One Thing I Know: I was Blind. But Now I See!

One Thing I Know: I was Blind. But Now I See!

©  2022 C. O. Bishop

John 9:1-38

Introduction:

In a way, today’s message could be categorized as “Apologetics”—defending the faith.

Or, it could be called Evangelism, as in giving one’s testimony.

It could be about Persecution, because the fellow in this chapter who gave his testimony was excommunicated from the temple and publicly condemned for the completely factual and honest testimony he offered.

Or, we could simply see it as the history of a man, who was born blind, and who, after many years of blindness, was given his sight. In that case we should ask at least three questions:

What happened, Where did it happen, and Who were the witnesses?

John 9:1-38 (Where did it all happen?)

1And as Jesus passed by,…”

(Passed by, where?) In the previous verse, John 8:59, we see that Jesus was just leaving the temple. The Pharisees had attempted to stone Him, but somehow, He walked away without their attacking Him…and it says, He “passed by.” The next verse says, “and as he passed by…” So, wherever he was, it was evidently quite near the temple.

“… he [Jesus] saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?

Possibly the blind man was begging just outside the temple. That was a common way for a blind or crippled person to seek sustenance, in that time period. (We see it also in Acts 3:1-3.) And, in verse 8, here, it says that had been the practice of this particular blind man. Whether or not he was begging when Jesus and the disciples saw him, is not important.

First Witnesses

So, to begin with, we have at least Jesus and His disciples as witnesses to what happened next. (So far, we can’t count the blind man, as he can’t see them.)

But the disciples asked whose fault it was that he should be born blind. To us, this seems a strange question: But to people who thought that all sickness is a judgment from God, it seemed a logical question.

There are people, still today, who think that “If you are living right, then nothing bad will happen to you.” But Jesus made it clear that bad things can happen to good people (Job was a prime example!) And, in the Psalms it was made clear that good things often happen to bad people. They often get rich by evil means, in fact. (Read Psalm 73) But they will face judgment, the same as everyone else, and God has not forgotten their evil.

Jesus gave a clear answer to His disciples: “Nobody was “at fault!” This was not punishment. In this particular case, God was about to receive great glory by demonstrating His power..

 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.

Jesus reminded them that He was the Light of the world: (He had just told them that, earlier the same day.) And He commented that while he was in His earthly ministry, His light was the only obvious source. But, He also said the night was coming.

 I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.  As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

He was probablywarning that no one continues working after they die. We can only “shine” for the Lord while we live. Every one of us faces the end of our “working day.” We have been given a job to do, and we will run out of time. Jesus knew His time was short: We need to see our lives in that same light. My bestunderstanding is that this is what He meant. So, what did He do?

What Happened?

When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.

Jesus spit in the dirt, and made “mud,” as we would call it. He made mud, and wiped it all over the man’s eyes. Then He gave three commands:

  1. “Go” and
  2. “Wash”
  3. In the pool of Siloam,”.

The name “Siloam” means “sent”…was this an admonition that we (also) should go where the Lord sends us, and do what he commands? Or, as some commentators feel, was it a reminder that Jesus was sent from God?

I guess it could be either. But the result was that the man did “go where he was sent,” and he did “obey by faith”…and he came back seeing completely normally. So, now he is a witness, too! He knows what happened, and though he couldn’t point out the Man who healed him, because he had never seen Him, he knew his name. He knew the Name of Jesus! That is worth something all by itself.

More Witnesses!

The neighbours therefore, and they which before had seen him that he was blind, said, Is not this he that sat and begged? Some said, This is he: others said, He is like him: but he said, I am he. 10 Therefore said they unto him, How were thine eyes opened? 11 He answered and said, A man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed mine eyes, and said unto me, Go to the pool of Siloam, and wash: and I went and washed, and I received sight.  12 Then said they unto him, Where is he? He said, I know not.

The neighbors and other people were “witnesses,” too,”but all they saw was the result. They knew he had been blind before. They could see the change in the man’s life, as it was obvious that his eyes were healed. But they could not understand what caused the change. (They knew the “before” and the “after,” but they had no idea what had happened to him.)

They asked him for an explanation, and he told them in very plain language exactly what had happened, from his own perspective. That was his first testimony, and it was perfect!

This is a perfect example of what we are commanded in 1st Peter 3:15! They asked, he was ready, and he gave a straight answer! There was no “messing about” with human storytelling. Everything he said was the simple truth, without any “embellishment.” And what did the neighbors and other people do? Did they throw a party and celebrate with him and his family? Nope. They dragged him off to the Pharisees, for an investigation!

13 They brought to the Pharisees him that aforetime was blind. 14 And it was the sabbath day when Jesus made the clay, and opened his eyes. 15 Then again the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. He said unto them, He put clay upon mine eyes, and I washed, and do see.

Here is another “sabbath day healing! Jesus seemed to do it on purpose, to expose the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Over and over, Jesus healed on the sabbath, and they were offended every time! But they couldn’t escape that they were now witnesses, too!  They saw only the effect…they did not know him before, and they rejected all testimony from others.

16 Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them.

Even the Pharisees could see there was a problem: The one group said, “He must be a ‘bad guy!’ He’s working on the sabbath!” The other group said, ”How can a ‘bad guy’ heal the blind??” There was a division among them, because the Truth was staring them in the face, and they were rejecting it! So, they went back and began questioning the healed man again.

17 They say unto the blind man again, What sayest thou of him, that he hath opened thine eyes? He said, He is a prophet.

The only possibility the healed man could think of, is that anyone who could heal like that must be a prophet of God. He had just been made the recipient of a first-class, “Old Testament-style” miracle!  And the only people who could do such things, according to scripture, were prophets of God!

18 But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind, and received his sight, until they called the parents of him that had received his sight. 19 And they asked them, saying, Is this your son, who ye say was born blind? how then doth he now see?

Of course, the next step is to accuse the blind man of lying: that he had not been blind at all! If there were no other witnesses, this would not necessarily be a bad thing to suspect. But all of the neighbors, and other people who brought him in, could testify that they had seen him for years, begging near the Temple…and that he had indeed been blind. But that wasn’t good enough! They dragged his parents into it!

20 His parents answered them and said, We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind: 21 But by what means he now seeth, we know not; or who hath opened his eyes, we know not: he is of age; ask him: he shall speak for himself. 22 These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore said his parents, He is of age; ask him.

So, they called in the man’s parents…how strange! (Now, some commentators suggest that the “man” was simply “over thirteen,” thus, having passed his Bar Mitzvah, he was “legally able to give testimony.” They see that as why he was legally “of age,” but still under his parents’ authority.

I would remind you that, in Exodus and in Numbers, the people under twenty were considered children, and not old enough to be counted in the census, or to be a part of the collective decision to reject God’s offer of the land. So, everyone over twenty at the time of that rebellion, died in the wilderness during the next forty years, and all those who remained were, after that period of time, “of age.”)

My guess would be that the man was at least 20, and possibly thirty, as there were certain public responsibilities a man could not partake in unless he was at least 30. (That is why Jesus did not begin His public ministry until He was 30.)

God lets us see the “inside story,” here: He tells us why the parents were afraid to back their son in his testimony. They were afraid of being kicked out of the temple! (Besides, they did give honest testimony: “Yes, that is our son! Yes, he was born blind! Beyond that, we have no idea what is going on, here! You will have to ask him!” Yes, they were afraid of the Pharisees, but they also were being completely honest and logical.)

 24 Then again called they [the Pharisees]  the man that was blind, and said unto him, Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner.

They were commanding the healed man to recant, and to agree with their claim that Jesus was not the One who healed him! They accused Jesus of being a sinner!

What was His Defense?

25 He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.

This is the “bottom line” testimony of every believer. Jesus saved me! Jesus has changed me! (“I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see!”)

A personal testimony always has that advantage: it is hard to argue with someone’s personal experience, though it is possible that a person could be mistaken or even lying. In this man’s case, all he could tell them was, “Look, fellows! I was born blind! Today is the first time in my life that I have ever seen anything! You can say what you want about Jesus, but he healed me!”

It seems the man was beginning to catch on, regarding the politics involved, here: From this point forward, his answers begin to take on a different flavor. They have “crossed a line,” in his mind, and he begins to “push back” a little, defending his own testimony: defending his faith!

26 Then said they to him again, What did he to thee? how opened he thine eyes? 27 He answered them, I have told you already, and ye did not hear: wherefore would ye hear it again? will ye also be his disciples? 28 Then they reviled him, and said, Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses’ disciples. 29 We know that God spake unto Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from whence he is.

This is another odd line of attack. “We know about Moses (whom we have never seen, but we have read about him in the Torah.) But this man we know nothing about…so he must be bad!”

30 The man answered and said unto them, Why herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes. 31 Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth. 32 Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. 33 If this man were not of God, he could do nothing.

Isn’t it interesting that a formerly blind beggar is given enough wisdom to “walk the Pharisees through” the logic they needed to figure out the Origin of the Power of Jesus!

He offered three points of fact, and a conclusion. The facts::

  1. God doesn’t hear sinners!
  2. If a man is a worshipper of God, and an obedient servant of God, God does hear him.
  3. No one in the history of the World has ever healed the eyes of one born blind.

His Conclusion:

If the man were not of God, He could do nothing!” (It’s odd: they didn’t respond well to his little “Lesson in Logic!”)

Rejection!

 34 They answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out.

Yeah, proud people don’t like getting “schooled” by people they consider inferior to themselves. They get pretty huffy about such things. And, since they were in a position of power, they “pulled rank” and had him excommunicated from the temple. I’m sure that hurt him, emotionally. He had just received the biggest blessing of his life, and the result was that he was rejected by his community. But he had at least a rudimentary knowledge of Jesus: He had “been through something” with Jesus!

Knowing Jesus

 35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God?

This is kind  of a touching scene: Jesus went and found the man he had healed. He had never seen Jesus before, and had only once heard his voice. Jesus probably found him feeling pretty discouraged…dejected…depressed, maybe. But he asked whether he “believed on” the Son of God. It means “do you place your faith on the Son of God?”

36 He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? 37 And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. 38 And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.

He worshipped Him! Jesus willingly received the worship of this man and others! That only leaves about three possibilities:

  1. He is crazy, and he thinks he is God. Or…
  2. He is an incredibly audacious Liar, and wants other people to think He is God. OR…
  3. He really is God!

This man finally made the connection that this was Jesus: the one who had healed him. And he suddenly knew that there was another possible person who could heal, other than just a “Prophet of God:” (Of course!) GOD can heal a man who was born blind! Jesus had his total respect and gratitude before, when he thought Jesus was “just a Prophet.” Now Jesus has the man’s faith and devotion and love. Now the man knew Jesus was God!

What about Us?

There are all sorts of lessons we can learn here: One is that we need to have our eyes opened by Jesus. Also, we need to know from His Word how we were born again,. We also need to be ready to give an answer and able to say, “He saved me!” Finally, it behooves us to at least be able to offer some defense of our faith. Even if it is just the simple statement that “I believe in ‘the Jesus of the Bible!‘ There is no substitute for Him.”

Lord Jesus, open our eyes, so that we can see as this man did, how you have healed us of the sickness of our souls, and set us free from our slavery to sin. Let us speak to Your glory.

Division because of Jesus

Division because of Jesus

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 7:40-53

Introduction:

We have come to an interesting transition in the Book of John: Some of the people believe Jesus is the Messiah. Others believe He is the promised “Prophet.” But the Pharisees and the Rulers of the temple derided those who believed, and, as a group, they completely rejected Him. So, a  great division was growing because of Jesus. He did nothing negative, to cause such a division: He shined the Light of God. Some were drawn to the Light, some were confused about the light, and some fled from the light, hating it, and fearing it.

Who is Jesus?

40 Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying (previous passage), said, Of a truth this is the Prophet. 41 Others said, This is the Christ…

These were the people who were drawn to the light. And these are the questions everyone ultimately must answer: “Who is Jesus?” and, “What will I do with Him?” There were many identifying “marks,” provided in advance, through the prophets: the place of His birth, His family lineage, details about His ministry, etc.

Some of the people tried to use those prophecies correctly. Earlier, we saw that some had asked, “When the Christ comes, will he do more than this man?” (Implying that He was fulfilling the prophecies, and they were asking, “How many of these prophecies does He have to fulfill before we acknowledge Him?” (Good question!)

Where Did He Come From?

Others answered, also using scripture: “…But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee?

42 Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?”

These were also trying to use the scripture correctly: they had a serious question! In their question, they demonstrated that they did have some knowledge of God’s Word. (Micah 5:2 says He was to be born in Bethlehem. Jeremiah 23:5 says He was to come out of David’s lineage.)

All they would have had to do, then, was ask, “So, Rabbi: please tell us: where were you born?” His answer could then have been checked in the temple genealogies, and they would have had their answer! (He was born in Bethlehem.) But they didn’t ask! (Interestingly, after AD 70, they could no longer check: The temple, along with all the records, was lost! So, today, if someone claims to be the messiah, they cannot prove or disprove his claim. The records have been destroyed.)

The Division

43 So there was a division among the people because of him. 44 And some of them would have taken him; but no man laid hands on him.

(What a wild division! Some wanted to worship Him, follow Him, and learn from Him. Others wanted him arrested and executed.)

45 Then came the officers to the chief priests and Pharisees; and they said unto them, Why have ye not brought him? 46 The officers answered, Never man spake like this man.

It is interesting to see that the officers, whose job it was to arrest “bad guys” were still receptive enough to discern that not only “Jesus is not a ‘bad guy,’” but that His teaching marked Him as a genuine prophet, at the very least. They were awed enough by His words that they turned and went back without attempting to arrest Him. They said, “No man ever spoke like this man!”

And the Pharisees accused them of being deceived.

47 Then answered them the Pharisees, Are ye also deceived? 48 Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him? 49 But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed.

