me because I am grieved at God’s plans? Do I even have the right to question His wisdom, let alone whether I have the intelligence and wisdom to understand what it is He is doing?

Jesus turned to those who followed and issued the following parable:

A Warning

Luke 19:11-27 (read it)

11 And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. 12 He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. 13 And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. 14 But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. 15 And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. 16 Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. 17 And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities. 18 And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds. 19 And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities. 20 And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: 21 For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow. 22 And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow: 23 Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury? 24 And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds. 25 (And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.) 26 For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him. 27 But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.


This is a warning to all that were following. Most were not believers, even though they were going along with him as he went. Jesus told a parable of a ruler, a nobleman, who went to a far country to receive a kingdom. I am of the opinion that the man in this parable is Jesus Himself. He is going to his Father to receive the Kingdom. Consider the following…the servants are not in danger—the rebellious “citizens” are in serious danger. Even the least faithful of the servants is in far better shape than those enemies who did not want his reign in their lives.

From a human perspective, I understand the feelings of the people. They wanted autonomy. And, from a human perspective there is not much wrong with that plan. However, remember that Jesus is GOD, the Creator, and that he literally owns every atom of which we are made. He literally owns us body and soul—and that was true before we were saved…much more afterward. But he owns the whole world by creation. Now he owns it again by purchase, at the cross. There is no one who can accurately claim to be exempt from his claim on their life. Remember from whence comes this desire for self-will and self-rule: Isaiah 14:12-15.

The servants were each given a responsibility to discharge—some did it well, some did less well, one didn’t try. He lost his reward and the responsibility. The others gained further responsibility as a reward. The only punishment listed here is upon those who were not his servants. So what about that Servant? Since (in this particular parable) he was not in danger of death, what was the cost? He missed his opportunity.

He was given an opportunity to serve, even if in a rather humble way. He chose to reject that opportunity based on his judgment of the Master’s character, and he lost the only opportunity he would have to be rewarded for faithful service. Some of the people there were servants of God. Some were his enemies. Jesus spoke to the whole crowd. All had an opportunity of one sort or another. All had the opportunity to repent, if nothing else. Some had the opportunity for repentance and service, others the opportunity for salvation. Am I missing the opportunities for service? The opportunities to lead others to Christ? The opportunity to draw near to God and be blessed in this life?

Fulfilled Prophecy

Luke 19:28-40 (read it)

28 And when he had thus spoken, he went before, ascending up to Jerusalem. 29 And it came to pass, when he was come nigh to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount called the mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, 30 Saying, Go ye into the village over against you; in the which at your entering ye shall find a colt tied, whereon yet never man sat: loose him, and bring him hither. 31 And if any man ask you, Why do ye loose him? thus shall ye say unto him, Because the Lord hath need of him. 32 And they that were sent went their way, and found even as he had said unto them. 33 And as they were loosing the colt, the owners thereof said unto them, Why loose ye the colt? 34 And they said, The Lord hath need of him. 35 And they brought him to Jesus: and they cast their garments upon the colt, and they set Jesus thereon. 36 And as he went, they spread their clothes in the way. 37 And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen; 38 Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest. 39 And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples.

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


The colt: Much has been made of this situation, but we really aren’t told enough to know how much was miracle, and how much simply the narrative of what happened. I see two apparent miracles… one is that a never-ridden animal usually has a disagreement to work out before becoming a docile beast of burden. It is fitting, though, that none was seen here, because it fits the general pattern: People—humans—and fallen angels are the only things that have ever disobeyed God. The young male donkey was acting exactly as a creature is supposed to act under the hand of its Creator.

The other issue is the fact that the owners let the animal go without an argument. J. Vernon McGee suggests that there had been a prior arrangement made by Jesus, and this was just the outworking of it, and that he had given the phrase “the Lord has need of it” to let the owners know that it was he who sent the disciples. That is sheer supposition. All we are told is that they consented. Both of the above seem highly unusual, and if a person wants to find a natural explanation, that is their privilege. But I really think if one wants to do that, they at least should try to stick to what is actually written, and try not to wander astray. Once a person feels free to inject supposition, then anything is possible.

