Who are “the Dead?”

Who are “the Dead,” in John 5:25-29?

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 5:25-29

Introduction:

Some of the passages we have read in the Gospel of John have required some thought, and even some “digging into the rest of God’s Word,” to arrive at a reasonable level of understanding. Some are very straightforward and clear. (John 5:24, which we read last week, is one of the “very clear” variety: No one need have any question about his or her eternal destiny, or how to have assurance of Eternal life.)  But: the next five verses do give cause for some careful thought and for asking some questions:

John 5:25-29

25 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. 26 For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; 27 And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. 28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, 29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.

What is happening, here?

Taken as a whole, that passage could be pretty confusing: It rather sounds as though Jesus is planning a “preaching tour among the graves,” that some of the dead would hear him and live, that ALL would hear and exit the tombs and that the “good people” would have eternal life, and the “bad people” would have eternal condemnation.

There are several problems with that assumption:

  1. Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is given unto man once to die, and after this, the judgment.”
    1. (That pretty much excludes a “second chance.”)
    1. Luke 16:19-31 tells of a man who clearly “believed” from the tomb, and it did him no good at all! There was no “second chance.”
  2. Romans 3:12 says “there is none that doeth good: no, not one!”So, whatever we think about “good and bad” people means very little.
  3. Luke 23:42, 43 tells of a man who definitely did evil with his life, and was in the process of being executed for his crimes. But he placed his trust in the living Christ, and was given eternal life, as a gift.
  4. Ephesians 2:8, 9 says we are not saved by good works: that it is always a gift, and
  5. Galatians 2:21 says, if it were possible  to be justified (declared righteous) by works, then Jesus died for nothing!

So, perhaps there is more than one type of “dead” in this passage. Perhaps the preaching is not done “among the tombs,” but among the “dead.” That alone would make the last verse easier to understand, but there is still a problem with the “Works” issue. So, let’s examine the passage:

Who are the Dead?

The first question we really need to answer, then is “Who are the dead, to whom Jesus was calling at that time (and to whom He still is calling today?) The best place to find answers about questions in God’s Word is in God’s Word!  So, let’s see what we can find out about the “dead” to whom Jesus is “calling:”

  • Ephesians 2:1, speaking to the Gentile believers at Ephesus (and us!), says “You hath He quickened (brought to life) who were dead in trespasses and sin.”
    • They were dead in sin (spiritually separated from God. (Ephesians 2:11, 12)
    • Jesus brought them to life.
    • They were living believers when Paul’s letter reached them.
  • Colossians 2:13, speaking to another Gentile church, says, “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
    • They once were dead, but now were alive, through the forgiveness of all sins.
    • And we already saw that Ephesians 2:8, 9 says it was by Grace, through Faith.

So, from these passages, what answer can I give to the question, “Who are the Dead to whom Jesus called?”

25 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.

We Were Dead in our Sins

The “dead” to whom Jesus calls are the unbelieving people of the whole world. We were all dead in sins until we heard the Gospel: we somehow heard the call of Jesus, over the noise of this dying world, and we placed our faith in Him, at whatever level of understanding we then had.

The Example of the Thief on the Cross:

The thief on the Cross was surrounded by the howling, mocking crowd, and filled with his own agony, as well, but he somehow saw the Holiness of Jesus and His Forgiveness and Love, and he repented of his earlier arrogance against God. He cast Himself upon the Mercy of the Living Christ. He died a short time later, just after Jesus did, and he entered Paradise with His Savior.

He was (literally) dead in his sins, and being executed for his crimes! He was dying as a condemned criminal. But: he heard the voice of Jesus, and lived! The only sense in which his condition differs from each of ours is the degree of immediacy: he knew he was dying and he had no hope of respite or reprieve. He was looking at Jesus face-to-face. He cast his only, desperate hope on someone he had only moments before been mocking along with the crowd. So, how does that compare with my own experience?

My Own Example:

  • Had I seen Jesus face-to-face? (Nope!)
  • Did I know for sure when I was going to die? (No, but I was pretty sure that I would die.)
  • Was I aware of my sin and the consequences of sin? (Theoretically, yes, but certainly not to the same degree as that man was. I had a growing conviction that I was a condemned sinner, and unable to please God.)
  • Did I know what Jesus could do for me? (In some ways I knew more than the thief on the Cross, but not much more: I knew that I was lost, and that Jesus was my only hope.)

How Did Jesus Call us to Himself?

Our individual stories vary a little, from person to person, but really only in the “details.”

For example, Abraham believed God and God declared him righteous (Genesis 15:6.) That is the core truth: God speaks, we place our faith in Him, and He declares us righteous.

In the New Testament, the believers heard the Gospel (the good news of the substitutionary sacrifice Jesus made for us: His death, and burial and resurrection,) and they believed God, that He was the true Savior, promised from the beginning of the world. And they were not only declared righteous (“justified,”) but were assigned a permanent position in the Body of Christ.

The only thing God names as His power to save us, the sinners, the spiritually dead of this world, is the Gospel of Christ. Romans 1:16 says “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the Power of God to save them that believe!” And it is the only thing so described in Scripture. He offers no other hope.

How does He call?

In Abraham’s case, He evidently called in an audible voice. (Abraham never saw a Bible.) In other biblical cases, He sometimes called in a vision, sometimes in person, face to face.(None of those people had a Bible, either, though some had seen the Torah scrolls.)

But after the apostolic age, increasingly, the primary way has been through the written Word of God. The epistles circulated widely during the first century, and there were tens of thousands of copies made, during the first few centuries. Each was laboriously hand-copied onto Papyrus sheets. Some of the copies were pretty poor quality, as the people who painstakingly wrote them out were only barely literate. But they valued the written Word enough to risk their lives for it, so they certainly were trying to be very careful. And, overall, the record is very good, partly because of the many thousands of surviving copies still extant today.

How did He call You?

So…in your case; did you hear the Gospel from a friend? Perhaps from a neighbor, or a family member? They were quoting (or at least referring to) the authoritative Word of God. They were not “making things up as they went.” Perhaps you believed on the spot: perhaps you required dozens of repeated contacts (as I did,) before you changed your mind (that’s called “repentance“) regarding who Jesus is and was.

Regardless of how the message came to me, it was through the Word of God. Romans 10:17 says, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” And, of course, when we began this study in the Gospel of John, in the very first verses we found that Jesus is the Word! He is the Living Word. And, how you respond to the Written Word reveals the reality of how you respond to the Living Word.

How do we Respond?

Pastor Richard Banham once attempted to share Christ with an older woman, but she angrily replied, “I don’t care what the Bible says! I have my experience!” Her response to the Written Word was utter rejection. Specifically, she utterly rejected the Gospel of Christ.

And God says that the Gospel, being believed in, is His only power to save sinners. Jesus calls, and they who “hear His voice” shall live. What does it mean to “hear his voice?” In John 15:3 Jesus told the eleven remaining disciples (Judas had already left) “Now ye are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you.” But two chapters earlier, in John 13:10, 11, He had said they were not all clean, and it says he was referring to Judas Iscariot.

Judas “heard” all the same words the other disciples had heard: why was he not clean? Because he rejected what he was “hearing.” He heard the sound and understood the words, but he rejected the message. The other eleven “heard Him,” and received what He said as being from God. Jesus had “called to the spiritually dead” and some had responded in faith. Those who responded in faith were made alive. Those who did not believe, simply remained dead, unless (as in my own case) they later repented (changed their mind) and believed.

The Authority of Life and Judgment

26 For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; 27 And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.

Philippians 2:5-8 shows us that Jesus was the eternal God: He was God the Son, but He did not cling to that position with all its privileges. He was born into our world as a baby, grew up as a man, and lived out a perfect life before God. But, through all that experience, He never set aside His Holiness as God, nor did He set aside His wisdom.

He mostly chose not to use His limitless power, but He occasionally revealed it through the incredible miracles He performed. Though I am usually most impressed by His stopping the storm, the greatest miracle, of course, was when He raised the dead. He physically raised the dead on several occasions. The most exciting example was Lazarus, in John 11. In all these things he proved the truth of this verse. He has the authority of life, and of Judgment. He is specifically our Judge, because of His Humanity.  We are being judged by a righteous God who has lived with all the restrictions of a human life, and has been victorious. But He also is our Savior, offering a free pass through the judgment, by His Grace, through Faith.

But, What about the Graves?

Remember, He also mentioned “those in the Graves:”  What about them? He said, 28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, 29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.

So, all those in the graves when Jesus gives that final call, will come out! We can read in the book of the Revelation how that will happen: the call will first involve the righteous dead. The Old Testament saints are already with Jesus, today, but at that time, their old physical bodies will be raised, perfect and incorruptible.

The same goes for all the New Testament believers as well: their bodies are currently wherever they ended up. Some were buried, and were consumed by various creatures of the earth. Some were lost at sea, and digested by various types of marine life, large or small. Some were burned, and their ashes were blown away by the wind. But God will bring all of them back to life, to face eternity!

Job knew all about this!

In Job 19:25, Job said that he knew that “after his death, though worms would consume his old body, yet he would see his Redeemer face-to-face, with his own eyes and not another.” The fact is, at the resurrection, ALL those who are physically dead WILL come out to face Jesus, either as their Savior or as their Judge. All their bodies will be restored, regardless of what had become of them, and regardless of whether they are saved or lost. There are no exceptions.

