Judgment and Righteousness

Judgment and Righteousness

© C. O. Bishop 2/27/2019

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

Introduction:

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

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

The Coming Judgment  

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

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

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

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

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

The Basis for Judgment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deserved Judgment

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

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

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

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

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

Redemption through Judgment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion: Escape from Judgment

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

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

Beginning the Book of Isaiah

Beginning the Book of Isaiah

© C. O. Bishop 2/16/19

Introduction:

Regarding the Prophets:

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

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

A Look at Isaiah

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hypocrisy Stinks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Repentance and Cleansing

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

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

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

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

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

Be Reasonable

So, now God attempts to reason with His people:

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

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

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

Judgment is Coming

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

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

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

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

Problems (and Answers) in Genesis

Problems (and Answers) in Genesis

© C. O. Bishop 2018

Genesis 7, 8, compared to other passages

Introduction:

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

Problem #1

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

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

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

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

Problem #2

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

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

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

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

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

Genesis 7 and 8

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

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

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

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

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

Problem #3

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

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

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

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

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

What can we Conclude?

The two things I especially see here, are that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 10

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 10

The Judge of All the Earth

© C. O. Bishop 8/25/18 THCF 8/26/18

Genesis 18: 16-33; 19:1-38

Introduction:

We have been studying through the Book of Genesis, with the specific intent of observing Jesus as the Creator, in the Old Testament, as well as seeing who He is, and what He is like, beyond what we can see in the Gospels. Last time, we saw God talking with Abraham, and promising a son, through Sarah. We read how both Abraham and Sarah responded with a chuckle, because of the apparent impossibility of the fulfillment. We saw how God named the unborn son “Isaac,” meaning “he laughs”, because of Abraham’s laughter. That was the good news of chapter 18, but there was bad news, as well.

Bad News

In this next passage, God tells Abraham that he is about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, for their extreme sin. To me, this is a very sobering passage, as I see that our nation (indeed, our whole modern world) is sliding deeper and deeper into the very kinds of sin that Sodom and Gomorrah were famous for, as well as the violence that covered the earth before the flood. How much longer can we expect the judgment of God to tarry? It may be instructive to compare the old judgment with what is to come (as both are in the scriptures: we are not assuming we have figured out the future of our country or any such thing) and see whether there are other parallels.

To begin with, it is good to see that Abraham, rather than saying, “Well, good! It’s about time you burned those nasty sinners out!” was immediately concerned for any righteous who might still be living there. We assume he was primarily concerned for his kinsman, Lot, but he started with the premise that there might be fifty righteous there. Apparently he had a pretty good idea what the city was like, if he thought fifty might be the maximum. He also recognized that God has the right to judge sin, and he did not complain that God was being “too harsh” on sin, but was simply fearful that those who were believers might be destroyed with those who rejected the authority of God. He addressed this visible, personal God as the “Judge of all the Earth.”

Bear in mind, through this entire exchange, that it was the Lord Jesus who was speaking with Abram. In John 5:22, Jesus confirms that He himself is, in fact, the Judge of all the Earth, so Abram was correctly addressing Him, and begging him to save the righteous. This was God the Son, receiving the prayer of Abraham. God (the Son) said “If there are fifty righteous, I will spare the whole place.”

Now, that is an astonishing thing, in itself! It would seem more efficient to “weed out” the unrighteous, and leave the righteous to start over with a good community.  But, as far as I can see in scripture, it is usually the other way around. The flood covered the whole earth, after God removed those he chose to save. Sodom and Gomorrah were completely destroyed, after God removed Lot and his family.  Jericho was completely destroyed after God had salvaged Rahab and her family. Give that some thought: how might that pattern apply, today?

But Abraham kept dickering, and whittling the number down, and even at ten, God said he would spare the whole place for the sake of ten righteous. But, at that point, God broke off the conversation, and left. God already knew how many were there who would respond to Him at all. That is why he sent two angels, rather than only one…one could easily destroy the condemned cities, but he needed to drag four people out, to salvage them from the destruction. (Two angels, four hands.)

We believers pray for our nation, our leaders, the various peoples of the World, and for Israel, knowing that judgment is coming. The fact that we know judgment is coming does not render our prayers ineffectual or hopeless. Abraham prayed for the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah. We can do the same. 2nd Peter 3:9 says that the reason God is taking his time about judging this world is that He is being very patient, and giving people the opportunity to repent. Sodom and Gomorrah apparently had run out of time, and judgment finally fell.

Judgment is coming in our world as well: we are supposed to be acting as God’s ambassadors, attempting to offer reconciliation and salvation to any who will accept God’s terms. We know judgment is coming, but we do not know when. We reach out to those around us, trying to offer them God’s chosen way to escape the coming judgment, but not many believe us. Sometimes that is an indictment against us, for not having a sufficiently stable and consistent walk with God that our testimony would be believable. Overall, however, it is an indictment against the World, as they have consistently rejected God, no matter who He sent to speak to them: even when He came Himself, in human form, as Jesus, the Messiah.

Genesis 19

At the beginning of this terrible passage, we see the two angels arriving in Sodom, at evening. Lot was sitting in the gate of the city. We think nothing of this statement, but the city gates were where the elders of a city, and the judges of a city would position themselves. It was not only a place of honor, but a place of responsibility. How was it that Lot had been put in such a position? He must have “fit in” somehow, in order to be recognized as a judge of any kind, it would seem.

Good News?

Lot saw the “men” as strangers, who needed to be protected from the men of the city. He met them courteously, and persuaded them (over their protests that they intended to spend the night on the street) to spend the night in his home, instead, and to plan to leave early the next day. This attempt is about the only thing recorded (along with his plea to the Sodomites to leave the men unmolested) where we can see that he may have been a believer. We are not told what he said to them, but he was very strongly pressing them to accept his hospitality and stay the night indoors. He knew they would be in danger at night on the streets in Sodom. Perhaps he warned them of the reason, perhaps not. We are not told what he said; just that he “pressed them greatly.” Apart from this, there is very little evidence that he was a righteous man, and without what we see in the New Testament about him, we could easily assume that he was a lost individual. However, he treated them with genuine hospitality, preparing a feast for them, which they ate.

But before any of them could head for bed, all the men of the city, young and old—all the people from every quarter—surrounded the house, demanding that Lot turn over to them the two “men” who had come under his roof; and they specifically stated their intent: homosexual rape. (The word “know” here was about carnal knowledge, not a formal introduction.)

Lot came out and argued with them, trying to dissuade them, stating that it was for this express purpose that he had brought them into his home; to avoid this crowd of rapists. He even offered his virgin daughters to the mob, as substitutes (what a horrible father he was!), but they insisted, saying that Lot did not belong there, anyway: that he had come there as a stranger; a sojourner, but now seemed to think himself to be a judge. They declared that they would treat him worse than the other two; then they moved to attack him, and to break down the door.

Apparently, up until this point, Lot had no idea who he was trying to shelter. But the two angels reached out and pulled Lot inside, and simultaneously struck blind the men of the city, young and old, so that they could not find the door. In fact, it says that they “wearied themselves trying to find the door.” What incredible single-mindedness! They only had one concern. The fact that they had been struck blind did not seem to bother them. They continued to search for the door!

Bad Testimony

The two angels instructed Lot to go and notify his entire extended family that the city was about to be destroyed. He did go out and tell his sons-in-law, who were evidently betrothed to his daughters (or, it is possible he had older daughters who were already married, but that would be guessing.) The sons-in-law did not take his warning seriously, and just thought he was joking.

When morning was beginning to dawn, the two angels told Lot that the time had run out, and that he had to leave. He protested, and lingered, and so they took him and his wife, and his two daughters by their hands and literally dragged them out of the city, then told them to get going, not to look back at all, but to flee to the mountains.

Lot was still protesting, and saying he couldn’t make it to the mountain. He begged to be allowed to flee to a small, nearby city, saying that he could get there, and live. They finally relented, and allowed him to flee to that location. The name of the city prior to this, was “Bela”. After this it was called “Zoar”, meaning “small.”

This whole account has a lot of things for us to learn: To begin with, we need to see that judgment is coming. There will come a time when the time has run out, and judgment has come. Even a believer can be affected by the coming judgment, even though we are eternally saved. Lot was a believer, according to God. But the judgment affected his life in terrible ways. It did not have to happen that way: He chose that outcome through unbelief, indecision, and inaction.

God knew how many he was going to save out of that city—there were not the fifty that Abraham hoped for, nor even the ten…there were four: they were dragged out of the city, unwilling to go, and even then, one of them was lost, by turning back. This story has often been held up as an example of someone “losing their salvation.” But: in the first place, we have no evidence of her salvation, in terms of belief, faith, repentance, etc. All we know is that she was dragged out of Sodom, along with Lot and their two daughters. Perhaps she was not a believer at all…and even if she was, believers have many times lost their physical lives because of sin…and it had no effect on their salvation. Consider Josiah, a righteous king, who for some idiotic reason (pride, perhaps?) decided to fight Pharaoh, king of Egypt, when Pharaoh was not even attacking him, but rather was attacking someone who was his enemy. What happened? Necho (the particular Pharaoh involved) warned him off, saying “Your God sent me to punish that king (of Assyria)…stay out of my way!” Josiah wouldn’t listen, and, sadly, uselessly, he died in the ensuing battle. It stands (or at least it should stand) as a lesson for us, today.

Lot’s life stands as a lesson, too. God says Lot was a righteous man (2nd Peter 2:6-8), but his life did not reflect it—he chose to be deeply associated with the wicked world—he was involved in their local politics, in fact, and his testimony was so shallow that when he tried to warn his prospective sons in law of the coming judgment, they thought he was kidding. He had a warning of sorts, a few years earlier, when Sodom was attacked, and he was captured: he probably witnessed the exchange with Melchisedec and Abram, as well as that between the king of Sodom and Abram. Abram set the example of the choice to follow God; but Lot returned to Sodom.

Bad Results

I could conjecture, perhaps, that he considered it a “mission field”…and so it may have been. But no one believed his message, if indeed he had one. And the long run result in his own family was that his daughters did not know God’s will, and he himself did not trust God for daily living, though he had evidently trusted him for salvation. In the face of judgment, he still chose the city of destruction (“Bela” means “destruction”), and then, when he saw the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, he no longer believed God would keep his word concerning that “small” city and he fled to the mountains, where God had ordered him to go in the first place. Ironically, that city still exists today, though the name has changed a little. God kept his word through all the ages, though Lot had none of the benefits: Lot left a place that God saved for his sake—simply because he spoke up for it—and he went off and lived in a cave, where his daughters, assuming that he was the only man left in the world, decided they had to “save the human race” by getting themselves pregnant by their own father.

