Posts Tagged ‘Salvation’

Dwelling and Abiding

Dwelling and Abiding

© C. O. Bishop January 2019  THCF 2019

(Read aloud) Psalm 91:1 & Psalm 15:1-5 (compare John 15:3-12)

Introduction:

“To dwell”, is to live, or to stay in a place; a “dwelling,” as a noun, is a place where people live. “To abide,” is to remain; to stay, or, in some usages, “to endure.” Sometimes “Abide” and “Dwell” are nearly synonymous.

God used David to make some statements about the verbs “abiding,” and “dwelling:” sometimes they are essentially the same; sometimes one results in the other.

Psalm 91:1 says, “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” We might ask, “How do we dwell with God?, and What does it mean, to abide?”

If I were to use contrasting words to point out what the scripture does not say, I could point out that the passage does not say, “He who occasionally visits the secret place of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty…”. Nor does it say, “He who goes there seasonally to celebrate a family tradition …etc.” It says that the one who lives with God will find his life overshadowed by the presence of God.

If you want your life to be overshadowed by the Lord’s presence, then you need to dwell where He is. Center your life around his person and presence. Psalm 37:5 says, “commit your way to him.” The result will be that He is the one who accomplishes his work through you.

How do we Dwell with God?

Psalm 15 poses the question, “Who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy Holy Hill?” The issue is, “Who has the right to stand before God on a continuing basis?  Who will God accept as a constant companion?” Amos 3:3 asks a similar question; a rhetorical question: “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” (The implied answer is “NO!”) So…assuming that I am already born again, if there is a disagreement between me and God…I have to change my mind (repent—metanoia) before I can walk with him again…and before I can “Abide in His tabernacle and Dwell in His Holy Hill”. The result is a lifestyle change. Look at what the psalmist lists as the normal standards for such a person:

  • He that walketh uprightly. This is a general statement about character—all that follows will reflect this reality. You are either walking uprightly, or you are not. There is no middle ground. It is a moment-by-moment reality. Either you are or you aren’t.
  • And that worketh righteousness. This is a general statement about works—good works are the result of righteousness. They can be proactive, overt acts, as well as reactive or passive behavior.
  • And that speaketh the truth in his heart. That is where truth has to begin…being honest with God and oneself. Confession plays into this, as well as how we respond to those around us. It means being sober and honest with ourselves and with others, and with God. Romans 12 speaks of a man not thinking more highly of himself than he ought, but to be sober—to see himself clearly.
  • He that backbiteth not with his tongue. (No gossip or slander. Even when it is true, gossip is wrong.)
  • Nor doeth evil to his neighbor. (No dirty tricks, or underhanded dealings. Treat others as you would wish to be treated. No taking advantage of them, in any way.)
  • Nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor. (Ever say bad things about other people? Accuse other people? Or join forces with those who do? Do you get offended against someone because of gossip you listened to? Bear in mind that the Scripture identifies the one who is the “accuser of the brethren”, in Revelation 12:10…it is Satan himself!)
  • In whose eyes a vile person is condemned. (This is not license to be judgmental. What do you think of your old sin-nature? Now, there’s a vile person for you! See Jeremiah 17:9 – “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked…” , Romans 8:7 –“the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be”, and Ephesians 4:22 – “That ye put off concerning the former way of life the old nature which is being corrupted according to the deceitful lusts”. While you are there, and considering the enormity of your own fallen nature, however, please read Ephesians 4:24 –“…and that ye put on the new nature, which after God is created in righteousness and true Holiness”…that’s how God sees you.) On the other hand, every unsaved person in the world is already condemned, according to Jesus (John 3:18), so our response to a “vile person” should be to remember they are lost, and extend the offer of Eternal Life to them. Yes, they are condemned…and God wants to fix that! We cannot pretend to fellowship around the person of Christ with an unbeliever, but we can definitely and deliberately extend his forgiveness to them.)
  • But who honoureth them that fear the Lord. (Who do you seek to fellowship with? Who are your friends? Who do you respect…and treat with respect? King Jehoshaphat got in trouble with God because he was making allegiances (friendships) with the enemies of God. He repented, changed his behavior, and God honored him. 2nd Chronicles 19, 20)
  • He that sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not. (If it turns out that keeping your word is going to cost you heavily, do you keep it anyway? Or do you try to “weasel out,” and make excuses? God is impressed with people who keep their word, even when it hurts. He wants us to keep our word, and take our commitments seriously.)
  • He that putteth not out to usury. (The legal rule on this was that they could not charge interest on a loan to a fellow Jew…the principle is that we are not to profit from someone else’s loss or misfortune. There is not a problem with interest-bearing investments or bank accounts, etc. See Luke 19:23.)
  • Nor taketh a reward (bribe) against the innocent. (The principle, again, is not perverting justice; not subverting the cause of an innocent person, for the sake of a bribe. Bribery is always seen as sin, in scripture. Sometimes a gift of appeasement—a peace-offering— is approved, but never to corrupt justice, or get something by wrong means.)
  • He that doeth these things shall never be moved. (The idea behind this concluding promise is not that the person who walks in persistent obedience to Christ will never suffer misfortune, but rather that he/she will never fall prey to temptation and sin.)

I don’t want anyone to misunderstand: every believer can fellowship with God, but we begin with confession, and follow up with obedience, in order to maintain fellowship. He is not demanding perfection out of us: Jesus did that for us. But He is demanding a willing heart, to learn His ways, and to walk with Him.

John 15:3-12 How do we Abide in Christ?

This passage is usually remembered as being the “discourse of the vine and the branches,” which is accurate, of course, but it seems a little shallow, in terms of understanding, if that is all we see. The issue here is Abiding. We are not talking about vineyards, here. We are talking about the core issue of discipleship—abiding in Christ—walking with Him, obeying him: becoming his hands, feet and voice on Earth. That is what the passage is about. Verse 5 is a key verse, in that Jesus clearly, unequivocally states that apart from Him we can do nothing. Not “less” or “lower quality” or anything comparative in nature: he says, “Nothing!”  Our work is a complete failure if He is not the source. Compare Psalm 127:1 “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” Jesus makes it completely clear that this is literally the case.

