Ye shall seek me and Not Find Me

Ye shall seek me and Not Find Me

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 7:31-36

Introduction:

Last week we examined Jesus’s disclaimer that “My doctrine is not Mine but His that sent me.” We were able to see that the doctrine we are assigned to teach is also not ours, but His (Christ’s) who sent us. John 20:21 says, “Peace be unto you: As the Father hath sent Me, even so send I you!” And, in Matthew 28:19-20, we see that the command is given in a self-perpetuating form. The Apostles were to teach their students (us) to do exactly as Jesus assigned them.

In spite of the crowd’s general response to His teaching that He was the Son of God (They attempted to “nab” him) some were actually beginning to absorb His message, and look at His miraculous works, and believe Him!

Some Believed!

31 And many of the people believed on him, and said, When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?

These who believed were asking the others, in effect, What would it take to convince you??” They were satisfied in their own minds that this “Jesus” was fulfilling the prophecies, and that He very likely was the “real deal!” And, whether openly or secretly, it says that many believed His message… they believed in Him as their Messiah.

Some sought to silence Him!

But that sort of talk spreads! It quickly got back to the ears of the Pharisees and Chief Priests. They were not interested in investigating His claim. They wanted Him silenced. So, they sent officers to arrest Jesus. (Now, is it possible, that, at this time, that this is how they might have begun an investigation? Theoretically, perhaps it is possible.

But they proved, a little later, that it was never their intent to honestly investigate His claim that He was truly the Messiah. They wanted Him silenced! How do I know? Because when He publicly raised the dead, in John 11, those same enemies were there, and their response (in John 12) to a “bona fide” raising to life of an unquestionably dead man, was that they conspired to kill both Jesus and Lazarus!)

 32 The Pharisees heard that the people murmured such things concerning him; and the Pharisees and the chief priests sent officers to take him.

Remember, we already saw, last week, the result of sending those officers. They went back empty handed. But, in the few verses immediately following lasts week’s message, we see Jesus perplexing the crowd once again:

33 Then said Jesus unto them, Yet a little while am I with you, and then I go unto him that sent me. 34 Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me: and where I am, thither ye cannot come.

Ye shall seek Me and not Find me!

How would we have taken this remark, today? There have been numerous people in our times, who simply “dropped out of sight:” They disappeared for many years, in some cases, and were thought to be dead. But they were later discovered in another place, living under a different name. Perhaps we would have thought that to be the case, here. All someone has to do today, is abandon their identity, get on a bus, hitchhike, walk, etc., and put down roots elsewhere. To do it permanently, of course, requires some illegal measures to assume the identity of someone else.

But, in those days, travel was not easy, cheap, or fast. There were no identity cards, and no computers, so, there were no “magic tricks” needed, in order to change names. The problem was that travel was slow, and dangerous…and there was always someone who would recall having “seen someone,” and put the pursuers back on the trail again.

So, the Jews had legitimate questions as to how Jesus intended to “disappear.”

35 Then said the Jews among themselves, Whither will he go, that we shall not find him? will he go unto the dispersed among the Gentiles, and teach the Gentiles? 36 What manner of saying is this that he said, Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me: and where I am, thither ye cannot come?

It is interesting that, the very next day, He was teaching almost the same things, and they were asking similar questions, and getting a little closer to the correct answer, thinking that somehow He was predicting His own death.

In John 8:20-24, it says, 20 These words spake Jesus in the treasury, as he taught in the temple: and no man laid hands on him; for his hour was not yet come. 21 Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come.

Deaf Ears and Blind eyes

Jesus once again informed the people that He was about to leave, and that they would not be able to follow. The previous day, they supposed that perhaps He was going to travel to the Jews in the dispersion among the Gentile nations….and that they simply would not be willing to follow. But they have had time to think it over, and have realized “that can’t be it.”