The two girls got him drunk and crawled into bed with him while he didn’t know what he was doing. Each deliberately became pregnant by their father, Lot. Their two sons, born of that union, were named Moab and Ben-Ammi. Their descendants, called the Moabites and the Ammonites, are still with us today, and have been enemies of Israel from the beginning until now. Today we call them “Jordanians,” and the capital of Jordan is Amman, even today. They are still the enemies of Israel. The Palestinians themselves are actually Jordanians, too. The sons of Lot have been a source of grief to Israel for nearly five thousand years, now. They are still people for whom Jesus shed his blood, and we desire to see them saved…but what a mess!

Most ironic of all, I suppose, is the fact that, had Abraham simply left Lot back in Ur of the Chaldees, as he was told to do, or even in Haran, years later, then none of this would have ever happened. But God has used it to his glory, and He will continue to do so. Remember that Ruth was a Moabite woman, and she became the Great-g-g-g grandmother of Jesus!

Conclusion:

One thing I want to point out, here, is that ALL the men from every quarter, young and old, etc. surrounded the house with one intent: to gang-rape the two “men” who had come to Lot’s house. They did not know they were angels. They simply saw them as “fresh meat”. The immorality of that area had reached “critical mass.” They were unsalvageable. We look at our society today and think “Oh, it’s just like Sodom!” but we are far from 100% immoral, though it may seem we are fast headed that way. God grant us the wisdom and courage to turn the tide, if possible.

Oh: and, about that repeating pattern? The one where God removed the righteous (declared righteous because of Faith), and then destroyed the city? Can you think of a coming event in prophecy which may have been prefigured by those Old Testament patterns?

How about the fact that there is a day coming when the Church will be removed, and the entire World judged, in the Great Tribulation? Yes, I think that is the picture in the case of Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah. And, more specifically, Lot is also a picture of believers who are saved by faith, but live their lives in sin. When the judgment seat of Christ comes, and our works are judged, they will still be saved, yet so as by fire…they have escaped judgment but lost most (or perhaps all) of their chances for reward. Lot was literally dragged out of Sodom, and most (or perhaps all) the wealth he had gained was lost in the destruction of the city. What a sad, shabby story of ruin and waste! And it was all so avoidable, too.

But where does Jesus fit into this story? Keep in mind that He is the Eternal Judge of all the Earth! Remember, too, that He is the one who authoritatively declared Lot to be righteous by faith, and who sent the angels to rescue him. He is the Savior of the World and the Judge of all the Earth. We need to see Him that way, and worship Him as God.

Lord Jesus, open our eyes to your true identity, and teach us to walk with you, serving willingly as your ambassadors to a lost World.

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 4

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 4

After the Flood

© C. O. Bishop 2012 revised 2018

Introduction: The Aftermath of the Flood

In Genesis 6:5-7 we see that God watched the world become increasingly filled with wickedness and violence. He made an all-inclusive statement in verse 5: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” What a stunning statement, coming from the God of the Universe! This is the Creator: all-knowing, all-wise, and all gracious, utterly condemning the human race, as only evil, and utterly wicked. We may think that this only referred to the human race prior to the flood, but there are other passages, statements made after the flood, that are similar in the wholesale condemnation of the human race. What are we going to do with those statements? And, on a personal level, are we going to admit that we ourselves are part of that condemned and fallen race, and that we, too, are in need of a savior?

We look around us at the ruinous state of some areas of the world, and, in sober moments, we realize that our own culture is only marginally separated from such things…that we could easily fall into that sort of corruption and evil. That perhaps the only thing that has preserved western culture against utter degradation, is the presence of the Person of Christ, central in our beliefs. And, as we watch, He is being excised from every facet of our western lives as if He were the source of the evil, instead of our only guard against it.

Let’s look, then and see what we can learn from the time of the flood, before and after:

Before the Flood

Remember, we saw that the land mass was one giant, fairly flat continent, with no divisions in terms of mountain ranges, or water barriers…no seaways to cross. All the land was accessible to every human and every animal. And, as we read through the genealogies between Adam and Noah, paying close attention to when each patriarch was born and when he died, we can see that the last patriarch to have been born during the lifespan of Adam was Lamech, who was 57 or so when Adam died. Noah was born 125 years after the death of Adam. All of them up until (and including) Lamech, could have known Adam personally, if they chose to do so. Methuselah’s life overlapped that of Adam by 240 years. Even if they never met until Methuselah was 100 years old, he would have had 140 years in which to absorb whatever Adam had to relate about the Fall, and of the few days after the creation before he and Eve were expelled from the Garden.

Every bit of Lamech’s life overlapped that of Methuselah…and the first 600 years of Noah’s life overlapped that of Methuselah. This is not what one would call “hearsay” evidence, nor is it just a “word-of-mouth” type thing. Adam was an eye-witness, and both Methuselah and Lamech knew him (or could have known him), personally, and Noah was well acquainted with both of them. This is a very short line of “tradition,” and very tightly connected. The final point is, as we read in the New Testament, that both Jesus and his apostles treated the account of the flood as fact, not allegory, or mythology. With that background, then, consider what God said about Man: that “every imagination of the thoughts of His heart is only evil continually! This is really what God said about the Human Race. And it is why he destroyed the whole race, to start fresh.

After the Flood

After five months, the ark was sitting on the top of a mountain, in a place now called Ararat. Evidently the earth’s crust was already beginning to fold, as that area is quite high, today (over 12,000’), whereas, before the flood, there were no real mountains; but, by the end of the flood there were at least some that are now recognized as real mountains. The obvious answer is that the crust was moving and folding during and after the flood. After ten months, mountains were protruding from the waters.

Noah could not see out onto the landscape, and it was almost a year before he even opened the one upward-pointing window and released a raven. The raven stayed out, flying around until the waters were dried up. He also sent out a dove, to see whether the land was dry. But the dove could not find a clean place to perch, and eventually came back to the ark, so Noah reached out and brought her back inside. (Just an interesting note: Ravens are scavengers, and the raven was probably quite content to be out in the ravaged world. Perhaps it was finding carcasses, still floating, and putrid: Prime raven food! Mud and filth were not a bad thing to the raven.)

A week later, Noah sent the dove out again. This time she brought back a leaf of an olive tree, showing Noah that things were drying up. He waited another week and sent her out, and she didn’t come back. It was a total of one year and seventeen days that Noah, and his family and the rest of the animals had been in the Ark. Then God told them they could come out, they and the animals. They were to breed abundantly, and fill the earth.

Noah built an altar to God, and sacrificed that “seventh individual” of every clean animal (those acceptable for sacrifice, and, later, for food, under the Law, still far in the future.)

God promised that he would never again destroy the world with a flood. He promised that when rain came it would always cease, and that the rainbow would be the emblem of His promise. The people started fresh with some new directives: They were free to eat meat, but not with the blood. And human life was sacred: whoever (or whatever animal) killed a human, was to be killed in turn, because humans were created in the image of God. Human Government was established.

So God was “starting over, fresh.” But he was not starting with people who were not sinners: God said (after the flood) “…the imagination of Man’s heart is evil from his youth;” This was when there were only eight people alive! And later, even when all the survivors knew him, they soon forgot who He was, and abandoned any attempt to walk with Him. They immediately leaned toward self-reliance, and ignored his directives.

Shortened Lifespan

We have several paragraphs of genealogies leading to Abram. The only thing I would like to point out about this genealogy is the diminishing lifespan with each new generation. Noah was six hundred years old when he boarded the ark. He died at 950 years of age. His son, Shem, was only 98 when he got off the ark, and two years later had a son. Shem lived 600 years and died. His son, Arphaxad, lived a mere 438 years. Shem’s grandson, Salah, only lived 433 years…and so it went. Peleg, a couple generations down, only made it to 239. His grandson Serug only lived 230 years. His son Nahor only lived to 148. But Nahor’s son Terah made it to 205. (That was Abraham’s Dad, by the way.) Abraham, the Friend of God, eight generations, or so, removed from the flood, only lived 175 years. His son Isaac lived 180 years, but the numbers, in general, were dropping rapidly. Later we find that 70 became the recognized norm, and that 80 was possible if you were in good shape, but that those last years might be hard years. Why the change?

Remember when we read that it didn’t rain, before the flood, but a mist came up and watered the earth? And later, we saw that the “windows of heaven were opened”, at the flood? It is conjectured that there was a water envelope, or canopy, that protected the inhabitants of the earth from harmful radiation. This is supported in Genesis 1:6-8, where God created an expanse (“firmament,” in KJV) between the waters—separating the water above the expanse from the waters below…and he called that expanse “sky”—(heaven in KJV.) What is above the sky? That is to say, what is above our atmosphere? Today there is the apparently limitless expanse of space. Evidently at that time, there was water out there, too. It’s something to think about.

That water canopy was removed in the process of the flood, and people’s aging process became much more rapid. We can’t prove that this is true, but it seems to make sense…especially since, during the Millennial Kingdom, people will once again live for around 1000 years. There is no terribly important doctrine, here, perhaps, but it is certainly interesting.

Bear in mind, as we read of these various judgments, that the “Judge of all the Earth” is unquestionably Christ himself.  We sometimes get the idea that the Judge is this “terrible Old Testament” figure, and that Jesus came as a Savior, to save us from His wrath. In John 5:22, Jesus stated that “…The Father judgeth no man, but has committed all judgment unto the Son….” Jesus is the Judge, and the amazing truth is that the Judge, himself, stepped down to die in our place, as the full payment for our sins. Confusing? Yep. But true, and it is supported by the whole of scripture. But in the middle of the genealogy, a brief comment was made; that the earth became divided. And the word for “earth”, here, always means the land, not the people.

The Beginning of Continental Drift

So we see, not only a world destroyed by flood, but the foundations laid for a divided land mass and the eventual continental drift. That must have been quite a sight—but the only record we have is the simple statement that it happened. God had more important things to address: things that affected human history even more than the division of the land.

I do find it relevant to note that the land mass began to break up in Genesis 10:25, and that the motive for building the tower of Babel, in Genesis 11:4, was specifically so that the human race would not be scattered. Peleg was born 101 years after the flood (see Genesis 11:10-16), and God says he was named Peleg (“division”) because in his days the earth was divided. So, either the earth was beginning to break up about the time he was born, or this was prophetic as to what was about to happen, during his lifetime (he lived to be 239 years old.) Either way, apparently the people could see that the continent was fragmenting, and, that, unless they did something to keep people together, they might soon be unable to reach one another, as the land mass was drifting apart in several directions. The blessing of God had included what seemed to be an assignment to multiply on the whole earth, so this passion to keep them all together may have been a problem all by itself. But the means by which they chose to try it was really a bad thing.

Division of Languages

The next thing God relates was the descent of man into false religion; and the subsequent division of the nations and families of the earth, as a judgment from God. We see in Genesis 11 that people gathered in a plain of a land called Shinar. There they built a city (now called Babylon, by the way) with a tower whose top was to be “in the heavens”—in the sky. They were building the first skyscraper, it seems. (So what is wrong with that? We have lots of them today.)