At the end of John 14, Jesus had left the upper room of the last supper, and was headed for Gethsemane, teaching as he walked. The eleven remaining disciples were with him, as they passed through the ancient vineyards between Jerusalem and Gethsemane. Then, in John Chapter 15, He used the vines as an object lesson:

v.3: He is speaking to believers: “Now ye are clean, through the Word which I have spoken unto you…” He is changing what he said in chapter 13, where all twelve were present and he said: “You are not all clean.” Judas had gone to carry out his mission. He was the only one of the twelve who never owned Jesus as his savior and master. He was never saved, never cleansed. The eleven were cleansed by believing Jesus; by trusting his word. The point I am trying to make is that this passage about abiding is only to believers. This has nothing to do with how to get saved or how to stay saved, but only how to bear fruit as a believer. It is critical that we understand this fact.

v.4: Abiding is necessary for fruit-bearing, as a principle of life—this is true in a vine; and true in the believer’s life.

v.5: Jesus alone is the source of nourishment. Apart from that nourishment, no fruit is possible. (There are two kinds of fruit—spiritual offspring and the fruit of the Spirit. Both are impossible apart from abiding in Christ.)

v.6: A non-fruit-bearing believer is rejected by men (not God). The World (and the Church, sadly) rejects a testimony that does not bring visible gain. This is not a reference to a believer losing his salvation. People reject failure, and brand as failures those who are not bearing fruit. In terms of literal grape-vine branches, such limbs are cut out and burned. The Old Testament man, Lot, stands as a good example of how God sees a non-fruit-bearing believer. There were definite consequences for his sin, and unbelief—yet, in 2nd Peter 2:6-8, God says he was a righteous man. Keep that in mind!

v.7: Abiding produces a productive prayer life. Abiding involves the Word of God in us. (Compare Psalm 119:9-11; Psalm 1:1-6) Bear in mind that it takes active feeding on the Word to have it in us at all. We have to choose to feed the new nature. One result is that our prayer life becomes productive. In 1st John 3:22, John points out that a fruitful prayer life is a direct result of obedience.

v.8: It glorifies God when we bear much fruit. Remember there are two kinds of fruit. One is a daily outpouring of God’s grace through us in what is called the Fruit (singular) of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22, 23—the other is spiritual offspring. (See John 15:16…the fruit of the Spirit is transient, at least from human perspective; sometimes we display it, and when we are carnal we most certainly do not. Spiritual offspring are the other sort of fruit; they are a heritage to future generations. This is the fruit that remains. Compare John 12:24. Jesus was speaking, regarding his own death: He said“Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone. But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” This is the fruit which is people, born again to eternal life. Jesus died to produce this fruit. We share the Gospel to bear this fruit.)

v. 9: The Agapé love is the key, here. Agapé is the committed love that is characterized by action (1st Corinthians 13) and focuses on the well-being of the recipient, not the source. It was best exemplified at the Cross.

v. 10: How do we “abide in his love?” We do so by obedience to his Word; keeping his commandments—see John 15:34, 35.

v. 11: His commandment, if obeyed, results in Joy.

v. 12: The commandment, of course, is, “Love One Another.”

This applies to the Agapé Love being poured out between believers, but also to the sharing of that love, through the Gospel, with the lost world around us.

Conclusion:

Jesus says if we want to function as his friends, then we need to focus on doing what He commanded regarding the people around us. We must be committed to functioning as the Friends of Christ:

  • Abiding in His Word,
  • Abiding in his Love
  • Seeking to obey His Word.

This is what David was talking about in both Psalm 15 and Psalm 91. Notice that none of it is a “Lone Ranger” experience…it all involves how we deal with people around us. There is no such thing as a Christian Hermit, in God’s economy. Yes, people are a pain…but do you really think they are more so to us than we must be to the Holy God of the Universe, who is truly worthy of perfect obedience? And yet, He chooses to respond to them in Agapé love, but, sadly, we do not.

We have said it before, but it bears repeating: “the Christian life isn’t difficult: it’s impossible if you insist on doing it in your own strength.” Jesus himself says so: don’t fail him by attempting to obey in the flesh. It simply cannot be done. If you do not allow the Holy Spirit to love the unlovely through you, it simply will not happen. God says that your old nature not only is not subject to Him, but it cannot be subjected to Him. (Romans 8:7)Only the new nature, under the dominion of the Holy Spirit, can live in such a way as to please God.

Ultimately, then, the Christian life is a series of choices, moment by moment, day by day: “Will you, or will you not abide? Will you or will you not obey?”

Choose to walk with Jesus: abide in Him, and be the person he has created you to be. What does this look like?

  • You dig into God’s Word, daily, so as to give the Holy Spirit the tools He needs to change your life. Feed on it! Immerse yourself in it!
  • You submit yourself to God through obedience to His Word.
  • You pray for God to make you usable in His service.
  • You pray consistently for the Church and others.
  • You look for (and use) opportunities to share the Gospel with others, so that they may be saved from their sins, and have eternal life.
  • You consistently treat all those around you with the Agapé Love. (1st Corinthians 13)
  • You daily, moment-by-moment, remember that you are an Ambassador of Christ.

By the way, all of us are concerned about the small size of the church today: well, this is how the church is supposed to grow—individual Christians telling others about Jesus Christ— one beggar telling another beggar where to find food. Not just “inviting your friends to Church”, but rather inviting them to Christ; taking personal responsibility for the message that has been entrusted to you. Paul said that he had a debt to all, to offer them eternal life through the gospel of Christ. (Romans 1:14-16

Be the ambassador you are called to be: walking with Jesus, feeding on Jesus, and serving as His hands, feet and mouth. That is what discipleship is all about.

Lord Jesus, fill us with compassion for the lost, and the overwhelming desire to serve you with our lives. Place us into your service and love the world through us.


Born Again! What Now?

Born Again! What Now?

© 2019, C. O. Bishop

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

Introduction:

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

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

How does a Person become Born Again?

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

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

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

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

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

Now, that passage will bear some examination:

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

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

What is the Result of Being Born Again?

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

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

Notice that He lists two conditions to the promise:

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

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

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

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

And the results are eternal.

What Now?

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

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

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

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

Feed on the Word!

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

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

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

What are the Long Range Results?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions and Decisions

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

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

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

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

And that will result in eternal rewards.

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

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


Judgment, Justice, Grace and Mercy

Judgment, Justice, Grace and Mercy

Introduction:

How does Easter show the Judgment and Justice of God?

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

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

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

The Reasons for Crucifixion

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

What is The Good News of the Gospel?

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

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

Why is His Death Good News?

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

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

Why is His Burial Good News?

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

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

The Best News of All: The Resurrection!

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

The Result of the Resurrection

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

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

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

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

What about Repentance?

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

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

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

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

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


The Day of the LORD (1)

The Day of the LORD, Part One

© C. O. Bishop 3/30/2019

Isaiah 2:6-22

Introduction:

We have been studying through Isaiah, and are already up against some of the central themes of the book: the awful Judgment and Holiness of God, as well as the Grace of God, and His desire to reason with fallen Man.

Isaiah is distraught at the wickedness of Israel, and begs God to not forgive them, as he sees that all the coming Judgment is fully deserved.