But, the resurrection of the unrighteous dead is described in Revelation 20:12-15 They will receive their old body, eternally renewed, just in time to spend eternity separated from God! Jesus spent a fair amount of time and effort warning about this resurrection. In fact, He spent more time warning about the coming Judgment and the Lake of Fire, than He did telling us about what Heaven will be like.

(Christian preachers are often accused of “spending too much time preaching about Hell.” But, if they want to follow Jesus’s example, they will do it more, not less!) The Good News of the Gospel would not be good news at all, if it were not for the bad news of human sin and the coming judgment. (What do you think we are being saved from?)

But, What about the “good deeds?”

Jesus did say, “…they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.What “doing good” was he referring to?

In John 6:28, 29, the people asked Jesus, “What shall we do that we might work the works of God?” He answered, “This is the Work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.

That is the only “good work” that results in salvation: placing your faith in His Sacrifice: Jesus’s finished work at the Cross.  In John 3:18, Jesus said, “He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

Don’t We Need Good Works?

Are there “Good Works” subsequent to salvation, which might apply, here?  In a way, yes! Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are His workmanship, created unto good works which He hast before ordained that we should walk in them.”

As long as we recognize that the only “good work” which can result in salvation, or affect it in any way, is the work which Jesus did for us at the Cross, then we can talk about the eternal rewards God promises for our obedience to Him after we are born again. But those rewards are not a gift: they are rewards. Salvation is truly a gift, given freely by Jesus.

Conclusion

We will talk about rewards at a later time. For now, I think it is enough that we understand that we were the “dead, who heard the voice of the Savior and responded in faith.” As we share the Gospel with others who also are dead in their sins, Jesus continues to call them, through His Word, inviting them to eternal life and to peace, and to joy.

And, eventually, (if the Lord’s return does not come first) we all will be among “those in the graves,” who answer the call to the resurrection of the just: to see our Redeemer face to face! We have that Blessed Hope, by His Promise!

Lord Jesus, fill us with Your Joy, as we contemplate the absolute security we have in You. Fill us with the knowledge that you have called us to be your voice, on earth. We are to call to the spiritually dead, and to offer them eternal life. Fill us with Your compassion for the lost, and send us to do Your will.

What Happened at Bethesda?

What Happened at Bethesda?

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

John 5:1-18 compare John 9:34-38

Introduction:

Last week, we talked about the situation (John 4:46-53) in Cana, where a man’s son was healed from 16 miles away, and another in Mark 5:21-43 where a woman was healed by touching Jesus’ garment, and a child was raised from the dead. We were able to see that the healings happened by the will of Jesus, and often in company of the faith of the sick person…but not always. (The little girl’s faith was never in question: Jesus told her father to believe, but only commanded her to “get up.”)

So, in the next chapter, there is a strange situation: Jesus went to the pool at Bethesda, where it says that there was a “great multitude” of people seeking healing.

In the situation in Mark chapter five, we decided that the reason only the one woman was healed was that she alone had come there for healing, in faith that touching the hem of Jesus’s robe would provide her with healing. We observed that none of the others were there for that purpose, except the man to whose house Jesus was going, in order to heal his daughter. OK…that seems evident, because Jesus confirmed that “thy faith hath made thee whole!” But at Bethesda, there were many present: and evidently every single one was there because they believed that if they could get into the water FIRST after the angel disturbed the waters, then they would be healed. So what actually happened?

What actually happened at Bethesda?

1After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.

And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.

So, the first and most obvious question would be “Why heal just the one guy? They were all there in faith, right? And Jesus never even confronted that particular man about faith: just whether he wanted to be healed.”

And my next question would be, “Why that particular guy?”

So, let’s look at the facts, as laid out in the scripture, and try to discern what happened:

  • There was a pool called Bethesda, meaning “House of Mercy.”
  • At certain times an angel went down and disturbed the water in that pool,
    • People try to make this just a “fable,” or a “superstition,” attempting to explain by natural means what happened at Bethesda. The scripture does not allow for that possibility: It flatly declares that an angel did disturb the water, and that whoever jumped in first after that disturbance, was healed. We do not have the option to say that it was just a subterranean spring that occasionally “burped” and disturbed the water. We do not have the option to say that “the healings were psychosomatic.” God says they were real, and that it was an angelic action, not geological. He also says that whatever disease they had, the healing was available. To deny any of this is to deny God’s Word. Further, if it had not been observably true, then there would not have been a crowd there, knowing that only one would be healed each time. (Sad, really.)
  • There was a great multitude gathered there… a crowd of people, all believing that, if they could just be the first one into the water, they could be healed.
  • Jesus asked one man, who had been there a long time, “Do you want to be healed?”
    • That seems a rhetorical question: he wouldn’t be there if that was not his desire: But Jesus did ask. However, there was no question regarding faith. Nor did God mention anything about his faith or lack of it. Jesus just questioned his desire, and the man responded as to why he was not getting healed. (He could never get there first, because he couldn’t walk, and had no one to put him into the water.)
  • Jesus commanded the man to “ Rise, take up thy bed and walk.” And the man didn’t question it: he just obeyed! (Odd thing, here: there was no “walking and leaping and praising God,” in this account. There is not even a mention of gratitude, or joy.)
  • Finally, It was the Sabbath. (This may actually be the key fact in the whole account.)

What was the Result?

10 The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed. 11 He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk. 12 Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk? 13 And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place.

It was completely predictable that the other Jews (especially the scribes, pharisees, priests, etc.) would accuse the man of breaking the sabbath: even the common man was aware of this law. They seemed especially good at accusations of this kind. And rather than saying, “Yes, I know! I was just healed after 38 years of paralysis! I will go to the priest and bring a sacrifice!” he shifted the blame to Jesus, saying, “The one who healed me told me to carry my bed!”

So, they wanted to know who told him to carry his bed, not, apparently, who healed him. But, as it happened, he couldn’t tell them because he himself had never focused on Jesus even enough to recognize him, let alone get his name so he could thank him properly. He just plain didn’t know! And that didn’t seem to bother him very much, until found that he couldn’t point him out to the accusers. What an odd response to having been granted instant relief after 38 years of disease! I am grateful to get well after being sick for even a few days!

The “Second Chance” Meeting

 14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee. 15 The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.

The man had a “second chance to get to know Jesus,” there in the temple: Jesus found him again, (notice that it is God who seeks us, not the other way around: see Romans 3:11) and He told him, in essence, “you need to get your priorities straight, so something worse doesn’t happen to you!” (Was Jesus threatening the man? No: the man evidently did not have a saving faith at all, and Jesus was simply warning him of the coming Judgment.) Bear in mind: There was another (later) healing where the healed individual also did not know who Jesus was, but it was because he had been blind from birth, and had never seen anyone, let alone Jesus. And when Jesus found him, and identified Himself, that man fell at the feet of Jesus, and worshipped Him! (John 9:38)

So, what did this man do with that warning? He departed! He left Jesus, and found Jesus’s enemies, and pointed out Jesus to them! (Real gratitude, there!) Now, nothing more is said about this man. I can’t tell you what ended up happening to him. Did he later repent and become a believer? We are not told, and I will not speculate: But his responses seem to be those of an enemy, not a grateful recipient of a blessing. Keep that in mind.

How did the Jews Respond?

16 And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.

Their response was not, “seek to question Him as to His authority, and investigate whether He was, in fact, the Messiah:” Nope! Their first response was to try to kill Him! And they were persistent about it, too. This response occurs repeatedly during Jesus’s earthly ministry.

Notice, also, that the priorities of the Jews did not include finding the One who could heal them of all diseases, but rather seeking to kill Him, because he healed on the sabbath day. (How strange!) It specifically says they initially sought to kill Him because he had healed on the sabbath. This actually comes up over and over, in the Gospel accounts, and this particular incident just seems to be the “opening round.”

How did Jesus Respond?

17 But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.

Jesus simply stated the source of His authority: “My Father!” We are going to see this challenge made to them over and over, as well. All the religions of the World run head-on into this barrier: The Deity of Christ! And what is their response?

 18 Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.

Even more vehemently, they now desired to kill Jesus because He claimed to be deity! Consider: We might simply have thought that Jesus was “claiming God as His Heavenly Father,” as anyone might say today. But they understood that the issue went much deeper: Jesus was not claiming to be “A” child of God. He was claiming to be “THESon of God. And they knew it! They also knew that if it were true, then He was quite literally equal with God, as the Heir!

Isn’t it interesting, that in the various parables where Jesus talked about a King, or a landowner, sending emissaries to receive the tribute due Him as the owner of the land, the people beat those emissaries, stoned them, and killed them. But when He sent His Son, they said, “This is the heir! Let’s kill Him, and then WE will own the land!” (What?? How do you figure that? All that would do is make you all guilty of a capital crime, as murderers!)

But that was their response! And the parables were referring to these very people whose forefathers had killed the prophets God sent, and who now sought to kill Jesus, the author of life and healing, as well as the ultimate authority in the Universe!

Now: do I understand the Trinity? Nope! I freely admit that I do not! Isaiah 9:6, 7 tells me that “the Son … shall be called…the Everlasting Father!” And yet, Jesus said “My Father is greater than I!” I cannot make those two statements agree, by human reasoning: I would have to alter the truth to make them somehow “fit.” From Human perspective, it seems paradoxical, at best. But both statements are clearly taught in the scripture, and both are equally true. I am not required to understand them, nor to explain them: but I am required to faithfully teach them. And, I do not have the authority to change the truth of God, to make it more palatable to human reasoning. God says it, and it is true. Deal with it! (And, next week, we are going to see just how far the Authority of Jesus reaches.)