However, they seem to have ignored what He had plainly told them!  He said, “Yet a little while am I with you, and then I go unto him that sent me!” He told them where He was going! They utterly ignored that part of what He said! They were so committed to the opinion that He was Not “God in the Flesh,” that His clear statements as to His origin and destination fell on deaf ears!

Remember, several times, in the last few weeks, we mentioned that it is possible to become “judicially blind” if we disregard the Light of God’s Word. It is also entirely possible to become “judicially deaf,” if we ignore His Voice long enough. God calls, constantly, and the human race has either ignored His voice or fled from His presence. In John 10: 27, 28 Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me, and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish!”

How can we recognize those who “hear His voice?” John 1:12 says they “received Him.” They accepted Him for what He said He was. They took His Word for the things He taught. They heard His voice, and they followed Him.

John 3:19-21 “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.”

So, the Light of Christ is shining in the World, and some turn to that light. Others flee the light. Those who respond favorably to the Light of God’s Truth become increasingly sensitive to light, and they begin to seek more light; stronger light, so that they can better see the path before them. Those who hate the light, and reject it, eventually deny that it exists: they prefer to hear echoes of their own hearts, rather than hear answers from the heart of God.

Hearing Echoes of Our Own Hearts

I remember reading of an exchange that happened on a golf course, outside the clubhouse. A wealthy, self-important golfer was asking the resident “Golf Pro” for advice about his swing. The Pro initially tried to give honest, clear answers, but the man kept arguing, saying, “No, I think the problem is (…something else.)” (Whatever it was…)

Another golfer was listening, nearby, and noticed the change, when the Golf Pro began to agree with the wealthy patron, that his self-analysis was correct. Eventually the wealthy golfer walked away, satisfied. Then the second golfer privately questioned the Pro: “Why did you agree with him? Everything he said was wrong, and you knew it!” The Golf Pro replied, “Mister, I learned a long time ago to not give ‘answers’ to someone who is only looking for ‘echoes.’ He didn’t want correction; he wanted confirmation! So that’s what I gave him!”

In Romans 10:3, we see what the problem was: “For they, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” They were so intent on establishing their own “rightness,” that they were blind to the overwhelming “Rightness” of the Son of God!

Jesus had told them where He was going, but they were already blind to His Deity, and blind to the evidence that He was the true Messiah. So, He warned them that where He was going, they could not follow. To his disciples, in John 13:36, He said, “…you cannot come now, but you will come later!” But to these unbelieving Jews, he flatly told them that they could not come.

John 8:22-24

22 Then said the Jews, Will he kill himself? because he saith, Whither I go, ye cannot come. 23 And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.”

The next day, in answer to the same question, He told them that He was not of this World, but that they were of this world. And He clearly warned them that if they failed to believe that He was who He claimed to be, they would die in their sins!

What does the Future Hold?

In 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18 we see that something is coming, which we call the “Rapture.” We speculate about the different possible responses the World may have to the disappearance of millions of people. But what we know, (from 2nd Thessalonians 2:11, 12) is that (future tense) God will send the World a strong delusion, so that they will believe a lie.

They will not recognize the truth and “believe,” after having seen the rapture, though I have heard people say, “Oh, if I see that, I will believe!” No, they won’t! The only ones who will believe during the Tribulation are those who either did not hear or did not understand the Gospel, before the rapture. A careful reading finds that the (future tense) strong delusion, is directed to them who (past tense) “…did not believe the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

This is why the Jews were warned, “If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins!” They had the most powerful witness to the truth of God in the history of the World: And they were blind to it!

What About Us?

We don’t want to be blind to the provision of God in our lives, nor to His correction, as He uses His Word to convict our hearts and to change us into His likeness. We don’t want to be deaf to His pleading, as He attempts to lead us in the paths of righteousness. All through the Bible, we see the warning that there will come a time when God allows us to “go our own way,” and we, like Samson, will reap the consequences of our sin. (Remember, Samson was a believer!)