Notice that their primary argument was “No important people believe in Him! The peasants believe in Him because they don’t know the Law! Only ignorant people believe in Him!” You see, no one made an honest investigation to His claim. They simply condemned Him as a charlatan and a false prophet.

Does Consensus equal Truth?

Stop and consider: When is it a valid argument, to say “No important people believe in Him?” or, “No Modern Scholar believes that!” At some point we may fall into the trap that claims, “Consensus equals truth.” Does that mean we should just “discard the voice of the scholars?”

No: their studies can be very valuable. Just as the findings of honest Science (Archaeology, especially) support the Bible. It is fine to look at the world with open eyes, but be sure that the light source is God’s Word. Our primary concern needs to be “ What does God’s Word actually say?”, not “what does everyone else think?”

There was a time when no one believed that there were “rivers” in the Ocean: powerful currents flowing in cyclical patterns in the oceans. Ironically, the man who initially discovered them, only thought to look for them because he believed the Bible to be God’s Word. He read Psalm 8:8, 9, where it said, The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. 9 O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!”

Research Confirmed God’s Word

The man was a naval officer, and his first thought was, “That can’t be! There are no paths in the sea!” But he stopped; and said, “No, this is God’s Word: If He says there are paths there, then they are there! It remains for us to find them!” (Good attitude!)

So, he got permission and funding, and he began the research that eventually began the mapping of the ocean currents. Soon, ships were knowingly seeking out these currents, to make their journeys easier and faster; thus far more profitable. Today, of course, we use satellites and radar, and other means, to map where the currents are on a constant basis, as well as how fast they are flowing, their water temperature, etc.

And, that knowledge gave birth to research about air currents. Today, aviators know exactly where the jet stream is at any given time. Airline travel to the east can be very fast, as the planes may be pushed by a tailwind of nearly 100 miles per hour. Travel to the West is slower, not having that advantage…but at least they know how to avoid having a terrible headwind fighting them. But it all began because one man believed God’s Word..

There is nothing wrong with Science. There is a problem with the human predisposal to use any evidence found, to attempt to disprove God’s Word. Satan will join you in that effort, just as he did in the Garden of Eden, whispering to Eve, “Thou shalt not surely die!” But we do not have to fall prey to that sort of thinking: If God’s Word is the first and final authority, in your studies, then the Holy Spirit will keep you out of trouble.

Nicodemus Used God’s Word Correctly

 50 Nicodemus saith unto them, (he that came to Jesus by night, being one of them,) 51 Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?

Nicodemus was thinking along the right lines: He said, “Hadn’t we ought to hear Him out and find out what He is up to, before we condemn Him?” You see, Proverbs 18:13 says, “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.” Nicodemus knew his audience: He knew they knew this principle. But they did not want to hear it:

 52 They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.

Limited Understanding Produces Wrong Answers

Here the Pharisees and chief priests displayed the limits of their knowledge of the Word, because the prophet Jonah actually did come out of Galilee. (2nd Kings 14:25 “…which he spake by the hand of his servant Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet, which was of Gathhepher.” The town of “Gathhepher” was not only in Galilee, but was actually quite close to Nazareth.)

So, I first wondered, “Is it possible that they only meant that there was no prediction of a future prophet arising out of Galilee? (Surely it is possible they also thought that: but then we are back to the issue of “Why don’t we find out where He is from, instead of just assuming?” No one bothered to ask! They were not seeking the truth: they only wanted to silence Jesus!) 

However, I looked up the phrase translated as “ariseth” and it turns out that it is a “past participle:” It literally means “out of Galilee, no prophet has arisen.The truth is, they forgot about Jonah. I kind of like the fact that they specifically forgot about Jonah, because that is the prophet Jesus finally pointed to, as a harbinger of his own death, three days in Sheol and His resurrection. They forgot Jonah!

53 And every man went unto his own house.

So, at that point they simply quit discussing the matter. They all went home.

Division Today

We see division increased beyond measure, today, largely for the same reasons: people don’t search God’s word for answers, or, when they do, they use the Word incorrectly. They make accusations against other people without investigating far enough to find reasonable answers.

And, when Jesus was teaching, what did He say about the division that would occur? Did He predict that His teaching would produce peace? No, quite the opposite: He said that His teaching would bring terrible division. But the problem was not within the teaching: it was in the response of Humans to the light of God.

Jesus Predicted Division

Matthew 10:34-36

34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. 36 And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.

We don’t like reading passages like this: they are uncomfortable. But there is another voice, in 2nd Timothy, assuring us that it is a living reality, whether we like it or not!

2nd Timothy 3:1-5

1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. 2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, 4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; 5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

We have read this prediction for centuries, but today we see it has become more of a living reality than ever before. We can hardly stand to read the news, because of the constant human tragedy around us. And, when one tries to speak against the evil in the world, one finds themselves to be accused of being evil, though they have spoken for righteousness.

Jesus preached the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven, initially. Everyone claimed they wanted it to come; that time when God would rule on Planet Earth, the enemies would be gone, and even the wild animals would be at peace. 

But when He presented Himself as the King, and began teaching the values of the Kingdom, thus shining the light of God into everyone’s lives, they broke into three factions immediately, which eventually sorted itself into two: Those who loved the light and were drawn to it, versus those who hated and feared the light, and wanted to extinguish it.

We see that same separation today, and the middle ground (those who are confused by the light) is rapidly shrinking. The divide is becoming sharper and deeper year by year. So, what are we told to do about that division?

Shine as lights!

Philippians 2:14-16 says, 14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings: 15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; 16 Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.”

We are commanded to not be the source of problems, but to do all things without arguing and complaining. The result is that we are to be without blame; and not the source of any harm.

We are to behave as the Sons of God, because we are the Sons of God. We are to behave well enough that no one has a rebuke for us apart from the fact that we follow Jesus. (Remember, in Daniel chapter 6, Daniel’s 120 worst enemies, who all wanted him dead, could find no fault with him beyond his relationship with the God of Israel.)

The fact that we live in “the midst of a crooked and perverse nation” should only provide a contrast against which we shine, reflecting the light of God. I am told that jewelers, to show their fine gemstones, put them on a dark velvet background, and shine a strong light on them. The gems gleam in the light, and the darkness behind them remains dark. We are “gems” in God’s hand, and He asks us to reflect His light in the darkness of this world.

And what are we to do, as we shine? We are to “Hold forth the Word of Life!”

Holding Forth the Word of Life

We are to offer the Gospel, the hope of eternal life, and of freedom from the tyranny of sin. The fact that we demonstrate the truth of that promise daily, is how we shine…and offering that same deliverance to those around us is the rest of the job.

Will everyone love it? Nope!

Most will ignore it: Some will verbally attack us and try to shut us up. There may be other forms of division that show up, as well. But this is the assignment we have been given, and we can either obey, or rebel. Shine, or fail to shine! Share the Gospel, or fail to do so! There is no middle ground.

Lord Jesus, please deliver us from our apathy and indecision. You have called us to shine in the darkness of this world, and to hold forth the Word of Life. Help us to grasp the absolutely critical necessity of obedience to Your command, and to walk with you in obedience and faith.

John the Baptist: “He must increase; but I must decrease.”

John the Baptist: “He must increase; but I must decrease.”

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

John 3:22-36 (Compare John 1:6-8, 19-34, 36; Luke 1:12-17, 67-80) 

Introduction

As we study through the first few chapters of the Gospel of John, the prophet John the Baptist shows up several times. Taken as a whole, the scriptures that involve him tell us something about his character. Over in Luke 1:12-17, we are told why he had that character: He was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb…before he was born. And that state continued through his whole life. In John the Baptist, though we are told very little about him, we can see what a spirit-filled life looks like. There are many other examples, of course, but in John the Baptist, we see some specific traits that could easily be missed in some of the other accounts.

Who is John the Baptist?

John the Apostle introduced him simply as “a man sent from God, whose name was John.”

Luke gives the full background, including the miraculous intervention by God, to bring about his birth, and the fact that he is Jesus’s cousin, and approximately six months older than Jesus. But it concludes that he was growing strong in spirit, and lived in the desert until the time when he was to be shown to Israel.

One of the prophecies concerning this man (Luke 1:17) was that he would going before God “…in the spirit and power of Elijah, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” There were a lot of specific prophecies, including the fact that he would not drink wine nor strong drink. So, neither the ordinary wine, of which virtually everyone partook, nor the stronger liquors which were also common. But when he was revealed to Israel, (Matthew 3:4) he was eating a very strict diet, limited apparently to locusts (what we call grasshoppers) and wild honey…and water, evidently. (And, because of his diet, his detractors accused him of being demon-possessed.) He was dressed oddly, too—in camel hair, with a crude leather belt…one passage just says a hide belt. (Camel hair was not seen as a luxury item in those days: this was not a “camel-hair suit.”)

John came as a forerunner for Jesus the King: a herald. He announced the coming Messianic Kingdom, reiterating the Holiness, Righteousness and Judgment of God, and warning those who hoped to enter into God’s kingdom to behave accordingly. Those who believed and agreed with his message, he baptized in the Jordan, as a sign of their identification with the coming King. (That is what baptism is about: it is for identification.)

But, like many thrilling and convicting messages, as people flocked to the messenger, it became a “movement” and others came, just to be seen as part of the movement. John recognized them for who they were, and called them out on their hypocrisy, warning them that their lives had better match what they were claiming to believe! (Matthew 3:7-12) He warned that while he himself only baptized with water, the one who was to come after him would “baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” We frequently ignore the rest of the passage, where he specifies that the fire to which he refers is hell-fire. The believers would eventually be baptized with the Holy Ghost at Pentecost: those who proved to be His enemies would end up in unquenchable fire. This has nothing to do with the “cloven tongues” that looked like fire, landing on the disciples at Pentecost. John was warning of eternal damnation for those who defied the coming King. There is no mistaking his intent in that message, unless we ignore the latter half.

What Sort of Man was John?

It would be easy to see John as a real “fire-and-brimstone preacher…” and, in a sense, he was just that. But he also gave some sound teaching, all within the context of the coming Messianic Kingdom, which both he and Jesus preached. John preached it until he was executed: Jesus, up until the time when Jerusalem rejected Him, accusing Him of serving Satan. After that event, Jesus was headed for the Cross, and He never again offered the kingdom.

The Church was not in view, and it was not revealed in its fulness until more than eight years after His ascension. But by the end of the book of Acts, the Church was well established, and in the book of Ephesians the doctrine is clearly spelled out, and is rather pointedly said to have not been known by any of the Old Testament Prophets. (Ephesians 3:8-12)

So, John was the last of the Old Testament prophets, as Jesus and John both lived out their entire lives under the Law…the Old Covenant. (Jesus said that the New Covenant was the Covenant in His Blood: so, it began after His death, and from a practical viewpoint, it began on the day of Pentecost.)

We see John as a “fire-breather” because of how he confronted the Pharisees and Sadducees, and again, later, as he confronted Herod the tetrarch. But if we look at how he talked to the ordinary people, he seems quite down to earth: He told them to share with one another, care for the poor, don’t cheat other people, don’t abuse your authority.

Even the soldiers, he only told to be satisfied with their wages and to not abuse their authority. Same to the tax-collectors. These both were unpopular people in that society: The soldiers were the “law-enforcement” of that day, and the tax-collectors the IRS of that day. Things haven’t changed a lot: the average person still thinks evil of such government agents. But John gave them sound counsel: he did not tell them to quit their jobs, but only to do their jobs honestly and not to abuse their positions.

One result of his sound teaching (and his prophecies concerning the coming Kingdom and the coming King) was that people began to jump to the conclusion that perhaps he was that king. (Which is very odd…he had already told them very plainly that the King was someone else!)

So, then they wanted to know whether he was Elijah, since they knew that there was a prophecy that Elijah would come before the great and terrible day of the Lord. And John told them plainly that he was not Elijah, which was perfectly true. (Elijah will come during the great tribulation, just before Jesus returns in Glory. But John is John.)

John made no special claims regarding himself. He did not attract attention to himself except as he spoke and acted to direct people’s attention to the Messiah. He claimed nothing for himself, declaring that he himself was not worthy to untie the sandals of the coming King, nor even to carry his shoes.

He sought no glory for himself. When he eventually rebuked Herod for taking his sister-in-law as his wife, Herod shut him up in prison. We can’t be sure what Herod would have done, but we do know that eventually, he put himself in a position where he felt obliged to have John executed.

From prison, John began to wonder about the ministry of Jesus, whether He really was the Messiah: (Luke 7:19-23) So, he sent messengers to ask. Jesus had them hang around and watch: He cast out demons, healed the sick, and preached to the common people…the poor. Then he told the messengers to go on back and tell John what they had seen: He knew that the fulfilled prophecies would answer John’s questions more fully than a simple “Yes!”

What was the nature of John’s ministry, as compared to that of Jesus?

Initially, John’s ministry drew a lot of attention, just as it was intended to do: People publicly confessed their sins and were baptized in repentance, choosing to believe his message. When Jesus arrived, and was baptized by John, John knew who He was for the first time: John did not want to baptize Jesus, and protested that he himself needed to be baptized by Jesus. Jesus told him, “Allow it to be so for now, that we may fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus needed to be identified with the message of John, because John preached the coming Kingdom, and Jesus was the King!

John was completely humble: his ministry was designed to be eclipsed by that of Jesus. So, when he pointed out Jesus to the crowd (more than six weeks later, after Jesus’s fasting in the desert) he said, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the World!” He did not say anything to connect himself to Jesus, even, or try to “share some of the spotlight,” so to speak: He simply pointed people to Jesus.

The day after he had announced Jesus to the crowd, he gently “nudged” two of his own disciples, directing their attention again to Jesus. They responded by leaving John the Baptist, to follow Jesus. In this matter alone, we begin to see what it means to be a man filled with the Holy Spirit: Over in John 16:13, 14, we see that the Holy Spirit does not speak of himself, but speaks to glorify Jesus. So, John the Baptist, under the direct influence of the Holy Spirit, behaved just as the Holy Spirit behaves: He glorified Jesus, and directed others to Him!