I happen to believe that Jesus “handpicked” that man at Bethesda, knowing how he would respond. The Jews were only beginning to see what they were up against: The conflict began right here in John 5! (But then…)

How Should We Respond?

I doubt there is any chance that any of us will respond to Jesus in the way the man at the pool of Bethesda did, or at least not to the extent that he did. And I think there is even less chance that any of us will respond with the animosity that Jesus’s enemies displayed.

But I do think that we should take a lesson from the sharp contrast between the response of the man whose sight Jesus granted, and the one who had been unable to walk for 38 years. The one wanted to know who Jesus was, and immediately gave Him worship, let alone ordinary gratitude! He saw Him as God in the Flesh! The other showed zero gratitude, and only wanted to know who Jesus was so that he could shift any blame for his having broken the sabbath onto Jesus. What a contrast!

Now, it seems to me, that as God’s born-again children, those already redeemed from among the dead, and guaranteed Eternal Life, through the promise of God, our response ought to consistently be more like the man who received his sight.

I know that I tend to take for granted the blessings of God, and to not fully contemplate His supply, let alone the enormity of His saving Grace at the Cross. I want to respond in genuine gratitude, not with a casual, “Oh, that’s cool!” and then immediately forget what was done for us. But today is especially not a good time for any of us to take a casual attitude toward God: For one thing, we are in a time of social upheaval; of serious health threats, as well as the political turmoil of our times.

But, even more importantly, as we approach Christmas, it seems especially important that we not forget what that tiny child in Bethlehem came to do!  He didn’t just come to be a cute, precious baby. He didn’t come to just live a perfect life, nor just to be a perfect example for us, nor even the powerful teacher and prophet that the Jews were struggling to deal with: He came to die!

This was God the Son; Immanuel…”God with us;” the “Word made Flesh:” The Lamb of God, chosen before the foundation of the Earth for ONE eternal purpose: to be the substitutionary sacrifice for the entire Human race.He cameto satisfy forever the Holiness and Righteousness of God, by His blood at the Cross.

That is why we refuse to replace Jesus Christ with any of the World’s ideas about Christmas. But in the midst of that mental and spiritual conflict, we also need to “pull back” from the struggle and give our heartfelt thanksgiving and worship to the Christ who came to give His life for us. Are we thankful for healing, when it happens? Absolutely! Are we thankful for His abundant supply? Surely, we are! But apart from everything else, even when things are hard, we need to be thankful for Who He IS, as our God and Savior!

You see, even if the man at Bethesda was grateful to some degree (and it doesn’t appear that he was,) his desire to clear himself before other humans evidently superseded whatever gratitude he may have felt.

The other man, who had been born blind, went far beyond simple gratitude, and recognized Jesus as the Creator God. How do I come to that conclusion? He was a Jew: he knew the very first commandment: “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me. Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and Him only shalt thou serve!” So, for him to offer worship, he had to be sure that Jesus was that one God! How did he know? It must have been by revelation: Jesus only called Himself the “Son of God” in that passage, but that man clearly made the correct connection: he had already seen the proof, and now he knew the source!

We know the source, and we are constantly seeing the proof! I hope we will learn to consistently respond in gratitude, worship and praise!

Lord Jesus, lift our eyes out of the pit of this world, above the dirt and struggle and bickering strife that we see daily in this life. Lift up our eyes to see You: heal our diseased spirits, the eyes of our hearts, and raise us to a clean worship and thanksgiving before Your throne. Fill us with Your Joy and Peace. Amen!

In this Manner God loved the World

In this Manner God loved the World

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

John 3:16, 17

Introduction

Last week we considered Nicodemus, and the first teaching Jesus offered to anyone in the Gospel of John…we stopped with the story of the bronze serpent on the pole, from the account in Numbers 21:5-9. Jesus made it clear that the bronze serpent on the pole was a prophetic image of Himself, as He was offered up to take the judgment for our sins, and to give us eternal life.

In the next verses, possibly the most frequently memorized and recited verses among evangelical believers, Jesus reiterates the concept of salvation by faith, but this time He focuses on the source of that redemption: the Love of God.

John 3

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.


God So Loved:” What does it mean?

Our first problem, here, is that we have a wrong idea of what constitutes love. We nearly always associate the idea with an emotional response, or a passionate response, or a tender feeling. But the Love that God commands and which He demonstrates in His actions toward us is actually none of the above: It is a practical response to the need of the Human Race. Yes, it is described and tender and compassionate, too, but the fact is, God’s Love is supremely practical. His Love is one of His two primary attributes, secondary only to His Holiness, as demonstrated in Isaiah 6:1-8 (Remember, the angelsdid not cry out, “Love, love, love, God is Love!” They cried out, “Holy! Holy! Holy is the LORD of Hosts! The whole Earth is filled with His Glory!”)

In fact, part of our problem in understanding this passage is in how we interpret the word “so:” in modern English, we think of this verse as saying, “God loved you soooo much!” …as if it were a statement of quantity or magnitude, when in fact, the meaning of the word “so” in this passage is “in this manner.” In fact, in Spanish, that is how it is actually translated: “Porque de tal manera amo Dios al Mundo…” (Meaning, “…in this manner God loved the World….)

So, let’s back up and see what we know about how God has continually manifested His love for the Human race, and how it culminated in His death at the Cross in the Person of Jesus Christ.

How does God show Love?

In the Creation?

In Genesis chapters one and two, we saw that God created a perfect world for the human race to live in, before He created the Humans. He didn’t just “fall in love with the baby chicks at the feed store” and buy a dozen of them, only to go home and realize He had no chicken-house. Nor was He as someone who “buys a St Bernard puppy,” and goes home to a tiny apartment, where no pets were allowed in the first place. He made perfect, complete preparations for our existence before He brought us into existence. That is wise, thoughtful, kind, and imminently practical!

In our Sin?

But it goes further: When His creation fell into Sin, His Holiness and His Righteousness had to be satisfied, so Judgment fell: it first fell upon the Serpent (whom we are told later was actually Satan, indwelling the physical snake), then upon the woman, and finally upon the man.

But within the curse upon the Serpent, in Genesis 3:15, there was a deeply-veiled promise of deliverance, The Prophecy was made by God that a Person would come, called the “Seed of the Woman,” who would undo the damage caused by the Serpent, and, in so doing, would complete the judgment on the Serpent. Adam believed that promise, and God responded to his faith by clothing Adam and Eve in the skins of slain animals…which was the first blood sacrifice.

We may think, “What a gory solution to the problem of sin!” But in Revelation 13:8, we find that God’s “preparations” went deeper than we could ever have imagined: Jesus is described as “The Lamb Slain from the Foundation of the Earth.” Notice that it does not say, “from the fall of man,” or anything similar. God, the Creator, knew before He created us, that we would fall into sin, and before he laid the physical “foundation of the earth,” He had laid the spiritual “foundation” for our redemption!

In fact, according to Ephesians 3:9-12, His eternal purpose included our redemption, so that before any portion of the Creation was begun, the plan was made for the redemption of believers, for the express purpose of demonstrating to the Holy Angels the manifold wisdom of God.

In the Flood?

Then He followed through on the promises, and maintained the Human race through all the attempts of Satan to destroy us through our own sin, corruption and violence. He showed His faithfulness and wisdom in the Flood, designing the perfect vessel in which to provide the salvation of the world: the Ark. We saw in our study of the ark and the flood of Noah’s experience that there were numerous ways in which the Ark was a picture of Christ, prophetically pointing, out in some detail, the character of the salvation He would provide. Meanwhile, the blood sacrifices had continued, all pointing forward to the Cross.

In the Passover?

The Passover underscored God’s Solution for sin, again, this time describing rather graphically the coming crucifixion of the Savior. And it forever separated the believers of Israel from Egypt. We have been forever separated from the World, by the Cross…and Egypt, in Israel’s experience,  was a picture of the World, for us to learn by it.

The blood of the Passover covered the sins of the believers at that time, but our Passover, the fulfillment of the object lesson of the Passover, is Jesus Himself, who completes the work of all the blood sacrifices of the Old Testament, taking away the very sins that the animal sacrifices could only cover. Jesus is our blood sacrifice for sin. And Jesus said that God’s Love was best demonstrated, right there at the Cross.

In 1st Corinthians 13:4-8, we see God’s description of the Character of that specific Love…what we call the “agapé” love. And when we read that passage, we see that every single descriptor, used there by God, is a verb: they are all action words. They have nothing to do with feelings: They have everything to do with acting on the behalf of another. In John 15:13, Jesus said, “Greater Love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” And then He went, and He did just that!

At the Cross

So, what did Jesus actually accomplish at the Cross?

To begin with, He fulfilled what John the Baptist predicted: He took away the sins of the World. Not just the Jews, not just the Christians, not just “good people:” He took away the sins of the World! 1st John 2:2 assures us that “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but also for the sins of the whole world!

But, if that is really the case, then why is the world in such horrible shape? Do you recall what people had to do when they brought a blood sacrifice to God? They laid their hands on the head of the sacrificial animal, identifying themselves with that animal. They knew and admitted that they were guilty before God. And by faith, they transferred their own sins to the animal, so that the animal was to die in their place, as a substitute for the guilty sinner.

In the case of the Passover, every person in the household had to eat of that Lamb: It had to be a personal choice to believe in that lamb! The sins were taken away by Jesus’s blood poured out at the foot of the cross, outside the city gate. The way into the Holy Place was opened, shown by the fact that God tore the veil in the temple in half, from top to bottom, opening the way for anyone to see into and to actually enter the Holy of Holies. We are told in Hebrews 10:19, 20, that that physical veil actually depicted the body of Jesus, and that we are to voluntarily enter in, through that torn veil: His flesh!