Among the groups to whom He spoke, some of the people actually believed. We will meet them someday, as they eventually became the early Church. But others, in every generation, have rejected everything He said, and hated Him for saying it!

We see that today, as well, as we try to share our faith with others. But, Jesus said, “If the World hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18)

Left Behind, and Lost

Jesus was about to go back to His Father, and He warned the unbelievers that they would not only be “left behind,” but that they would “die in their sins!” I’m not sure that we can fully grasp the hopelessness of one who “waits too long,” and “sees the door close,” so to speak, knowing that God is no longer extending His mercy, and only eternal judgment remains.

That is not a comfortable message, but it is the “Ultimate bad news” making the “Ultimate Good News” of the Cross to be Good News at all! If it were not for the enormity of our sin, and our lost estate before God, then the Salvation He offers would seem of lesser importance, and His death would seem tragic instead of being the greatest act of heroism the universe has ever seen.

Once we realize our lostness, and see Jesus as our only Hope, then the Gospel of Christ becomes the center of our lives.

May God help us to focus on the Person of Christ, and see ourselves reflected in His face, not seeking our own way, but truly seeking His!

What kind of Bread do we seek?

What kind of Bread do we seek?

(What do we hope to Gain?)

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 6:22-27; John 6:28, 29; Colossians 2:6; 1st Peter 1:23; Ephesians 2:10; Galatians 5:16

Introduction

We have arrived at an important transition in John chapter 6. We already saw how Jesus fed the five thousand men along with their wives and children. We already saw that some of those men were so stirred up that they wanted to take Jesus by force and pronounce Him to be King. But Jesus eluded them and eventually left with His disciples. But the people caught up with him near Capernaum, and asked, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” That’s where we are today: verse 26.

26 Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. 27 Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. 28 Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? 29 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.

As we read through this (or any) passage, we do well to consider the context in which the verses are found. In this particular context, obviously, the people to whom Jesus is speaking are the ones whom, on the previous day, He had miraculously fed with the five loaves and two fishes, given by that young boy in the story. So, if all of them had caught up with Him, He again had an audience of over five thousand people. However, Jesus ignored their questions, and only pointed out why they had really come: He revealed their motives. (“You just want more free food!”)

And He reminded them of a passage from Isaiah 55:1-3, where God spoke through Isaiah to tell the people of Judah that their motives were flawed…that they were putting all their efforts toward things that had no eternal value. He told them, effectively, that they were wasting their lives! No one really likes to hear such a rebuke, even if it is given in love and gentleness, but that is what they were hearing from Jesus, in this passage, here in John’s Gospel.

Compare The Isaiah Passage:

Isaiah 55:1-3 

Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.

Remember two things, here:

  1. The people to whom Jesus spoke were Jews: they all were familiar with the words of Isaiah. This was not an obscure idea to them: they knew the passage to which He alluded.
  2. Jesus is the Author of the writings of Isaiah. He is the “Lord” whom Isaiah saw on the throne, in the vision of Isaiah 6:1, and whose “train filled the temple.”So, for Him to “springboard” from the Isaiah 55 passage to their time, making it directly applicable to the lives of His audience, was entirely within His authority and completely appropriate.

What shall we do, to Work the Works of God?”

The people evidently understood that Jesus was citing that passage: So, they immediately asked, “What shall we do, to work the works of God?” They apparently assumed that they could earn God’s Favor. This is the World’s error: and the idea is prevalent in all World religions. Each religion has collections of “things a person can do to win God’s approval.” That list varies, slightly, from one religion to another, but there are usually a lot of similarities; at least in regard to how you are required to treat your fellow believer, and how you are to approach God.

Religions are NOT all the same.

From the World’s perspective, most religions are OK to live by…but from God’s perspective, they are Hell to die by! The people with the bumper stickers that call all the worlds religions to just peacefully “Co-exist” are either ignorant of (or are denying) the fact that several of those religions are mutually exclusive, and that at least one of them demands the extermination of all others who do not submit themselves to it. And the adherents of that religion are the ones called to do the extermination! So, they can’t very well just “Co-exist!” And they do not “all lead to God.”