Therefore thou hast forsaken thy people the house of Jacob, because they be replenished from the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they please themselves in the children of strangers.

Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots:

Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made:

And the mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself: therefore forgive them not.

The remainder of the chapter promises the coming judgment on Judah, reminding all readers that it was specifically because she has forsaken her God, and sought her sustenance from everyone and everything except Him. In verses 6-9, Isaiah is speaking to God, commenting on the spiritual condition of the nation, and the reasons for the coming judgment. He specifically lists all the things upon which they have depended instead of God—and the things in which they have found pleasure instead of God’s values. He complains that from the least to the greatest, they have all bowed themselves to idols, as a nation (not excluding the possibility of a righteous remnant, which God says will always be there.) So, Isaiah begs that God not forgive them. This is an interesting insight into how a man of God may see the holiness of God, and demand retribution for sin.

In Luke 9:54, 55 (Read it), two of Jesus’s disciples, James and John, wanted permission to call down fire out of heaven to burn up some people (Samaritans) who rejected Jesus. But Jesus rebuked the two disciples for the idea, saying that they were wrong, and that He had not come to destroy lives but to save them. So, I need to recognize that even wicked, self-centered enemies of God (whomever they are) are still folks for whom Jesus died.

In the Psalms, there are many examples of “imprecatory prayers”, where the Psalmist called for judgment on sinners. Yes, Judgment is coming, but it will be in God’s timing, and under His righteousness, not our self-righteous indignation. The coming Judgment has a name, in fact: it is called “The Day of the LORD”, and it is first mentioned here in Isaiah 2:12.

The Name of the Coming Judgment

The Day of the Lord becomes a powerful theme in all the prophets, as we begin to see the various parts of it, and how widespread its effects will be.

10 Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty.

11 The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.

12 For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low:

13 And upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan,

14 And upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills that are lifted up,

15 And upon every high tower, and upon every fenced wall,

16 And upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures.

17 And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.

18 And the idols he shall utterly abolish.

19 And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

20 In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats;

21 To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

22 Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?

In verses 10-22, he speaks to the people, outlining the coming judgment. He says that all the things they have depended upon will become worthless. Looking at verses 11, 12 and 17-21 we see that the Judgment in question is the culmination of the Great Tribulation. Three is no other time when all the earth shall be judged in that fashion, and in the Revelation, he describes just such fear and trembling, and attempts to hide in the rocks.

What is the Day of the Lord?

The Day of the Lord, mentioned here, and many other places, begins with the removal of the Church-age believers from the earth, as seen in 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18 (Read it). But then (1st Thessalonians 5:1-3 (Read it)) it immediately transitions into the tribulation; next, the second coming (Zechariah 12:1-10; 14:1-15), the Kingdom age (Zechariah 14:16-21) and finally the ultimate destruction of planet earth (2nd Peter 3:10-12). All five aspects are clearly taught in both the Old and New Testaments. The immediate judgment coming upon Judah is very minor, compared to the ultimate judgment described here, though I am sure that they saw it as pretty major.

God says Judgment is coming (both immediate and ultimate), and that it will affect absolutely everyone (not just the Jews), and remove from them all the things they have depended upon and found foolish pleasure in. Verse 22 says that above all, they need to quit relying upon humans…which would include dependence upon themselves. (Cp. Proverbs 3:5-7) Part of our sin nature, our incurable arrogance, is that we continually trust ourselves over God, even though we have proven untrustworthy time and time again. Now: Am I advocating piously “trusting God” as opposed to going to a doctor? No! I trust that God will guide the doctor, and, unless I know a solid reason to do otherwise, I usually take the doctor’s advice. Do I mean, when I am forced to respond to a legal summons, that I should “just trust the Lord” and not get the best lawyer I can afford? No… I am to pray for God’s guidance, and look for the most honest and competent, intelligent legal counsel I can find. But my dependence is to be upon God.

The story has been told (countless times, I guess) about a man who was trapped by rising floodwaters. He sat on his front porch roof, and a boat came by, with a man offering to take him to higher ground. He piously replied, “No; I am trusting God. He will help me!”

The water rose higher, until he was on the peak of his upper roof, when a larger power boat came up, and the pilot offered to take him to high ground. He was frightened, but clung to his “faith” and said, “No, I am waiting on God!” Finally, when he was clinging to his chimney, and about to drown, a helicopter hovered overhead, dangling a ladder, and offering help. He made his final choice, to depend on God, and finally was swept away by the flood.

He appeared before God, and asked, “Why did you not save me? I trusted in you!” God replied, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter! What did you want??”

I do NOT think that the command to not place our trust in Man is an order to abandon sensible behavior, but rather to allow God to define what sensible behavior is. A hospital employee may say, “This child will never have a normal life, you need to have an abortion.”—and we should feel quite secure in saying, based our understanding of God’s principles, “No, I will not kill my child…I will give him the best life I can, and, though it may not be much, I will not deny him the right to live!”

Someone else may say, “Well, I would never stay married to a person like that…” and it may be that we feel the same way. But, we must have the conviction to do as God leads, not man. Marriage is sacred, and not to be lightly disposed of, though God does recognize both divorce and remarriage, according to John chapter 4.

The same things are true in Business, Politics, and Church Government. The “bottom line” must not be “Does it work?” or “Is it profitable?”, but, “Does it Honor God? Is it obedient to His revealed Word?”

As far as we know, the only two times Joshua got into any trouble were the two times when he simply forgot to ask God what to do. He thought he knew the answer, and went off to battle at Ai, when, in fact, there was sin in the camp, and God would not have allowed them to go to battle at all, without having dealt with the sin. So, 36 men lost their lives in a fiasco at a very small city. (Joshua 7)

The other time, he was fooled by the Gibeonites, because he trusted his eyes, and did not seek God’s counsel. (Joshua 9)

Joshua was a good leader and a good soldier. He made decisions on a daily basis that affected the entire country, but he also kept very close accounts with God, and, as a rule, he was always where he was supposed to be, and doing what he was supposed to be doing, because he walked closely with God and had His constant guidance.

That is what we need, too, as we approach the end times: we need to keep close accounts with God, and seek God’s constant guidance. We cannot see our deadly enemies, in the spiritual battle around us, but we are given some things we can do to be on guard. The first, is: follow Jesus! (The closer the better!) The second is that we are to arm ourselves as He directs us, and learn His wisdom from His Word, as part of that armament.

The battle is not ours, but we are in it, nevertheless. We need to take the coming judgment seriously, and live as those who have been freed from a death-sentence.

Lord, help us to see the coming judgment, as you have described it, and live to free others from the destruction to come.