The particular type of tower they were building is called a “ziggurat”. It was specifically used as an observatory for astrology, and whatever other religious purposes, possibly including sacrifices. (The ones in South America, square-topped, stepped pyramids, are similar to the ones in Babylon, and they were used for human sacrifice.) But, regardless of their use, the stated intent was that they should not be “scattered abroad on the face of the earth”. God had told Noah that the people were to “replenish the earth” (Genesis 9:1)…probably that did not include “grouping up in one population center.” At any rate, God said that, collectively, if they were not scattered, there was no limit to what they might do. He apparently did not mean it in a good way. The mischief they might work is evidently what he was concerned about, and what he proposed to do about it just reveals his unimaginable power and wisdom.

It is interesting, too, that he stated his intent in the plural: “Let US go down, and confound their language that they might not understand one another’s speech”. He really did a great job of it! I have no idea how many people were there the day he chose to do his work, but today we have in excess of 6,500 known languages—closer to 7,000. What mass confusion must have ruled, the next morning, when, perhaps by families, the entire great city was filled with frightened people who could no longer communicate with one another! At any rate, God says they “abandoned the project.” (I love God’s use of understatement!) So they named the place Babel: “Confusion.”

And where did they go, to escape the madness all around them?  They fled from the “bedlam in Babel”, and scattered across the rapidly fragmenting continent, and, in some cases, apparently found themselves completely isolated. Scientists have concluded, through computer modelling of continental drift, that there was originally just one continent. But they assumed, for their model, that the drift had always been at a rate comparable to that which is observable today. Why would that be likely? Every other motion, except falling, tends to lose momentum, and slow down. So, very possibly, the initial movement was rapid enough to be alarming to everyone, and make them want to move to safer places.

The plain of Shinar had seemed safe, but God chased them out of there, and they were literally scattered across the land…and they rode those drifting land masses away, in some cases. Researchers have discovered recently, for instance, that what is now the United Kingdom was once a peninsula, and that there are ruins of towns, beneath the North Sea, where it was once dry land. Divers and other researchers, today, are trying to learn more about these civilizations.

We can only speculate how it all may have happened: Some, such as the Phoenicians, became seafarers, and they may have made travel between those drifting plates a regular thing.

But eventually, the plates were too far apart, and such voyages weren’t practical or common. Perhaps this is where legends such as “Atlantis” had their origin. Perhaps the “lost continent” did not actually sink, but simply moved too far away. Modern attempts to recreate such voyages have proven that the ancient sailors were pretty adept, and that they very likely crossed both major oceans regularly, as far back as 1000 years ago, and more, though it was a hard trip. Some of these ideas are, by necessity, the product of some speculation. But the evidence is limited for any conclusion, and, if I begin with the assumption that God is telling the truth about the flood (and everything else), then the evidence seems to point this way. That might explain the pyramids in South America, as well. We will likely never know for sure.

Conclusion:

What can we do with this information? All we know for sure is that the world is a great deal younger than the people of the world would have us believe: and that humans witnessed the break-up of the super-continent! Today we find earthquakes, avalanches, landslides and sinkholes both terrifying and fascinating: How much more, to watch the whole continent fracture, and the ocean sweep into the breach, roaring, foaming, and carrying away rubble and sand and trees? Possibly hot magma came welling up through the fractures as well, and steam and smoke boiled up to fill the sky, as the hot rock was submerged in seawater. People watched this happen!

The God with whom we are attempting to become better acquainted caused all this change, the division of the land, and the scrambling of the languages. He caused the physical and linguistic fractures, to avoid the spiritual depravity that was otherwise imminent. It was Grace, once again, and Wisdom and Compassion. Separation was, quite literally, for our own good!

We don’t always like the things God does (or allows) in our lives. We need to accept, by faith, the sovereignty of God, and, knowing both His goodness and His Wisdom, to trust that the things that happen are also for good. Remember that Jesus is both Judge and Savior!

Lord Jesus, inspire in us a trust of your character, your sovereign authority and your compassionate Wisdom. Help us to turn to you in faith, every day, for our sustenance and safety, with guidance for service. Make us an honor to your Name.

Closing Notes from Hebrews

Closing Notes from Hebrews

© C. O. Bishop

Hebrews 13:17-25

Introduction:

We are at the end of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and there are just a few, seemingly unrelated verses, left, as the writer gives his closing thoughts. He gives final instructions as to their response to church leadership, and then makes a personal request for prayer, as well as giving a closing prayer for his readers. Lastly, it is his greeting to the believers, and his benediction to all.

What about Church Leadership?

17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

This is specifically in reference to the leadership of the church. We could apply it to civil government, as we are also commanded to be in subjection to the civil authorities, but this specifically says “they watch for your souls”…and that is simply not true of the civil authorities. An unbelieving governor, if called to accounts by God, could not give account with joy, no matter what he had done, as he is still an enemy of God, just as we were, before we were saved.

Civil leaders have been chosen by a variety of means, down through history. Some simply seized power, and ruled by force. Some were chosen by popular acclaim, either by an organized election, or by mob popularity. (You may recall that the crowd tried that with Jesus, once…they wanted to take him by force and make him king. What an odd idea!) Some simply accepted the burden of government because it had to be done, and there was no one else available who was qualified. I believe that a few of our early American statesmen were possibly in that category.

Regardless of how a civil leader is chosen, as an unbeliever, they would not fit this verse. This is talking about church leaders. Church leaders, too, have been chosen by a wide range of means, and, sadly, pretty much exactly the same means by which civil leaders have come into power. Some wanted the job because of ambition: they enjoyed being the center of attention, or wanted to wield authority over others in some way. Jesus described those, in the Sermon on the Mount, and elsewhere. Some were simply lazy, and they chose it as a “clean” profession, where they could earn a living without doing much work. God describes bad shepherds of another sort, in Ezekiel 34, saying that they used the flock to feed themselves, but did not feed the flock as they were sent to do. This actually covers a lot of the different “bad shepherd” types.

Qualifications for Church Leadership:

I’m not going to go into the qualifications of Elders and Deacons in any depth, this morning, as we have taught them before, not too long ago, but God clearly gives us the qualifications of church leadership in 1st Timothy 3:1-8; Titus 1:5-9, 1st Peter 5:1-5, and other passages. You can read those on your own. They all have to do with proven character, demonstrated maturity and, in one case, (teaching) recognizable gifting.

God describes the job itself, with its responsibilities, in Ezekiel 34, as well as in Acts 20:28. If a church ignores any of this, and either appoints leaders who are not qualified, or those who will not carry out the responsibilities, then disaster surely awaits. Actually, if a man is not willing to carry out the responsibilities of leadership, then he also is not qualified, as that is the first qualification, in 1st Timothy 3:1. So, what is the job description for elders?

Job Description for Church Leaders:

What does the Scripture say about Shepherds? Looking at the whole of God’s word, regarding shepherding, at least six things become clear:

1. Sheep need a Shepherd. Sheep without a Shepherd are in immediate and deadly danger, even if no predator is around—and the greatest, deadliest predator in the world is around, according to 1st Pet 5:8. Even apart from the issue of predators, we often don’t know the difference between good pasture and bad, still waters and treacherous, safe paths and dangerous ones, apart from our Shepherd leading us—(Psalm 23:2, 3).

This is a direct reflection on God’s determination to be the Shepherd of His Flock Genesis 49:24, Ezekiel 34). We need the Shepherd.

2. God has assigned human shepherds. These shepherds are “sheep”, themselves, as well. But they have been assigned the task of performing the work of shepherds. And they cannot do a faithful job apart from the direct leading and control of Jesus Christ, the true Shepherd. (John 15:5; Psalm 127:1) God holds them accountable for his flock. (Ezekiel 34, James 3:1; Hebrews 13:17) This is a huge responsibility.

3. The Work of the Shepherd has clear definition:

  • Ezekiel 34:1-16 says the shepherds are to:
    • Feed the sheep: (This means a steady provision of nourishment from God’s Word.)
    • Strengthen those who are diseased: (This may imply corrective teaching, or encouragement to change self-destructive patterns.)
    • Heal those who are sick: (very similar: promoting spiritual healing through Godly counsel.)
    • Bind up those who are broken: (This may mean promoting Forgiveness for past injuries by other believers, or acceptance of God’s Grace to heal those wounds.)
    • Seek out and bring back those who have been driven away: (Sometimes the wounded ones flee the flock, unable to bear the stress of being around the one who hurt them. Or, sometimes they simply were angry, and need to deal with the anger.)
    • Seek the lost: (refers to both evangelism and reconciliation of the backslidden)
    • Prevent them from becoming prey to predators: (Guarding is implied, but not stated in this passage; clearly stated in Acts 20:28-30.)
  • Acts 20:17, 28-30: the elders (17; also identified as shepherds and overseers) are to:
    • Guard themselves—recognize that they themselves are also in danger from the Enemy,
    • Guard the whole flock against predators (sometimes coming from among the leaders),
    • ‘Feed’ the flock (KJV), (actually, ‘shepherd’ the flock: the Greek word is poimainein)
    • Be overseers. (Greek episkopos)
  • 1 Peter 5:1-4 says that elders (Greek presbuteros) (who are also shepherds and overseers) are to:
    • Feed the flock (KJV): (here again, the Greek word is the verb poimanate—“shepherd”)
    • Take the oversight thereof (be an overseer)
    • Do so willingly, not grudgingly
    • Not for the sake of money
    • Not lording it over the flock, but
    • Leading by example,
    • Expect a reward from Christ, (the “arch-shepherd”) at His coming, for faithful service.

4. Shepherds face Judgment: Apart from faithful attention to God’s assignment, Judgment is coming, in one form or another…The Lord’s flock is precious to Him: He defends it against all enemies, even the enemies from within the flock. Ezekiel 34 is a discourse on this very issue: God is rebuking the shepherds of Israel for malfeasance and nonfeasance of their duties. He says he is going to take them off the job and do the job himself. James 3:1 and Hebrews 13:17 both address this issue as well. Revelation 3:14-16 tells the long range result of failure in this area: the local church can die or become so infected with spiritual disease that God closes it down.

5.  Clear guidelines are given, as to the Qualifications of the Human Shepherds: These are given in order to protect the flock from unstable, immature, or otherwise flawed leadership. We will discuss these again at a later date. If you want to read them ahead of time, they are found in 1st Timothy 3:1-8, Titus 1:5-9 and 1st Peter 5:1-3.

6. Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd—perhaps one could say, the only true shepherd (John 10:11-15, Hebrews 13:20, 1st Peter 5:4), and He is, by necessity, our example in all things: apart from Him, we truly have nothing to offer.

Hudson Taylor used to say “God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s provision.”  I believe that is a scriptural viewpoint. I also believe that unless we truly strive to adhere to the job description, and the instructions that come along with it, we are doomed to failure.