When we examine all the world’s religions, we can see a lot of similarities in the “nice” parts of each religion, and three major groupings as to how they deal with Sin:

  1. Some claim that there is no such thing as sin: that all such ideas of “right and wrong” are strictly of human origin, and that the impersonal “Force” or “Deity,” in which they believe, has no interest in such things…we are to pursue a denial of self and ego, in order to be united with this impersonal force, or deity.
    This teaching is not at all common: it usually “rings false” to people, because we all have an inborn sense that “there is such a thing as right and wrong!” And we at least recognize it when someone has wronged us!
  2. Some religions agree that sin exists, but they claim that God is so high above, and so kindly disposed toward humans, and so loving, that he is not concerned with such things, and certainly intends no judgment of sin. He simply pleads with us to “be nice to each other,” and that we will “all get to heaven by and by.” (Along with this, they usually claim that “all paths lead to the same God,” so all will eventually be reunited with God.)
    This one is more common, but still “rings false:” We also have an inborn sense of justice, calling for retribution. We believe that sin calls for punishment; that “wrongs should be made right,” so it is difficult tor us to believe that God does not share this opinion.
  3. Far more common…(almost universal, in fact,) is the teaching that “Sin is very real, and God hates sin, so you had better do lots and lots of good things to counteract the effect of all the bad things you have done (and continue to do….)” Most religions teach this idea.
    This belief completely fits our views as humans, and is exactly where Jesus’s audience was coming from. They hoped to earn God’s favor through good works of some sort.
    But Jesus alerted them to a fourth perspective—the one belonging to the Living God:
  4. “There is such a thing as Sin, and God hates sin, and there is nothing you can do to counteract your guilt!”

25 years ago, I shared with a young man at work these four views of what to do with sin, and he listened carefully: then he asked, “So, where does ‘Jesus dying on the Cross’ come in?” (I was delighted!) I said, “I’m glad you asked that!” Then I shared with him the Gospel: the message of “Salvation by Grace through Faith in Jesus Christ.” (Grace is unearned Favor.) There truly is nothing you can do to save yourself. God has to do it for you!  (Shortly thereafter, that man moved away to the east coast of the United States, so I have no idea what his ultimate response might have been. But I do know he heard and understood the Gospel: if he wants to know the Savior, he knows how to approach Him!)

And that is where Jesus found His audience: they wanted to know “how to know God.” More specifically, they wanted to know how to earn God’s approval. They asked, “What shall we do to work the works of God?”

Jesus responded with the very clear statement, that faith in the Messiah is what God wants from us: He said, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.

Today, those of us who have already received the Lord might say, “Well that is how I was saved, yes! but how do I work the works of God after salvation? What shall I do, now?

What shall We do?

This is where Jesus’s earlier admonition seems to fit in: He said,  “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.”

Let me assume for the moment that we already have received eternal life through the promise of Jesus (which we read in the previous chapter, in John 5:24.) Is there application, here, to the eternal aspect of the “food” we gain or the “wages” we hope for, in working according to God’s standard today? Yes! Jesus teaches that our labor for God has Eternal rewards: He is an Eternal God, who has given to us Eternal life, and has commanded us to “lay up treasure” for ourselves in Heaven…so there has to be an “Eternal value” to our works.

But, does our “faith” begin and end at the Cross? When I was a brand-new believer, I had an older Christian woman tell me, “Well, you are saved by faith, but you are kept by works!” What a crippling lie to tell a new believer! She was effectively saying, “You have been born into this family, but if you aren’t good enough, your Father will disown you!” That is a lie from the pit!

What does God say about our new birth?