Making Informed Choices

Making Informed Choices

© C. O. Bishop 3/2019 THCF 3/17/2019

Isaiah 1:27-2:5

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

Coming Judgment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ultimate Exaltation

Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Invitation to Practical Holiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Problems (and Answers) in Genesis

Problems (and Answers) in Genesis

© C. O. Bishop 2018

Genesis 7, 8, compared to other passages

Introduction:

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

Problem #1

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

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

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

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

Problem #2

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

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

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

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

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

Genesis 7 and 8

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

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

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

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

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

Problem #3

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

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

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

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

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

What can we Conclude?

The two things I especially see here, are that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Putting on Christ

Putting on Christ

© C. O. Bishop 11/15/18

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

Introduction:

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

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

A New Position: in Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Choice

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

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

Our Choice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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


Why Don’t I “Give an Invitation?”

Why Don’t I “Give an Invitation?”

© C. O. Bishop 1/20/2018 Cornell Estates 1/21/2018

John 5:24; 1st John 5:11-13; Romans 3:23; Isaiah 55:1; Revelation 22:17

Introduction:

A month or so ago, I was asked, privately, “Why don’t you give invitations at the end of your sermons?” Well…that’s a good question, and, after some thought, I have decided that it should be answered publicly.

There have been times during the last 40-odd years, when I have asked a person how they became a Christian. They replied with one of the following: “I went forward in church; I raised my hand in a youth-group meeting, I prayed with a missionary who visited our church; I was baptized…” or something along those lines. Notice that every one of those statements began with “I (did something).” Isn’t it perhaps more important that God did something? Were they depending on their prayer, their public confession of sins, or some other action on their own part? I can’t tell. Were they even saved? I have no idea! I can’t see into their heart! I can’t examine the witness of their soul before God. The Holy Spirit is just as invisible to me as He is to everyone else! The real question we all need to answer is “How does God save people? How can we be certain that we have eternal life?”

How can we be saved?

The Philippian Jailer asked this very question in Acts 16:30. He asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” You see, he had the same idea: There must be something God wants us to do in order to earn eternal life! But they answered “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved!” (Believe….)

The people in John chapter five, whom Jesus fed with bread and fish, confronted him in chapter six (John 6:28) asking “What should we do that we might work the works of God?” Jesus answered in verse 29: “This is the Work of God; that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.”

I don’t know how the people in John 6 were responding, but the fellow in Philippi was about to commit suicide, if you remember the story: his life had effectively just ended, had Paul not called out and assured him that all the prisoners were still present. So Paul really could have told him anything, and the man was ready to do it. But instead, Paul and Silas told Him that all God was asking him to do was to believe the Gospel: to place his trust in Jesus as his Savior. He was evidently willing to do, or attempt to do, all the works any person could do. But all he was asked to do was to believe! That is very odd, isn’t it? Why did Paul not “lay on him all the demands of God?” Why did he not quote the Ten Commandments? Or tell him he had to be baptized, at least? (By the way, he and his family actually were baptized after they believed, but that is not what was required of them.)

It seems that believing is at least the “key” response that God is looking for. The Pharisees had lots of good works, but didn’t believe in Jesus as their Messiah. We Gentiles look like total heathens to any orthodox Jew (that’s actually what “Gentile” means!), but God isn’t judging us by our works. He is offering His Grace, on the basis of Faith (believing.) And that is the only way he has ever saved sinners, throughout all history. But what was the second question?

Can I Know that I Have Eternal Life?

I have also been emphatically told, many times, over the years, that “It is impossible to know that you have eternal life.” That, you have to “wait until you die to find out whether you were good enough:” …to find out whether you “made the team.” Or, simply, to find out whether you are “One of the Chosen.” I can’t understand how anyone would be comfortable with that idea, personally.

So, what’s wrong with that idea? Is that really what God says? Does he offer us no more secure hope than that? Let’s see what God actually says about that particular issue. (Remember that Jesus is “God in the flesh.”) So, in John 5:24, Jesus (God in the Flesh) made a very important promise:

Verily, verily (truly…it’s a promise), I say unto you, he that heareth my words, and believeth on Him who sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

Every word, there, is important: We can see, back in verse 19, that Jesus is the one talking, even if we don’t have a red-letter edition Bible. So the first thing Jesus does, is to assure us that this is really true: That He is making a promise! He says, “Verily, Verily, I say unto you…” It is a personal promise from Jesus! And it has two conditions:

The Conditions

He that heareth and believeth…” This is a “Whosever will”-type “invitation.” An invitation to what? To “go forward in church”, or to “sign a tract”, or to “make a commitment to Christ?” No! This is an invitation to hear the Gospel, and believe it: to place your personal trust in Jesus as your Savior! Nothing more or less! If I have heard that God is Holy…that I am a sinner…and that Jesus paid the price of my sins at the Cross, I have fulfilled the first of the two conditions. The day I placed my trust in His shed blood for my salvation, and began looking forward to His coming again, I fulfilled the second condition. And, on the basis of those two conditions, Jesus laid out a three-clause promise:

The Clauses

  1. If the two conditions have been met, what does Jesus say is the immediate (not eventual) result? “He that heareth my Word, and believeth on Him that sent me…what?” Does it say they “will have” eternal life? No! It says that this individual, on the basis of having heard the Gospel of Christ and believed, has everlasting life now! This isn’t my opinion: this is the promise of Jesus! The moment I saw the truth; that I was a lost sinner, and that Jesus’ blood at the Cross was God’s only offering for my sin, and I believed; trusting God’s promise for my salvation, then, from that moment on, I have had eternal life! How long is eternal? Silly question, right? But Eternal means everlasting…forever!
  2. What else did Jesus promise? We saw that the first clause of the promise was present tense; but what about the second clause? “…and shall not come into condemnation…” What tense would that be? That’s right! It is future tense! It means I can look into my future as far as forever, and know that God will never condemn me for my sins again! In fact, clear back in Psalm 103:12, He says that he has removed our iniquities from us “as far as the East is from the West”. I think it is great that he said “east from west”, rather than north from south: You can start at the North Pole and go south only until you get to the South Pole. But you can start anywhere, and go East or West forever, and never “get there!” My sins have been eternally removed from my ledger before God, and He will never judge me for my sins. I shall not come unto condemnation. My future is secure.
  3. And the final clause? “…but is passed from death into life.” Some Bibles translate this “…but has crossed over from death into life.” …which is also fine. But the best the English language will give us on this verse is that it is “past tense.” The fact, however, is that the Greek verb is in perfect tense: “a completed action which occurred at some point in the past, with permanent results for the future…” Do you see how important that idea is? It means, “This is a done deal!” It means “You have been born again, and you cannot be un-born again.” It doesn’t lend itself very well to translation in English, unfortunately, but that is the intent.