Very few modern preachers would willingly turn their own proteges away, to deliberately send them to follow someone else. But John did exactly that, and then continued his preaching of the coming kingdom.

Was there a Conflict? No!

But the time came when Jesus’s ministry began to overshadow John’s ministry. John’s protégé’s were offended for his sake, evidently, as they came and told him that Jesus was baptizing more people than John was (although the scripture points out that Jesus Himself was not baptizing at all—his disciples were.)

John 3:22-36 tells us the rest of the story:

22 After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized. 23 And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized. 24 For John was not yet cast into prison. 25 Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying. 26 And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him. 27 John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. 28 Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. 29 He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease. 31 He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. 32 And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony. 33 He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. 34 For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. 35 The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. 36 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.


Remember, this is John the Baptist telling his own disciples the difference between himself and Jesus. Apparently, thus far not all of them had understood.

Verse 30 is the key verse, here: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” That is actually the key to the life of a disciple of Christ! It is not about you or me: it is about Jesus! The less people see of “Me,” and the more people see of Jesus, the better my service will be.

John had a ministry similar to that of a comet: A comet is there in the sky, temporarily, reflecting the light of the sun, and catching the attention of all the people of the earth, as a rule…and it passes rather quickly, and then, after a few days, it is gone. But the Sun continues to shine.

John reflected the light of the Son of God, for a short time, and some were attracted to him alone, not recognizing that He only reflected light. John 1:7, 8 clearly says that “John himself was not the light, but he bore witness of the light.” And John verbally confirmed this truth on several occasions. Some of his disciples eventually transitioned to become believers in Jesus. Some (including the Pharisees and Sadducees, whom John had warned about being fakes) probably did not. It is relatively easy to join a movement, join a church, go to meetings, sing songs, pray prayers, etc. and to fool people around you. That is what the Pharisees and Sadducees were doing.

But there are no counterfeits in the Body of Christ, proper: the Holy Spirit sees our hearts, and takes the believer at the moment of faith, and plants them in the Body of Christ. It is impossible to fool the Holy Spirit: He is God! He knows our hearts. No one fools God!

John called his disciples to bear witness, saying “Remember, I said ‘I am not the Christ!’” Then he said something really interesting: this is the first mention of the “Bride and the Bridegroom:” He said, “He that hath the Bride is the Bridegroom!” He pointed out that the friend of the bridegroom who stood and heard his voice (we might call him the “best man” today) rejoices to hear His voice. Then he said, “This my joy, therefore, is fulfilled!” His greatest joy was to see the Bride beginning to accumulate to Christ, the Bridegroom! That should be our Joy, as well!

John’s testimony regarding Jesus: (John 3:33-36)

John went on to say that Jesus came from Heaven, and that He testified of what He had seen and heard. He said that those who willingly receive the testimony of Jesus are setting their seal to the fact that God is true. He concluded that whoever believes on the Son has everlasting life (present tense) …and that he who does not believe the Son, not only does not have the life, but shall not see life; but rather, the wrath of God abides upon him!

What a stern warning! And it is exactly what he had said from the beginning. John was completely consistent in his teaching. He always pointed people toward Jesus, and he always told them very plainly the results of belief and of unbelief. He never “sugar-coated” the truth.

Our Testimony:

We frequently try to persuade people by “sweet words.” Perhaps sometimes that bears fruit, especially with little children: but Jesus did not do that, nor did the Apostles, and John the Baptist certainly did not. Jesus was usually pretty gentle, it is true…but not always. He said very clearly that the way into eternal life was narrow and tight, and that few would enter therein. He went on to say that the way into eternal destruction was broad and easy, and that many would go there.

But I have heard preachers teaching exactly the opposite: One in particular told me, “I always assume people are already saved unless they give me reason to believe otherwise.” Another, from the pulpit, stated that “No one has ever been saved by being told that they are a sinner!”

The fact is: Jesus said, “no one comes to the Father but by me.” That is pretty narrow, all right! And He had already taught that the majority will reject His Grace and be lost. So, why would I ever assume that people were “already saved?” And finally; no one has ever been saved without finding out that they are a sinner: What do you think they are they being saved from?

We need to think carefully about what it is we are telling people. And we need to think carefully about our motivation: If I am attempting to get more people to attend this church, I have wrong motives. If I am attempting to “have a bigger following,” then I have wrong motives. Paul warned the Ephesian elders that leaders would arise within the flock who desire to “draw away disciples after themselves” and “not considering the flock.” We need to point people to Jesus. That is what John the Baptist did, throughout his ministry. We need to maintain the concept that “He must increase, but I must decrease!” Otherwise, the reverse is very likely to occur: We will puff ourselves up, to the dimming of the Cross.

Lord Jesus, we want to direct people’s attention to You: to turn their eyes to You as their Savior and to turn their hearts to You as their Lord. Help us to step out of the way and allow you to pour your grace through us to the dying world so that You can save those who will believe. Cleanse our hearts and make us clean channels for Your Love and Mercy.

Rejoicing in Persecution

Rejoicing in Persecution

© 2021 C. O, Bishop

1st Peter 4:12-19

Introduction:

We have gone through several passages dealing with how we are to live, as believers. But Peter now acknowledges that persecution is coming, and he gives instruction regarding how we are to view it. Are we to flee? Fight back? Conform to the World so as to escape their notice? What is our response supposed to be when the World hates us, or when we are essentially “outlawed?” When the moral and spiritual climate around us changes to the point that we are clearly “out of step” at every level with what the World sees as acceptable, how are we to respond?

The first thing we are to remember is that Jesus warned us about this in advance:

John 16:33 These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace. In the World ye shall have tribulations, but be of Good Cheer; I have overcome the World!” So, at the very least, we should not feel shocked that such things happen. And that is what Peter says:

Don’t be Surprised!

12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:

The first thing Peter tells us is that we are not to see it as “strange” that persecution should come. We are to anticipate it, though we are to do nothing to precipitate it. As a general rule, when we treat others well, they will tend to see us as “friendly” and not mistreat us, simply because we do not mistreat them. That is common even among the lower animals. But we mustn’t forget that we are in a war! Be aware that the enemy will not allow his “troops” to maintain friendly relations with the people of God when it really matters. The same enemy who sought to destroy Jesus will also seek to destroy us, beginning with luring us away to sin, but always pursuing the goal of literally destroying us. He would rather destroy our fellowship first, so as to make us unfruitful, and our testimony, so as to bring shame to the Lord Himself. If He can destroy those things then we will be without Joy and without Peace, so no one will have a reason to desire what we have in Christ. We will be utterly ineffective as His ambassadors. Then, if he can trip us up and influence us to sin in some very public way, and destroy our physical life in the process, he will consider it a victory. He will have rendered us useless to the Lord Jesus, and ended our service on such a negative note that we will only be remembered as a phony.

Remember Balaam: this is exactly what happened in his case. He was a genuine prophet of God, but he desired the things of the world and its rewards so much that he “sold out” and served the enemy. He is only remembered for his bad behavior. Whatever he may have accomplished as a man of God, earlier, has been forgotten by us humans years ago: we only recall the sin. God remembers Balaam as the man he was supposed to be. His position was secure, but his condition was terrible! Whatever believers were supposed to do regarding the World, during that time, Balaam did not do it! We do not want to follow his example. In fact, that is specifically warned against in 2nd Peter 2:15 where God mentions the way of Balaam, Jude 11 where He mentions the error of Balaam, and Revelation 2:14, where He calls out the doctrine of Balaam.

Rejoice!

The next thing Peter says is that we are to Rejoice.

13 But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. 14 If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.

“Rejoice” is a verb: an action word: It does not say “feel happy,” although that could be the result of choosing to rejoice. Instead, it says “rejoice,” because you are partaking in Jesus’s sufferings, so that (future tense) “when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also, with exceeding joy!” This parallels what Jesus said: “…but be of Good Cheer…”

The feelings of gladness are to follow the obedience of choosing to rejoice. In Acts 16:22-34 (turn there, please) Paul and Silas were not “feeling glad” when they were sitting in the dungeon, with still-bleeding wounds and their feet clamped in the stocks. Their clothes had been torn from them; they had been savagely beaten, without cause, and imprisoned without a trial. But they rejoiced anyway, praying and singing praises together, to God. They rejoiced in spite of the pain and the filth, and the shame. The “gladness” came later!

They were freed at midnight, by miraculous intervention, and they were then privileged to lead the Philippian jailer to Christ, along with his entire family. Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but Joy cometh in the morning.”

We go through periods of “night” in our lives, especially during times of sickness, or in crushing disappointments, or as we near the end of our life, or that of a loved one. But the times of tribulation, too, can be seen as a “passing cloud:” a temporary period of deep darkness, beyond which we earnestly look to see the light of God’s countenance. In John 1:4, 5, it says of Jesus, “In him was life and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.” The contrast between light and dark can only be seen where there has been some darkness. Remember that darkness has no “substance” in itself: it is only the absence of light. Many jewelers display their best gems against a black-velvet background. The velvet absorbs light, reflecting little or no light back at the eye, while the gemstone reflects light, and we are attracted to its beauty. God displays His light against the backdrop of the darkness of the World. Our light is to shine in that darkness, as a reflection of His glory!

Not all Suffering is Cause for Rejoicing.

15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.

We all know of situations in which a Christian was shamed, punished, dismissed from a job, or even imprisoned for things they did wrong: things for which anyone would (and should) receive punishment. I knew a Christian man who went to prison for tax evasion, and another, a pastor, who was jailed for shoplifting. A friend of mine knew another man, apparently a real believer, who committed multiple murders. Am I “comfortable” with those facts? No, of course, I’m not! But those two facts line up with what Peter just said!

There is no “invisible fence” set up for Christians, so that they cannot commit horrible sins. Remember that David committed both adultery and murder. Yes, it cost him dearly, but the fact is, he was a man of God, by God’s own statement, and he committed things regarding which I would love to be able to say, “Christians just don’t do those things!” (Sorry! God says it is very possible and a deeply shameful thing when it happens. There is no “suffering for Jesus” in that sort of experience, when it is punishment for crimes that have actually been committed.)

Notice, too, that being a “busybody”…a meddler in other people’s lives (possibly including a general “snoopiness” and perhaps gossip) is included right along with the general term “evildoers” and the specific crimes of theft and murder. We like to categorize sins as being “little” or “big.” And, in terms of the immediate effect of such things, that makes sense. But in terms of long-term effect, we have no idea what the overall result may be of what we may consider to be “minor.” Go back to Genesis chapters 12 through 19, and ask yourself, “What was the long-term effect of Abraham’s just “bringing Lot along with him,” when God had told him to leave him behind?” Could Abraham have predicted that outcome? Perhaps he just thought he was “sharing the blessing” God intended for him. (Sharing is good, right?) But not only did God not want that particular blessing to be “shared” (it was for Abraham and his progeny alone,) but the result in Lot’s life was horrendous; and the long-term result for Abraham’s progeny is a huge number of enemies who still want nothing more than to wipe the nation of Israel off the globe!

What is Sin?

Sin is defined in the New Testament in Four passages:

  1. 1st John 3:4 “Sin is the transgression of the Law” (God’s Law…possibly specifically the New Commandment: “love one another as I have loved you.”)
  2. 1st John 5:17 “All unrighteousness is sin.” (It doesn’t have to be “on a list” somewhere!)
  3. James 4:17 “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”
  4. Romans 14:23 “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”

Are any of those four necessarily crimes against civil law? No! There could be things that the civil law could not even address, such as our thoughts. Human law does not prohibit lust or coveting…and our culture openly encourages both. But, are there things that are declared legal by man, but which God condemns without exception? Absolutely, there are! We see these things flaunted every day! And that has been the case throughout human history. Are there things that the world says are righteous, but which God clearly says are not? Absolutely! We think revenge is a good thing! We say “Yep! There’s some ‘karma’ for you!” And that whole concept (karma) is not only against God’s written Word, but it comes from a false religion; Hinduism.

It was completely legal for Abraham to do what he did with Hagar, the Egyptian woman. Did Abraham “Know to do good?” Maybe. Maybe not…again, it was approved by his society, and he had his wife’s approval as well!  But the direct result of his action was to produce a nation that was, and still is today, the largest group of enemies Israel has ever had! What Abraham did was not against civil law, nor even seen as “unrighteous” by his wife, or himself, or the rest of their society. But it was sin! Why? Because it was not of faith! He could have asked God, and had clear direction, but he failed to do so, and we are still reaping the consequences today!

If Christianity suddenly became Illegal…

16 Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.

There was a poster, fifty years ago, which posed the question, “If Christianity suddenly becomes a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” We want to make certain that that accusation—being a Christian— is the only one that will stick.

Yes, false accusations will always be a possibility. And, in today’s world there exists technology by which people can make what appears to be a “real video” of someone committing a crime (or any other activity) and even their friends and family would be convinced that “that is what they saw.” Movie producers have been using this technology to produce films of people who are no longer alive, and who died before modern cinema technology existed. It is amazingly seamless and convincing. So today, they would not have to “find false witnesses” to testify against you: they can simply “make a video” of you doing something you have never done, with people you have never met, in places where you have never set foot. How’s that for deception?

And, we are told ahead of time that we are to rejoice! We are told to not be ashamed, but to glorify God because of the false accusations and the unjust punishment. If we suffer for the “crime” of believing in Jesus, and for walking in obedience to Him, that is cause for rejoicing! You can rejoice that you are identified with Him closely enough that His enemies consider you to be their enemy, as well, regardless of how well you treat them. I have only had this happen a couple of times for sure, and in those particular cases, it did not result in any “real” persecution: I was simply aware that they hated me and talked behind my back. When I finally found out that it was specifically because I was a believer, it quit bothering me: If you hate me because of Jesus; that is OK by me!