He says, you were born again by faith: John 1:12, 13 promises, “But to as many as received Him, gave He power (Greek, “exousia”…authority) to become (Greek “gennesthe” …to be born) the sons (Greek “teknoi”…the offspring…literally, “born-ones”) of God, even to them that believe on His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” You are born of God! You got that way by believing in His Name! You placed your faith in Him! And as a new believer, you are His legitimate child! He will never “kick you out!” He will never disown you! He is your real Father!

1st Peter 1:23 says, Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.”

You were born again by the Word of God. This applies to the written and spoken Word of God, whereby you heard the Gospel and believed, (thus fulfilling John 5:24) and to the Living Word, who shed His blood for you and who lives today, in you! And it says, He lives and abides forever! So, if the One who lives in you lives forever, and abides in you forever, I’d say you are pretty secure in His promises!

But: How do we Work for Him?

Colossians 2:6 says, As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him.”
How did you receive Christ? By faith! That is what we just read in John 1:12 and 1st Peter 1:23. We are now called to Walk in Him by faith.

Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.God prepared the works for us already: all we have to do is walk in them: Do what he leads us to do…be obedient to His Word and His Spirit. Walk by faith!

Galatians 5:16 says, “This I say, then, walk in the Spirit and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh,” We have pointed out in the past that the Christian life is not “difficult:” It is impossible, apart from the Holy Spirit living through us. In John 15:5, Jesus said “Apart from me ye can do nothing!” We don’t like to hear that, because our flesh wants to believe that we can do things on our own to please God. But Jesus says we cannot.

That is exactly where these people were, whom Jesus was admonishing to change their aim in life. To stop the “self-effort treadmill,” wherein, regardless of how hard you try, no matter how well you run, you can never gain any eternal value. He wanted them to take up His yoke and serve with Him. The “yoke” in Matthew 11:29 (where Jesus said, “take my yoke upon you and learn of me”) is a yoke worn by two workers, or by two oxen. Jesus is asking us to “join Him in double harness,” and so to learn from Him. He invites us to labor with Him, and learn from Him, not just work for Him.

Ephesians 1:14; 4:29 each make it clear that we have been sealed in Christ by the Holy Spirit, until the day of redemption: But the scriptures we read today ask that we serve with Him. He has work for us to do: He says so. But we have to voluntarily “show up” to do the job for which He has already chosen us. Romans 12:1, 2 makes it clear that we are to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, as an act of worship. That is always a voluntary sacrifice, even though He has ordained the work for us to do before we were born.

We still have to choose to walk with Him…by faith!

Lord Jesus, we ask that by Your Word and by Your Spirit, you would turn our hearts to follow You in cheerful, faithful obedience. Transform us by the renewing of our minds, by Your Holy Spirit, to be the men and women you have called us to be.

Are You “Out of Uniform?” What does the “uniform” look like?

Are You “Out of Uniform?”

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 13:34, 35; John 17:21; Matthew 5:15, 16; Galatians 5:22, 23

Introduction

Sometimes, we hear about someone impersonating a police officer, and trying to assert the authority of the badge. Invariably, they are caught, arrested and either fined or imprisoned, depending on what they were doing while impersonating a Law-enforcement officer.

What is worse, is when we hear of someone who actually is a member of the organization whose uniform he is wearing, but abuses his position to commit a crime. Fortunately, it is not a common occurrence, but it does happen. There is a compounded evil, here: the public hears of the crime, and either grieves that the integrity of that organization has been damaged by a criminal in uniform, or, tragically, they jump to the conclusion that the entire organization is corrupt.

During and after Hurricane Katrina, the whole world saw videos, captured by surveillance cameras, of two uniformed officers in New Orleans, looting a store, loading the stolen goods into a marked police car, and driving away. There was no question what happened: it was undeniable. But, is this evidence that everyone in Law Enforcement is inherently corrupt, or is it evidence that, just as in every other human endeavor, criminals canput on the uniform? Obviously, the latter is a more reasonable conclusion. To choose the other option and to use it evenhandedly, we would have to conclude that anyone in any official capacity anywhere is automatically suspect.