So…that was Jesus’s promise to anyone willing to hear Him and believe Him. He covered their past, present and future, with a single promise. Do you believe it? On the basis of His promise, then, do you have eternal life?

I could pose a second question: Does God want you to know that you have eternal life? (Notice I am underscoring the word “know”, here…) If He did, wouldn’t He tell us how to know it? Let’s see what He says:

A Parallel Promise

1st John 5:11-13
11And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

So, let’s break this one down as we did the previous promise:

  1. The record (God’s Word) states that God has given (past tense) eternal life to us, and
  2. This eternal life is in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ.
  3. If you have the Son (have received Him by faith), you have eternal life.
  4. If you do not have the Son (have not believed—have not received Him by faith), you do not have eternal life.
  5. The purpose of this being written is that you who believe (trust in) the name of the Son of God (Jesus), may Know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe on the name of the Son of God! That is the purpose-clause of this portion of this document! God wants you to know (now) that you have eternal life!

So, the question we posed a few minutes ago, was “Can I know that I have Eternal life?” According to the two faithful promises we just read, I would have to emphatically state that not only we can know that we have eternal life, but that God wants us to know so! He is not interested in a “hope-so” relationship. This wedding ring on my finger does not mean “I hope I got married 36 years ago, to a wonderful woman who is my best friend today:” It means I KNOW that we were married, and I am not going to forget it!

God gave us his written Word for assurance, so that we have it in writing. He also comes to live in the bodies of believers, on an individual basis, at the moment of salvation: whether I knew it or not, he came to indwell me, in the person of the Holy Spirit, the moment I believed. I may have only learned about it later, but He keeps His Word, and that is also part of His promise. So, with all that background as the foundation, why would I hesitate to give an altar call…to give invitations to “come forward in church,” or anything similar?

Why I Hesitate

When people tell me “I went forward in church when I was twelve,” I begin to ask questions, to find out whether they actually believed the Gospel. I may say, “So, that is when you saw yourself as a lost sinner, needing a Savior?” That doesn’t always go over well! As it happens, some have never seen themselves as a “lost sinner, needing a Savior!” In fact, the idea is repulsive to them: I recently had a young woman adamantly tell me “I am not a bad person!!” OK! As people go, I would say that was a fair assessment. But—does it come up to God’s standard? Let’s see: Romans 3:23 says, “For ALL have sinned and come short of the Glory of God;” (Hmm…)

Sometimes I approach it a different way: I say, “If you were to die today, and God were to ask you ‘Why should I let you into Heaven?’ what would you say?” I have had answers such as “I have done my best,” “I haven’t done anything really bad,” or, “…maybe I could just squeeze in the door?”  Bu the fact is, the rules were laid down in God’s Word: all are sinners; Jesus paid for all our sins; all those who have received the Son have life; and all those who haven’t do not! If my answer to God is not “Because Jesus died for my sins! He is my only hope!”, then according to God’s Word, I have zero chance of being accepted with God. But if he is my Savior, then, according to His Word, I am already accepted with God. I didn’t make those rules; but quite honestly, they seem more than fair, to me!

So, if I ask someone to come forward and “pray for salvation”, and they do so, they may go away thinking they have “done something” to get eternal life…when the truth is that there is nothing we can do to get eternal life! Jesus did it all at the cross! If they actually came because they believe that Jesus is the full payment for their sins, then the prayer didn’t hurt anything, of course. But if they came because they thought they could win merit thereby, they go away inoculated against the true Gospel. They say “I already did that!” And, sadly, I have had many people tell me just that. But when I ask questions, I find that they have never believed the Gospel! They do not believe that they are a lost sinner. They do not believe that Jesus’s Blood was full payment for their sins personally. And they are resting their hope for eternity on something they did, instead of what Jesus completed at the Cross.

Having seen this so often, and being aware that there is not a single example of an “altar call” or an “invitation”, beyond the “Whosoever will may come…!”, I am hesitant to give people a false hope based on their own actions, when the only true hope is the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. But is there an invitation? Yes!

The Invitation of God

So! Having said all that, here is the invitation:

In John 3:16, Jesus said that he came “…that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” That is an invitation to you! How can I say that? Because He said “whosoever!” Had he actually called you by name, here in the Bible, there may be someone else by that same name, and He could have meant them, not you! But He said “Whosoever!” That means He is inviting you to believe, and be saved! Right where you sit, He is asking you to believe in Him, and trust in Him alone for your eternal salvation.

Clear back in the Old Testament, in Isaiah 55:1, the principle was laid down: He said, “Ho, everyone 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!” That must have boggled the minds of those who read it! But He reiterates it in the very last chapter of the Bible. In Revelation 22:17 he says, “And the Spirit and the Bride (the Church) say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life, freely.”

So—the invitation given by the Holy Spirit, is to come to Jesus, the eternal source of living water…the Author of eternal life!

The invitation given by the Church is the same. He says those who hear (That’s us, folks!) should echo that same invitation to those around us: “Come to Jesus. Own Him as your personal Savior! Take the Eternal life that is freely offered to you!” The invitation says “…anyone who is thirsty is to come!” and finally, “Anyone who is willing is to come!” You do have to be willing!

You don’t need me, or a church, or a religious experience of any kind. You need to trust Jesus as your Savior, and learn to walk with Him. This invitation has been there in the Scripture for thousands of years; but each of us are limited, in terms of time. Don’t wait! If you know you need a Savior, then believe in Him, and have eternal life, today.

That is the invitation—it is from God, not me. Answer it as you choose. You alone can choose!

Lord Jesus, help us to see ourselves clearly, so that we can receive your promise, believe your promise, and learn to walk with you. Teach us to extend the invitation to those around us, too.


So, What about Sin?

So, What about Sin?

© C. O. Bishop 1/5/2018 Cornell Estates 1/7/2018

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the book of Romans, and the first three chapters are nearly entirely given over to explaining the bad news of the wreckage of the human race in Sin, thus making the “Good News” of the Gospel of Christ entirely appropriate for every human…real good news, in response to real bad news.

So, What is Sin, Anyway?

What is sin? Why is it even an issue? Is it strictly a matter of opinion, and interpretation, or are there some solid truths involved?

The New Testament Greek word “hamartia” reflected a “miss” in spear-throwing, specifically, and one of the primary Hebrew words for “sin” (the Hebrew word chattaah), reflected an archery term meaning to “miss the ‘gold’ (bulls-eye) with an arrow.” But the English word “sin” goes back to various Germanic roots all carrying the idea of “moral wrongdoing, injury, mischief, enmity, a feud, guilt, crime, offense against God, misdeed, etc.”