People are (usually) judged in four ways by other humans:

  1. What they do.
  2. What they say. (And whether number one and two match one another.)
  3. Who their friends are: who they are most comfortable around?
  4. Who their enemies are: who despises them, and why?

If their only reason to hate you really is because you are “friends with Jesus,” then that is a good thing, regardless of the result. If you are despised for wrongdoing, or for hypocrisy or inflammatory orungodly speech; a sharp tongue, perhaps: then that is not a good thing. But, if you are seen as “an enemy of evil, both in word and deed,” and a “friend of Good,” as well as a “friend of God, through Christ,” then, come what may, the reward will be good!

17 For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?

The world should see the severity of God’s Holiness along with the deep Grace that He offers and imparts to those who love Him. But frequently the strongest testimony of the saints of God is their response to calamity, and their response to false accusations and unjust punishment.

18 And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?

The World should be able to sunderstand that, if believers must experience the chastening and discipline of God, then they themselves face even worse consequences for their unbelief and sin.

Think of a gymnastic team. They have excruciatingly difficult workouts and practices, and they push themselves to do things that no “ordinary” human can do. Observers are thrilled with what they can do, but they are keenly aware that they themselves cannot do anything remotely similar.

Or, consider any of the martial arts, whether wrestling, boxing, jiu-jitsu or any other such discipline: Like most men, I have cherished the notion from childhood that, “Oh, I can take care of myself!” But I have watched videos of fights performed strictly for fame and prize money, and I have had to confess that “That young man could have hit me a dozen times before I could even get my guard up!” No, I cannot do what they are doing!

In both of the above cases, the participants subjected themselves to rigorous, painful and prolonged training, in order to “get that good” at what they were doing. And any honest observer can see the results of that discipline: Can the world see that in you? The result should be that, when harsh things happen in your life, and your response is good, they will be convicted by the knowledge that, “If that had happened to me, I would have been devastated!” And then, perhaps they will begin to wonder, “What makes them tick? What have they got that I haven’t got?”

Allow God to Work!

19 Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.

Therefore, we are to submit to the hand of God in all genuine tribulation, looking to Him for direction and release. The patriarch Joseph is a great example of this: He was sold by his brothers; he was enslaved to His enemies; he was lured (unsuccessfully) by an evil woman, and finally imprisoned for a crime he did not commit; but he still trusted in God, and he was eventually raised up, fully prepared for the purpose God had intended all along.

Lord Jesus, give us the wisdom and faith to respond in Godly fashion to the trials we may face in this world. You alone are worthy of all honor and glory, but you submitted yourself to continued abuse, at the hands of your enemies, and have been raised up by the Father, forever. Help us to follow in your footsteps.

What Fragrance do you Bring?

What Fragrance Do You Bring?


© C. O. Bishop 2011
THCF 11/20/11 (Not a Recent Sermon…but appropriate for the times.)

John 12:3 and others…

Introduction:

The concept of smells comes up throughout the Bible—sometimes for good, sometimes evil, sometimes simply a matter of fact—identifying something or someone by smell. The first mention, though, comes in Genesis 8:21, just after the abatement of the flood. Noah erected an altar and there offered a sacrifice, a burnt offering of every type of clean animal (remember, the preparation had been made—there were seven of each), and the writer, Moses, states that “The LORD smelled a sweet savour…” and stated that he would never again destroy the world by flood. The literal smell, in this case, was burning flesh…does this tell us God like the smell of death? No—it was the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and worship that provided the pleasing fragrance to God. How do I know? I read the rest of the story. Let’s take a look:

Leviticus 1:9, 13, 17

Notice in these verses, that the blood was dealt with separately. The fat or other specific parts were offered as a worship offering. The blood was for the atonement of the believer—the covering of his/her sins. The burning of the rest of the animal (or in some cases non-animal offerings) were worship…giving God his due. In like manner, Jesus’ blood, alone, is what paid for our sins. His perfect life, and matchless service not only were proof as to who he himself really was, they constitute the perfection into which WE enter by faith. He was “made to be sin for us, (he) who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God, in him.” His righteousness has been made ours.

Virtually all the uses of the words for “an odor” have to do with the temple worship. The Hebrew words, “reach” and “nichoach” both have to do with a sweet smell, and in scripture are used almost exclusively in relation to worship and sacrifices. There are a few exceptions in the case of the Hebrew word, “reach”, as it is used in about eight places as simply an identifier.  In Genesis 27:27, Isaac said that Jacob, in Esau’s clothes, smelled like the field that God had blessed. In the Song of Solomon, over and over, the sense of smell is invoked in blessing one another…either that perfumes of some sort have been deliberately provided to increase attractiveness, or that the smell of the beloved is being compared to some good smell. In Daniel, the comment is made, (after Daniel’s three friends have been brought up out of the fiery furnace) that not even the smell of the fire was upon their garments.

So, where is all this leading? How does the smell of a burnt offering, or a blessed field, or the deliberate application of perfumed ointment apply to us as believers today?

We are called to function as priests in the body of Christ. We are to offer sacrifices, as priests. The sacrifice already offered by the High Priest, Jesus, has already made us clean. But we can still make offerings of service, love, thanksgiving, hospitality, generosity, and praise. The blood sacrifice has been made—the worship offerings are what is left for us to do.

Consider the fact that the “sweet savour” of Genesis 8 had an effect on the object of worship, God, as well as having an effect on the worshipper, Noah. In that particular case, God’s justice was satisfied, and he determined that He would never again destroy the whole world by flood.

In the case of all the Old Testament sacrifices, some aspect of God’s character found satisfaction in the sacrifice, and he was pleased with the offerings. There are Old Testament counter-examples, however, wherein a sacrifice was made, but there was no acceptance found with God. Cain was the first such example—and in his case, the issue was evidently twofold. The first problem was that he had not brought a blood sacrifice. (Non-blood sacrifices were fine, but not until after the blood-sacrifice had been offered.) Worship is only acceptable from clean hands, and the cleansing begins at the Cross. The blood sacrifice, in all ages, looked forward to the Cross. Our communion looks back to the Cross…but faith is what applies it to the heart. Evident from Cain’s response to God is the self-will and resentment against God that eventually led him to murder his brother, and which, we can surmise, initiated the wrong offering as well. In the New Testament we are told that the sacrifice was wrong, but that his heart was wrong as well.

Other examples are given where, on the surface, all was well—the sacrifice was technically correct. But God rejected the sacrifice because of the behavior of the “worshippers” and, in other cases, because they had deliberately skimped on the offering, bringing him sick or damaged animals, or the culls from their flocks.

Still, how does this apply? We don’t bring lambs, today. I’m not even sure I would know a good lamb from a poor one. So what about the offerings we are supposed to bring? Do we actually consider what we are saying when we pray? Are we really thankful for God’s provision in our lives? What about the Cross? Always assuming that you started off there, do you know your way back? Do you ever return to Calvary to give thanks, just for the fact that He voluntarily died there, in your place? Remember the story of the ten lepers Jesus healed. All were Jews except one, evidently, and all were healed by faith, as they went to show themselves to the priest. Jesus extended his healing to them, with his only command being to go and show themselves to the priest. They went, and they were healed en route. Nine went on their way rejoicing, but one, evidently the only Samaritan in the bunch, made it first priority to go back to Jesus and give thanks. In fact, it says he loudly praised God, and fell at Jesus’ feet in worship. Jesus commented on that, and said, in effect, “…funny, I thought I healed ten lepers…but the only one to come back and give glory to God is this stranger.” But then he said “Go thy way. Thy faith hath healed thee.”

And what about our service? Our giving? Do we serve and give joyfully or grudgingly? Or is it a mix? Sometimes I really don’t feel like coming to church Sunday morning…Maybe I just feel like I want a break, or I’m tired, or maybe I am out of fellowship about some unrelated thing, and don’t want to confess it and “wash my feet,” as it were, and then come to the table to feed with the saints. Sad, but that’s the truth. Usually, as soon as I repent and get moving, God adds His blessing. But I have had times that I got there, and was still not OK.

Think about the prodigal son. Bad kid, huh? Ran off and spent up his inheritance, then wants to come back and eat up his brother’s as well, huh? Funny: that is not how the Father saw it. He knew of the failing, but desperately loved his son, and wanted him back. BUT! The older son? That is exactly how he saw his younger brother. And the result was that he would not go in where the welcome home party was going on. The father came out to reason with him, and it turns out that, though the older son had been serving, he was doing so grudgingly (at least ever since “bubba” left home), and not out of a clean heart of love for the Father. The inheritance was still his, but fellowship with the Father demanded fellowship with his brother. Good thing to remember, hmm? Over in 1st John 4:20, it points out that anyone saying they love God, but who is simultaneously hating his brother, is a liar, for a man who does NOT love his brother, whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen.? Good question. But we still try to do it, every now and then, don’t we?

Romans 12:1, 2 tells me that I am to offer up my body as a living sacrifice to God. The problem with living sacrifices is that they don’t necessarily “go along” with the plan. Our old sin nature is still there, and still strong, though it has no more authority. I have to daily reconcile myself with the decision to live for God. The Proverbs tell me to cease from my own wisdom. Hard to do—I have all sorts of ideas as to how things ought to work, but they frequently don’t match God’s plan.

Ephesians 5:1, 2 says that we are to be followers, or imitators of God, as dear children, and walk in love as Christ also has loved us and has given himself to God an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour. There’s that thing about “smells” again. And this time, it is directly connected with a command to imitate…to follow his lead. To do as he did.

Revelation 5:8 In the book of the Revelation, the prayers of the believers are depicted as odors.

Philippians 4:18 “ But I have all and abound; I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odor of a sweet sacrifice acceptable to God.”  So let’s think this through. Paul was an apostle—a missionary, if you will, out on a hard journey, and, in fact, was at that point, bound in a Roman prison. The believers at Philippi, who loved him deeply, as he had led them to Christ, and had suffered with them, had sent a gift to him…we don’t even know what it was, except that it was “things”…and this was called “an odor of a sweet sacrifice, acceptable to God.” Interesting. No lamb, no prayers, no trips to the temple. Just sending a needed item to a friend in prison. Nothing even “religious-sounding” about it, really. But God said that was the real deal. That pleased God. They were supporting one of the brethren who was doing God’s work. And God liked it!

John 12:3 (also Matthew 26, Mark 14)

I’d like to consider the story in John chapter 12, specifically verse 3. Mary of Bethany approached Jesus while he was at the table with the twelve, Judas included, and proceeded to anoint him with an extremely expensive perfumed oil…evidently a year’s wages worth, in fact, because Judas spoke up and complained that this was a blatant waste, and should have been sold for that much, and the money used to feed the poor.

There are more sermons in this passage than I can count. Thousands have been preached from this passage already. Frankly, I am going to deliberately ignore most of what is there, because I want to point out some things about this offering.

  1. It had no particular practical purpose, except the fact that Jesus said it was presaging his burial. It did NOT feed the poor, or send something to an apostle in prison, nor lead the singing in church, or anything else pious-sounding. It was ministering directly to Jesus. Directly to God.
  2. It was NOT a corporate act—she didn’t form a committee, and announce ahead of time, so everyone could watch. She just did it, in as simple and worshipful a manner as possible. Some of the gospels say it was his feet that were anointed, some say his head…I assume both. But it was his feet she wiped with her hair. This was from her alone.
  3. Though it was not directed at anyone else, everyone there was indirectly affected…some in negative ways, as they were offended. (Some of the Gospels specify that Judas was the one complaining, but others point out that he was only the spokesman—the others agreed with him.) But all of them saw it, and all of them shared in the smell.
  4. The odor filled the house. It affected Jesus. It affected Mary of Bethany. It affected everyone in the building, to one degree or another, and is affecting you today. Jesus was so impressed by this simple act of adoration that he said “Wheresoever this Gospel shall be preached, in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told as a memorial of her.” (Matthew 26:13) That has literally been fulfilled, wherever the Gospel has gone.

The acts of obedience, love, sacrifice, thanksgiving, praise, and worship that you bring to God are a sweet smell to Him. Sometimes they are practical, as the Philippian gift was. Sometimes they are religious in nature, as the gifts in the temple. Sometimes they are as simple as gratitude, like the Samaritan Leper who was healed. But the fragrance of what you do will affect you, God, and others. For better or worse, the things you do affect others.

In Romans 2:24, Paul rebuked the Jews, saying that through them the name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles. In Genesis 34:30, Jacob rebuked his sons Simeon and Levi, saying “You have made me to stink among the inhabitants of the land”.  It is entirely possible to bring a bad offering of our lives, and leave a bad smell in the nostrils of those around us, believers and unbelievers alike.

But God says he wants us to smell like Jesus. Read 2nd Corinthians 2:14-16. We are to be a fragrance of Christ, to believers and unbelievers. To those who are receptive to the Gospel and those who flatly reject it. In both cases, we are to smell like Christ. To the one category, we bring the smell of hope and of life. To the other, we bring the smell of judgment and death, even when we say nothing about such things. The world can see the coming judgment in the righteousness of believers. It convicts them.

Consider what things God says about the smell of our lives:

  1. It has to do with our relationship with him.
  2. It can relate His character to the rest of the world (rightly or wrongly).
  3. It is an accurate depicter of our relationship with God, and the character of our worship.
  4. God is the one who declares, ultimately, how things smell.
  5. ALL of us are bringing some sort of fragrance to God, to the church, and to the world.

What Fragrance do you bring? How is it affecting God? How is it affecting You? How is it affecting others? Does it fill the House of God? (Remember that the church, proper—the people of God—are the “house of God”.) Does it fill the sphere within which you live and move? Do you really smell like Jesus? Does your worship please him? Does it please you?

Consider this, as well—had Mary just walked in, and dumped the stuff on Jesus and walked out, it would not have been received in the same way at all. HOW are you bringing your offering? Is your love relationship with God growing stronger, or is it something you have to remind yourself of or you will neglect it entirely?

Give this some thought…What Fragrance do you bring?