Further, many have supposed that the same individuals that cried out “Hosanna” in the other Gospels, and “Blessed be the King!” in this chapter, are those who cried out “Crucify!”, a few chapters later. But if you will read verse 37, it says that the disciples were the ones who cried out “Hosanna” and other things, while the Pharisees were disturbed by it. The other gospels say that the whole city was stirred up over it. The Pharisees knew that the disciples were publicly recognizing Jesus as the king. They demanded that Jesus shut them up. Essentially they demanded that He deny the truth of what they were shouting. Far from denying it, Jesus strengthened it, saying that if the disciples were silenced, the stones would cry out. The disciples were rejoicing and being blessed. The Multitudes (folks from Jerusalem) were stirred up and disturbed. The Pharisees were angry. They were all missing the point:

Something was happening! Prophecy was being fulfilled in (at least somewhat) miraculous ways! The particular Psalm that was being quoted here is Psalm 118:25, 26. It is nearly an exact quote, even in English. The word “Hosanna”, in the New Testament, does NOT mean “praise the Lord” or anything like it. It means “Save us now”. That is why Psalm 118:25 says “save NOW, Lord…” That is exactly what Jesus came to do. They were all missing the point; probably even those who quoted the Psalm.

Am I missing the point? Am I out of tune with what God wants to accomplish, so that I can’t be walking in step with Him, and rejoicing at the victories He brings? Amos 3:3 asks the rhetorical question, “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” (The implied answer being “No!”)

1st John 1:7 states that “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 cleanses us from all sin”. I want to be in constant enough fellowship with God that I can have some sense of where He is going with things. There is a lot of peace and joy in simply watching God at work. I don’t have to “understand everything.”

A Lament

Luke 19:41-44 (read it)

41 And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, 42 Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. 43 For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, 44 And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.

Jesus’ lament for Jerusalem stated that because they had “missed the boat” as it were, having failed to recognize their Messiah, they would face destruction from their enemies. This was fulfilled, of course, in AD 70, with the invasion and destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman General Titus. They missed out on the blessing of the promise of God through their willful blindness and pride, and faced destruction as a result.

Don’t Miss Out

You who have trusted Jesus Christ as your savior, who have placed your faith in Hs finished work at the Cross are not in danger of “Missing the Boat”, as those in Jerusalem did. According to Jesus’ promise (John 5:24), if you have heard his word, and believed on Him who sent him, you HAVE eternal life, and can never lose it.

But you can still miss the point of God’s work in your life. You can miss the opportunities for service, blessing and reward. And perhaps saddest of all; you can miss the Joy He offers in the daily relationship with Him.

Choose the path of Zacchaeus and the other disciples. Enter into the Joy of your Lord today— now—not waiting until you die to experience his presence.

The Lord bless you all as you choose to walk with Him.

Practical Christianity

The Practical Outworking of God’s Word

© C. O. Bishop, 3/1/2020

James 1:21-27

Introduction: Receive the Engrafted Word

21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

To receive the Word with meekness, implies obedience. The word translated “meekness” carries the idea of “being yielded”…we need to yield to God’s word. We are to adapt our behavior to match what he says: not the other way around. We need to see ourselves and our lives through the filter of God’s Word, and lay aside the things that render us unclean and unable to serve. God uses clean vessels through which to pour his Grace. We want to be those clean vessels.

God’s Word is the only means by which any of us have been born again. His Word is also the only thing that can salvage the wreckage of our sin-riddled lives and allow us to live for His glory. A few weeks ago, we saw in 1st Peter 1:23 that we have been born again by the Word of God. In Psalm 119:9 we see that His word is the way to cleanse our lives. In 2nd Peter 1:4, we see that through the “exceeding great and precious promises” in His Word, we are to be “made partakers of the Divine Nature.” All of these require actually yielding to Him, and obeying His Word…receiving it with meekness.

We try so hard to “do things for God,” but the fact is, he simply wants freedom to use our lives. Remember, now, as we read this passage, that the epistle is clearly addressed to those who are already saved. The letter is to believers! So, how can he say “…the engrafted word which is able to save your souls? We must remember that, according to the promise of Christ in John 5:24, though each of us has been (past tense) saved from hell (the penalty of Sin) and will never (future tense) be condemned, we are each still needing to “be saved (present tense)” from the power of sin in our lives…today! And the day is coming when we will be saved from the presence of Sin, with God, in eternity!.