Then we must ask ourselves, “Since so many people NOT serving in any official capacity are dishonest, immoral, or violent, mustn’t we then conclude that all who do not serve in any official capacity must also be corrupt? It’s odd: no one in the general public takes that stance, though I have met a few Law Enforcement officers who were so jaded as to feel that way. But both assumptions are wrong, unless we simply agree that all humans are sinners. (And we are!)

What is The Purpose of Uniforms?

What about military uniforms? They are to identify the troops that are on “our side.” It is always illegal to impersonate a member of the armed forces, wearing that uniform falsely. (Incidentally, anyone impersonating a member of the armed forces in times of war is liable to be shot as a spy!) But a true member of those military organizations, who has the right and the duty to wear that uniform is also responsible to wear it correctly. If he is wearing it incorrectly, he is said to be “out of uniform” and he or she is subject to discipline of one sort or another. But it does not change the fact that he or she is part of that organization: it just causes am unpleasant disruption in the relationship between the individual and the organization. They are “in trouble” to one degree or another; but the impersonator, with a perfect uniform, is in far worse trouble: possibly so much as to be imprisoned, or even executed.

Is there such a thing as a Christian “Uniform?”

Yes! The World is given three means by which to recognize a real believer:

  1. John 13:34, 35  the Agapé Love: Jesus said that is the means by which the World is to recognize us as His disciples.
  2. John 17:21 Supernatural Unity: Jesus said this unity, demonstrated in the lives of His disciples, is the means by which the World is to know that He was sent from God.
  3. Galatians 5:22, 23 The Fruit of the Spirit…the Holy Spirit produces this in us.
    1. Matthew 5:15, 16 Good works because of the Holy Spirit in us: Jesus said they are to reflect well upon God the Father, and bring Him Glory. (Where? “Among men”…it is reaching the World, again. This is an integral part of our testimony!)

Do you notice anything odd about these three items? They don’t usually lend themselves to “Impersonation.” You can’t just go “buy a Christian uniform” and put it on, and then go out to be seen as a member of the body of Christ. The outward reality is based upon an inward change, and a continuing inward relationship which transforms the outward life. We recognize each other that way, too. Sometimes it seems that the indwelling Holy Spirit in one believer simply “bears witness” to the indwelling Holy Spirit in another, and instant fellowship is established.

Can it be faked? Do some people put on a façade of “piety,” and pretend to be “good, god-fearing people?” Surely, they do! But usually, it only goes so far before someone sees “wolf-tracks” behind and beneath the “sheep’s clothing,” and unveils their true identity. The problem with that situation is that those observers may assume that “all Christians are phonies.” Humans all tend to make generalizations; some turn out to be accurate, others do not.

Is it possible for a real Christian to be “out of uniform?”

Absolutely, it is possible! Look back over the “Uniform parts,” and consider: which parts can be missing without our being “out of uniform?” The simple answer is, “None!

If I am not behaving in accordance with Agapé love, or if I am allowing (or causing) disunity between myself and other believers, or if the Fruit of the Spirit is not evident in my life, then I am out of fellowship and “out of uniform.” (Examine your heart in this “self-inspection:” How are you thinking?) If I am blatantly “out of uniform,” then the World has no reason to believe my testimony, and every reason to suspect my motives when I attempt to do the good works that have become a regular part of my life. My heart isn’t in it anymore because I am out of fellowship with Jesus. And (believe it or not) people are remarkably good at spotting that!

Remember: Jesus said that these are the means by which the World is to identify the real believers. We need to be careful about our associations as well as our own testimonies.

People judge us by several things:

  1. What we do,
  2. What we say,
  3. Who our friends are, and,
  4. Who our enemies are.

Hopefully, what we do will match what we say: That is pretty fundamental to integrity. But the people we associate with—who are seen as being those with whom we are really comfortable, will also register in people’s minds. And, if they see that the people who despise us are themselves despicable, well, that is one thing. But if they discern that good, honest wholesome folk want nothing to do with us, then our testimony is shot, and we have become useless as a tool in God’s hand. He cannot use us in that condition.