Following Church Leaders:

On the other hand, having good leadership and following those leaders are clearly separate concepts. In this passage, the writer assumes that the recipients of the letter do have good leaders, and he is exhorting them to respond to those leaders appropriately. The word translated “obey” is the Greek word, “Peithesthe”, from “Peitho”, meaning “to be persuaded”. We are always to search the scriptures, and to be sure that we are being led appropriately, but the ultimate question will be regarding our response to  appropriate leadership, not whether we “like” the leader.

Any elder of a church, who has faithfully labored in the Word, and poured himself out in teaching, and has consistently offered good counsel from God’s Word, would be grieved to see a flock behaving badly. He takes personal responsibility for their waywardness, though he has tried to turn them from it. Jeremiah wept over Israel, though he had faithfully warned them against their rebellion. It is instructive to note that, when the chips were down, so to speak, and he had the opportunity to leave them behind, with the blessing and support of the conquerors, he chose to stay with Israel and to continue his ministry, as frustrating and unfruitful as it had been. I think of Jeremiah a lot, whenever I feel discouraged. He was utterly faithful and had the least “fruitful” ministry of any of the Major Prophets. But he stayed on the job!

The writer is here asking us to not respond to God’s leading through the elders, in the same manner as Israel did to God’s Word through Jeremiah. They told him they wanted to hear what God had to say to them. He warned that they would not like what he had to say, and that they would not obey God, in any case. They protested that they would obey, and insisted that he speak what God told him. So he did…and they immediately rebelled, and did the opposite of what God commanded. God is asking us to not respond in that way.

We can see in Acts 17:11 that God approves a response that includes “searching the scriptures to see if the teaching is accurate and appropriate.” But in all the scriptures, we see that the response God ultimately expects is that we allow Him to change our hearts, as we submit ourselves to His Word and His Will. Did it come through someone you don’t really like to listen to? Too bad! Paul was repugnant to many who heard him, but God definitely sent him to preach and teach, and to lay the foundation for faith. Those who responded well, eventually learned to appreciate him for who he was. I have had teachers who, initially, I found hard to listen to. But they were completely faithful to God’s Word, and I grew to appreciate them for their faithfulness and the blessing they were to the church.

Knowing that the elders will be held accountable, and that we are also held accountable for our response, we need to pray for the leaders, and respond well to them, too.

Closing Requests and Blessings

18 Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly.
19 But I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.

I don’t know what was going on in the writer’s life that he should write such words…if it really was Paul (and I think it was), then it seems to make a kind of sense, as, several times, during his ministry, he was in bonds, one way or another, accused of things he had not done. Perhaps this was one of those times: it sounds as though it might have been. But he asked for prayer that he might be released sooner, as be able to rejoin the other believers.

20 Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,
21 Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

The writer’s prayer for the recipients, is that God would continue to perfect them so that their lives would be a continual honor to God. He reminds them of the source of their blessing, and the fact that Jesus himself is our great shepherd, as well as the fact that he has been physically, literally raised from the dead. But the bottom line is that our lives should be to his glory as well.

22 And I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation: for I have written a letter unto you in few words.

The Writer begs them to receive this letter of encouragement properly. (It seems an odd thing, however, to see that the Writer considered this to be a short letter.)

23 Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you.

Timothy was one of Paul’s close companions…which also gives me to believe that Paul was the writer. Evidently Timothy had also been held, somewhere, but was set free already, and the writer hoped to meet with them all and with Timothy too.

24 Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you.
25 Grace be with you all. Amen.

This closing is typical Pauline benediction. Notice that, whoever the recipients were, they were told to greet the leadership, as well as the other believers. All the letters to the church are just that: Letters to the Church! They are not, as a rule, to some sort of hierarchy of leaders, but to the believers themselves. This letter is to us. If you are a believer, it is to you.

Learn from it! Believe it! Study it! Make use of it in your life. Don’t just let it gather dust.

Allow God’s Grace to rule in your life.

Lord Jesus, make us able ministers of your Word, and faithful ambassadors of your Love and Grace. Help us to both lead and respond to leadership. To tach and be teachable. Make us the Men and Women of God that you have called us to be.

What is Covered By The Mercy Seat?

What is Covered by the Mercy Seat?

© C. O. Bishop 7/18/17 THCF 7/30/17

Hebrews 9:1-10 Hebrews 4:16

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the epistle to the Hebrews. Last time, in chapter eight, we saw Jesus revealed as our true High Priest, and as the mediator of the New Covenant, which was originally promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Now the writer is discussing, in more particular detail, the reality of Jesus in the Tabernacle and the Temple. He begins by discussing what was physically in the Tabernacle, and what was in the Ark of the Covenant, and the significance of the Mercy Seat. So we will discuss those things in that order:

What was in the Tabernacle?

1Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary.

For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary.

And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all;

The Tabernacle, proper, also called the “tent of meeting”, included two compartments, both of which were closed to the public. The outer sanctuary, wherein were the golden lampstand (or candlestick, in this passage), and the table of showbread, which was changed daily, was open to the general priesthood, for their service. The inner sanctum, the holy of holies, was only open to the High Priest, and that only once a year. He entered in once a year, with a blood sacrifice for the nation of Israel, and to offer prayer for the nation.

Inside the inner sanctum, the holy of holies, was only am incense altar, for burning incense…no other kind of sacrifice or offering…and the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant has been an object of mystery for thousands of years, but, in the matter of physical reality, it was simply a wooden box, approximately 27” x 27” x 45” long, and it was plated over with gold, with a solid gold lid that had images of cherubim on top, and with golden rings in the sides of the box, through which poles could be inserted by which to carry the box. That was it!

You can read the full description in Exodus 25:10-22. There are people today, who falsely claim to have built according to these directions and it turned out to be a radio transmitter (Erich Von Daniken, in his book, Chariots of the Gods) and others who simply claim that it generated electricity. These are all patently false claims, but they can only deceive those who fail to go read the instructions to Moses and see what the Ark of the Covenant really was. It was a BOX! Yes, it was gold-plated, etc., but it was still just a box! There were no wires: nothing that could generate any sort of physical power. The God who ordained it was the only power associated with that Box. When Uzzah touched the box, 400 years later, and was struck dead, he was struck dead by God, not electrocuted! Further, when Moses communicated with God, he did not need a radio, as Von Daniken claimed; and neither do you! God can hear you today, if you will talk to Him, just as He heard Moses 3,500 years ago in Egypt!

But, what was in the Ark of the Covenant?

Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant;

The things in the ark, again, do not lend themselves to anything except symbolism. These three things were in the Ark of the Covenant, eventually:

  • A golden jar of Manna (reminding them of God’s faithful supply),
  • Aaron’s Rod that budded (reminding them of His promise of the resurrection), and
  • The two stone tables of God’s Law (declaring His Holiness, Righteousness and Justice.)

The recipients of all three (the Nation of Israel) had rejected all three in unbelief.

  • They had despised the Manna, saying they missed the leeks, onions, garlic, cucumbers and melons of Egypt, and they wanted meat, besides. They rejected the sustenance offered by God in every way, and they only desired to return to Egypt.
  • They had disregarded the promise of the resurrection, living for the pleasure of this world only (Just as Esau had done, 500 years earlier, and finally,
  • They had constantly disobeyed, defied and broken God’s Law; or at least only obeyed it at a surface level, and concerning matters in which obedience was relatively convenient. God’s Holiness was never central to their thinking, nor His Law central to their lives.

And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly.

I really can’t tell you very much about the Cherubim…I have never seen a cherub, and the scriptures give no clear description. All I know is that they were the highest order among the angelic creation, and seem to have been “palace-guards,” of a sort. A cherub was placed to guard the way back to Eden so that Adam and Eve could not return there. Lucifer was originally a cherub, and was evidently the head of that group. We don’t know a great deal more about them.

The pure gold Mercy seat, itself, on the other hand, was both the “lid” to the box—the covering for all that was within—and, it was God’s throne on earth. Give this some thought: Why would God seat himself upon His Mercy, covering the things within the Ark of the Covenant? There is something truly significant about this: He was Seated (enthroned), upon Mercy, Covering the things pertaining to His relationship with Sinful Mankind. So, let’s talk about that:

God’s Mercy and the New Covenant

God’s rule on earth has to be based upon His Mercy. Lamentations 3:22 says, “It is of His mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.”

And, His Mercy is what is needed to cover the ungodliness recorded by the contents of the Ark of the Covenant, itself. Remember: everything in the Ark, though they were emblems of God’s goodness, because they had been rejected by Man, were also emblems of our sin and perdition.

By the way, it is not only the Jews who have rejected God’s rule, his promise, and His supply. We Gentiles routinely spurn everything of God as well. We mock him in our literature and our movies and our jokes. We claim to be our own source of authority, the “captains of our own souls,” the directors of our own futures, and the guarantors of our own sustenance.

Meanwhile we face world famines, a diminishing fresh water supply, drug-resistant diseases, and the inability to cure our own lawless social ills; yet we boast that we will emigrate to the stars. Really!? We can’t solve our problems here, so we think we can travel hundreds of millions of light-years away, and start over elsewhere? How sad and foolish it all must look from God’s perspective. How desperately we need His Mercy!

Only God’s Mercy can cover our rebellion, our pride and our disrespect. But, the Ark of the Covenant is long gone…so, where can we find the Mercy of God today? Let’s see whether the Scriptures can tell us:

Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God.

But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people:

Only the priests (plural) could go into the outer sanctuary of the tabernacle, and only the High Priest into the inner sanctum, the holy of holies, and that only once a year, with a blood sacrifice for sin. This is just historical fact. The recipients of the letter were primarily Jews, and they knew all of this. But the Writer goes on to teach them what they did not know regarding that history.

The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing:

Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience;

10 Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.

Notice that verses 8, 9 and 10 give the “expiration date”, effectively, for the old covenant. It was only good “While as the first tabernacle was yet standing”. It was only a “figure for the time then present”, and was imposed upon them “until the time of reformation”. The obsolescence was actually “built-in” in several ways: Every priest eventually died, thus requiring a new priest; the buildings fell into disrepair, or were destroyed, etc.; and the sacrifices had to be repeated, day after day and year by year.

But Jesus is not bound by any of these imperfections, nor can his ministry become obsolete: He made one perfect sacrifice which provides the believer with a perfect standing before God, and, to top it off, unlike either the priests or the tabernacle within which they served, He himself lives eternally to intercede for us.

Notice verse nine, which says that the gifts and sacrifices the priests offered at that time could not even make the priests perfect, let alone those whom they represented. All the sacrifices accomplished was to temporarily “cover” the sins of the people, including those of the priests. The word translated “atonement”, in the KJV translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, is the word “kaphar.” It means a “covering.” Fittingly, that is also the name of the lid of the Ark of the Covenant…the “kaphar.”  And, what was it covering? Just the box? No, it covered what was in the box:

  • The despised supply of God,
  • The disregarded promise of God, and
  • The disobeyed, defied and broken Law of God.