This is why Jesus was able to say, in John 14:6, “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me!” He was describing the open way for all believers: “whosoever will, let him come!” But, since most of the world rejects His sacrifice, for various reasons, the rest of the passage follows:

The Rest of the Story

 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

Jesus clearly states that the purpose for His coming was so that the World could be saved through Him. But almost in the same breath, He explains that many would reject His offering, reject His blood sacrifice, and would still be condemned.

Notice He says that whoever believes is not condemned (as He stated in John 5:24, they will never be condemned.) but that those who do not believe are (present tense) condemned already, because they do not believe in the Son of God.” (Not because they are such terrible, corrupt people, or because they are dishonest, or they swear a lot, or practice abominable things….but, because they do not believe.)

Jesus wrote a Personal Check

When Jesus died for you, He “wrote a check,” in the amount of “Eternal Life,” payable to “Whosoever Will!” And He signed it with His own Blood, at the Cross. That check is good! His divine account as “God the Son” has “eternally sufficient funds” to cover Eternal Life for anyone willing to receive it. But, just as a paper check has to be endorsed and cashed or deposited, the “check” Jesus wrote for you and signed with His own blood must be endorsed by faith, or it has zero effect on you.

If I never endorsed my paychecks (back before automatic deposit) they were still good, but their value had no effect on my life or the lives of my family: I could not spend their value, nor use their value, in any way, until I made it personal, and endorsed those checks. I did so by faith. The check was just a piece of paper with numbers and letters, until I signed it, and handed it to the person who could give me its value in money. But it worked, every single time!

Jesus’s “check” is good…it is not a paycheck, but rather, a gift! You cannot earn it or deserve it. And it still requires that you endorse that check by faith, today…in this life, and receive that value. It is not something you are to “just hold onto until you die, hoping you won’t lose it:” It is something for you to have today, and which, having once received it, you can never lose it! Jesus made the Promise, “He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life (present tense) and shall not come into condemnation (future tense,) but has passed from death into life!” (Past perfect tense: “ It happened at a past point in time, and has permanent effect on the future!”) And once you believe, it IS “automatic deposit!”

In Redemption

One of the things that happened at the Cross is that our sins were taken away. But another thing that happened is that we were eternally taken out of the Marketplace of Sin, with the intent that we are to be set free. That is what “redemption” means.

And the other side of that is that the Righteousness of Christ has been permanently deposited on our accounts. God now sees us as being literally “as Righteous as Jesus!” This is called the “doctrine of imputation.” It literally means the same thing as “posting to one’s account.”  You are no longer “spiritually bankrupt,” even if there may be times when you feel that way! The full value of the righteousness of Christ has been deposited to your account: imputed to you, as it says in Romans 4:1-25.

We have become the literal children of God: not as though we were some homeless waifs He pulled in off the street and cleaned us up a bit, and told us to “…just try to stay clean until suppertime.” No! He has made us His legitimate children through the New Birth in Christ, and we are eternally clean before Him! And, as we need a sense of purpose and direction, He has given us a job to do, working side-by-side with Him as His ambassadors, to lead others to Him!

In our Daily Lives

As we learn to walk with Jesus, and learn to trust His Grace, and learn to expectantly look to Him for our sustenance and care, we learn to see His Love in our lives.

He has “big hands,” and as we learn to look to Him, we begin to see “His fingerprints” in every aspect of our lives. We call this “learning to walk by faith.” We see His supply of “extra handsfuls” of blessing, just as Boaz ordered his servants to drop for Ruth. God supplies more than just what we “have to have to survive.” And He offers His Peace and Joy, along with His Grace by which to live.

Believers all across the world, in deepest poverty, and under heavy persecution, still find His Joy and Peace in their lives, because they are trusting in His character and His faithfulness, not their own precarious circumstances.

We need to learn that practice, here, as well, while there is still time for us to learn it.

Lord Jesus, train us up in faith, and teach us to learn your Peace and Joy, so that we can shine as lights in this ever-darkening world. Make us faithful servants and ambassadors of the eternal King.

Problem Passages in James (Part 1)

Some Problem Passages in James (Part 1)

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

James 5:12-20 (Oath-taking, Prayer and Singing)

Introduction

The remaining verses in James are difficult for me: Quite honestly, I am not entirely sure how to teach them. I know what they say, and I know what the words mean, but I do not know how to apply them all, especially the verses about healing.

Even verse 12, many (including myself, in the past) have taken to be a prohibition against oath-taking of any sort. (And, perhaps it is: I can’t rule that out completely.) But, when a public official (even a police officer) in our country takes office, they are required to take oath to uphold the law, to uphold the constitution, to protect and to serve, etc. Is that a bad thing? I really don’t think it is! They are being required to state, for the record, that they are bound by this oath to actually do the things in that oath. The same goes for marriage vows. So we need to talk about this verse and what implications it might hold for us.

Oath-taking

12 But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.

(Remember that in Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus taught the same concept, nearly word for word.)

I have known of people who habitually used the name of God in everything they did, not even disrespectfully, but perhaps too casually, as if it were a charm, or a magic phrase to make things come out right. Perhaps they knew the verse that said to “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus,” so they simply “said those words” with everything they did. A Latino friend told me how his father did that: throwing a bag of seed into the back of a truck, he would say En el nombre de Dios!” He told me that his father did everything that way! I can’t speak to that, because I can’t see the man’s heart. Perhaps it was an honest effort to “do everything in the name of God.” But saying those words does not make it actually be in the name of God: it strikes me that this is very likely to become “taking the name of God in vain,” even if the intentions may have been good.

I have frequently heard unbelievers say something like “Jeeezus help me!” in a frustrating, but somehow humorous situation. All of us have heard unbelievers cry out “God help me!” in a bad situation…an emergency, of some sort. (That is where the aphorism comes from, saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes!”) This takes the form of profanity, though, in many cases, to the extent that people only use the name of Jesus or of God, as a curse. That is not what this verse is referring to, but there are plenty of other passages that address that idea and the “cursing” aspect is also supposed to be “left behind” in the darkness of our old life.

This passage, however, is about taking oaths. Cursing is a separate issue. Remember, when Peter was confronted by the Jews at the crucifixion, (Matthew 26:74) “…he began to curse, and to swear, saying I know not the man!” The cursing was one word…the swearing (oath-taking) was another. He was terrified that they were going to crucify him along with the Lord, and felt helpless to change the course of events. Perhaps he was even angry at Jesus for allowing it to happen? I don’t know. But, in that circumstance he was both cursing and making a false oath. And both things are clearly forbidden.

Butt seems to me that taking true oaths should not be a light thing, either. I don’t really think this verse (nor the passage in Matthew 5:33-37 where Jesus said nearly exactly the same thing) is a prohibition against all oath-taking, since God demonstrated in Genesis 15 that an oath can be appropriate. (The passage in Genesis 15 predates the practice laid out in Jeremiah 34:18 wherein two people walked between the pieces of a sacrifice, confirming an oath before God. In Genesis, God alone walked between the pieces of the sacrifice. He alone bore the oath.)

Some believe that this passage in James really is a prohibition against all oath-taking, and will refuse to take oath in court, for instance. (I used to think that!) Our laws make room for that specific belief, allowing a witness to simply affirm that their statements will be entirely true.

But there are sufficient righteous oaths taken in scripture to make me believe that this verse is more likely a prohibition against “casual” oath-taking. (Abraham required an oath of his servant in Genesis 24, for example.)

“Swearing on a stack of bibles” that something is true, is pointless, when simply stating that “you are convinced of” something is more honest. There is no need to invoke some “higher authority” to validate your given word. It seems that the Jews had become habitual “oath-takers,” and needed to go back to just giving their word, as a general practice. (Which may explain the Matthew 5 passage as well.)

But I think this verse would also preclude any of the ugly, pagan oaths take by people who join secret societies, or certain cults. I have read some of them, and they are truly gory, ungodly oaths. Why are they requiring such oaths, in order to join their organization?

You did not “take an oath” in order to become part of the Body of Christ: you simply placed your faith in His Word, and in His blood. God made the promise: He promised to save you and to keep you, forever. He required no oath from you! Remember, in Genesis 15, He made the oath; He required nothing of Abraham! He also requires no oath from you.

As a member of the Body of Christ, you are expected to find a group of like-minded believers and attach yourself to that assembly, and then faithfully function there as all believers are called to function:

  1. You are a priest before God, and you are expected to pray and offer praise and thanksgiving to the Savior, both for yourself and for others.
  2. You are an ambassador for Christ, and are expected to reach out to the lost as well as to the saved, to offer the Grace of God to the lives around you.
  3. Finally, there are specific gifts you have been given as a believer, that are to be used to bless the assembly, and to serve, and to build up that assembly.

We hope that everyone who attends this assembly will take all these things seriously. But no “oaths” are needed! This is simply what God expects of all believers, in every assembly!

Prayer and Singing

Here is where things begin to be a little more difficult, though they ought to be easy:
13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.

This seems pretty straightforward. I can easily teach the practice of praying, as it is taught everywhere in the scriptures; We are commanded, in Philippians 4:6, 7, to “be anxious for nothing, but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God; and the peace of God which passes all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

So the part about being afflicted, and praying, I can teach, for sure. Affliction could be physical, mental, emotional, or financial (or maybe something else.) But we are told to give ourselves to prayer, both here and elsewhere. This is to be prayer from the heart, by the way, not reciting written prayers from a book of prayers, but actually talking to God about what is on your heart.