Salvation has three tenses:

  1. I have been saved from the penalty of Sin, and have crossed over from death into life.
  2. I am being saved from the power of sin in my life, as I daily walk with God in obedience.
  3. I will be saved from the presence of sin, eternally, when I leave this world.

God says that His Word needs to grow in me as a grafted twig or bud. If it cannot bond with my unbelieving heart, then it will not have the intended effect. It will not cleanse me and “save me” from the power of sin in this dark world. I need to receive the Word and allow it to actually change my desires, and my thoughts, so as to change my behavior. This is not “self-help”…we are incapable of helping ourselves in this arena. God has to do the helping—we have to receive the help and allow it to work in us.

Men and Mirrors

22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:
24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

Much has been made of the fact that the Greek word here, for Man, is not “anthropos”, simply meaning “a human,” but “andros” meaning specifically a man. I don’t want to wax eloquent about men and mirrors, but I will observe that, in my own life, I am frequently unaware of how I look. More than once I have arrived at work, and someone has smiled and said, “You haven’t looked in a mirror today, have you?” And they were right! I had dressed in the dark, hoping not to awaken my wife, and I had hurried off to work. Did it shame me that my hair was in complete disarray (or whatever else had caused the smiles?) Nope. I was simply amused, just as they were. So maybe, at least in my case, the quips about “men and mirrors” are correct.

If there is a mirror, I will quickly take stock, but, just as the scripture suggests I might do, I walk away and forget about it. Apparently this sort of attitude is more common among men than it is among women, and was common in the first century, as well as today.

So, using this object lesson, God says, “Don’t do that!” Do treat His written Word as a mirror: Look into it to see what God wants changed in your life, but then remember those things when you walk away. Don’t forget what you saw there! Incidentally, though it is true that, in the physical world, mirrors are used for everything from periscopes, to microscopes, telescopes and lasers, not to mention inspection mirrors and rear-view mirrors, the primary use for a mirror, worldwide, among ordinary people, is to examine ourselves; to have a look at how others must see us, or to see something from an angle otherwise impossible. (In fact, missionary friends have told me that in the African country where they worked, that was a peculiar problem on the roads, because all the drivers turned the rear-view mirrors so that they could look at themselves, instead of looking at the road behind them. In that particular case, this was the wrong use of the mirror!)

Keep this idea in mind, as you read God’s Word: aim the mirror at yourself! (That is the correct use of this mirror!) Don’t use it to examine or inspect someone else, as a rule. Let them look into the mirror for themselves. We usually have enough problems of our own to deal with, that we shouldn’t try to correct everyone else.

Watch your Mouth!

26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.

There are lots of times when a Christian would be better off to keep his or her mouth shut. Perhaps this is just regarding things in general that would be better left unsaid, or things that are matters of idle curiosity, but questions that would not be profitable to ask, possibly because to do so would be meddling in someone else’s private matters. Perhaps it is about speaking unkind words that would cause hurt, or engaging in sly humor which would arouse suspicion of evildoing, where, really, none existed. We easily fall into the trap of “shooting off our mouth.”

It seems, however that this verse is specifically in relation to a person who “puts on a good show of piety,” but ruins it all by what he says. The Greek word translated “religious,” is “threskia” and this is the only place it is used. The Greek word translated “religion” is “threskos”and is only used in four places, one of which is translated “worshipping”…and in that context, it refers to the worshipping of angels…not a Godly worship at all. It was strictly a human (and erroneous) practice. The other three places it is translated “religion,” and it is always in reference to human “practice of worship and/or piety:” not necessarily God-ordained in its entirety, though it may have its roots in God’s Word. And, in this passage, it is clear that it is quite possible for one’s “practice of worship and/or piety” to be erroneous, and empty: fruitless…“vain.”