I pray that our lives, collectively, will offer the Fragrance of Christ, growing stronger and stronger, as we draw near to Him.

Believers, Place Your Bets!

Believers, Place Your Bets!

© 4/15/2020 C. O. Bishop

James 2:12-26

Introduction:

We hear a lot of arguments regarding the twin subjects of faith and works. And that is what they really are: twins! Saving faith produces works as a rule. Works are proof of faith as a rule, but not always saving faith: they may only be proof that the one performing the works wants to please God, or even wants to be seen as righteous by his or her fellow-humans.

Here in James, the single verse (26) “26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” is one of the most misused and frequently misquoted passages in the Bible.  Why? Because we tend to isolate that one idea, and thus sever it from the context in which it is given. Let’s back up to verse 12, at least, and see what is being discussed: Remember that James is speaking to believers. “12 So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.

Behavior matters!

13 For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.

We all get one chance— one life—during which to honor God, and present our bodies a living sacrifice as a worship offering. Once it is over, only that which met this standard will have eternal value. Usually, we only have one chance to make a “first impression” with those people around us, too. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to be around folks long enough for them to see that we are not “stuck-up” or rude…but if that is what they really thought, when they first met us, they will probably not come back and give us another chance. Does God see us for what we really are, good or bad? Certainly He does! He is not governed by “impressions.” I am frequently amused by married couples’ testimonies that “when I first met ___, I didn’t like….” Their first impression was bad, but they grew to love one another and eventually were married. Their first impression was wrong, but could have cost them dearly. God sees the truth at all times. He is not the one we are trying to impress, or trying to not cause to stumble, or whatever.

As believers, we have already received God’s Mercy, at the Cross: We are in no danger of His changing His mind, and rejecting us. We are sealed in Christ until the day of redemption, according to Ephesians. But we need to reflect that fact, in reaching out to those around us in a merciful way. Can it backfire? Certainly it can! It did for Jesus, many times. After he fed the 5,000, in John chapter 6; the very next day, those he had fed were back for more; but he offered them the Bread of Life instead, and they immediately turned on him and began to argue, in John 6:30, saying “What sign showest thou then, that we may see and believe thee?” (What? He just fed the whole crowd on five loaves and two fishes, and you ask for another sign?)

We have had people ask for money for food, and when we gave it, we saw them immediately head for the liquor store. So, the next time, when someone asked for money for food, we took them to get food. In one case that worked very well…the woman involved was telling the truth: her husband and several children were waiting in an empty lot beside a school, and they were all very glad to see her show up with a large bag full of sandwiches and other food.

But in another case, the fellow asked for food, and we offered to drive with him right then, and buy a meal. He changed his request, saying he needed gas for his car. We offered to go with him to get gasoline…the story kept changing, and we kept offering to meet the stated need, until he was exasperated, and blurted “Can’t you just give me some money?!” He was lying! He didn’t want any of the things he claimed to need. We were glad we had not given him anything, whereas in the case of the woman with the children, we were only sad that we could offer no better help than food.

What is the Connection?

14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?

We need to see the connection between faith and works, then. James poses the question “Can Faith save?” The real issue is “what kind of faith are we talking about?” Saving faith seems to be the issue, but there are other things we, as humans, call faith.

In responding to this passage, I would like to relate an argument I had with an unbelieving co-worker, nearly thirty years ago: He claimed that he could “create his own reality.” He claimed that his beliefs would control the reality that he experienced.

I replied that he did not really believe that, and that the untruth of his statement was made obvious by how he lived his life: He had to live with the same reality as everyone else. He “placed his bets,” so to speak, upon the realities of this world, the same as everyone else. I said, “If you are in the middle of the road and I tell you a truck is coming, you will get out of the road, just like everyone else. You will not ‘create your own reality,’ in which the truck will somehow not hurt you: You are betting on the reality of death, and saving yourself by moving out of harm’s way.” He had no answer, and the conversation ended. But that same rule is applied here, by James:

What you really believe is revealed by your works. If you really believe your house is on fire, you try to save yourself, your loved-ones and your possessions, unless you are suicidal, and desire to die. Where you “place your bets” is the best indicator of what you really believe.

If you really believe that Jesus is your Savior, your Master and your Judge, then your actions should reflect that, as a general rule. So the logic follows: if you see someone else in need, what you really believe about your relationship to Christ and His lordship in your life will be revealed by your works. (Bear in mind the inherent question, “revealed to whom?” Does God know the truth? Or are we constantly having to again prove to God the reality of our faith?)

The kind of faith that produced a love-relationship with an unseen Savior should also produce a compassionate relationship with the visible people around us with their visible needs. 1st John 4:20, 21 agrees, saying, 2If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? 21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

The demonstration of the reality of faith is to other humans, not to God. The kind of faith that does not produce appropriate works is called a “dead” faith. We are commanded by Jesus to love one another…a genuine faith should result in a genuine caring for those around us. We should love one another in practical ways, according to this passage.

And, What if we Don’t?

15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

Such neglect is unprofitable and brings a negative shadow on the name of Christ. If we, as believers, don’t even care for one another’s needs, then how can we say we are “brothers” in Christ? Even unbelievers, as a rule, will care for the needs of their families, though perhaps in poor grace, in some cases. Usually, simple cultural norms will demand that a person care for their own immediate family members. Why, then, would it be acceptable to us to not take care of the believers with whom we share an eternal bond of kinship in the person of Christ? That lack, if founded upon a lack of concern, not just ignorance of the need, would show a non-functional faith, at least, and perhaps would give reason to suspect even the validity of that faith…leading us to verse 17, which is closing in on what we wanted to address in the first place:

17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

Such faith, that does nothing to move the will, and causes no change in action, is a useless, non-functional faith. Is it valid? Only God knows! You see, this whole passage on “faith versus works” is couched in the question of “How can the World see faith? How can people see faith?”

God could see the faith of Lot, though no human could see it. When I first read the account of Lot, in Genesis chapters 13-19, I would definitely have supposed (in spite of his Godly Uncle Abraham) that Lot was simply an unbeliever, whose sins finally caught up with him. But God says, in 2nd Peter 2:6-9, that Lot was a righteous man! I certainly would not have come to that conclusion by observing his works, because, except for one feeble attempt to save the angels whom he thought were ordinary men, he was pretty much invisible, in terms of faith, because his works did not reveal his faith, as a rule. Even his sons-in-law did not believe him, when he tried to warn them of the coming destruction. So, the next verse makes it clear:

18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

A man, a fellow human, can only observe faith in action. We cannot see the hearts of our fellow humans. We can only see actions. God says we need works to confirm who we are in Christ, to those around us. Lot’s life was a wreckage that was not only useless as a testimony to unbelievers, but produced enemies to the seed of Abraham, lasting until today. Lot’s sons (by incest with his daughters) were Ben-Ammi and Moab. The Ammonites and the Moabites were bitter enemies to Israel from the beginning, and they still are, today, as they are the people of Jordan, and the Palestinians. It is a sad thing, but “righteous Lot” left a terrible legacy.

19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

“Doctrinal soundness” does not replace a living faith. “Orthodoxy” is simply a case of having correct opinions. One can know the truth, intellectually; accept it as fact; be able to recite a catechism or creed, and yet have no personal interaction with that truth. It is certainly possible to have “correct opinions” regarding theology, and still be absolutely an unbeliever.

But remember that James is speaking to believers. All he says, here, is that knowing the fact that “there is only one God” is not the same as having a living relationship with that one God. He gives the example of the demons, who have known God face-to-face, since before the world was created, and yet are eternally His enemies. They know all about the God of the Bible, and are terrified of their coming judgment. We know the bare facts, as we have been told them, but we are indifferent about the coming judgment, and acting as if it will never come.

Genuine Faith will Change Our Life

If our faith is a real, saving faith, it should be changing our motives, and our behavior. We don’t “make that change” in order to “prove our faith.” Genuine Faith changes us, from the inside out, and proves its own validity.

James goes on to discuss Abraham, whom God justified by faith (Genesis 15:6), but whom men justify because of his works. The scripture that says he was justified by his faith, found visible proof in his later works.
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?

The word “perfect”, here, means “completed”…fulfilled. If we compare Ephesians 2:8-10, we can see that while we are saved “by Grace, through Faith,” and specifically not through (or by means of) works, verse ten makes it clear that we are “His workmanship, created unto good works, which He has before ordained that we should walk in them.” So the fulfillment of our faith and God’s Grace, in re-creating us in His own image, is that we are to walk in the good works that he ordained for us ahead of time.
23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. 24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

Remember that the word “justified” means “declared righteous.” Bear in mind Who it is, doing the real justification, and who the observers are in this context. In Romans 5:1, Paul states that we have been justified by faith, and that, as a result, we have peace with God. So, looking again at verse 18, we remind ourselves that, in this case, the persons questioning our faith are fellow humans. We can only demonstrate our faith to other humans through appropriate works. Our fellow humans “declare us righteous” based entirely on what they can see. So, in verse 24, we are “justified” or “declared righteous,” on the basis of works, where humans are the judges. We were declared righteous entirely on the basis of Faith, where Jesus is the Judge. (We don’t even like to think of Jesus as being the Judge, but He says He is, in John 5:22) Romans 5:1 addresses our justification before God. James 2:24 refers to our justification before Man. Does it matter? You’d better believe it does! (Remember Lot!)

25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

It somehow seems appropriate, in this context, to remember that “dead”, in scripture, usually has some sort of “separation” in view. A body, separated from the spirit of the person to whom both belong, is considered a dead body: no longer functional. A faith that is separated from the works that should accompany it, is considered a dead faith…not functional. It does not mean that such a person has never been accepted by God, necessarily. There are examples in the Old Testament and the New Testament, of people whose faith faltered, and their testimony was ruined, and who, in some cases, lost their physical lives because of their subsequent disobedience. (Lot, Balaam, Samson, Ananias & Sapphira, Demas, etc.) But in each case, it seems clear that they were real believers who simply fell into a pattern of disobedience… and it cost them heavily.

Place your Bets!

Remember that salvation tract (The Four Spiritual Laws) people used to hand out, which began with the statement (true, by the way) that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!”? Well, here’s the other side of that idea: “Satan hates you and has a TERRIBLE plan for your life!” Now, if you walk with Jesus, staying close to the Great Shepherd, you need have no fear of the Evil One, at all: He is a defeated enemy. But the Enemy does have an agenda:

  1. Satan desires to destroy your fellowship with God, through distractions, through neglect of feeding on the Word, neglect of prayer, and through overt sin.
  2. He desires to destroy your Joy and Peace, through all of the above.
  3. He desires to destroy your testimony, as bitterness and cynicism begin to replace Joy and Peace, and your works show to others the deadness of your faith.
  4. Finally, if he can draw you far enough away from the Shepherd, he desires to destroy your life, either through the destructive results of the bad decisions made in the flesh or through the consequences of overt sin.

God does not need you to “prove your faith” to Him by works. But your works are the result of what you really believe, and are a pretty good indicator of where your heart really is today. They reveal where you are currently “placing your bets.” They should reveal to you how you are doing, spiritually, and they definitely will let your neighbors, friends and family make decisions about the reality of faith in your life.

Look in the “Mirror of God’s Word, and see yourself! Look at where you are “Placing your Bets,” and see whether that is how God wants you to respond to Him.

So you really believe prayer is important? Then place your bet that way: pray! Do you really believe Jesus is the Master? Then obey Him! Do you really believe you should be feeding on God’s Word? Then do so! Do you really believe you should share your faith with others? Then do so! Where you “place your bets”–what you actually do–reveals what you really believe.

The Lord Bless His Word, and His people as they seek His Face.

Ultimate Blessing

Ultimate Blessing

© C. O. Bishop 2019

Isaiah 4:1-6; Revelation 1:10-18

Introduction:

Last time, we completed chapter three, and saw how God was going to purge Jerusalem of her sin. We saw that it could have been referring to the Babylonian captivity, but that it certainly had reference to the Great tribulation as well.

Chapter four skips all the way past the Great Tribulation, and addresses the blessedness of the surviving remnant in Jerusalem after the Lord’s return.

When we study God’s Word, especially when studying the prophetic writings, we must look for the correct, Biblical interpretation, before attempting to find appropriate application in our own lives. In other words, we must ask: to whom is this written, or regarding whom? What are the circumstances under which it is written? When was it written? (In what time period?) Are there any clues as to when the prophecy (or promise) is to be fulfilled? Exactly what is being prophesied, or promised? Are there conditions under which things could change? (For example, if there is a warning of coming judgment “…except ye repent”, does that mean there is a possibility of escaping judgment, if the recipients change their behavior? It certainly had that effect in Nineveh, didn’t it?)

So, beginning with those standards of study, let’s read Isaiah chapter 4. (Read all of it)

To Whom is this written?

As we read, we will keep in mind that, according to verses 2, 3, 4 and 5, these promises are to Jerusalem, Judah, and Israel, not the United States, Great Britain, or some other country. There may be application in our lives at one level or another, but the interpretation is definitely to the Jews, not any Gentile nation, nor even to the Church.

Where will it happen, and When?

Chapter 4

1And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach.

The prophecy in verse one could (possibly) still be in reference to the Babylonian captivity (because of the scarcity of men, after the siege and evacuation), but verse 2 makes it clear that the final fulfillment of this prophecy will be at the beginning of the Millennial kingdom:

In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel.

Verse two predicts that “in that day” the “branch of the LORD” will flourish (in reference to the returned and reigning Messiah), and that the fruit of the land would be excellent and beautiful for the remnant of Israel, who survived the tribulation. This is the “remnant” of whom God will speak over and over again: those Jews who survive the tribulation, and enter the Kingdom alive, in their natural, physical bodies.

Verses 3-6 make it clear that this is specifically in reference to the physical return of the Lord… the entire city of Jerusalem will be under the Glory of God, and every living person therein will be called Holy. When? “When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion.” At that time, every single living Jew will be a believer, and will be utterly devoted to his or her Savior. Where? In Zion, the City of the Living God.