But there are people who say that “Prayer doesn’t change anything: God is just going to do His will anyway!” This passage teaches us otherwise! In verse 16 we are told it can accomplish a great deal. But most roads have two ditches, and this is no exception:

The other extreme is people who think that we can literally “order God around,” telling him what to do…specifically not “asking,” as (they say) that displays a lack of faith. But we are absolutely told to ask. We are absolutely told that, at least sometimes, we “have not because we ask not.” (James 4:2) And we are absolutely told that the reply depends on several things:

  • Our relationship with God at that time, (1st John 3:21-24)
  • The faith with which we ask, (James 1:6, 7) and
  • Whether, in fact, the thing we ask is within God’s will. (1st John 5:14, 15)

God always reserves the right to reply “Yes, No, or Wait.” The Lord is very definitely in control as God…He is not a “celestial vending machine:” (where you just put in your prayer, pull the appropriate lever, and automatically get your wish!) He is God! Yes we are to pray, and freely come to His throne to receive help in time of need, but do remember who it is you’re talking to! He is the Authority! He is God!

So both of the above ideas about prayer are mistaken: yes, “most roads have two ditches,” but the idea is to stay out of the ditches, and preferably in your own lane! Prayer definitely will at least change your relationship to the One you serve, and may change the world around you, as well. But remember that the Lord is sovereign: He always has the final say!

Something I frequently do, in prayer, because of 1st Peter 5:7, where we are told to “CAST” all our cares on God, is to use that word as an acronym, to remind me to begin with

  • Confession of my sins, and my frequent unbelief, then moving on to
  • Adoration and Worship, Praising God for who He is, then making requests, in
  • Supplication (praying for my needs and those of others,) and not forgetting
  • Thanksgiving for answered prayers and the constant faithfulness of God.

So, What about Music?

The singing of hymns (or specifically psalms as some churches insist on doing) to express joy, worship, praise, thanksgiving, fellowship and faith is clearly taught as well. I think it is well to remember the rest of what the scriptures say about singing, too: Jesus and the disciples “…sang a hymn, and went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Matthew 26:30)

The scriptures encourage us to “sing unto the Lord a new song”, in several places. And some of us may feel encouraged that the psalmist also says “make a joyful noise unto the Lord!” There is no restriction as to our innate gifts in music, or our skill as musicians. There also does not seem to be a restriction as to what sort of music, as it varies wildly from culture to culture, nor is there a restriction as to what kinds of instruments, as far as I can see. But it seems clear that the lyrics must honor the Lord. (It would seem reasonable, as well, that the music should be of a sort that draws a person into a serene, joyful worship of Christ, not stirring them to a frenzy of emotions, though perhaps that is also a matter of perspective: we will discuss particulars later.)

There are churches which completely forbid the use of any musical instruments in the church, just because there is no mention of them in the New Testament. But the Old Testament has many references to musical instruments: some were used for the glory of God, some were not: but the difference was in who was using them, and for what purpose. There is no mention of them in the New Testament, except in the Revelation; but there is no prohibition against them, either.

The three types of music mentioned in the New Testament are “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” and they are grouped together as “singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:19) All these are commanded and encouraged.

The problem with “trying to decide what kind of music is permitted” is that in other cultures, when the believers “sing unto the Lord a new song,” it does not sound like western hymns at all! And, as cultures change, the style of music frequently shifts along with the changing culture. That is not necessarily a bad thing. The “old” hymns we love were once “new songs.” And not everyone approved of them! The churches which demand that we only sing psalms forbid making new lyrics. And the really old churches did not approve of what we now consider the great hymns of the faith. But one thing that stays consistent, throughout the centuries, is that the Holy Spirit always speaks to glorify Jesus. So, if the “new songs,” and the “spiritual songs” are actually coming from Him, then the lyrics have to clearly honor the Lord.

My youngest son sadly, quietly told me once, of being condemned by the pastor of his church (in the presence of his friends) for listening to “rock” music. The man said “I’m a man of God! You are a man of the World!” I felt especially bad about it, because my son was a very young believer, and such harsh condemnation is hurtful in any case, but especially in the case of a young believer, and doubly so, in front of a group of friends. (I still grieve for the damage done by this pastor: the entire exchange was wrong!)

But a few days later, I was accompanying my son somewhere in his car, and he started a song on his music system, that was unquestionably “rock” music. I had a little trouble understanding the words, and really wasn’t listening too carefully, until my son asked “What do you think of the song?” I answered honestly, “Good music!” as there was nothing inherently wrong with it, though it was not what I might choose. Then he said, “That’s the song I was listening to when the pastor chewed me out.” So I “perked up my ears,” so to speak, and listened more intently. I found that I actually could understand the words if I listened carefully. Do you want to know what they said?

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right Spirit within me…cast me not away from thy presence…restore unto me the joy of your salvation….” Do you recognize those words? Yes! It was the 51st Psalm put to music! That is what he had been listening to, and that is what was condemned by his pastor.

I’m not sure those wounds ever really healed. And they were inflicted by someone who, I am sure, thought he was doing something “righteous.” But James 3:18 says, “…the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” That encounter did nothing to create or maintain peace, and the fruit it bore was not righteousness, but bitterness. We need to think carefully about how we use God’s Word, and how we treat the people around us.

Now, in another case, when I was in welding school, I myself was singing or humming the tune (not the lyrics, because it was in Latin, and I didn’t know the words) to Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” A younger friend, a brand-new believer to whom I had been teaching the Bible, heard me, and confronted me, in shock, demanding “Why are you singing that song!?” I was astonished, and said, “It’s a beautiful song! I like it!” He asked again, “Do you know what that song is?” I said, “Yes, it’s Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria.’”

He persisted, though, saying, “But don’t you know what that is??” I said, “I guess I must not!” He said “That is the ‘Ave Maria!’ The ‘Hail Mary’ put to music! It is a worship song to Mary!

I simply had never thought of “what the song was about.” I certainly did not intend to sing a worship song to Mary, even if the music was beautiful! And this young man was a recent believer, who had been saved out of Roman Catholicism, so he was very sensitive to this particular thing. I answered on the spot, “I just never thought of that! I won’t sing it anymore!”

You see, the “beautiful, worshipful music” of that song was specifically written to worship a human being, as if she were deity. Mary herself confessed that she needed a Savior. She is not to be worshipped. And in my friend’s mind, I was singing worship to Mary! I was literally causing him to stumble, and I didn’t even know it. The “beautiful music” did not make it acceptable, nor did the “rock music” in the previous case make it wrong. The lyrics, in both cases, made the song what it really was.

So these two concepts of prayer and singing ought to be a total blessing to us, but they can be problematic as well. We need to think about them and what they really mean, and how we are to use them to honor the Lord.

Is there a Conclusion?

If nothing else, I hope that we can come away with a commitment to “Love one another,” and not to condemn each other for innocent differences of opinion regarding God’s Word.

But the remaining verses in James are about “healing,” and something called “Converting a sinner” and “saving a soul from death.” All of these ideas can be easily misunderstood, and are controversial enough that many commentators sharply disagree over them. I’m not certain I have all the answers, but we will address that passage next week, as these also are subjects people may struggle over.

Lord Jesus, please give us light to read your Word in the teaching of your Holy Spirit, so that we are not confused, but rather drawn closer to yourself. Use your Word to cleanse our hearts and transform us into your likeness.

Circumventing the Cross

Circumventing the Cross

© C. O. Bishop 2013

Introduction:

I re-read an old novel a few weeks ago, one that is widely known and appreciated, in which the heroine goes to a tiny Appalachian community (setting in 1912), and is mentored by a Quaker missionary, who has tirelessly worked to gain the confidence of the people, and to bring the love of God into their homes and hearts. (All sounds good so far, right?)

The two women and the various others in the story demonstrate the grace and love of God in their lives, and gradually people are won over, hearts soften, people desire to learn literacy, begin to read their Bibles, and God’s character miraculously begins to show up in people’s lives. That all sounds great, too, right? And it really does…except that, after I had finished the book, and actually began to think about it, I realized there was something missing. The writer had preached the love and grace of God, and had seen transformed lives, and visions of Heaven, even, all without a single mention of Christ! There was no blood sacrifice—nothing offensive about this Gospel, because it left out the Cross, and left out Jesus Christ, entirely. Even the vision of Heaven was without Christ—just a bunch of happy people wandering around playing with babies.

A Bloodless Sacrifice for Sins

You recall the story of Cain and Abel. Most people may primarily remember that Cain killed Abel, which is true, of course. But they forget the root cause: Abel had correctly approached God with a blood-sacrifice for sin, as had been demonstrated in Genesis 3, but Cain had brought a bloodless sacrifice—a worship offering, perhaps, but one that ignored the fact of sin. The sin issue has to be addressed, one way or another, before worship and interaction with a Holy God can begin. God rejected Cain’s offering quite gently, reasoning with him that he (Cain) knew what was required, and that if he did what was right, He (God) would certainly receive him (Cain) as well; there was no respect of persons here.

Cain rejected the plan of God, and, in anger, went and murdered Abel.

Why would he reject God’s plan? Apparently he did not want to confess that he needed a savior. He did not want to bring a blood sacrifice, confessing his own sin…he apparently thought he should be able to address God as an equal. (We are most certainly not God’s equals. We are not the Creator; we are the created beings, and sinners, besides.)