What happens to Believers who are “out of Uniform?”

So, what happens to a believer who is habitually out of fellowship with God; “out of uniform,” so to speak? We can look at the scripture and clearly see that he or she does not lose his or her position in the body of Christ: salvation and eternal life are gifts, not something we can earn. But they do lose the rewards they could have gained.

Abraham’s nephew, Lot, is a great Old Testament example of someone who was “blessed with every blessing, along with faithful Abraham:” but he lost it all in Sodom and Gomorrah. He was saved, but barely so: He literally lost everything in that judgment.

1st Corinthians 3:11-16 tells us that our spiritual reality is similar. A believer can waste his life in such a way that his rewards are effectively non-existent, “but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.” (Some newer translations read “…as one escaping through the flames.”)

Ephesians 1:3 says that we, too, have already been “blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, in Christ.” Can we “squander that blessing” by wallowing in the World, just as Lot did in Sodom and Gomorrah? You’d better believe we can!

Further, we need to recognize that, just as Samson was drawn away into captivity and physical blindness by his own foolishness and sin, we also can be drawn away by our sin until we are blind to God’s leading, and, ultimately, end up working for our enemy, just as Samson did.

We will not lose our position in Christ, but we will lose the Joy, and Peace, and the sense of purpose that is ours when we walk with Him.

What happens to Unbelievers who are “in Uniform?”

Obviously, it is impossible to misappropriate a “uniform” that is only given by the indwelling Holy Spirit, but there is certainly such a thing as counterfeit “spirituality.” In the Old Testament, we saw it in the false prophets, and even among the people who pretended to be responsive to God’s Word, but only used it for entertainment, as we read in Ezekiel 33:30-33. In the New Testament we saw the Pharisees and the Sadducees who were all very respected in their religious circles, though they hated one another. The Pharisees were the religious conservatives of the day, and the Sadducees were the religious liberals of that time. They were opposed to one another, but they were completely united in their rejection of the Messiah, and their desire to kill Him.

Jesus warned against “wolves in sheep’s clothing” in Matthew 7:15, saying that they would seem to be true believers on the outside, but inwardly they were “ravening wolves.” Paul warned of false teachers, using those same words, saying that “grievous wolves” would arise within the church, specifically from among the leadership, and would lead the church astray. We may find it difficult to recognize such predators, but Jesus sees right through their disguise.

In Matthew 7:22, 23, Jesus warned that those who “claim His name,” and even do “good works” in His Name, but who are not His sheep, face condemnation. John 10:27, 28 says He knows His sheep and He gives eternal life to them. Obviously, He also knows those who are not His people. He does not say to those pretenders, “I once knew you, but you didn’t serve well enough, so I kicked you out:” He says, “I never knew you: Depart from me, you that work iniquity.” And, in Luke 13:27, He reiterated that just being part of the nation of the Jews wasn’t enough. He said that the unbelieving Jews would protest at the judgment, saying “You preached in our streets; we knew you!” And He will respond, “But I don’t know YOU!”

“Vaccinated against the Gospel”

You see, putting on the false robes of Human righteousness and piety will quickly convince you that you don’t need Jesus: that you are “just as good as anybody else,” and that you do not need Forgiveness and Grace. It will inoculate you against the Gospel, rather than leading you to faith. That’s why I don’t usually try to persuade unbelievers to “come to church.” I will instead invite them to “come to Jesus.” I share the Gospel: they don’t need church; they need Jesus.

But, if they really don’t want the Gospel, then they really don’t want Jesus. And if they don’t want Jesus, then the worst thing they could possibly do is to start acting as if they were His followers. They will become convinced of their own righteousness, and stand at the final Judgment without Hope. They were “impersonating a believer,” and Jesus will tell them, “Depart from Me, ye Cursed, into everlasting Fire.” What a sad ending for those who very likely thought they were doing “good things!” And yet, Jesus said it is extremely common.