And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem:

When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning.

So the judgment that happens during the Tribulation period is for the purpose of purging and cleansing Israel, making her holy, and preparing her for the purpose He had announced from the beginning, that she should be holy, and a kingdom of priests. Remember, as we say this, that the Church is to be kings (plural) and priests. Israel is to be a kingdom (singular) of priests. The two are not the same.

What will happen?

And the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence.

And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the day time from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain.

We want to be especially careful in applying these sorts of prophecies—this is only in reference to Israel and Judah, and any misapplication can result in some bad theology. The closest proper application will be that at that same time, every living Gentile will also be a believer (this is immediately after the “judgment of the living nations” described in Matthew 25:31, ff). But the Gentiles will NOT be “called Holy”, and will NOT have the special supernatural blessings that will be in Jerusalem. Life will be better than at any time in history, all over the world, but the Jews in Jerusalem will be under the special blessing of the presence of the ruling Messiah.

Are there Applications for today?

In terms of today, in the Church age, I can think of no physical application, except to say that having Jesus residing in your heart is great, and an absolutely necessary result of your salvation: but having Him presiding there—reigning there—is greater still…and is what God wants for each of us, day by day. Jesus will be physically residing in Jerusalem, and reigning from there, over the whole world. I want Jesus to reign from my heart over my whole life. It is entirely possible for a believer, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, by the person of the Trinity, actually, to still be in active or passive rebellion against his or her Master. This would be a spiritual application of a physical reality.

I can also see some further spiritual application: in verse 5, he says that “a cloud and smoke by day, and a shining of a flaming fire by night” will be upon every dwelling in Jerusalem. Remember that, when the tabernacle and the temple were first built, God promised that he would literally move in, and live there. The smoke and the fire from those two edifices were to show everyone that God lived there. He did move in, and the glory of God shone out so brightly that no one could come near the place. (Exodus 40:34, 35; 2nd Chronicles 5:13, 14) In the Jerusalem of the Millennial Kingdom, He will live in ALL the dwellings…how does that apply today?

(See John 14:16, 17; Romans 8:9)

John 14:16, 17
16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.

Romans 8:9
But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

So, we can see that every single believer is indwelt by the Spirit of God…no exceptions.

Why? What is the point? And, if it is so important, then how ought the world to know it? (See John 13:34, 35; Philippians 2:15, 16; etc.)

John 13:34, 35
34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Philippians 2:15, 16
15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; 16 Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.

Notice that, in the Philippians 2 passage, Paul gives us some idea about what it means to “shine as lights in the World—holding forth the Word of Life.”

We are not just to be “fine moral examples,” or “upstanding citizens,” though those are also expected. We are to be a constant testimony to the saving Grace of God.

Jesus addressed this idea in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:14-16), saying, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.

Our Love for the brethren and our good works in general ought to stand as a constant testimony to the living reality of God’s saving Grace in our lives. And, our words should match our life.

The Revelation Confirms It!

Oddly enough, in the opening chapters of the Revelation, God again refers to the churches as candlesticks. They are the light holders…the lamps. Collectively, we are called to be lights in the world…lamps, shining in a dark place. Jesus Himself is the actual source of the Light.

Revelation 1:10-18

10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,

11 Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.

12 And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;

13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.

14 His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;

15 And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.

16 And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.

17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:

18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.


The candlesticks (lampstands) are representing the Church at large: we are not the source of light…we are holders of the light. (Think back to Matthew 5:15; the man lighting a candle is God, in the person of Christ. Jesus is the light of the World. But where does he put that candle? On a candlestick! Each assembly of believers should be a light in their community.

In Philippians 2:15, we were told that we are to shine as lights in the world. And how? Philippians 2:16 says that we are to” hold forth the Word of life.” Who is that Word of Life? According to John 1:1, Jesus is the Word, and according to John 1:4, 5, Jesus is the Light, and the Life. The Gospel of Christ is the Word of Life we offer to the World, while we hold the light of Christ.

So the Light in the midst of the candlesticks, there in Revelation 1:13, is Christ… the lampstands, or candlesticks, are the churches (plural), and collectively, they are the Church, proper. The reason we separate the two ideas (singular and plural,) is that (as we will see in chapter 3) individual churches can fail, and be removed as lights in the world. The Church as a whole is held in place by God until we, as a whole, are removed at the Rapture of the Church.

The fact that there were seven candlesticks speaks of the completeness of the Church: there were many other churches within the Church at large. The number “Seven” is frequently used to indicate completeness, and it shows that the whole body of Christ is in view.

The Gold speaks of intrinsic value. Keep in mind, as we see the flaws in churches(plural,) that in spite of their flaws and their failings, they are still solid gold, in God’s eyes. Even when we see the stern warnings to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3, we need to remember that GOD said they were solid gold! When you feel tempted to be dismissive of another believer, for whatever reason, remember that they are precious in His sight.

The golden implements and vessels of the Old Testament temple were still holy to God, even when enemies had physically stolen them and used them for unclean things. (God judged Belshazzar in the book of Daniel for that very crime.) An individual church may become unusable, because of sin, but all the born-again believers in that church are still God’s holy people, and He will keep them, chastise them, correct them and recover them for His own glory, even if it means taking them home. Jesus has never lost a single lamb of His flock!  He himself makes that claim in John 6:39—“ And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. 40 And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Those are precious promises, aren’t they? Now, if I had to depend upon my own works to save me or keep me, I’d be lost: it is as simple as that! But Jesus says He will not lose a single one of us…and He says that we are precious in His sight. He calls us to choose holiness, and to lay our lives before him, daily, as a living sacrifice, so that every moment is to His glory.

Israel has a promise of great things to come: we have even greater blessing: we are the Bride of Christ, collectively, and are currently indwelt by His Spirit! Israel will be seen as a priesthood for God in the Millennial Kingdom, and marked, physically, by the column of smoke by day, and fire by night, from every residence in Jerusalem. We are to be priests in the World today, marked by Love and good works. We are to hold forth the word of life, and to shine as lights in a dark world, meanwhile, as it says in verse six, we are also to find in Him our only shelter against the trials of life: the heat of day, the cold of the rain, and the power of the storms of life. Find our shelter in Him, and offer that shelter, His Love and Grace, the light of life, to all those around us.

God help us to do just that!

Lord Jesus, change us from the inside, and make us able ambassadors of your Grace. Purge us of the fears and bitterness and anger that shackle us; the sins that so easily weigh us down, and free our hearts to serve you with Gladness.

Prayer Requests, Final Instructions and Greetings

Prayer Requests, Final Instructions and Greetings

© C. O. Bishop 2/16/19

Colossians 4:2-18

Introduction:

We have been studying through the Epistle to the Church in Colosse, and we have finally come to the last chapter. The final comments actually begin in verse two, as we saw last time: the first verse is actually in reference and conclusion, to the last part of chapter 3. But, here, even in the midst of Paul’s closing thoughts, there is food for our souls:

Prayer Requests

Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving;

Prayer is something that Paul treated as serious business. He did not see it as a “last resort,” to which we are to turn when all other avenues of hope have failed. Far from a last resort, he saw it as a continuous calling, for us to be in close communion with God, and so that we can have guidance from God, as well as expressing gratitude for His supply in all things. But it is interesting to see what Paul prayed for: notice his prayer request in the next verse:

Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds:

That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.

Paul was in a prison, because of the Gospel, and because of his preaching the faith to others. He did not ask that he be freed from prison, or that he would escape punishment for having preached the Gospel: He asked for more opportunities to speak, and the ability to make it clear (manifest) to his hearers. He recognized that he was in prison for that very thing, and all it did was to make him more earnestly desiring to make it all worthwhile by leading more people to Christ.

It shames me to realize how little effort I give to prayer for the souls of those around me, and the opportunity to share Christ with them, compared to the energy I expend, pleading for my own “release from bondage” to whatever circumstances I find “unbearable.” And my circumstances are far less ugly than the Roman prison in which Paul was languishing: not even worthy of mention, let alone comparison.

Final Instructions

And Paul, along with the prayer requests, had some final words of instruction for the believers at Colosse:

Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.

Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.

Paul gave the preaching of the Gospel “top billing” in terms of priority. And, he commands that we see ourselves as having that same responsibility, and to use our time well, in that regard. We are to consider how we use our words, seasoning our thoughts and words with Grace, as if it were salt, to enhance the flavor of life, so as to reach out to any willing to hear the good news of Christ. Redeeming the time by “walking in wisdom toward them that are without…:” reaching out to unbelievers.

You may have noted that people often state their “last requests” as the thing most prominent in their mind: Paul gave this final admonition regarding the witness of the believers to those around them that final place of importance, and demonstrated that it was his own top priority, as well. We need to examine our own hearts as to how we see those around us. Do we see them as precious souls for whom Jesus shed His blood, or mostly as aggravations and annoyances, whom we wish would just leave us alone? Give that some thought: Remember that the people to whom Paul hoped to bear witness were those who had imprisoned him, and who intended to kill him.

Final Introductions and Greetings

The remaining passage is nearly entirely devoted to personal introductions, regarding the messengers who were to bring the letter to Colosse, and personal greetings, extended from those with Paul, to be delivered to those among the believers at Colosse who knew them.

All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, who is a beloved brother, and a faithful minister and fellowservant in the Lord:

Whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that he might know your estate, and comfort your hearts;

With Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They shall make known unto you all things which are done here.

These men, Tychicus and Onesimus, were sent to deliver the letter to Colosse, to encourage the believers, and to bring back news to Paul as to their condition as a church. He commended them personally for their faithfulness and referred to them as beloved brothers, and fellow servants. On several occasions, Tychicus served as a messenger for Paul, travelling to distant cities to carry a word from (or to) Paul. We might turn up our noses at being a “messenger-boy,” but, in reality, that was quite a privilege, if you consider whose “messenger-boy” he was: whom he was serving: and know that it resulted in his being mentioned five times in God’s Word.

Interestingly, Onesimus is the same individual that we can read about in the epistle to Philemon, where we can see that, when Paul first met him, he was an escaped slave, running away from Philemon, who was a believer. Paul led him to Christ, and returned him to Philemon, as a brother, not just a slave. In this passage, however, it seems that he is pretty much acting in freedom, and Paul points out that he is from Colosse, as well. These two were to let the believers in Colosse know all that was going on with Paul, and return to Paul with news of Colosse.

10 Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;)

Aristarchus had travelled with Paul on his missionary journey, had worked with him, and had been abused by the crowds along with him. He had been “through it all” with Paul, and now was in prison along with Paul. And, he sent his greetings to these fellow-believers.

Remember, too, that Mark (John Mark from Acts 13:13, 15:36-39…nephew of Barnabas) had previously been rejected for service by Paul, but had been subsequently mentored and made a disciple by his uncle, Barnabas. This is also the “Mark” who wrote the Gospel of Mark. Paul eventually recognized that the young man had been transformed by God and made to be truly worthwhile in the ministry. (See 2nd Timothy 4:11, where Paul said Mark was “…profitable to me for the ministry.”) Perhaps we can use that fact to engender hope in our own lives, when we may feel “rejected” in some particular area of service, knowing that the Lord is not finished with us and that he can make us “profitable for the ministry” as well.

11 And Jesus, which is called Justus, who are of the circumcision. These only are my fellowworkers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me.

We don’t know much about this last fellow, however, all these men were all identified as Jews, but were also identified as his fellow-workers unto the Kingdom of God. I am not sure why he says they were the “only” ones, even at the moment, because there were definitely others.

12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.

13 For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis.

Evidently Epaphras had brought the news to Paul regarding the church at Colosse, and possibly was also the one who “planted” that church, but he was also from that area, himself. We don’t know a great deal about him, so the following is only a guess: Possibly Epaphras had gone elsewhere, heard the Gospel, become a believer, and had been fairly thoroughly trained in the Word. He subsequently went home, and shared with others, with the result that now there was a blossoming church there.

This pattern has been repeated over the centuries, by people who “took the Gospel home with them,” and led others to Christ. It has happened countless times in families, where one person was saved, and led the whole family to faith. It is still happening today, in third-world countries, where a missionary has contact with a single tribal person who is out of his “home area”, but who seizes upon the Gospel as a treasure, and feeds upon the Word, as spoken by the missionary. He then goes home to his village, and tells others what he has found. Those others are thrilled by his testimony, limited though his understanding may be, and they also believe. Later, they go back to find that missionary, to get “the rest of the story”, and the missionary travels with them to the village, where he finds that there are whole families of believers, yet untaught, but who have believed the Gospel as they understood it, and who are wide open to more teaching. What a thrill that would be! Pretty overwhelming, actually.

There was a book, years ago, called “Fire on the Mountain” (If I remember correctly) in which the story of the evangelical church in Ethiopia was recalled. When the missionaries were forcibly deported, under Mussolini, during the outbreak of WWII, there had only been 48 believers or so, and they were largely untaught.

The missionaries were absolutely devastated, and sick about it, thinking that they were “leaving a flock unattended,” and that the work would have to begin all over again, if they were ever allowed to return. But the “Good Shepherd” was in charge: ten years later, when the war was over, they did return, and found that there were now ten thousand believers, all saved through the testimonies of those forty-odd spiritual “babies” left behind. These were very poorly taught, as the original believers had very little teaching themselves, and very little of the scriptures had been translated. But they had committed themselves to obedience to the little they knew, and God had blessed His Word. The missionaries were free to re-teach, and train up these Ethiopian disciples, to understand God’s Word, and joyfully go on living for God.

14 Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.

Luke, the physician, is the one who wrote the Book of Acts, as well as the Gospel of Luke. We can see that he was a favorite of Paul. Demas was with them at the time, and had also served faithfully, but later, there is a sad footnote that Demas was drawn away by the lure of “this present world,” and abandoned the work and his fellowship with Paul. (2nd Timothy 4:10)

15 Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.