But taking it a step further; what if he simply confessed his sin, and threw himself on God’s mercy and Grace, but still brought a bloodless sacrifice? Would that be OK?

No! The Holiness of God must be satisfied, or fellowship can never occur. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me.”  What do you think he was talking about? By acting like Him? By seeing him as a great teacher, and trying to obey his teaching, and follow his lifestyle? Or by admitting that only His blood can save, and that I, personally, need a Savior, or I cannot be saved?

Why do we reject the Cross?

Today people reject the cross for a variety of reasons, but all can be traced to two fundamental reasons: They consider it offensive, one way or another, or they consider it utter foolishness, and will not consider the possibility that God’s Wisdom is so far beyond their own that it seems to be foolishness, simply because they can’t begin to understand it.

They either think it offensive: (a) that a Holy God should require a blood sacrifice for sin (such a heathen-sounding thing!) or (b) that He should consider them a sinner, and that everything they do is tainted by their sin.

They think it foolishness for a host of reasons: I read a newspaper comment by a man who said that he was not about to take seriously “…the world-view of a ragged band of goat-herds from 3,000 years ago!” Hmm. There are a lot of misconceptions, there!

Interesting that those are the two grounds for rejecting the Gospel, today— those are also the reasons that were mentioned in 1st Corinthians 1:23. Paul said “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block (an offense) and unto the Greeks foolishness”. But he went on to say that Christ is the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God. In another passage (Romans 1:16), referring specifically to the Gospel of Christ, Paul stated that “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto Salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” The Power of God! The Gospel is Christ, in a nutshell. And he is the only way given for us to be saved (“…neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4:12)

Has it ever occurred to you that when the book of Romans states that the Gospel of Christ is the Power of God to save those who believe, it is stating an “exclusive” truth? There is no other thing in the scriptures, described as being the “power of God” to save believers; Just the Gospel. There is no other way given by which we may approach God; Just Christ. And yet, as the human race, we continue to reject God’s only plan of salvation. There is no “Plan B”. This is it, folks! If you are not specifically preaching the Cross, you are not telling people how to be saved. If you are not specifically dependent upon the Cross, yourself, then You are not saved. There is no other way.

What about the religions (or preachers) that ignore the cross?

When a religion (or preacher) circumvents the Cross, regardless of how nicely they teach the rest of the scripture, what must we conclude? Surely such nice people must have a right standing with God, mustn’t they? Surely if I follow their teachings, I will also have a right standing with God…right? All those nice, pious, gentle, pleasant people can’t be wrong, can they? (Read Galatians 1:6-9)

Then what about sin? How do they deal with sin?

What do we do with Sin?

There are only three ways that human religions deal with the issue of Sin:

  1. Deny that it exists at all. Nothing is intrinsically good or bad.
  2. Admit that it exists, but deny that it ultimately matters… God is too loving and kind to condemn anyone. Just do your best to live right, and God will accept you.
  3. Admit that it exists, and that it matters (God hates sin!) and demand that the sinner do many good works (penance, alms, service) to expiate all the bad works. God will accept you if you do enough good to overbalance all the bad.

Any of those three will result in the eternal loss of the adherent. Your faith will not save you if the object of your faith cannot save you. It matters who you trust and what you believe. If you trust in a crook, you lose your money; If you trust in a failing bridge, you lose your life. If you place your faith in a false God, a false religion, a false creed, or false principle, you lose your soul…you are eternally separated from God, in eternal punishment. Romans 3:25 states that our faith is to be in the Blood of Jesus, specifically.

Truth is not dependent upon what people believe.

Truth is a fact, regardless of what anyone thinks:

  • Either God is Holy, or He is not.
  • Either He created all things, or He did not.
  • Either Man is a sinner, or he is not.
  • Either sin requires a blood-sacrifice for forgiveness, or it does not. (Doesn’t that sound primitive and gory? Surely we have progressed beyond such savagery… Doesn’t that argument sound familiar? “Ye shall not surely die…” Satan can sound pretty persuasive!) It doesn’t matter what I think about it—it either is true or it isn’t.

There is no middle ground. These are black-and-white issues. Truth does not depend upon public opinion. God addresses each of these questions numerous times in the Bible.

  • He clearly states, numerous times, that He is Holy. He cannot abide Sin.
  • He gives a fairly detailed account of the creation, with many later references to that historical fact, all pointing to the fact that He is the Creator, and has full authority over His creation.
  • He gives a detailed account of how man fell into sin, and many references to that historical fact, all agreeing that Man is a fallen creature, lost, apart from God’s Grace.
  • He demonstrated the blood sacrifice in Genesis chapter 3, accepted a blood sacrifice (and rejected a non-blood sacrifice) in Genesis 4, demanded a specific blood sacrifice in Exodus 12, and ultimately declared Jesus Christ to be the fulfillment of all the Old Testament sacrifices, in John 1:29, and many other New Testament references. He concludes (Hebrews 9:22) that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”…and that only the blood of Christ can achieve the satisfaction of the Holiness of God. (1st John 2:2, cp. John 1:29)

Now: you can believe whatever you want to about these things. Only you can make that choice. But if you reject these truths, no one else can take the blame, either. You are fully responsible for your own choice.

Assuming that you have chosen to believe God, and have placed your trust in the shed Blood of Jesus Christ as full payment for your sins, then you have become a child of God, by the new birth. You are responsible to Him, personally. He has assigned you the job of being His ambassador to the lost world. You have been given a message to deliver. Two questions, then, remain:

  1. Do you know what that message is?
  2. Are you willing to deliver it?

Both are a yes-or-no issue, but we recognize that even if our answer is “yes” to both, there are degrees of practical competence involved. How well do I know the message? How willing am I to deliver it? There is always room for growth. We grow stronger with study and practice.

What is the Gospel? 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4 states the portions of the message that must be there:

  1. The death of Christ for our sins
  2. His burial (demonstrating that he was really dead, ) and
  3. His resurrection, demonstrating that he really is the savior.

If we leave out this message, or selected parts of it, then we are not delivering the message, period. When one claims to be “Preaching the Gospel”, but is circumventing the cross, they are NOT preaching the Gospel, and may be inviting people to avoid eternal life.

The whole message of salvation is wrapped up in the preaching of the Cross.

Paul’s message:

At Athens, though Paul had been preaching Christ faithfully in the Synagogue and in the marketplace, when he was called upon to speak publicly, he gave a “slick” sermon that has appealed to human reasoning down through the ages, ever since. It was NOT effective then, nor has it been effective when people have emulated it to any degree, since then. People do not come to Christ because of reasoning—they come to Christ because they believe the Gospel; they choose to place their trust in the Blood of Christ. “The door to the truth is the will, not the intellect.”

Paul left Athens immediately after delivering that sermon (no church was established there), and went to Corinth with a new resolve to “know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified”. He was resolved to “…preach the Gospel; not with wisdom of words, lest the preaching of the Cross be made of none effect.” Has it occurred to you that we can “muddy the water” by our meddling with the truth, adding our arguments, our persuasion, etc.?

Paul delivered the message he was given. We need to do the same: Preach the cross of Christ! Do not attempt to make the Gospel more “palatable” by excluding the part people don’t want to hear. That is the part they most desperately need.

What would the Passover be without the Passover lamb? Just a skimpy meal? The “real” (original) Passover saved the believers because of the scarcely dry blood of that lamb, on the lintel and the two doorposts. The Cross was the salvation God prescribed, even 1500 years before Christ. Do we like that idea? Not really, perhaps, but it is the simple truth. We cannot save ourselves, and God only offers one way whereby He, himself, can save us.

We either believe it, and are saved, or reject it and are lost. It’s a black-and-white choice.

And, as His emissaries, we either

  • echo that message, offering that salvation to others; or
  • we dampen and water down the message, and condemn our listeners.

Again, it is a clear choice.

When we deliver a “comfortable” message, only preaching the goodness and grace of a loving God (which we all want to hear), then we ignore the holiness and judgment of a righteous God, and thus circumvent the Cross. The result is eternal loss. We have made people comfortable in their lost state, and convinced them that there is no need for a savior. Remember that John 3:16 states that “how” God loved the world was that he gave his only begotten son. (“…God so loved, that he gave…” The means of loving was the giving of Christ) Yes, we preach the love and grace of God—but we preach the Cross as the means of receiving that Love and Grace.

In Galatians 2:21, Paul said, regarding this very matter, “I do not frustrate the Grace of God, for, if righteousness come by the Law, then Christ is dead in vain.” If you can approach God just by “being good”, then Jesus died for nothing…he wasted his life, and his death was pointless.

If you preach a message that circumvents the cross, then you declare that Jesus died for nothing; that his death was pointless. And if a church approaches God in that way, it is a false church, and leading its people to Hell. This sounds harsh…but it is the simple truth.

We don’t want to be accused of any such thing. We preach the Cross, and encourage our listeners to place their trust in the blood of Jesus as full payment for their sins. If you desire to be the ambassador God has called you to be, then learn the message, and start learning to deliver it.

God help us all to be the Men and Women of God that he has called us to be.

The Coming Judgment

The Coming Judgment

© C. O. Bishop 2012 (THCF, June 30, 2019)

Isaiah 5:1-30

Introduction

I have consistently found, when reading the book of Isaiah, that it is difficult to read it and NOT think, “This is talking to us! The United States!” But it isn’t, really—it is specifically about and to the nation of Israel. On the other hand, I think it is entirely appropriate for us to read—and tremble—as we realize how fully it applies to our country, and to us as individuals, as well.