These emblems of our Stubbornness, our Unbelief, our pride and lawlessness were what was really in that box, though ironically represented by the very emblems of God’s Sustenance, Promise and Justice. So, it required God’s Mercy to cover it all.

That is why the lid was also called the “Mercy Seat”, and it was a pre-figuring of the Mercy-seat before which we now freely appear before God. Under the Old Covenant, God’s Mercy, through the blood sacrifices, covered our sins. But under the New Covenant, in the person of Christ, our sins are taken away. John the Baptist, in John 1:29, clearly declared Jesus to be the one to fulfill all those prophecies. (“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the World.”)

So, in light of all that history; applying it to our lives, today; for us, who have never seen the temple…What does it mean today? We have never seen the Cross, either; but we have placed our faith in the Blood of that Cross. And, the Blood of that Sacrifice is what stands between us and the Judgment of God, today. His Justice and Righteousness were satisfied by that sacrifice. His Mercy and Love were satisfied there, as well.

The scriptures say that Jesus completed his sacrificial work, and then sat down…where? The only place He could sit down was in the throne with God, the Father. So that is where He is today, still on the job, interceding for us. Jesus is our Mercy Seat—our atonement—our covering. More than that, He has taken our sins away!

So…going back to our original question:

What is covered by the Mercy Seat?

The short answer: Everything!

All of our rebellion is covered by the Cross, all of our mistaken pride, and our stubborn self-will. All of our lies, by which we deceive ourselves and others. All our cruel unkindness by which we mistreat others. All our lack of forgiveness and our implacable hearts. All of our self-pity and narcissism, our lusts, our unholiness, our arrogance, and our fears. Calvary covers it all.

And, what is really important, here, is to see that His sacrifice at the Cross was a one-time sacrifice to “Take away the sins of the World”. That is what John the Baptist meant in John 1:29 “Behold the Lamb of God (the sacrificial Lamb) which taketh away the sins of the World.”

So…did that include the sins of, say, Adam? Or Abraham? Yes! Their sacrifices looked forward, in faith, to HIS sacrifice. And, if the cross took away the sins of Adam, it also took away the sins of the sons of Adam. If it took away the sins of Abraham, it also took away the sins of those who are Abraham’s heirs by faith.

Jesus said that those who do not believe are condemned already because they do not believe. The penalty of their sins was actually paid at the Cross. But, in choosing to reject that fact, they remain under the judgment of God. They can still change their mind, if they are willing to do so.

When you chose to place your trust in the completed work of Jesus—in His blood sacrifice for your sins—from God’s perspective, your sins were permanently removed from you. You are still living out the physical reality of your life, with all its trials: but in God’s economy, you have been permanently placed into Christ, so that where He is, you are! Read Ephesians 2:4-6…read it slowly, and think about what it actually says! You have already been resurrected with Jesus, and have already ascended… and are NOW sitting with Him in heaven! Where He is, you are!

I have always had a hard time with that concept…But God says that it is important for us to grasp that truth, and for us to rest in what it implies. The work is done!  We are not to slave away, fearfully trying to “do enough Good” in the world, so that God will accept us: He has already accepted us! I am already forgiven! I am already accepted in the Beloved!

John 5:24 says that my Past is covered: He says that I have crossed over from Death into life. Incidentally, that is actually not a simple past-tense, but a perfect tense: a completed action in the past, which has continuing effect for the future. “It is finished!

My Present is covered: He says that I have Eternal Life, now! I don’t have to wait until I die to find out whether I “graduated” or just “flunked out.” This is a very precious promise to me, because if I had to wait, knowing my failures and sin, I would be without hope.

My Future is covered: He says that I will not (ever) come into condemnation. I will never be condemned for my sins. I do not have to live in fear of the righteous judgment of a Holy God, because that righteous judgment was poured out on Jesus, at the Cross. “He who knew no sin was made to be sin, for us, so that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”

Conclusion:

Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of Grace, that we may obtain Mercy, and find Grace to help in time of need.” This is where we find Mercy today. The Ark of the Covenant (as well as the whole temple on earth) was lost almost two thousand years ago. But the real Mercy seat still awaits our response of faith. Jesus sits enthroned, and His throne is the throne of Grace. We are to approach Him in full confidence, knowing that His work is complete, and that we are fully accepted in Him.

When is the “Time of Need?” It is now! Daily! Moment by Moment! All of our life is a crisis, apart from Christ. As an unbeliever, had I died at any time prior to coming to faith, I would have been eternally lost. I literally had no hope. Even as a believer, today, when I am out of fellowship with God, I am reduced to living by my own strength and wisdom, and, for all practical purposes, I am again without Hope.

Our “Time of Need” is a moment-by-moment dependency upon the Grace, Mercy, and Forgiveness of God, as well as His Supply and Sustenance. We find all of these in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Lord Jesus teach us to believe your promise, and to trust your Word. Draw us along into a full relationship with you by faith and teach us the gentle life of obedience to your Spirit. Fill us with your Mercy and Grace.

Bad News Concluded; Good News Begun

The Bad News Concluded; the Good News Introduced

© C. O. Bishop 9/1/15 THCF 9/6/15

Romans Chapter 3

Introduction:

Paul has just finished condemning (for cause) all of three groups of people:

  • Immoral Sinners (those who ignore moral values and restraints)
  • Moral Sinners (those who adhere to at least some moral values and restraints, and are sure that because of that they will be on good terms with God) and
  • Religious Sinners (including the Jews: those who adhere to some form of religious piety, whether based on the Word of God or not…but in this case he specifically addressed the Jews, as they did have the Word available.)

That pretty well sums up the human race, doesn’t it? Biblically, we could divide the whole race into two groups: Jews and Gentiles. We could also state that within each group there are people who ignore all moral restraint, and others who adhere to some (or many) moral values. Paul systematically proved that all these groups were under judgment for sin, and ended with the idea that the Jews were under special judgment because they knew the Law and ignored it.

That is a pretty negative premise with which to begin, though it certainly “levels the playing field,” if that is considered a good thing: no one has a special advantage, and no one is treated unfairly. Paul is simply completing the Bad news as the necessary foundation for the Good News. But I am sure that to each of the groups mentioned, it was shockingly bad news; especially to the Jews who thought they were already on God’s side, and destined for heaven.

So what advantage IS there to being a Jew?

3: 1What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?

Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.

Paul, a Jew, poses the question, “Then what possible advantage is there to being a Jew?” His answer? “There is much advantage in every way, but the chief advantage was that to them were entrusted the oracles of God.” As far as I can tell, every single Old Testament prophet was a Jew, unless you recall that Abraham was an Iraqi, later referred to as a homeless Syrian; and none of the immediate progeny of Jacob had ever heard the word “Jew”. That was a later descriptive term applied first to the tribe of Judah and those associated with him, and later to all the children of Jacob (also called Israel).

Melchizedek was certainly not a Jew, though he was the one who blessed Abraham in the name of the Most High God.  But every single one of the writers of the Old Testament were Jews, as were all but one of the writers of the New Testament (and that one is questioned by some). (Luke may have been a Gentile, as “Luke” is a Gentile name. But that would suggest that anyone with a Jewish name must be a Jew. (Joe? Sarah? Steve? Elizabeth? Where do you want to stop?) That is clearly not sufficient reason to make such an assumption.) I really do not know what Luke’s origin may have been, but without controversy, all of the other writers were Jews. Is that a privilege? An honor? Looks like one to me. Would it at least tend to give them an “inside track” as far as an opportunity to know the God of the Universe? I would think so.

Further, in every village where Paul (and the other apostles) preached, they began with the synagogue—the Jewish elders in that village. Why? Well, for one reason, they had been waiting for the Messiah for a long time, so it was fitting that they should hear the message first. But a practical reason is that those believing Jews, who had already trusted in the coming Savior, and the blood of his sacrifice, had also been soaking in the Written Word for their whole life; memorizing it, studying it, meditating upon it, and receiving teaching concerning it. They were in a position to vault into Christian maturity far more rapidly than a Gentile, who, even if he were a proselyte to Judaism, could only recently have begun to understand the Word of God. Thus, it was possible for Paul to be run out of a town by the unbelievers, but leave behind a fledgling church with ordained elders…after three weeks or less in some cases!

But what about all those Jews who don’t believe in Jesus?

For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?

He follows his line of reasoning a little further, saying, If some of God’s people fail to believe God’s Word, does that diminish the faith (or faithfulness) of God? Nope. In fact, it underscores it, as He continues faithful regardless of the sin of his people. In the case of the nation of Israel, God demonstrated this truth later on, showing that there will come a time when the believing remnant of Israel will ultimately turn to God as a nation, and finally, “all Israel will be saved.” Not every offspring of Jacob in history: all the living remnant of Israel. God never took his hand off their history, though they repeatedly took their eyes off of Him.

We see a similar truth in the Church: the Church has failed God in every way, over and over, but Jesus said “I will build my Church, and the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it!” God knows his sheep, and Jesus said He will not lose a single one of them. So, in answer to the question about God’s reliability, Paul says:

God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.

The result is that God is absolutely correct in His Judgment, and no accusation against Him will ever be right.  (Notice that the truth of God’s Word is not dependent upon those who believe it. My believing it does not make it true. The World’s denial of it does not make it untrue. God’s Word, and, in fact, Truth as a principle, has to stand or fall on its own merit. It either is true or it isn’t. And since The Bible claims to be all true, it either is all true, or it simply isn’t true.)

But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man)

God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?

For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?

And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.

While it is true that Man’s sin is met by God’s Grace (and judgment…don’t forget the Holiness of God), it is foolish to think, “Well, then, more sin means more grace, right?” I used to think Paul was setting up a “straw man” as it were, because I could not imagine someone being goofy enough to teach such a thing, but there are evidently cults teaching just that, today, and advocating really wallowing in filth, so as to inherit more of the grace of God.

Paul says they are worthy of the condemnation they will receive. We should meditate frequently on Isaiah’s response to his vision of God. In Isaiah 6:1-8, Isaiah saw Jesus on the Throne of God, and was devastated at his own guilt, and the guilt of his people, compared to the utter Holiness of God. The Angelic response to God’s presence was similar: they cried out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of Hosts! The whole Earth is filled with His Glory!” All of those who saw Him were primarily impressed with the Holiness of God, above all His other attributes.

Other prophets had similar visions and experienced similar dismay. Some simply passed out—they nearly died at the revelation of the Holiness of God. No one got inspired to “go and sin more energetically”: not one! Remember too: Jesus told people “Go, and sin no more!”
Don’t ever get the idea that Jesus is “soft on sin.” It is completely true that He loves sinners, but it is equally true that He hates sin… all of it.