We see in verse 16 that this epistle and others were intended to be “circular” letters, circulating among the believers, and to be read in various church assemblies. Peter confirmed that the writings of Paul were to be considered “scriptures”, in 2nd Peter 3:15, 16. And today, we have the whole of God’s Word, and circulate it everywhere.

16 And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.

Verse 17 includes the only personal admonition in this epistle: It leaves me to wonder: what was the problem with Archippus?

17 And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.

Was Archippus getting “sidetracked?” Was he, as Peter was being drawn back to a professional life, in whatever trade he possessed? Or was he being drawn away by the world in some other way? Or was he simply being “distracted” by some pressing need or personal interest? We really don’t know. But we do know that Archippus was personally admonished, in a public letter, to “get back on task.”

How much we could apply this verse to our own lives? What ministry has been entrusted to us? How faithfully are we fulfilling it? What level of priority do we assign to the service of God, and to the particular responsibility that is ours? To what degree are we being “drawn away” by the world, or by personal interests, passions, and desires?

There is nothing wrong with having a variety of interests. Let’s consider “fishing,” as an example. I know a man who, once or twice a year, goes on a fishing trip. That is his “vacation.” The trip lasts for a weekend, each time, but the rest of the year, he is absolutely faithfully focused on ministry, as a deacon, taking care of the physical needs of a church.

The difference between his actions and those of Peter (when Peter said “I go a fishing,”) is that Peter was returning to his old job as a commercial fisherman, and taking the other disciples with him. Jesus had specifically called him away from the boats (and the fish,) three times. He was not doing it as a “weekend off…” he was abandoning his God-given job. He was doing exactly opposite of what Jesus had personally called him to do.

Perhaps we need to consider what God’s call is for our own lives: we can go to God’s Word to find out what that call really is, and then follow His leading to find, specifically, how he wants us to carry it out. Perhaps we need to consider how we are responding to the call of God, as well. Are we actually following what He says to do? I fervently hope that I will not fail to fulfil the ministry to which I have been assigned.

Closing Benediction

It seems Paul may have signed the letter in person, for once, though he usually had someone else do the actual writing of the letter. (Galatians was the exception. Evidently that particular time he had no scribe to help him, and had to write it himself, in large letters, due to his damaged eyesight.) This time he simply signed it after the letter was written.

18 The salutation by the hand of me Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you. Amen.

This is the only place in the epistle where Paul seems to ask for prayer regarding his imprisonment. I cry out every day to God, to relieve whatever little problem I am facing, none of which even remotely approach the level of suffering endured by Paul and the other apostles and prophets. But Paul was mostly concerned with the task at hand, and the circumstances were only mentioned in passing, as a rule.

Perhaps, even here, we can find an admonition to “toughen up a bit”, and to not allow the daily, ordinary vicissitudes of life to distract us from the job we have been given to do. We are to remember the Grace of God that sustains us, and stand firm.

I pray that God’s Word will have that effect upon each of our lives.

Lord Jesus, touch our hearts by your Holy Spirit, through your Word, and change us into your likeness, transforming us into the faithful men and women of God that you have created us to be. Strengthen us to endure and to glorify you in our lives. Let us shine as lights in this dark world, to honor you in every way.

The Chastening of Sons

The Chastening of Sons

© C. O. Bishop 11/13/2017 THCF 11/26/2017

Hebrews 12:5-17

Introduction:

Last time, we talked about our need to recognize Jesus, not only as our Savior, but as our Example for living. We explored the command, “Looking unto Jesus”, and how it applies to our lives; and what it means to “lay aside every weight,” and every entanglement, the baggage from our past lives and the sins that so easily ensnare us.

We briefly began to consider the concept of the chastening of God, and how it relates to us as believers. But we didn’t go very far along that line of thought, and we need to pick it up where we left off, and give it a more full examination. The writer begins with an admonition that we remember whose sons we have become, and enter into the full relationship with Him, including the “chastening of sons”.

The Chastening of Sons

The Chastening of Sons is training…it is God shaping our lives so that we can enjoy a more productive life with him. It is “pruning” in some cases, to use a botanical reference, and “training up” in others. There are some branches that need to be trimmed back, or even removed, in order to maintain health in a fruit tree, while there are others that are healthy, but need to be re-directed —trained up—staked up, perhaps, so as to point them away from the ground, or away from another branch, so that they are not competing for light. We need to keep that in mind, as we see God changing the course of our lives.

And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

The chastening which God brings in a believer’s life is not “punishment.” The punishment for sin—all of it— was taken by Jesus at the cross. What is left (remember: this is only for believers) is the “chastening of sons (huios–heirs).” When life is getting rough, at the very least, I can rejoice that I am still “on the team”. God never repents of his gift of salvation. The chastening of sons is only for sons, so whatever “rough stuff” the world goes through is not for their training, but is just incidental to living in the world. When we go through some of the very same things, God uses that experience to build us into his likeness. It may be the same things that unbelievers experience, or sometimes even worse, from our point of view (Think of Job’s experience!) But the issue is that we are in a different family than they are, and our Father chooses to allow these things in our life to teach us to trust and obey Him, as well as to encourage those around us.

The Rewards of Chastening

We discussed training, last time, as it applies to an athlete, and the discipline required to succeed: Let’s take this a step further, though: At the end of a sports season, when they hold an awards ceremony, the “Most Valuable Player” award, “Most Points Scored”; Most Improved Player” etc. are not given to everyone…they are awarded to the ones who earned that distinction in the mind of the judge—the coach. Do you see the parallel? The Judgment Seat of Christ is an awards ceremony. Our works will be judged, and rewards given according to our works. But the key issue will still be, “did they originate in Him?” Were they carried out by the Holy Spirit through us, or were they things we just did on our own? Not everyone will receive the same rewards, since not everyone chooses to submit themselves to God for his service. It has nothing to do with the greatness of the results.

Let’s compare two of God’s known servants:

  • Jeremiah preached faithfully, even choosing to go into captivity with the Jews who had rejected his words, so that he could continue ministering to them, though he personally was offered freedom by the Babylonian conquerors. During his entire ministry, so far as we know, only two people really believed him: Baruch, his assistant, and Ebed-melech, the Ethiopian eunuch who rescued him from the pit. I assume there were probably others, as well, but apparently very few.
  • Jonah, on the other hand, preached one sermon (evidently repeating the message over and over for three days) and roughly 120,000 people were saved…probably more. And he was angry with God at those results! He didn’t want them saved! They were his enemies, and he wanted them destroyed!

Now: which of those two had the better ministry? From the world’s perspective, Jeremiah was a loser from the beginning, and should perhaps have found something else to do. His “numbers” told a dismal tale, for sure. But he was chosen by God, and he was utterly faithful, while Jonah was disobedient: he wouldn’t preach at all until God forced him into submission, and he was still in rebellion even after the amazing results of his preaching.

The results in both cases were from God: He knew who would respond, and to what message. So, which do you think, by now, has received a better reward? When I read the parable of the talents, and see how the Lord said “well done, thou good and faithful servant”, I would have to conclude that Jeremiah was probably richly rewarded, while Jonah may not have had such a good reward. Of course, I don’t know anything about the rest of Jonah’s life, except that he was from Galilee, and that he was known as a prophet, not only in the situation with Nineveh. So perhaps he had a great reward as well. It is not mine to say…but from the only information we are given, Jonah was certainly not a good example of how to respond to God’s leading.

The Motive of Chastening

Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?
10 For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.
11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.

Most of us were trained by parents, who, to whatever degree, tried to mold our lives, so that we would grow up to be beneficial members of society, successful in business, or whatever their goals may have been. We may not have enjoyed what we learned, but most of us can look back and see that it was valuable in at least some ways. Most of us can at least respect what our parents tried to do, even if we feel they did not do a good job as a parent. There are counter examples, I know, and I have heard some of those stories. But as a general rule, most parents, whether godly or not, at least desire that their children grow to be productive, well-adjusted adults. And, ultimately, most people do, to one degree or another.

But God says that His discipline is intended to mold us into His likeness so that we can be partakers of His Holiness. Over in 2nd Peter 1:4, we are told that we can expect to be made partakers of His Divine Nature, through the “exceeding great and precious promises” that He has given us. So, between the Word of God, where those promises are, and the Spirit of God who motivates us and guides us, we are being trained to become more and more like our Savior. That is God’s goal. He gives us instruction as to how to respond to His training.

The Goal of Chastening

12 Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;
13 And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.

God wants us to willingly submit ourselves to His will now, so that we benefit sooner, and can knowingly engage with his plan for our lives. He says for us not to be discouraged by hard times, but to eagerly look to see what He may be doing to train us for further service. Rather than being crushed by adversity, we can be strengthened by it. We are to choose paths that honor God, so that we can see His hand of blessing, even in hard times.

14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:

On a daily basis, we will either see the hand of God in our lives or we will not. If we feel that we are not seeing God’s presence in our daily lives, we may need to examine our walk, and “sharpen our gaze”, so to speak. But…that is not the way the phrase “see the Lord” is used here.

What holiness can any man or woman produce in their lives that will match the holiness of God? Why are we told in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God?” Why does James say that “in many things we all offend”? It is because we are all sinners, saved by Grace! So, what “holiness” is God calling the prerequisite for seeing Jesus at all for eternity?

In Ephesians 4:24 we get a hint: He says “and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (emphasis mine.) The only human holiness that God can call “holiness” is his own Holiness, reflected in us. Jesus told Nicodemus that “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The holiness has to be born in us at the re-birth Jesus required of Nicodemus… it is a new creation. Apart from that, we will not see the Lord. But on an on-going basis, holiness must be pursued, in order to experience it as a daily, ongoing reality. It is not something we just “strap on and forget it.” It is to be cultivated and fed, as we learn to walk with God. We feed the new nature, and pursue the holiness of God.

Consequences of Rejecting Chastening

The following verses warn of the danger in not learning to walk with God: we can become embittered, and as a result, become a casualty in the army of God. Can we lose our place in his family? NO! But we can lose our place of service, and blessing, and become a liability to others.

15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;

We need God’s Grace by which to live, day by day. Failing to avail ourselves of His Grace will make us susceptible to bitterness. We are wounded by the enemy…a casualty in the battle. Such a casualty will always affect others. Others will be defiled as well, as they are either drawn into sin, themselves, or repulsed by the sin of the failed Christian testimony. Many new believers (and unbelievers) have been permanently driven away from churches, by what they have experienced in some particular church, long ago. And some never recover. Bitterness is only one source:

16 Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.

Esau is held up as an example of one who “sold out”. Was he a saved man? I have no way to know for sure, but it would seem he was not. He counted one meal to be of greater value than a relationship with God, knowing that the “birthright” included being the family priest, at that time.

17 For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.

This is not a warning that “one can lose his salvation, and will never be able to regain it.” It is simply a solemn warning that it is not always possible to “go back and change things.” Some bad decisions have permanent results…there will be consequences, regardless of our remorse.

Years ago, there was a Republican senatorial bid by a young Southern Baptist pastor whom I actually met, and with whom I was favorably impressed. But, before the primary campaign had really gotten going, he (quite publicly) ran away with his secretary. His friends frantically pleaded with him to give up his folly and come back, and he finally did so. But it was too late: his wife wanted no part of it, and she divorced him. That ended his campaign, his ministry and his reputation. All was ruined, with no hope of recovery. There was no place of repentance. His name was used for years thereafter, to viciously mock Christians, Republicans, Southern Baptists, and Pastors. He was a permanent blot to everyone with whom he had ever been associated.

It was pretty sad, and shameful, at the time, but it stood as a lesson for the rest of us, too. There are some mistakes that you just can’t go back and undo. Did he lose his position in the family of God? No! But he did lose his position of service, and blessing. We can be disqualified for ministry through our sin, whether it is anger, pride, lust, or any other sin. When we look at the qualifications for an elder, for instance, it specifies a “one-woman-man” (Yes, I am aware that it is usually translated: husband of one wifeand I believe that is correct, but this is what it literally says, in Greek.) Had this pastor in the political race repented and gone back to his wife (and had she not divorced him) and had he just tried to go on with his church ministry, would he have been qualified to serve? I think not! He had already proven that he was not a “one-woman-man”.  Divorce is not the issue, there in 1st Timothy 3:2. Character is… it always is!

I have known a few (not many) who have been divorced through no fault of their own. One such man was forced into it by the state of California, because his wife needed institutional mental-health care, and they would not accept her, to give her the care she needed, unless he divorced her. He did not want to do it, but was given no choice. She died there, in that hospital, still loved by her husband, but separated from him by a government regulation. Was he a one-woman man? Yes: he eventually remarried, and has been completely faithful to that wife as well, through years of ministry and declining health. He was a qualified elder/pastor, and served faithfully for years.

But the young pastor who aspired to government, and who deserted his wife for another woman? He had proven himself unqualified as a pastor. There was nothing he could do to recover his lost position of service. There was no place for repentance. This is something to remember.

It is important to realize, too, that there is no such thing as a “secret” from God. Our thoughts are not “hidden” in our own hearts. I’m sure that the pastor in the above example had “toyed with” the sin of adultery for years, before he finally succumbed to it. He had already been in trouble with God! The sin of his heart was only made public through his actions.

I knew another young pastor who succumbed to covetousness: he lost his ministry and his reputation through theft: shoplifting, specifically. He lost his job, his life-calling, and the respect of his wife, family, and friends, all through the avarice that led him to steal what were ultimately just “toys”. He didn’t steal because of “need.” It was simple greed that cast him down. Again, this is something to remember: You don’t have to fall into the same sorts of sin in order to know that they are a bad choice. These fellows proved it for you. They have “done your homework” for you. Learn from their mistakes, and don’t make the same mistakes yourself.

Conclusion

Since we know that the chastening, discipline, and “child training” that God uses to direct our lives is all for our good, and that He is molding us into His likeness, we need to respond accordingly, and be thankful for His guidance, and His provision, even when life is not going the way we want it to go. We can be thankful for prayers that were answered “No!” We can be thankful for stressful situations that He uses to build stamina and endurance in our lives.