The various words translated “sin” are used hundreds of times in the Bible, in varying forms, and always treated as something serious. The first warning as to the result of wrongdoing (simple disobedience, in this case, having to do with eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) is in Genesis 2:17, where the Creator warns Adam, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”  We find out later that spiritual death, separation from God, was the primary fulfillment, and it occurred the very moment Adam ate that fruit.

Three thousand years later, an important general comment is made regarding Sin: Ezekiel 18:4 states that “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” This answer was given against the human charge that God is punishing children for what their parents did.

Romans 5:12 has another important idea: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:” Yes, sin entered by one man. Sin was introduced to the entire human race in its progenitor, Adam. Think of it as a “genetic code modification,” if that helps: we all became sinners, the moment Adam ate of that fruit. But, we all individually sin, and press home God’s point about the whole human race: Every single one of us, at one level or another…no one escapes that stigma, because we all prove it true on an individual basis. Romans 3:23 makes it abundantly clear: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God;” We all have missed the mark!

How Can We Identify Sin?

As New Testament believers, there is no need for us to go through lists of “Seven Deadly Sins,” “Five Felonious Foul-ups”, or “Nine Nasty No-nos,” or any such thing: we can learn principles by which we can examine our lives, and which cover all those “lists,” plus things we might not have thought of before, and can’t find on any lists. There are four such definitions in the New Testament:

#1 … Transgression of the Law

God gave the Mosaic Law in Exodus 20, and again in Deuteronomy 4. We will not reflect upon it today, because it was specifically given to the Jews, who were never able to keep it, by their own confession (Acts 15:10), and the New Testament specifically forbids placing that yoke on the necks of Gentiles, to whom it was never given in the first place. All that being said, the value of the Law remains unchanged: it is an eternal standard of righteousness. Romans 7:13 says that it “…makes Sin exceedingly sinful.” In light of that fact, over in 1st John 3:4, the apostle states that “…sin is the transgression of the Law.”

All right! There is one clear definition of sin, given in the New Testament, and specifically addressed to New Testament Believers, in spite of the fact that it reflects on Old Testament Law! “Sin is the Transgression of the Law!” Bear in mind that it is definitely talking about the Mosaic Law, not any particular civil law. It is possible (not at all common) for civil law to be contrary to God’s Law, but we will not address that today. How about another?

#2 … All Unrighteousness

In Romans 1:18-32, God addresses His revealed wrath against “…all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men….” This is a good place to read carefully, because, though the list He proceeds to lay out sounds fairly exhaustive, it is not, and it leaves room for other items not specified. Verse 32 says …”they which do such things…”, not ”those things.” The list is not exhaustive. That is important, because He does say that His wrath is ”revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.” So what can we say, when the condemnation is universal, but the list is not?

1st John 5:17 states that “all unrighteousness is sin….”  All unrighteousness is sin! So, everything on that list over in Romans 1 as well as everything in those categories, named or unnamed, is still sin. Galatians 5:19-21 gives a short list (not the same as the one in Romans, but similar), and the list ends with the phrase, “…and such like”. It means “things like these.” All unrighteousness is sin. It doesn’t have to be on anyone’s list, necessarily. How about another definition?

#3 … If a Man Knows to Do Right and Fails to Do So

James 4:17 really makes it personal: “Therefore, to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” To him it is sin! We always say that ignorance of the Law is not an excuse for breaking it, but there is a law that reaches beyond that: knowing the GOOD thing to do, and failing to DO it, is just a wrong as knowing the law and breaking it.

And, quite frankly, even law-enforcement officers sometimes extend mercy to someone who is doing something that is perfectly legal in their home state, and which they had no way to know became illegal when they crossed the state line. I have had mercy extended to me in that specific instance on at least two occasions. One for a vehicle equipment deficiency, and another for hitchhiking in a state where it was illegal. (That is how I got into that state!) An unmarked car pulled up and the officer politely asked me whether I was aware that it was illegal to hitchhike in the state of Tennessee. My shoulders slumped, and I blurted, “No, I didn’t know that! That’s why everyone is staring at me, then!” He smiled and asked where I was headed. I said I was headed into Mississippi, to see my Grandparents for Christmas. He smiled again, and said, “Hop in! I’ll take you across the state line!” And he did! That was Grace and Mercy at work! He gave me what I had not earned, which is the very definition of Grace; and he did not give me the citation I had unwittingly earned. That is Mercy! He made a judgment based on my response. He was satisfied that I had no intent of breaking the law, and he extended both Mercy and Grace.

But God takes it a step further, and says that if I know the GOOD thing I should do, and decide not to do it, then I am guilty because of a sin of omission. That becomes pretty personal. We do not all have the same gifts or abilities, and God does not hold us equally accountable. A small child, for instance would not be held accountable for failing to render aid at an accident. But an adult very well may be. A non-swimmer may not be held accountable for failing to try to rescue someone struggling in the water…but a trained lifeguard, who simply decided his or her shift was ending, and couldn’t be bothered could very well be charged with criminal negligence. Good laws! That is how God sees those things, too! How about one more?

#4 … Whatsoever is Not of Faith

Romans 14:23 makes it not only personal but internal to the individual. It is checking the heart-motivation, not just what was done or not done. It says, in conclusion of a lengthy treatise, “…for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” That really caps all the others, in my opinion. There are no loopholes, no excuses…It is between you and God. In the context, the issue being discussed was open either direction: any believer was free to go either way. But! God says that if you are convinced in your own heart that something is wrong, and you go ahead and do it anyway, then it IS sin, for you , because you thought it was wrong and chose to rebel!

By the way, we can do right things for wrong reasons, too, and break this one just as fully. Jesus pointed this out in the Sermon on the Mount, as well as other places, saying “Don’t be like the scribes and the Pharisees,” …who make long prayers for show—who give very publicly, to gain social status, who want the robes and honors of ministry, but don’t have the heart for service. We can do what our conscience tells us not to do, or fail to do what our conscience tells we ought to do, and find that we have sinned, even though the thing in question was not a transgression of the law, nor unrighteousness (by human standards), nor, perhaps would we admit that we “really knew” what to do.

This one almost approaches the mystical, as it is harder to pin down. The only way I know to respond is to keep pretty short accounts with God, and never allow our soul to become calloused. A tender spirit goes a long way toward avoiding this sort of sin.

How do WE Deal with the Question of Sin?