Please bear in mind that Jesus, the Jesus that we admired in Bethlehem, and in Jerusalem, in the temple, and at the Cross, is also the one the Bible identifies as “the Judge of all the Earth.” And Jesus, himself, personally confirmed that truth. (John 5:22)

V. 9-20 Paul’s Conclusion to the “Bad News” of the Gospel

What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;

In verse 9, the “we” and “they” are Jew and Gentile: Paul speaks from the Jewish perspective, and confesses that the Jews are no better than the Gentiles, in spite of the advantages they were given. They still ran away from God, pursuing sin, and their history proves it time after time.

10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

13 Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:

14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:

15 Their feet are swift to shed blood:

16 Destruction and misery are in their ways:

17 And the way of peace have they not known:

18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.

19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.

20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Paul concludes in verses 9-20 that there is not one person in the whole natural human race, who is free from sin; and that, collectively, we are a total loss. He says, “There is none righteous, no not one.” In verses 9-12, he quotes Psalm 14:2, 3.  (Turn there and read it.) Notice in Psalm 14, he is not talking about the Jews, nor about any particular group of people. He is definitely talking about the whole human race. He also quotes Psalm 5:9, 140:3, and other passages, applying those as well, as a blanket condemnation of the whole world. He concludes in verse 19, 20 that all the world is guilty before God, and that no flesh can be justified (“declared righteous”) by works of the Law, since by the Law is the knowledge of sin. Law is only the light that reveals our lost state: it cannot save us.

V. 21-28 Divine Contrast

21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;

22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:

23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;

26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

Finally, in verses 21, 22, the righteousness of Christ imputedapart  from law-keeping— is revealed, and it is completely validated by the Old Testament prophets (specifically David, as we shall see later on.) That righteousness is only available to those who place their faith in Him, but it is applied to all that do so. It is “unto all (therefore available to all) and upon all (applied to all) them that believe.” Verses 21-25 are all in reference to the same individuals…and it is all past tense…a “done deal.”

Verse 23 (with which most Christians are thoroughly familiar) states that “ALL have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” But the point that is missed, is that he is talking about believers! He is saying (in v. 22) that there is no difference (among believers) because all were the same unclean, guilty sinners, and (in v. 24) that all have been freely declared righteous (justified) by GRACE, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (“Redemption”, in this particular passage, comes from the word “lutro-o”, meaning to be set free from slavery. In other passages it comes from one of two other words: “agorazo” or “exagorazo”. The first, “agorazo”, means “bought in the marketplace”. Jesus literally bought us with his blood. The second implies being “bought out of the marketplace”—that is, that He bought us OUT of that slave-marketplace of sin and that we have been removed from it forever. “Lutro-o” carries the final idea; that we have been set free, eternally, to serve out of Love; not fear.) All of these points are completely true of all believers in Christ…those who have trusted in the shed blood of the historical, Biblical Jesus Christ for their salvation.

v. 25 specifies that our faith is to be in the blood of Christ—not a creed, not a code of morality, not a church membership, nor an ethnic identity; but through the person and work of Christ: specifically, faith in His shed Blood. That is a pretty important concept and frequently is omitted in Bible teaching, today. I don’t know whether it is due to ignorance, personal revulsion at the concept of a blood-sacrifice, or rebellion against the stated need for it. But this was the error of Cain, if you recall, and it seems to increasingly be the error of the modern Church. Cain thought that he could bypass the “gore” of a blood sacrifice, and go straight to a worship experience with God. God sought to correct Cain’s error, explaining what was wrong: Cain compounded the error by killing Abel. Take note that those who deny their need for a Savior, or deny the efficacy of Jesus’ blood, will always attack those who recognize that need and who place their faith in His blood. This is a Biblical principle, and has been consistently borne out in human history.

v. 26 Paul says that Jesus himself is not only righteous, but that He is the only one who can authoritatively (and effectually) declare a sinner to be righteous. He declares those who believe in Him (this implies consciously placing one’s faith in him for salvation, not just believing he exists, or whatever) will be “declared righteous” by Him. The word “Just” means “righteous: having a right standing before God”. “Justified” means “declared Righteous”.

The Conclusion:

27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.

28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

v. 27: Some final questions are posed: “Where is boasting?” It is excluded by the law of faith. That is an interesting concept: “the Law of Faith”. Saving Faith always produces level ground and true humility. How could I be “proud to be a Christian?” The fact of my salvation was predicated upon the fact of my absolute guilt as a sinner. There can be no pride there, surely. Paul’s conclusion in verse 28 is that a man is justified by faith (alone) without works of the Law.

29 Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also:

30 Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.

31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.

There is a brief transition in ideas, in verses 29-31. Paul poses the rhetorical question “Is God the God of the Jews only?” (Now some Jews and many Gentiles would have automatically said “yes” because they completely misunderstand who God really is, and thus miss the fact that there is only room for one Sovereign in the universe. There is only one God, in fact, and that God must be the God of all things and all people…there is none other.) Paul concludes then, that the same God has to accomplish the justification of all… both Jew and Gentile. He asks one final rhetorical question: “Do we make void the law, through Faith?”

The answer, resoundingly, is “NO!” (“God Forbid! Yea, we establish the Law.”) But how could the preaching of the Grace of God establish (i.e. “build up; strengthen the position of”) the Law of God?

When we consider the role of God’s Law, throughout History, we can see that Grace is always the conclusion of the Law. By accepting God’s Grace, in salvation, we confess that the Law is correct in condemning us, and agree that we cannot possibly please God in the flesh.

If that is not what you think, in terms of the meaning of Grace, then I would suspect that you do not understand your genuine need for a Savior, and I would question how in the world you were saved. How could you place your faith in an unseen Savior, confessing your sin by so doing, if you do not see yourself as a hopelessly lost sinner apart from His Grace?

But we do see ourselves that way, and we do trust in His Grace. And we rejoice in our Savior.

Lord Jesus, help us to see you in your Holiness, to see our own crying need for your Grace, and to daily seek your face in confession and prayer, and the study of your Word.

Amen!

No Longer of this World

No Longer of This World

© C. O. Bishop, 6/19/2015; THCF 6/28

Galatians 6:11-18

Introduction

Paul is concluding his letter to the churches of the Galatian province. He has compared his own ministry (source, content and result) to that of the legalizers, and has given clear direction as how to live by Grace and walk in the Spirit. He begins his closing with an odd statement: He says, ‘ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.” What was the meaning? This was in effect, a wry “signature”: he is saying, “Look, the letter was written by me—in crayon!”

Paul evidently had severe eye problems, either caused by disease or by the stoning he received at Lystra…we can’t be sure. We do know that the people he served knew of his eye troubles…he said that they would have given their own eyes to him if they could have done so. We conclude that probably the “thorn in the flesh” of 2nd Corinthians 12 may be this partial blindness and ocular distress from which he constantly suffered. Further, in Acts 23:2-5, he evidently could not clearly see the person (the High priest as it turned out) who ordered that he be punched in the mouth. The result of this partial blindness, in most cases, was that he had to have someone else write for him, as he could scarcely see. But this time he had no such scribe available, so he had to make the letters large enough that he could see what he was writing…thus the “large letter.”

But Paul prefaced his closing remarks with the admonition to take every opportunity to “do good” to anyone with whom we have contact…and especially to watch for opportunities to bless believers. This is not an incitement to monasticism, where the believers cloister themselves off away from the world…he just encourages us to love one another in practical ways.

Make Use of the Time

10 As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.

In Ephesians 5:16, he says we are to be “redeeming the time, because the days are evil”. This life is the only opportunity we have to do good. We may think we will “just hang on and wait for Jesus to return”, but that is not at all what he commanded: we are to work while we have the opportunity to serve with Him. We already have eternal life; that is not the issue. We are serving out of love, and sowing in hope of eternal reward. We love one another because we want to, and because it is the best advertisement of the truth of the Gospel.

11 Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.

Paul usually used a scribe to write his letters. Sometimes we actually were given the names of the persons who wrote his words…usually not. But one of the reasons he generally used a scribe, was apparently that his eyes were bad. This particular letter was written by his own hand, evidently in the absence of a scribe. The result was a bit of a mess: he had to make huge letters in order to see what he was writing. He took note of that, possibly to let them know that the letter had not been an easy thing for him, or possibly just a self-effacing joke, in a way, letting them know that he had personally penned the words. It was not an easy task to write such a long letter when he was nearly blind, but he considered it a good investment. He set the example of “redeeming the time”. There is no time like the present to obey God’s leading. Paul could have thought, “Well, sometime soon a scribe will come along, and I can get him to write this letter.” But he didn’t—he wrote it himself.

They already knew that his eyes were bad (compare verse 4:15), so this is just a reminder that he was their faithful teacher and mentor, not one of the elite scribes or pharisaical teachers who plagued them. He refers to those people, next, in contrast: He has spoken at length regarding the motives of the legalizers, and this is his final comment.

Bad Teachers Have Bad Motives

12 As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.

13 For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.

He says that those teachers were not (and are not) willing to suffer the unpopularity (and the inherent risk of persecution) for having preached the cross. They preach legalism (circumcision, in this particular case) because that gains them glory in this life. They can point to “converts”, and lay claim to all that they have “done for God.”.

I remember listening to a missionary who very seldom spoke of his work in the Gospel, but went on and on about all the lovely church-buildings he had helped build. Were they good buildings? Probably so: but that is not what we are sent to do. Buildings do not save souls, nor do they edify the saints. Even baptism is made a distant second-place to the preaching of the Gospel.

The preaching of the Cross saves those who believe. The consistent preaching of the rest of the Word edifies believers. “Feeding the sheep” requires the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.  These false teachers were advocating works of the Law, not only because within their culture that was completely safe to them, but it was a “number” they could claim, to gain honor among their own kind. They could hold up a list of “converts”, and crow about how God was using them. There are those today to whom numbers are very important, as well. It is an easy trap to fall into.

If a mega-church today is truly edifying the saints and preaching the Gospel of Christ to unbelievers, I guess I have no problem with the size of the outfit, except that it seems a bit unwieldy at that point, and more likely that certain believers may tend to not be served well, (see Acts 6; it was a problem in Jerusalem, too) Some people will just disappear in the crowd, and become anonymous.  But there is no proof of blessing in size alone. Many such churches are definitely not staying true to the Word of God, but are very popular because of a charismatic preacher, an exciting show, a well-choreographed presentation, a band, or other attractions. Sometimes they have lots of other activities that have nothing to do with the Gospel, and those activities are what are drawing the crowds—pizza, basketball, games, movies, etc. One has to remember that “what a person is drawn by is what they are drawn to.” If you want them to be drawn to Christ, then you had better be using Him alone as your main attraction.