By learning to endure patiently, graciously (and even joyfully) the trials we face, we become a much better testimony to the unbelieving world, and a much greater encouragement to our fellow believers. Is it easy? No! Is it worth the trouble? Yes! Jesus says (John 14:21) that if we love Him, and obey Him, then He will make Himself known to us. And experientially knowing the presence and blessing of Christ in our lives on a daily basis, is the most precious thing we can have, in this world.

Lord Jesus, help us to see Your handiwork in our circumstances, and to learn to see Your Grace at work. Help us to give thanks in all circumstances, and to respond in faith, obedience, and love.

Looking Unto Jesus

Looking Unto Jesus

© C. O. Bishop 11/10/2017 THCF 11/12/2017

Hebrews 12:1-8

Introduction:

Last time, we finished up our study of Hebrews eleven, and saw the various results of faith in the lives of the Old Testament believers. Some saw great miracles. Others were bereft of all their possessions and loved ones, and were hounded across the land, hiding, and reduced to just trying to survive. Still others were arrested, tortured and executed for their faith, dying horrible deaths. The very last phrase stated that we are part of that same group of people…the household of faith…and we can expect similar things, to one degree or another.

Remember, as we are studying the Bible, that the various chapter divisions, in most cases, and especially the verse divisions, were not part of the original manuscripts, but were added in the sixteenth century to make study easier, just as adding street names and house numbers makes a city easier to navigate. The point is, that chapter twelve is a direct continuation of chapter eleven…So, let’s see what it has to say:

 

God’s Witnesses to Us

1Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

A lot of readers take this verse to mean that “we have a great cloud of people watching us.” That is not the point of this passage at all. When Jesus said “ye shall be my witnesses unto Jerusalem, and all Judea, in Samaria and to the ends of the earth” what did he mean, in that context, by the word “witnesses”? That we were to watch him? Or did He mean that we are we to testify of Him? To bear witness on his account? Of course, we are called to testify! That is what witnesses do: they bear testimony. That is why we look for eye-witnesses when something such as an accident has occurred. We want them to tell what they saw. God doesn’t need us in order to “find out what happened”…He sees everything, and He knows everything. But He has chosen us to testify on His behalf, and for the benefit of the hearers. Our testimony on His behalf is a powerful witness to the truth of the Gospel. And we need witnesses to testify to us of the faithfulness of God. These witnesses are letting us know that God is faithful and that he is worthy of our complete faith and obedience. They are not “watching us”, but rather are testifying, across the ages, to encourage us to trust and obey God, just as they did.

There is nothing at all in Scripture to suggest that the folks who have gone on to be with the Lord have nothing better to do than to “sit around and watch us fumble around trying to walk with the Lord!” They are literally in the presence of the living God! Why would they waste a moment looking at my bumbling attempts at an obedient life? It’s too sad to be a comedy, and too ridiculous to simply be a tragedy. And, honestly, compared with seeing, and worshipping the glorified Christ, surely it would simply be an utter waste of effort.

Those people are physically, visibly with the Lord! They are only remotely concerned with life on earth…some of the martyrs may still be looking to God for justice to be done (see Revelation 6:9-11), but even that will only be temporary: they are with God! They are not watching the struggles of us who are still on Earth. In fact, so far as I know, that passage (along with a few others, also in regard to the time of the great tribulation) is the only one that suggests they even know what is happening on earth. They have other things to do!

So who are the witnesses, and what are they really doing? They are the ones listed in Hebrews chapter 11, among others, and they are testifying to us, by their own lives (already completed) that the Christian life can be done! (There is a old joke that goes “Why did the Oregon chicken cross the road?” Answer: “To show the opossums that it can be done!” I’m sure that in other parts of the world there are other animals who seem unable to successfully cross a road.) Those saints who have gone before us all testify eternally, through God’s written Word, to anyone who will listen, that we can trust Him, and that we, too, can live by faith, and walk in obedience to God. Think about the examples He chose for witnesses: Almost all the ones he named or alluded to were people with fairly serious failures in their lives. They were not “Super-Christians” by any means.

On the basis of their testimony, we are called to lay aside whatever is entangling our feet, and every parasitic weight with which we, by our life-styles have chosen to burden ourselves. Isn’t this race difficult enough without carrying all the baggage we each tend to haul along with us? Isn’t it easier to run when you don’t have your feet entangled in some sort of muck, mud, or rubbish? God calls us to set aside the baggage: examine your own life, and ask yourself honestly, “What baggage am I carrying in my heart, that keeps me from freely serving God?” Am I still holding grudges that keep me from God’s Joy? Am I afraid of losing some possession, so I will not give it up to God? Do I really distrust God so much that I can’t rely on Him to provide the joy in my life? Do I really treasure the clutter of the self-directed life so much that I would rather keep that wreckage than to lay it aside in order to gain the God-directed life?

Every one of those witnesses in chapter eleven is telling us to do these two things:

  1. Lay aside the baggage; the sin that so easily besets us; and
  2. Run with Patience—endurance—stamina, the (long-distance, cross-country) race that is set before us.

It is not a sprint. It is a lifelong up-hill slog, but He is beside us, step by step, the whole way. We can find great encouragement by reading the lives of those who have gone before, and accepting their testimony:

But, for our prime example, we are called to “look to Jesus:”

 

Looking Unto Jesus, the Perfect Example

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

As you are learning to “look unto Jesus”, don’t miss this little phrase: “the author and finisher of our faith”. What does that mean? How is Jesus the author and finisher of our faith?

Though faith is always a personal choice, God laid the foundation for that faith in the Person of Christ. He is the author of faith. He is also the One who moves to perfect its work in each of our individual lives. We are drawn along to trust Him more, as we walk with Him. We grow in our faith, as we learn to obey Him. Who accomplishes that growth? Jesus does!

If you have ever raised a garden, whether flowers or vegetables, you know that the most you can do is plant the seeds in appropriate soil, at the correct time of year, where they will get an appropriate amount of sunshine, and then water them faithfully. But God is the author of life! If the seeds you planted do not germinate, there is nothing you can do to correct that problem except to replant with better seeds, and, hopefully soon enough to still be able to take advantage of the growing season. God is always the author of life, and growth. God, the Son is the author and finisher of our faith.

Jesus stated in John 12:32 that if He himself should be lifted up from the earth (in crucifixion) He would draw all men to himself. His sacrificial death for our sake is the lure of faith. He applied that “drawing power” to the entire human race, through the preaching of the Gospel. We either believed or did not: but the one who provided the object of our faith, the reason for faith—is Jesus.

And, what was the “Joy” set before Jesus? For what prize would he consider it worthwhile to endure the Cross? What future joy was only attainable by enduring the shame and brutality of a Roman execution by crucifixion? What was He hoping to gain? He was purchasing the Bride! He counted His relationship with us to be that Joy, along with the Joy of His relationship with the Father. How do we know?

1st Peter 1:18-20 says, “…ye were not redeemed (“bought back out of the market-place of sin, and set free”) with corruptible things as silver and gold…but with the precious blood of Christ…foreordained before the foundation of the World, but manifest in these last times for you.”

Did you get that? Jesus, the Lamb of God, was ordained to death before the World was created! That is why Revelation 13:8 refers to him as “…the Lamb slain from the foundation of the World.” Peter makes it more specific: the plan for the salvation of Man was made before the creation, not simply before the fall of Man. And the plan was specifically that He would “redeem” us (Greek verb lutrothete—“bought for the purpose of being set free”) by His own blood. Paul took note of this in Acts 20:28 “…the church of God, which He hath purchased with his own blood.” And we see in Ephesians 5:26 that Jesus has cleansed that church “…with the washing of water, by the Word,” in order to present to Himself a spotless Bride. Finally, in Revelation 22 we hear the voice of the Bride with that of Christ, inviting sinners to salvation. This holy partnership is the Joy that Jesus counted so precious that he willingly endured the Cross, and despised the shame as being beneath his attention.

That is hard for me to understand, because we are frankly not that attractive, as sinners. We have all been enemies of God (Romans 5:10), and He changed us, giving us a new nature. But the fact remains that while we were enemies, He chose to love us with the agape love and to extend His Grace to us as a free gift. And, even after we have been born again into the family of God, we are called his “sheep”, and are just about as attractive as the four-legged variety. Very contrary creatures, at best, stinky, not too bright, and utterly defenseless against predators. Yep…it fits! 

And one last point: He finished His race perfectly, and is seated in the Throne with The Father. Guess what: He says over in Ephesians 2:6 that we, too, are already seated there with Him! So it is entirely fitting that we should strive to imitate His walk, His motives, and His faithfulness. We can be encouraged by His example:

For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.

Occasionally, it has really bothered me when someone who absolutely does not know about a subject in which I have been thoroughly trained, argues vehemently that I am wrong about it. I have felt a need to justify myself, and “pull rank”, or something: prove by my credential that I am more of an authority on the subject than they are.

But Jesus came to us as literally God in the Flesh…fully omniscient, and all-powerful, yet temporarily setting those prerogatives aside, in order to live as a human. And, in that “diminished” state, though still fully God, and Holy beyond human imagination, while He was quietly carrying out His eternal plan, He endured not just “contradiction” in the sense we know it (one “ignorant human” calling another human “ignorant”), but He also endured the abuse from the people who claimed to serve and honor him (His own people!) cursing him to his face, and denying everything he said. Even accusing him of being a slave to Satan, the real enemy of their own souls.

Could Jesus have “pulled rank,” so to speak, and, as Elijah did, call down fire from heaven to burn up all of those who sought to kill him? Or, as Elisha did, could He have cursed the people so that bears came out and tore them up? Of course he could have. Actually, that is kind of the point, here: if He, who could have defended himself against all His enemies, and who was the author of all righteousness, chose to endure, for the sake of those sinners (that’s us, just in case you are thinking, “yeah, those nasty Pharisees…!”); If he endured for the sake of the Gospel, and for the eternal souls of the sinners he cared for, and the eternal reward to come, shouldn’t we do the same? I have no righteousness of my own: none at all, in fact, beyond that which He has imputed to me, so I can’t even claim that I am any better than those who speak against me. I am a sinner, too! So I can learn to love the person, in the name of Jesus, and not feel the need to defend my status, my reputation, or my expertise. I can find freedom from my pride, in Him!

I also have no power or authority to force them to stop maligning me, which is probably a good thing…but, remember: He did have all power, and He chose to set it aside for our sake. As it is, He warns us to not seek vengeance. He is the Judge, and He will make things right in His time. So I am to endure, for testimony’s sake, and for the sake of the souls of the very people acting as my adversaries. And God counts that submission and obedience to be precious in His sight.

 

Where do We Stand?

Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.

Evidently those specific folk to whom he wrote had not been physically wounded, so far. There were certainly those in the early church who already had been martyred for the sake of the Gospel, and others who had been beaten, and wounded, as Paul himself had been. Evidently these people simply had not. (Neither have I!) There is a passage (Galatians 6:17) where Paul points out that he “bore in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” He was apparently referring to the countless scars from beatings, stonings, and scourgings, and more. He was aware that, like me, these particular believers had never been physically wounded for the sake of the Gospel. Perhaps they did, later on, or, perhaps not. But I can take this personally, and realize that I have had a pretty easy time, and really have nothing to whine about, though I frequently do so anyway. He goes on to point out that they had a long way to go in their relationship with God, too. So do we, I think: part of our whining happens simply because we really don’t understand the purpose God is working out in our lives. He is building up His church!

And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

People’s parents nowadays vary a great deal in how they raise their kids, so perhaps that example will not resonate with people today. But let’s consider a successful athletic coach: When he sends his team running laps around the playing field, they may feel that it is punishment, but it is not: it is fitness training. It builds stamina for the contest of their sport (whatever it is,) and is a form of discipline—training. But, successful athletes employ self-discipline, and no one considers it punishment, though it serves the same purpose: They push themselves to become stronger and to have greater endurance. We are called to do the same, in the spiritual realm.

One other aspect of discipline, or training: No athletic coach ever turned to the sidelines and called to someone who was not on the team, demanding that they run laps, or get down on the ground for calisthenics. He is not interested in their improvement. If they interfered with the training in progress, he might order them off the field: but he has no interest in their personal betterment. Any person who is on the team, however, naturally expects to engage in the discipline and training coming from that coach. If they are not on the team, they are not under his discipline, nor are they participating in the game, nor will they be entitled to any reward for winning. Their behavior is immaterial to the coach. Can you see the parallel?

The chastening or training God brings in a believer’s life is not punishment. The punishment for our sins—all of it— was taken by Jesus at the cross. What is left (and this is only for believers) is called the “chastening of sons.” When things are getting rough, at the very least, I can rejoice that I am still “on the team”. God never repents of his gift of salvation.

The “chastening of sons” is only for “sons” (the joint-heirs of God, whether male or female, with Jesus, the Son.), so whatever “rough stuff” the world goes through is not for their training, but is just incidental to living in the world. When we go through some of the same things, God uses that experience to build us into his likeness. It may be the very same things that unbelievers experience, or we may feel it is sometimes even worse. But the difference is that we are now in a different family than they are, and our Father chooses to allow these things in our life to teach us to trust and obey Him, as well as to encourage those around us.

We serve with Jesus, the Author and finisher of our faith, and even if it doesn’t look particularly impressive, He rewards our faithfulness, diligence, and obedience. We just need to maintain fellowship so that the Holy Spirit is the one producing the obedience. Otherwise we are only “obedient” in the same sense that Jonah was obedient. He preached, all right, and even had impressive results, but his heart was wrong. We want to avoid the trap of self-powered works.

Next week we will continue the subject of the Chastening that God extends to His children.

Lord Jesus, free us from our selves, and teach us to follow in your footsteps. Teach us to recognize temptation for what it is, and to look for opportunities to exercise faith in your Goodness, your Sustenance, and your Power.