Chapter 5—a land blessed beyond all others—but not bearing fruit.

1Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill:

And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.

And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard.

What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?

And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down:

And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.

Verses 1-7 tell a parable, comparing Israel and Judah to a carefully cultivated vineyard that brought forth bad fruit, regardless of the care of the husbandman. God declares that He had cause to expect good things from Israel, as they had been blessed beyond any other nation. But they had NOT responded well, and that now He, God, would not only withdraw his blessing, he would specifically take away His defense, and allow her enemies to despoil her.

The Causes for Judgment:

Greed

Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!

In mine ears said the Lord of hosts, Of a truth many houses shall be desolate, even great and fair, without inhabitant.

10 Yea, ten acres of vineyard shall yield one bath, and the seed of an homer shall yield an ephah.

Verse 8 is apparently in reference to the practice of buying up all the land they could afford, to give themselves huge holdings, specifically so that they could separate themselves from others. I had initially misunderstood this to mean that overcrowding kept adding houses next to other houses until no one could be alone. But it is the opposite—the rich preying on others, gobbling up farms, and houses, to make a huge estate for themselves, so that they could be alone in the earth. Verses 9, 10 go on to say that these “great houses” would become desolate, with no one living in them, and their land unproductive.

Carousing and Entertainment

11 Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!

12 And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands.

Verse 11 talks about “party animals”– people whose chief “reason to be” is to drink and carouse. This has been a consistent problem in the human race for all time. Sometimes more than others. I have heard people brag about being a “party animal.” There is nothing wrong with eating or drinking, but either can be taken to excess. We have eating contests and even beer-drinking contests in this country. Evidently they had similar problems there (Compare verse 22).

Music is another thing that can be abused, right along with the food and drink. It seems that these people valued entertainment as a whole, more than they valued the work of God, and the things He has done. Ezekiel 33:30-33 makes this same complaint, that even the preaching of God’s Word had become simply a means of entertainment. I remember a Missionary speaker telling how, after a sermon, a woman came up to him saying, “Oh, Preacher! I was moved! I was stirred!” But, as she saw his eyes light up as he opened his mouth to reply, she blurted, “But I’m not going!” She had enjoyed the emotional stirring caused by good preaching, but had no intention of allowing it to disrupt her life. And that is exactly what Ezekiel 33 is talking about. We love to be stirred and to experience the thrill of good music, a good book, a good sermon, a good meal, etc., but we are not interested in having God’s Word actually move us out of our comfort zone.

Idolatry

God says we tend to rejoice in the works of our own hands (musical instruments, in this passage, but it could be anything—race-cars, toys, possessions, human honor and achievements…), but we tend to not honor Him for the works of His hands, nor consider and honor His activity in the world today. We look at the world, and say, “Isn’t ‘mother nature’ amazing!”, and, as a nation, we have learned to reject any notion that the creature has a Creator. We say, “Wasn’t that an amazing coincidence!”, and deny the possibility of Divine intervention. Evidently the problem is not new. In fact, one of the final warnings before the second coming, in Revelation 14:7, is to “fear God, and give glory to Him, the Creator”. So the continuing problem, during the entire course of Human History, is that we deny God the honor that is His, and we honor ourselves or even Satan (in various guises), in God’s place.

Final Reason for Judgment:

13 Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge: and their honourable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst.

Verse 13 says “therefore…” (because of what went before) “…my people Israel have gone into captivity.” Remember that this passage was written around 760 years before Christ—about 160 years before the captivity came from Babylon, and about 40 (or more) years before the Northern kingdom fell to Assyria. But in the eyes of God it was already a done deal. “Therefore, my people have gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge.”(Knowledge of what? Of Science? Vintnery? Warfare? Sin? No, rather, because they had no knowledge of God and His statutes.) Their honorable men are famished; spiritual starvation had weakened the nation. The multitudes are dried up for thirst…the living water of God’s Word had been ignored or denied them, until they were utterly dry. Does that sound familiar? How many people today are really “filled up” with God’s Word?

Result of Judgment

14 Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it.

15 And the mean man shall be brought down, and the mighty man shall be humbled, and the eyes of the lofty shall be humbled:

16 But the Lord of hosts shall be exalted in judgment, and God that is holy shall be sanctified in righteousness.

17 Then shall the lambs feed after their manner, and the waste places of the fat ones shall strangers eat.

So, in verse 14, still because of the listed sin, Hell (sheol— the grave, the place of the dead) has opened wide, to receive the countless dead that would soon enter. By the way, remember that this prophecy reaches beyond just the contemporary judgment and touches the end times. In the Revelation, we see that one half of the world’s population will die during the great tribulation. The captivity of Jerusalem under Nebuchadnezzar is just the “firstfruits” of God’s Judgment.

Verse 15 points out that this judgment applied to all walks of life (the “mean man” is the “common man”…not people who are “mean to others,”) and that no one could expect to escape, but that (in verse 16) He, the LORD of Hosts, would be exalted in the judgment…That the God who is Holy shall be shown to be holy, in Righteousness;  it will show that Judgment does not reflect poorly on God, but quite the opposite—it exalts Him, as that is who He is—The JUDGE of all the earth (Genesis 18:25).

[Judge of all the earth? Who does John 5:22 say is the Judge? (read it) Just for a moment, consider John 1:18– “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared him.” This Judge, exalted in the Judgment, is Christ!]

We will soon observe some important things about God’s character…we saw, back in Genesis, that God was the Creator, the Lawgiver, and the Judge, beside being the sustainer, protector, master, etc. But we will see which of God’s attributes takes precedence over all the others.

The Recipients of Judgment

18 Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope:

19 That say, Let him make speed, and hasten his work, that we may see it: and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh and come, that we may know it!

20 Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

21 Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!

22 Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink:

23 Which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!

He pronounces judgment on a series of groups of people—He says, woe:

  • To those who drag sin along with folly and deceit and keep wickedness moving. (There are many who have their “pet sin” and go far out of their way to draw others into that sin, or to force others to approve it.)
  • To those saying “Judgment is coming? This I gotta see! Bring it on!” There are unbelievers who are excited about the news of the coming judgment, and seem to overlook the fact that it will also affect their own life.
  • To those who call evil good and good evil, that replace light with darkness, and call darkness light, trade bitter for sweet, and vice versa. We humans try to redefine sin, and make our wickedness seem good.
  • To those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight. They think they are really too smart for God. “Only fools believe the Bible…” 1st Corinthians 1:23 Points out that the Gentile world consistently sees the Cross as foolishness.
  • To those who are champion drunks—they brag about how much liquor they consume, and how “sophisticated” their taste in liquor has become.
  • To those who justify the wicked for a bribe, and take away the righteousness of the righteous. This could be the blatant taking of bribes, or just the cronyism that gives favors to friends, at the expense of the rightful expectations of those who have earned those rights. It might be at a government level, a civil organization level, a corporate business level, or even in private dealings. If a man is willing to turn a blind eye to evil to benefit the doer of evil (or himself,) and not to stand for what is right, to defend those who have done right, then he is guilty of this charge.

24 Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust: because they have cast away the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.

25 Therefore is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them, and hath smitten them: and the hills did tremble, and their carcases were torn in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.

26 And he will lift up an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth: and, behold, they shall come with speed swiftly:

27 None shall be weary nor stumble among them; none shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken:

28 Whose arrows are sharp, and all their bows bent, their horses’ hoofs shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind:

29 Their roaring shall be like a lion, they shall roar like young lions: yea, they shall roar, and lay hold of the prey, and shall carry it away safe, and none shall deliver it.

30 And in that day they shall roar against them like the roaring of the sea: and if one look unto the land, behold darkness and sorrow, and the light is darkened in the heavens thereof.

Verse 24, 25—Judgment has been coming regularly for these things, because they have cast away the Law of the Lord of Hosts, and have despised the Word of the Holy One of Israel. His Word and His Holiness take precedence over all else. The judgment isn’t over yet—in verses 26-30, He brings swarms of enemies against them, overwhelming the land, and bringing utter ruin.

The judgment spelled out in verses 25-30 was to be partially fulfilled in the armies of Babylon, though He does not name them until later. Ultimately, it will be fulfilled during the Great Tribulation, as we see in Zechariah 14:1-4. We see a hint of this, in the continuing use of the phrase “in that day.” This phrase, denoting the coming “Day of the LORD,” was first mentioned in Isaiah 2:12, and is referenced all the way through the book.

So, the fulfillment of the Judgment which Isaiah predicted ran from about 600 BC in the Babylonian captivity, all the way to the second coming of Christ; and then he predicts the blessings throughout the Millennial Kingdom age, as we began to see in chapter 4. This book is one of the most far-reaching prophecies in the Bible.

Personal Application:

How does this affect the Church, today? Can we apply the principles in any way, so as to make use of this chapter today? We know that the passage is specifically addressed to Israel, Judah, Jerusalem, and the inhabitants thereof, but, we want to see how to address sin in our own lives, so that God does not find it necessary to chasten us as his erring sons. We are the Church, not Israel, but, as those who are “dead with Christ, and risen from the dead with Him,” it seems we should be able to apply His Word to our daily lives.