The fact is, Paul actually had to state (1st Corinthians 1:17) that he had not been sent to baptize—it simply wasn’t much of an issue. And the issue of “who led you to the Lord” was unimportant, too. He said that he (among others) had sown the seed of the Gospel, and that Apollos (among others) had “watered” that seed, by further preaching and exhortation, but that God alone saved souls…God gave the increase…period. Why did he say such a thing? Because the people were dividing over whose disciples they were—who had taught them, who their mentor had been, etc. And Paul told them to knock it off. He said their divisions were wrong. Paul also knew there were such things as false brethren…there were those who pretended to be believers, to be accepted by the group, but were not born again. He was not a “numbers” kind of guy.  He knew he no longer fit in, and was satisfied with that.

No Longer of This World

14 But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

Paul could clearly see the danger of pride in the ministry. He stayed back from that “edge” by maintaining that the Cross of Christ was his only message. In 1st Corinthians 2:2 he said that he had determined when he first came to Corinth that his only message would be the Cross. In fact he said that he was determined to not know anything beside the Cross. He had had opportunity to observe that too much “human reasoning” would detract from the message of Christ, so he was determined to stay far away from that trap. If anyone described his ministry, they would have to say, “He preaches the Cross!” He recognized that he was eternally separated from the world by that Cross, and that the World was eternally out of reach to him, as well. He could never hope to “fit in” again…and he was satisfied with that arrangement.

My father once warned me, saying “The world is passing you by!” (I was in ministry training at the time, at one stage or another.) I replied that as far as I could tell, the World was “headed for Hell in a hand-basket”, and that it was just fine if they passed me by; I wanted nothing to do with their direction, let alone their destination. I think that sometimes, since then, I have forgotten that resolve, for a time, and have tried to “fit in” at one level or another. The results have never been as good as I wanted. I cannot fit in. I am forever separated from the World by the Cross. The World knows I no longer belong, and will not receive me as its own. And God says that I am no longer of this world…I cannot have partnership with it anymore, though I am required to live within it and function as a light in the darkness. Paul says, over in 2nd Corinthians 6:14, 15, “Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And, what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord (agreement—common ground) hath Christ with Belial? Or, what part hath he that believeth, with an infidel?”

Those are pretty strong words: Paul said in Philippians 2:15, 16, “that ye may be blameless, and harmless, the Sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth the Word of Life:” How can we shine as lights in the World if we are not in it? But, just as surely, how can we shine if, effectively, we join with the darkness, so that they see us as self-righteous hypocrites, and pretenders, with nothing real to offer.

Some of you have probably been grieved to see the recent changes in our national laws. This admonition seems particularly apt, today, in light of those changes. We are to continue to shine “in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation”. We are not allowed to draw off and hold ourselves away from them—but we also do not belong to them and cannot join them in their perversion and rebellion. Ephesians 5:11, 12 says for us to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them, for it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” And, make no mistake: the result will likely be increasing persecution. Philippians 1:29 says “unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on His name but also to suffer for His sake.” Paul knew that his future held such persecution, and did not turn away from it: He said (Philippians 3:10) “that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings…being made conformable unto His death…” He knew the cost of the ministry. Do we?

The fact is that we are just as “separated from the World” by the Cross as the Apostle Paul was…but it has not had the same effect in our lives, as yet. That time may be coming soon.

Our nation has finally turned its back on God at every level, and people are gloating over the collective shame and sin and debauchery of the nation. The unbelieving world rejoices to see the fall of our once-Christian nation. In the previous verses we saw the warning, “Be not deceived, for God is not mocked: whatsoever a man sows; that shall he also reap.” Judgment is definitely coming: I have no idea what form it will take.

Inward Change is What God Wants.

15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.

Paul says that the outward actions don’t accomplish much of anything; that the key issue is being born again. After that point, God is free to rear up a believer in the nurture of His Word, and produce the inward and outward changes that show the reality of the new birth. The chains and restraints of religious formalism and the trappings of formal piety are essentially useless. The results of the Holy Spirit working through a born-again believer have eternal value. Not only that, but, as we saw in the previous chapter, “against such things there is no law”. There may come a time when we will be condemned for our faith…but the good works of faith are not what they are rejecting: it is the “bad news” of the Gospel…the three-fold bad news that “Sin is black, Hell is hot, and Judgment is coming!” But the Gospel also concludes with the Good News; “Jesus Saves!” They don’t like that part either, so we stand condemned for the whole message of the Gospel. We have to accept the fact that we are cast aside by the World because they also cast aside the Christ who saved us. Jesus said, “Marvel not if the World hate thee; they hated Me first!” We are finally beginning to see that reality in the world around us. We must prepare our hearts to accept it as our cross, joining Jesus in the “fellowship of His sufferings.”

Peace in Persecution

16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

Paul concludes by praying for peace upon those who live by faith, and obey by faith. He also prays for peace upon the “Israel of God”. (This is not saying that believers have become Jews, though he has already pointed out that they have become part of the fulfilled promise to Abraham. I believe he may be addressing the Jewish believers who have embraced Jesus as their Messiah… but I can’t prove it.) At any rate, Jesus agreed, saying “In the World ye shall have tribulations, but be of good cheer: I have overcome the World.

I think it is probably important to point out that the trap of legalism is still there: James 3:18 says “the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in Peace by those who make peace.” This whole passage is exhorting us to walk in the light and to shine in a dark world…but it requires that the Peace of God “leak out through us” in every relationship. We cannot preach righteousness in anger and expect good results. James says if we want to reap righteousness we have to sow that seed in peace, as peacemakers.

Philippians 4:6, 7 states that we can experience that peace at all times. We are to avoid anxiety and stress by laying our burden on Jesus…and leaving it there. We are not to just be confident in our own goodness and rightness, and think that that is the “light” we are to shine. The Love of God and the Gospel of His Grace is the light we are to shine.

Paul’s Conclusion

17 From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.

Paul once may have taken some sort of pride in his being a Jew, and bearing the “marks” of Judaism: physical circumcision, peculiar clothing, peculiar haircut, etc. Now the only marks he points to are the physical scars that he received as a result of preaching the Gospel. He pointed to them as the proof of his ministry. Not numbers, not buildings, not money or fame. He pointed to his suffering which had been the direct result of the preaching of the Cross. And his conclusion was that any accusations against his ministry will have to face the reality of his track-record.

18 Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. (To the Galatians written from Rome.)

As we mentioned in the beginning of this epistle, Grace is not only for salvation, but for daily life. How fitting that the Epistle should begin and end with Grace, as that is the key theme of the book. Paul’s purpose is to point people away from Law, with its outward works, and to anchor the believers firmly in Grace. If we take his message to heart, then his purpose is fulfilled in us.

If we walk in the Spirit, we can expect the grace of the Lord Jesus to be with our spirits.

Lord Jesus, change our hearts by your Grace. Re-mold us into your likeness and lead us in the path of righteousness. Teach us to sow the Gospel of Grace and Peace and to demonstrate the Love of God in our lives, while maintaining a clean walk before you. Make us the Men and Women of God you have chosen us to be.

Christian Liberty

What is Christian Liberty?

© C. O. Bishop 5/2/15; THCF 5/3/15

Galatians 5:1-14

Introduction:

Paul has spent much of the last four chapters talking about the trap of legalism, and rightfully so: it is warned against all through the Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, though more so in the New, to be sure. Now he seems to move toward a conclusion: if Legalism, Law-works, are NOT how we are to live then how should we live? What does Christian Liberty amount to? Does it mean we are to be lawless? Absolutely not! It means we have been called to a higher law, one of the heart and of the Spirit, which sets us free from the Law of Sin and Death. So Paul is now teaching how that is supposed to work. What does genuine liberty look like, as opposed to Licentiousness which is claimed to be liberty? And how important is it, really?

Maintain your Liberty!

Galatians Chapter 5:1-14

1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

This is a very far-reaching command. It is a principle by which to live; not a checklist item. The things being suggested by the then-current crop of legalizers, confronting the Galatian believers, may not even be touched upon by the legalizers today. Perhaps it is the idea that one has to be baptized to be saved…or has to be baptized by a certain formulaic ritual, or into a certain church. Perhaps they are telling you that what you use for communion, who serves the communion, or the clothes you wear, or how you hold your hands when you pray… are the keys to peace with God. Do these ideas sound ridiculous? Guess what—they (and many other similar follies) have all been cited as cardinal doctrines. Churches split over tiny differences, and people try to deny one another access to God over tiny differences, too. I was in a Baptist church once where the preacher still put on a black robe even to baptize someone in a creek. (Why?? What was the message he was sending? That “Clergy” is somehow separated from the “common” folk? Or did the black robe somehow solemnify baptism?)

Sometimes unbelievers have been literally shut out because there was something in their lives that the church-folk didn’t want to be associated with. I recall an older, unbelieving friend telling me that he had quit attending church altogether, because, when his father had been murdered and he was trying to find someone to bury him, all the local churches (where they lived at the time—somewhere in New Jersey, as I recall—and 50 years ago or more) initially refused to help! Perhaps they were afraid of the publicity; perhaps some other fear—perhaps there had been some involvement of organized crime—I’m not sure; but his father’s own church would not bury him.

Were they so convinced of their own righteousness that they did not dare “taint themselves” by being involved in the funeral of a murdered man? Or were they afraid of honoring a murdered man and possibly incurring further violence toward themselves? I don’t know. But, as far as he was concerned, their testimony was ruined, along with the testimony of every other church in the world. He was deeply disillusioned about churches, by that experience.

He finally found a pastor of a local, evangelical, non-denominational church who readily agreed to serve, and he was grateful for that help…but when he shared all this with me, he had long since moved away from that area, and was not at ALL interested in anything churches of any sort had to offer. He died an unbeliever, as far as I know. That is a sad story, but it is true. Sadder still is the fact that, while all those churches collectively helped to send that man to hell, he himself ultimately made the decision to reject the God of the Bible. Their personal bondage to irrelevance had a permanent effect on his personal bondage to sin.

Unless he repented after I last saw him, he was lost…and, the blame partly lies at the feet of those churches, who loved their own reputations more than the Gospel. He was sure, the last time I talked with him, that because of his personal good works, he deserved eternal bliss with God. I was a very young believer at the time, and tried to point out to him that NO one deserves heaven on their own merit. I verbally, earnestly, included myself in that indictment, but his final words to me were, “Well, I do!” So; evidently, he, along with them, had bought into the idea of salvation by works. The pastor who buried my friend’s father had not fallen prey to that doctrine, and behaved with Grace and Mercy toward him. I just wish he could have led my friend to Christ before he left town for good.

2 Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.

So…what is being taught here? Is Paul telling the Galatian believers that if they undergo circumcision (to become Jews) then they have lost their salvation? I thought he said that was impossible…?  Let’s read the next verse:

The Whole Law or None

3 For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.

The issue, here, is that one cannot choose to obey pieces of the Law, and so claim to be “keeping the Law.” If you decide that Law-keeping is the pathway to God, then you are obligated to keep all of it. It is interesting to watch and see how picky the so-called “law-keepers” become about which portions of the law they will keep. They may tithe, and they may not work on the Sabbath, or they may not eat certain foods, or wear certain clothes—but they are completely lax and very self-justifying about the rest of the Law. Paul, however, does not allow them that option. He says they are debtors to do the whole law. (Bear in mind that it is God talking, here, not just Paul!)