As far as I can see, the religions of the world are divided into four clear groups by their answer to this question:

  1. Those who deny the existence of sin, saying there is nothing that is intrinsically right or wrong, but those concepts have been drummed into us by our respective societies, and that there simply is no such thing as sin, nor guilt for sin. There are not many churches which teach this, because there is an inborn sense of right and wrong, that virtually all people admit to, unless they are specifically taught otherwise. We certainly see things as wrong when someone does them to us! Maybe not so much when they happen to others.
  2. Those who admit there is such a thing as sin, but insist that “God is so loving that He (or she) would never punish a sinner! We are all children of that loving God, and we just need to get along as best we can, and we will all go to heaven eventually!” This isn’t really common either, because along with a sense of right and wrong, most people have a strong sense of retribution built into them. We believe that good people ought to get good things, and bad people ought to get bad things. Revenge is a very common drive in humans across the globe. Of course our ideas about who is good and who is bad are terribly skewed, in many cases, and our ideas about what the human race deserves, is usually pretty mild…at least toward ourselves and “our kind of folk”. (Funny how that works…)
  3. Those who not only admit there is such a thing as sin, but also agree that God hates sin! And then they say that “You need to do lots of good things to overbalance all the bad things you have already done.” And they will definitely tell you what all you need to do: There might be special prayers to recite, or penances of various types. Money gifts are always appreciated; burning incense, lighting candles, cutting your hair in a specific way, wearing certain special clothing…etc. Oddly enough, virtually all the world’s religions fall into this group: why? Because it appeals to our old sin nature! We want to believe that we can DO something to make God accept us! It makes us feel good about ourselves: “I must be good! Look at all the good stuff I do!” and finally,
  4. The ones that agree that sin exists, that God is Holy, and He hates sin, but then go on to admit that every single human is a sinner, and that there is NOTHING we can do to undo the bad things we have already done. That is what the Bible teaches, and, in this regard it stands alone! We are left guilty and with neither defense nor excuse.

    Jesus’s blood at the Cross is the only payment that God has ever accepted, and we can add nothing to that sacrifice!

Our choices, then become pretty clear: if I try to change the game, and redefine sin, I am in trouble with God. But, if I try to deal with sin in some other way than via the Cross, I add insult to injury, as He says in Hebrews 10:29 that I am treading under foot the Son of God, counting the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, and doing despite unto the Spirit of Grace! Wow! Rough stuff!

Make it Personal…God takes it that way!

God has made it clear that Sin is a pervasive problem, and that it effectively permeates every facet of human existence. He has made it clear that He hates sin. And He has offered us a way to regain a right standing with Himself.

So, the question becomes, since I now know how God defines Sin, how will I deal with it?

  • Will I brush it away, denying it exists?
  • Will I say, “Oh, yeah, I know, but God will forgive me! He’s a great guy! He isn’t concerned about this sort of thing!”
  • Will I grovel in my guilt, and slavishly try to earn God’s favor through my own works?
  • Or will I accept the simple fact that, apart from God’s Grace, and His Mercy, I am completely helpless against the enemies of my soul, and that my only hope is through Jesus’s finished work at the Cross?

That is the choice each of us faces, when we first become believers, but it is also the choice we face as believers: I cannot go back to being lost, but I can act as if I did! I can still rebel, and deny that my behavior is sin. And it will be very costly!

When I do such things, I put myself beyond God’s reach for fellowship and blessing, and I open myself to the attack of the Evil one. Everything I do during that lapse will be worthless to God, even when I am “trying to do good things to get on God’s good side.” I can’t lose my salvation, but I can definitely waste my life, and lose the opportunity to serve with Jesus, and be rewarded with Him.

So what can I do? I can confess to God that my sin is exactly what God calls it: Sin. Not a “personality conflict” or a “genetic trait”, or “my Irish blood”, or whatever excuse I would like to use. I confess it as sin…and what does God do? 1st John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” How can you beat a deal like that?

Take that one to the bank! God already signed the check; all you have to do is endorse it by faith!

Lord Jesus, teach us Your Mercy and Your Grace. Teach us to rely upon your mercy and Grace, by faith, as you show us the sin in our lives. Let us repent of our sins, and confess them to you, so as to be fully restored to fellowship.

 

 

 


What Child is This?

What Child is This?

© C. O. Bishop, 12/22/2017 THCF 12/24/2017

(Comparing the lyrics of the hymn to the scriptural promises from which it sprang.)

Introduction:

One of the reason I really love the Christmas hymns is that they so frequently carry a pretty faithful representation of the facts of the Gospel, along with a fairly faithful representation of the facts of Christmas. Certainly, one may protest that there are facts overlaid by legend and mythology. That is true. We go to God’s Word to sort out the truth, and frequently still can see that the intent of the author was to honor God, and to reflect the truth of His Word. And, of course, there are glaring exceptions…but those are not the ones I am drawn to. A year or so ago, we took “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” as an example and found that, actually, the original words were quite accurate, and that the only questionable line in the lyrics was changed by a later hand (and, ironically, became the title of the hymn.)

This Christmas I would like to examine some of the core questions posed in a different Hymn: Today people try to recreate and re-invent The Jesus of the Bible. Even in his day, people denied that He was who He said he was, and within the first century, unbelievers were trying to change the Gospel to something more comfortable. It is not comfortable! The uncomfortable portions of the “Good News” of the Gospel are that way because of the unthinkable wickedness of the Human Race…because of our sin.

Today, as then, the appropriate question is “Who is this Jesus?” Zacchaeus climbed the tree because he desperately wanted to see Jesus, “who he was”.  Jesus, himself, asked “but who do you say that I am?”

A Little History: In 1865, in Bristol, England, an insurance company employee named William Chatterton Dix fell ill, and became extremely sick. He gradually recovered, and during that period of convalescence he went through some pretty deep depression, during which time, he read his Bible a great deal, possibly for the first time with comprehension. The result was that he went through what he called a “spiritual renewal.” I can’t say whether that was when he first received the Lord Jesus as his personal sacrifice for sins, or whether this is just the time when it deeply impressed him. He wrote a poem during that time, called “the Manger Throne”, from which three stanzas were later lifted when he wrote the Christmas Hymn, “What Child is This?

“Who do the People say that I am?”

Jesus asked the disciples this question, before asking them about their own answer to that question: They said “Some say that you are John the Baptist, and some Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets.” We can see that there was great controversy, even at that time, as to who Jesus really was. Each person was to be held accountable for their own answer to the question. Pilate later posed a similar, essential question: “What then shall I do with this Jesus, who is called Christ?” We are each held accountable to the answer to that question, as well.

Every year, for the last several decades, people have gathered for the “Jesus Symposium” or some similar name, where they essentially “reinvent” Jesus, according to their own tastes. But the Jesus of the Bible was a historical person, and is easily proven to have been so. What becomes more difficult is the fact that only the Bible gives us an accurate view of who He really is, because the whole rest of the world has “an axe to grind,” in that, the entire human race is antagonistic toward the holy God of the Bible. We want a God who is more to our taste…so we re-create God in our image, according to Romans 1:21-23.