Wasted Works—Useless coverings

This is the pattern of the World. As unbelievers, we declare ourselves righteous, and we claim to be sufficient unto ourselves. But God says we are poor, and blind, and naked and lost. Whatever we hold up as our “uniform” will be utterly ineffective, just as the Fig-leaf garments produced by Adam and Eve proved useless. Remember: the garments “covered their nakedness,” when only the two of them were involved. But when God entered the picture, the garments did nothing. They fled from the voice of God because they knew that they were naked, in spite of their works. Good works accomplish nothing toward gaining a right standing before God. Faith in Jesus’s finished work is the only path to God.

“DO vs DONE”

The biggest snare to the souls of humans seems to be human religion: specifically, works-based religion. The religions of the world all say, “DO these things and God will accept you!” But the Mosaic Law was given specifically to prove the impossibility of that task! Romans 3:19, 20 states that the purpose of the Law was to make every soul guilty before God. Paul concludes that by works of the Law shall no flesh be justified (declared righteous) in God’s sight.

The Voice of God says the Work was completed at the Cross: “It is finished!”  And we are called to place our faith in His finished work. Someone pointed out that the World says, “DO!”, but Jesus says, “DONE!” The work was truly completed right there at Calvary.

What about the Uniform, then?

What value does it have for us? At the very least, it is a “litmus test” for us: we can inspect ourselves according to God’s Written Word, and ask God, by His Holy Spirit, to search our hearts and reveal our sin to us.

Ultimately, though, we must desire to walk with God. If we are so calloused that we are satisfied to just stay out of fellowship, and wallow in our sin, then we are in far deeper trouble, and the “uniform” is so tattered as to be unrecognizable to anyone but God.

The Prodigal Son

The Prodigal Son is a good example of a believer who wandered away from God, and was deeply embroiled in the World. During his descent into the filth of the World, he was pretty smug: He was living the high life! He had drinking buddies! He got attention from women!

But when the money ran out, so did all his buddies. And then a famine came, and he had nothing upon which to fall back. He ended up getting a job feeding pigs, and the pigs were better fed than he himself was. Here is the point: He was a son when he took his leave from the father. He was a son when he was acting like a winebibber and a lecher. He was a son when he was in the pigpen. And, finally, had he died in that pigpen,he would have been a dead Son, not a dead pig.

But somehow God got through to him, and he realized the mess he had made of his life. He repented (he changed his mind about his values and his lifestyle: that is what “Repent” means) …and he went back to his father’s house. He only hoped to be received as a servant: But he was received as a Son!

Look in the Mirror!

Don’t allow yourself to ruin the blessings God has given you! Take a look in the mirror of God’s Word and check out the Uniform that Jesus gave you. Ask God what needs to change. Then submit to His call and change the things that are wrong. We are encouraged to use God’s Word as a mirror, for precisely this purpose: to examine ourselves before God and look to Him to change us into His likeness.  

Ephesians 4:29-32 tells us some things to look for:

  • How we talk, and the motive of our hearts when we speak.
  • Whether we are willing to grieve the Holy Spirit who, ironically, is the very One who keeps us saved, sealed in Christ!
  • Whether anger, or malice or bitterness, and any evil speaking are part of our lives.

In contrast, Kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness are to be the normal behavior for believers.

Go ahead and take the time to look in the Mirror of God’s Word.

Then, check over your uniform, and see how Jesus leads you.

Lord Jesus, we freely admit that we spend a great deal of time out of fellowship with You. We are so self-centered that we don’t even want to walk with You…we want You to bless our Sin, when our sin is what took You to the Cross. We ask that You create a genuine repentance in our hearts and change us into Your likeness. Enable us to serve You with our lives, and fill us with Your Joy.

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