4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

The temporal, daily, living effect of Grace, then, is gone…the eternal effect is there for the believer, regardless of their later behavior and beliefs; but way back in Galatians 1:4, Paul says that Jesus also died “…to deliver us from this present evil world”…and when a person embraces Law, they shut out Grace…so that they cannot embrace the liberty of Grace. In that sense, then, Grace has ceased to have an effect on their lives.

The liberty of the believer is solidly taught in chapters four and five, but it is feared by churches everywhere, because they think it is the equivalent of license to sin. It is definitely not, and that notion is clearly rebuked in scripture, but we tend to think of it that way, anyhow. But! Notice that it is the legalizers— those who try to attain to righteousness by human effort— who are being rebuked, and to whom Paul says “ye are fallen from grace!” not those who have fallen into some sort of immorality, or other sin. This has nothing to do with salvation, and everything to do with a grace-filled life and a peaceful walk with God. There are plenty of passages where believers are exhorted to live holy lives…but here, the thing under condemnation is self-effort and self-justification. There is never a suggestion that the things they are doing are making them in any way more acceptable to God.

The Righteousness of Faith

5 For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.

There is coming a day when we will be completely clothed and permanently filled with the Righteousness of Christ. I yearn for that day, as my continual failures distress me deeply. Positionally, we already are completely righteous in Him. Our new natures, in fact, are completely righteous already. But we still labor under the weight of our old sin nature. Paul says (Ephesians 4:22-24) that the old nature is “being corrupted” as a continuing reality. But he also assures us that our new nature is “after God (in His own image) created in righteousness and true Holiness.” So what we are looking forward to by faith is the full reality of His image, with our old nature gone forever. We endure this life by faith, looking forward to that which is to come. We cannot earn it; it is already ours. The best we can do is to learn to walk by faith in the reality of our new natures.

6 For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

The outward symbols mean nothing. The reality of Faith, working because of Love, means everything. Putting on the outward trappings of religion does not help anything. Being transformed from the inside out was God’s plan from the beginning.

7 Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?

The believers in the Galatian churches had begun well, and had been learning to walk with God. Paul asks how it is that they have stumbled, and are now being hindered. (He knows the answer—he wants them to see that truth of the matter.) This is similar to God’s questions to Adam, in the Garden. “Where are you? Who told you that you were naked?” God knew the whole truth—He wanted Adam to see it and confess it. God wants us to consider our progress or lack of it, and be honest as to how we got there. Sometimes it may mean recognizing that a “friend” has not had a good effect on our life. Sometimes it means that a personal choice to feed on some religious writings or teachings has subverted our thinking. More frequently it means recognizing that our own responses to life in general have not been productive. But ultimately, it means that legalism is not from God!

Legalism is Not From God

8 This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.

This is a pretty firm statement: this argument did not originate with your Savior!
Stop and think, then: where did it come from?

Ultimately, there is only one other source. The Flesh could do it on its own, but remember: the World, the Flesh and the Devil are allied against you. If it comes from any of them, it effectively comes from all of them. If it doesn’t originate with God, you can assume it ultimately originates with the Enemy, at one level or another.

9 A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.

This is such a tiny verse it is easy to pass it over. Paul is using a common saying to warn them that there is no such thing as a “little bit” of sin. They used to say “there is no such thing as being ‘a little bit pregnant.’” Eventually it will show up in all its glory.

Sin will eventually bear fruit. If you decide to dabble in legalism, then you will eventually find that Grace has been set aside, just as if you had whole-heartedly embraced the Law. This requires some soul-searching: I need to examine my motives: am I “serving” because I am fearful of losing my right standing with God? Or because I think that, in some way, He will “owe me something” in the way of a “good life”? Either of those is a wrong motive. If I am a believer, then my standing (my position with Him) is already perfect, regardless of my behavior: I can’t improve it, nor can I damage it. I am already seated in the heavenlies with Christ, whether I believe it or not at any given moment. Also, God does not “owe” me anything, nor will he ever. My life may be short or long, easy or hard. There are believers in the world undergoing terrible persecution: did they somehow displease God? No, usually persecution comes because believers are doing exactly what they should be doing. Jesus promised that “in the World ye shall have persecution”.

Judgment is Coming

10 I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be.

That is one thing we can be sure of: Judgment is coming. As believers, we need to realize that, though our punishment for sin was completely poured out at the Cross, we still face the Judgment Seat of Christ…and it is not necessarily going to be a pleasant thing. 1st Corinthians 3:10-16 states that some of us will be saved “as one escaping through the flames”. We should think carefully about how we live, how we serve, and why.

Paul was confident, as he thought of their past walk with God, that they were real believers, and that they would respond well to this correction. But he foresaw a grim future for those who were trying to subvert them. “…he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment….”

11 And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased.

There seems to be the idea that perhaps the Judaizers had even tried to say that Paul was in agreement with them…and that he had just neglected to tell them this part. Paul poses the question, “If that is what I am teaching, why am I suffering persecution? The Cross would not be offensive to the Jews if I was still teaching that believers had to become Jews.”

Sometimes, even today, a false teacher comes along with something like this: “No, no, you’ve got it all wrong! That is not what Jesus was trying to tell you! You just misunderstood! What He really meant was…” And then they teach some seriously bad doctrine that points people away from the Cross. By the way, when anyone tells you that there are other ways to be saved than by the Cross of Christ, you can mark him/her as a false teacher right then. Jesus himself says there is no other way. The apostles were in full agreement, saying “There is no other name under heaven, given among Men, by which we must be saved.”

A false teacher may be very popular, and preach warm, friendly-sounding messages that seem to reach out to the world with open arms. But if he offers something other than Christ and Him Crucified, for salvation, then he is helping divert people from the Cross, and sending them to a Christless Eternity. We feel sad to say such things, but far sadder to think of the thousands upon thousands who have been lost to the lure of the soft-sell, because someone was not willing to take a stand on the actual Gospel, but offered a “social Gospel” or a “self-help Gospel” instead.

Jesus spent a lot of time warning of coming judgment, and even stated that “they who do not believe are already condemned”. The bad news is what makes the Good news good. Paul said “…Christ came to save Sinners….” Jesus said He came to “call sinners to repentance.”

I have a student who recently had to skip classes because she was having a broken, infected tooth extracted. She first had to have penicillin for a few days, to kill the infection. She told me later that she could not believe how much better she felt once the infection was gone, along with the bad tooth. She had evidently suffered from the infection longer than she knew, and the penicillin gave her virtually immediate relief, capped by removal of the painful source, the rotten tooth.

So, the penicillin turned out to be great news because …what? Because she had a serious infection that was making her very sick, and possibly would have threatened her life! The infected tooth was what made the penicillin (and the tooth extraction) “good news.” Otherwise both would have been really bad news.

If sin were not a serious issue, with fatal consequences, then the crucifixion would be terrible news. If I were not a condemned sinner, then I would not need a savior. And Jesus’ death would just be a tragic miscarriage of justice. But; as it is, we see the Grace of God through the horror of the Cross, and we realize that it was the horror of our own sin that necessitated the Cross. Yes, the Cross is an offense; but not to God, and not to believers.

Contending for the Faith

12 I would they were even cut off which trouble you.

That is a pretty grim thing for the Apostle to say: if we said it today from the pulpit we would get into trouble. He is literally saying, “I wish they’d just die, and quit bothering you.” Some translations say “mutilate themselves”, but the Greek word so translated (apokopto) usually means “removed” or “severed”. We may wish something similar, under similar circumstances, but Paul knew that their judgment was coming, and that he had to wait for the Lord to act.

In Psalm 37 David made the statement that “They (the wicked) shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb”. Now, “Soon” is always meant “soon” from God’s perspective, but, in this particular passage, the word translated “soon” means “suddenly”—as in, “without warning”. The false teachers face an awful eternity—we pray for their salvation, not their death. Jesus said “love your enemies, and do good to those who hate you…pray for those who despitefully use you.” But I think that to pray for God’s intervention on behalf of the church is also in keeping with God’s word.

So, to pray that God will shut the mouths of false teachers is correct; not “un-loving”. In fact, in Titus 1:10, 11, Paul mentions this, saying that their mouths “must be stopped”. This is one of the few places where the scripture teaches contending for the faith. Corrective teaching, even to the extent that it causes disharmony, is better than false teaching, producing a so-called “harmony” that is to the detriment of the hearers. (We are not talking about simple disagreements about petty issues, here, but false doctrines that can destroy the church.)

Consider this: when a airliner is losing power, and there is a chance of a crash-landing, is it better to offer free drinks and peanuts, or, to give instructions as to how to prepare for the crash? One response may produce temporary peace and happiness, but the other offers a hope of survival. We preach the truth of the Cross, not because it is comfortable, but because it is true. We preach Grace, not to promote license to sin, but to produce liberty to serve. If false teachers are deterring believers from Grace, and substituting Law, it is entirely within God’s instruction to both apply corrective teaching and to simultaneously pray for God to close their mouths.

Conclusion:

13 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Here is the key to the whole argument, in my opinion: the legalist churches fear liberty because they equate it with license. Paul warns against misusing liberty right here. Notice he makes no apology for their having the liberty…he just commands them not to abuse it.

Every time a Christian, or even someone who just claims to be a believer, falls into sin,

  • Legalists will claim he is “living proof” of the “dangers of Christian liberty;”
  • Unbelievers will rave that he is the “epitome of Christian hypocrisy” (implying that all Christians are, by definition, hypocrites); and
  • True believers everywhere will grieve for the damage done to the testimony of Christ.

God knows the truth. Any or all of them could be right, but the believers know the real cost. There will be people who will use that person’s sin as an excuse to reject Christ, and will be lost.

If you know that your sin could result in someone else spending eternity in Hell, even if it is only because they used your sin as an excuse to reject the Lord, shouldn’t that make you more conscious of your actions, attitudes and words? It certainly should!

So: loving our neighbors (with agapé love) should be our first concern as committed Christians. Agapé love implies being committed to the good of the recipient without regard to the effect in one’s own life. It means consistently putting the needs of others before your own. This is the kind of love that Jesus commanded, and the kind He demonstrated at the Cross. It has absolutely nothing to do with feelings, but is entirely about doing. It is “commitment with shoe-leather.” It is doing what is best for the other person, even when it doesn’t feel good for you. Bear in mind that Jesus didn’t die for you because it felt good, or because it was fun: he did so because you needed it!

Let’s pray:

God help us to use our liberty only to serve and Honor you. Help us to see ourselves through your eyes, and to not serve ourselves, but rather, serve you by serving others. Make us the kind of men and women you have called us to be.