When William Dix confronted this question from his sick bed, he asked

What Child is This?

We need to address the same question: Who is He really? So let’s look at William Dix’s approach:

What Child is this who, laid to rest on Mary’s lap, is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud, The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Why lies He in such mean estate, Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh, The Babe, the Son of Mary.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh, Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings, Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise the song on high, the virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born, The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Where was He to be born? In Bethlehem…fulfilling the prophecy of Micah 5:2. (read it!)

Where was he to be found by the Shepherds? In a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, fulfilling the word of the Angelic messenger to the shepherds as a group. And who were those shepherds told that the baby really was? “Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!” They were not told that he was the king, in that particular context, but, if they knew the Old Testament prophecies (such as the one in Micah 5:2), they would have known that the Messiah (Christ) was to be the Eternal King, as well. So they left their flocks and they hurried into Bethlehem; they made haste, the scriptures say, to go see the newborn king. And they found him just as the Angel had said, along with Joseph and Mary. They went back to their flocks with Great Joy. Did they understand it all? I doubt it…but, then, I don’t really claim to “understand it all,” either.

But, why was he in a manger, and not in some hospital ward or maybe in a palace? Philippians 2:5-8 sheds some light on this: “…he humbled himself.” He not only became part of His own creation, but he became a man, not an angel. He not only became a man, he became a poor man, in a nation that was already a slave-state to Rome, a cruel, ungodly, polytheistic nation. A place where life was cheap, and righteousness was foreign.

He came, not as a conquering hero, but as a tiny, helpless infant, enduring all the hardships of life with the people he had called his own. Did they bring him honor? Not so you’d notice. The shepherds were the only witnesses. But, in that manger bed, all the Promises of the Ages were being fulfilled. He came to save sinners…and his entire life was poured out to that single end.

Take it Personally!

The hymnist recognized what was happening, there, and it shook Him. He was moved to a Godly fear, and he became a true believer, if he had not been one before then. He pondered the fact that those tiny, curled-up baby hands would be the same ones later pierced by spikes, as he was tortured on the Cross. That this tiny, helpless body, when full grown, was the same one which would be pierced through by the Roman spear, as his blood was poured out at the Cross. And he knew it was for himself, personally. “Nails, spears, shall pierce Him through…His blood be shed for me, for you!” Take it personally!

He also realized that this was the fulfillment of John 1:14, where it said that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory…)” We, too, can either embrace that truth, knowing that the Word, which was God, is also the Word which became flesh…and thus we can see His glory…or we can go back to seeing Jesus the way the World sees him: just another dead Jew…or perhaps a tragic martyr…or, even just a myth.

He winds up his hymn, encouraging the listener to join in worshipping the God-in-flesh Savior. To say “bring Him incense” is a call for worship. The incense burned in the temple was only used for that purpose…it was not used to make the home smell nice, or any other common purpose. It was a picture of the prayers, and praises, and worship being offered by believers. How do I know? God says so! Revelation 5:8 says that the incense (odours, KJV) in the vials of the elders (the church) were “the prayers of saints”; saints are the “holy ones of God”: believers! If you are a child of God, God says you are a saint! You may not feel that way (nor do I), but our feelings are not an accurate reflection of reality. It is a fact. But he says “Bring him incense, gold and myrrh.” Who did that? It was the wise men. Why did they do it? Remember, they weren’t even there, that first night.

Later, within a year or two, the wise men came from the East, and sought “him who is born King of the Jews”. These wise men were not Jews—these were from the area we now call Iraq, most likely, near what was once ancient Babylon, and may possibly have been some of the last surviving disciples of Daniel, the prophet. He had become one of the head wise men (later called Zoroastrian seers) in Babylon, some 500 years earlier, and he had prophesied of the coming Messiah (Daniel 9:26). They did bring him honor, but later…not at his birth. And the things they brought were appropriate: they brought gold, which was an appropriate gift for a king (and which would be needed for their escape into Egypt); they brought frankincense, which was appropriate to a priest and a sacrifice. They brought myrrh, which was a costly resin, used in medicine and in embalming…appropriate to His death. They recognized him for who He was. We need to do the same thing, and not take lightly the story of the birth of Jesus the Messiah.

The hymn-writer says that the way is clear, now, for the lowliest of human slaves, to claim the Savior, as well as for any nobleman willing to humble his or her heart. Queen Victoria was one of those monarchs who humbled her heart and by her own testimony, she was saved. Jesus echoes this, and says, “Whosoever will may come!”

The issue, then, becomes “What will I do with this Jesus, who is called Christ?” That is what Pilate asked, in Matthew 27:22…but then he went on to condemn Jesus to death. He claimed to be innocent, himself, but he was not. He had the authority to do right, and did not do it. God says that is sin (James 4:17). “Therefore, if a man knoweth to do right, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” Pilate was guilty. We have to choose, as well, what to do with Jesus, the Messiah.

“Who do YOU say that I am?”

Jesus directed this question to His disciples. Peter answered: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” Jesus blessed Peter for that answer. But later, as you remember, Peter denied Jesus…and later still, he went back to commercial fishing…Jesus had to call him again. But God didn’t give up on Peter; He had a use for Peter’s life. And He has a use for yours and for mine.

So… just like Peter, I know who He really is, too …but what am I going to do about it?

The hymn-writer said, “The King of Kings Salvation brings; let loving hearts enthrone him!” Is that what I will do? Allow him to reign in my heart? Or will I just live life as usual, and let one day follow another for whatever is left of my life, not honoring The King much more than does the World: (“Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!”) But no real thought given to the reason we celebrate. Every day of my life, I wake up with one more chance to serve: one more chance to work with Jesus, offering my body a living sacrifice to His glory. Every day I have to choose how to spend my time, how to spend my money…and whether to serve Him, the King of Kings, or to just go ahead and serve my flesh, just doing what I want, to bring honor to myself. And, too frequently, I choose badly.

“Raise, raise, the Song on High!” When we sing together, do you really hear the words? Do you consider the importance of those teachings? Do you sing the words as a song from your own heart? If you do, then the last line says what should be the result:

“Joy! Joy, for Christ is born, the babe, the Son of Mary!” We can see Him as the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan and all of His promises to Israel and the World! We can see that the perilous times coming are not directed at us, but at the unbelieving world. We can see that our Savior is coming to take us home, to safety and eternal joy! We can experience, every day, the joy of knowing that He is truly in control, and that, regardless of how bad things look, we are headed for a good conclusion.

Lord Jesus, draw us along into Your Joy. Mature us through the teaching of Your Word, and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, re-shaping us into Your own likeness, that we can be able ambassadors of Your Grace and Love to a dying world. Please lift us up, as Your tools, Your hands and Your feet, and use us to Your glory.