I knew a fellow, at work, twenty years ago, who was very outspoken about his Christian faith: he wore brightly-colored t-shirts, every day, with intensely evangelical (and very good!) messages emblazoned on their front and back. But he shouted constantly, cursed frequently, and he had a violent temper, to boot. I cautiously tried to warn him about his mouth, on one occasion, and he cut me off, saying, “You can’t judge someone by the things they say!”, so I shut my mouth; but I walked away thinking, “Actually, Yes, you can!” Well, the fact is, the whole crew of fellow-workers around him had already recognized the emptiness or “vanity” of his “religion”. Finally, in the darkness before work, one morning, he attempted to force a situation in the parking lot, arguing over a parking space he considered to be “his” space (it was not.) The conflict erupted into a fist-fight, and he was fired: he lost his job completely…and no one missed him!

He had a terrible testimony. He actually may have been a genuine believer; but he had a bad lifestyle, and a bad mouth, which made everyone around him reject his message.

He deceived himself that his outbursts of anger, and his foul mouth were acceptable…and that no one should “judge” him for such things. But according to the book of James, he definitely should have expected them to judge him by his words and behavior; not just by the message on his nice-looking t-shirt. Despite the fact that he probably was a real believer, the outworking of his faith (whatever it really was) turned out to be unprofitable: fruitless…vain. (Not “non-existent;” just empty and fruitless…vain talk.)

So, what kind of behavior befits a real believer? One thing, according to James, is going out of one’s way at one’s own cost, to meet the needs of those who, through no fault of their own, have deep needs. And another is avoiding doing (or even being involved with) the things that would bring shame to God. Here is how James puts it:

27 
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

The result of a genuine relationship with God, then, should play itself out in a changed relationship with those around me. It should result in my meeting the needs of others, and thinking less about my own desires, comfort and convenience. It should also result in my moving away from the World’s way of thinking, and becoming increasingly aligned with God’s way of thinking. The sinful behavior patterns and vices of the world should begin to drop away, if the relationship with God is solid.

(Remember that thing about “the engrafted Word?”) When you graft a rose twig (for example) into a hawthorn rootstock (and yes, that will work) that twig has to take hold and grow with the hawthorn rootstock to survive. But no matter what the rootstock may bear in terms of leaves, fruit or flowers, the rose twig will only bear rose-leaves, rose-blossoms, and rose hips. It can do no other! If the fruit in your life is not in keeping with God’s Word, then His Word is not what is producing the fruit. It is as simple as that! The “engrafted Word” has to produce Godly fruit: the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of a cleansed life. The fruit of other souls being brought to Christ.

Practical Holiness

Notice, too, that all the issues, here, in the Book of James, have to do with practicality: how does my faith work out in my everyday life? What effect is it having on people around me? What evidence is there from a human perspective, that I am even a believer?

I remember seeing a poster, more than forty-five years ago, asking “If Christianity were suddenly made illegal, would there be enough evidence to convict me?” It is an odd way to present the idea, but it is a good question: “What evidence is there in my life, to show other people the reality of Christ?” God knows the truth of my heart-condition, but the question remains, “Is it evident to anyone else?” This is the repeating theme of the Book of James.

Remember that in Genesis 3:7-21 we saw “two axes” of relationships: the horizontal axis, in which it is possible to simply “look good” to other humans, and the vertical axis, in which God sees us as we really are. (Remember, the sewn-together fig leaves (their own works) covered the nakedness of Adam and Eve from a human perspective, but they were still utterly naked before God: He had to clothe them through the blood of a sacrifice which He himself made. There’s a strong parallel with the Gospel, right there! God gave His Son to save us from our Sins!)

But there is another side to that idea: On the vertical axis, I have been (past tense) declared righteous before God on the strength of that blood sacrifice at the Cross. (Romans 5:1) Now He wants that freely-given imputed righteousness to be (continuously) lived out in a practical form of holiness, so as to be a testimony to other humans, on the horizontal axis. The new life in Christ is supposed to change me, from the inside out, and affect those around me in positive ways, as a result.

Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) That is how the Christian Life is supposed to work.

Lord Jesus, make the engrafted word a living reality in each of our lives, so that you are free to use our lives daily to glorify yourself, and to reconcile lost souls to yourself through the sharing of the Gospel.