  • Perhaps all it will do is to make us take a closer look at the sin in our own lives, because we can clearly see that God’s Righteousness and His Judgment are not to be trifled with.
  • Perhaps it will drive us to examine our tendency toward self-justification…the tendency we have toward excusing our own actions, even when they are plainly wrong.
  • Perhaps it will lead us to not so strongly look forward to the coming Judgment, as every single one of us knows people to whom it will mean an eternity without Christ, and without hope. (Yes, it means release for us, but it will mean utter destruction for most.)
  • Perhaps it will motivate us to look for opportunities to turn others back from that destruction, since that is precisely what we are called to do.
  • The Great Commission is for all believers: we do have a responsibility to offer eternal life to others, and to love them as Jesus does, and to forgive them as He says to do.

Isaiah 5 is God’s response to unbelief and rebellion. Such things should not be part of our lives, but the fact is that they often are. At minimum, we can take our warning from this passage and confess our sins, and seek to walk in obedience to the Risen Savior.

Next time, we will see the call of Isaiah, to a specific ministry. Please notice that, according to Romans 8:28-30, if you are a believer, then you, too, are already called. You are not to wait to be stunned by Jesus on the road to Damascus, or be devastated by His Holiness, in a vision, like Isaiah, Daniel or John. You are already called to serve. Let’s get with it!

Lord Jesus, please help us to focus our attention on you, the Holy God and Savior, rather than upon our own desires and goals. Re-mold us into your image, and redirect our steps to walk with you.

Judgment and Cleansing

Judgment and Cleansing

© C. O. Bishop 2019

Isaiah 3, 4

Introduction:

We have been studying through the book of Isaiah, and have taken a long hiatus to look in detail at the many prophecies regarding the day of the LORD. Now we are circling back to what Isaiah was actually discussing when we went off on that side-excursion. Isaiah was discussing the coming judgment on Israel and Judah, and specifically Jerusalem:

Judgment

Chapter 3

1For, behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water.
The mighty man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and the ancient,
The captain of fifty, and the honourable man, and the counsellor, and the cunning artificer, and the eloquent orator.

Verses 1 through 3 outline the way that God will strip the nation of Judah of everything they depended upon:

  • Food and water,
  • Civil and military leaders,
  • Preachers,
  • Teachers,
  • Elders,
  • Public speakers,
  • Counselors, and
  • Craftsmen

All would be removed.

He then says that those who were left would be ruled over by those least qualified to bear authority…those who had as yet developed no wisdom, no life-experience from which to make sound decisions. The result would be turmoil and oppression:

And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them.
And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbour: the child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honourable.

The men who were in rulership did not behave as grown men ought to act, but were foolish, as if they were children.  The few who were left would be living in ruins, too, and without the wherewithal to improve their lot.  This actually happened during the Babylonian invasion. Nebuchadnezzar simply took away anyone he thought might be useful, either to himself or to those left behind. He left only the poorest, least-skilled, and least educated. (Why should he add to his own country’s welfare problems? Leave them here to fend for themselves!) He did just that, and many starved, or were killed by bands of marauding raiders. It was a miserable time in Jewish history.

When a man shall take hold of his brother of the house of his father, saying, Thou hast clothing, be thou our ruler, and let this ruin be under thy hand:
In that day shall he swear, saying, I will not be an healer; for in my house is neither bread nor clothing: make me not a ruler of the people.

The people would try to choose someone to be a ruler, based only upon the fact that he still had presentable clothing. What a shallow, idiotic reason to confer the responsibilities of leadership upon a person! And it seems that the appointment was not welcome, either: no one wanted the position. (Perhaps we need to learn this lesson, too, and think about how we vote in our country, and how we view civic duty and responsibility.)

A further way to look at this would be that, in the New Testament, God has given specific requirements for choosing church leaders; none of it has to do with personality cults, popularity, or good looks. One does not “dress for success” to become a shepherd in the flock of God. There are specific requirements (listed in 1st Timothy 3:1-8; Titus 1:5-9, and 1st Peter 5:1-3) which must all be met; it is not a “smorgasbord”, where we can just choose what is important to us, personally. They all have to do with character and behavior, as well as giftedness. Even education (while valuable) is not on God’s list. But the willingness to serve, and the faithfulness to serve, and continually feed and guard the flock, are critical needs.

Reason for Judgment

Verses 8 and 9 remind us of why the judgment fell, and they should stand as a solemn warning to all those who follow: The people openly, deliberately, flagrantly sinned against God. (Many do the same, today, and openly mock Him as being powerless against them.)

For Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen: because their tongue and their doings are against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of his glory.
The shew of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves.

Sodom was proud of its excesses, and flaunted its depravity. Somehow that seems very familiar today, as well…we think we have thrown off the shackles of authority and morality, as a nation, saying that we are becoming free; but, in reality, we are becoming increasingly enslaved to sin. And Judgment is coming. God says so!

We should also be taking a lesson from the wartime experience of Israel, and recognize our own helplessness against the enemies of our souls, and so throw ourselves on God’s Mercy, and seek His Grace in humility. Has it occurred to you that your greatest enemy, Satan, is not only far more intelligent that any human, and far more powerful, and hugely influencing world affairs: our great enemy is all of these things, and invisible, as well! How badly we need the Great Shepherd of our Souls! We are utterly defenseless against our enemies, apart from the Person and the Work of Jesus Christ.

Cleansing

10 Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him: for they shall eat the fruit of their doings.
11 Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him: for the reward of his hands shall be given him.

God said to the righteous within the nation (verse 10) that He would look out for their well-being. In that time, I believe, He probably meant their physical well-being. But the righteous suffered then as well as now, so we must remember that, in every age, the eternal well-being of God’s people has always outweighed the temporal. (Remember Hebrews 11. Those whom God said were the best of the best (“of whom the World was not worthy”) were those who had been completely oppressed and destitute, but who were still faithful to God.) He also says, here in verse 11, that the wicked will receive the just due of their wickedness. Compare Romans 6:23 “—the Wages of Sin is Death.

The same principle still holds true…check out Psalm 37 and Psalm 73. Even at that time, there were wicked people who seemed to be totally blessed in their evil lives. But the Psalmists remind us that we cannot always see the judgment of God. Think of Luke 16:19, ff…would you rather have been Lazarus or the rich man? (Keep in mind the fact that this particular account told by Jesus was not a parable…those were real individuals.)

12 As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths.
13 The Lord standeth up to plead, and standeth to judge the people.

God warns the people (verses 12, 13) that their rulers were leading them astray, and that childish and unmanly behaviors among the leaders were becoming the norm. (In the end, many of their kings were literally children, some the age of first or second-grade children; and their mothers ruled through them… usually disastrously, though there were some exceptions.)

14 The Lord will enter into judgment with the ancients of his people, and the princes thereof: for ye have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
15 What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord God of hosts.

God said to the rulers of his people (they had used their position to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor, who were relatively defenseless in legal battles), that He would take the witness stand against them, and enter into judgment against them. He said that they had beaten his people to pieces, and had ground the faces of the poor.

It is inescapable to me, that we should see the parallels in our own nation, in this age. There are wealthy “rulers” who have actually boasted about their supremacy, that they always get what they want, and that “only the little people pay taxes…,” etc. We have governing officials who have made secret deals with wealthy “robber barons”, and accepted bribes to give preference to them in legal issues…and judgment truly will come for them, too…but this one was to the rulers of Judah, and Jerusalem.

Further, in verses 16-24, God says the wanton behavior of the leaders was mirrored in the wanton behavior of the women…the over-indulgence in cosmetics, and personal adornment, and overtly flirtatious, suggestive behavior and alluring perfumes. He says that this too would be taken away, and replaced with their opposites…disfigurement, poverty and humiliation; uncleanness, and foul odors.

16 Moreover the Lord saith, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet:
17 Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will discover their secret parts.
18 In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls, and their round tires like the moon,
19 The chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers,
20 The bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings,
21 The rings, and nose jewels,
22 The changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins,
23 The glasses, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the vails.
24 And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet smell there shall be stink; and instead of a girdle a rent; and instead of well set hair baldness; and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth; and burning instead of beauty.

He concludes in verses 25 and 26 that the coming wars would take away the men, and the few people who were left behind would be desolate, sitting on the ground in despair and poverty. The “her” in verse 26 is actually in reference to the city, not the women. Jerusalem is usually referred to in the feminine gender.

25 Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war.
26 And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground.

Conclusion:

The judgments outlined here were literally fulfilled in the Babylonian captivity, but there is an even more pointed fulfillment, during the tribulation period still to come. (Remember: so far, Isaiah is just stating the theme! He isn’t even warmed up yet!)

If nothing else, we should be beginning to sense the holiness of God: that He hates sin, and that He judges sin. One of his titles is “Judge of all the Earth;” and as we discovered in earlier study, the specific member of the Godhead who carries out the judgment of Sin, is God the Son: Jesus! Jesus confirmed this, saying that “the Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment to the Son.” (John 5:22)

Next week we will see the ultimate result of God’s Judgment.

Lord Jesus, teach us to see your hand in the World around us, and to take your Holiness seriously, not taking it lightly. Purify our hearts, and le

Making Informed Choices

Making Informed Choices

© C. O. Bishop 3/2019 THCF 3/17/2019

Isaiah 1:27-2:5

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

Coming Judgment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ultimate Exaltation

Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Invitation to Practical Holiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judgment and Righteousness

Judgment and Righteousness

© C. O. Bishop 2/27/2019

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

Introduction:

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

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

The Coming Judgment  

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

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

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

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

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

The Basis for Judgment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deserved Judgment

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

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

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

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

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

Redemption through Judgment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion: Escape from Judgment

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

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

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.