Posts Tagged ‘Worship’

What Shadow? Juniper, Gourd, or God?

What Shadow? Juniper, Gourd, or God?


© C.O.Bishop 2014 THCF 3/2/2014

1st Kings 18; Jonah 4; Song of Solomon 2:3; Psalm 91:1

“Beneath the Cross of Jesus, I fain would take my stand: the Shadow of a Mighty Rock within a weary land!”

Introduction:

There are a lot of references in scripture to shade, or shadow, in a positive sense: in a sunny, middle-eastern environment, shade is a thing of real value. Shadow can also refer to protection in general; not simply a cooler place to rest. But I would like to compare three different ideas regarding shade, or shadow, in reference to three different individuals: Elijah, Jonah, and the Shulamite woman from the Song of Solomon.

Elijah and the Shadow of the Juniper tree

Elijah had a pretty heroic ministry. We love to hear about all his miraculous victories, the chariot of fire that separated him from his protégé, Elisha, his exit from this world via the whirlwind, and the transfer of prophetic authority to Elisha, etc. But he had a low time, too…under the Juniper tree.  So, how did he get there?

Elijah was a faithful servant of God. He did what he was told to do, and God worked wonders through him. The king of Israel at that time was Ahab, a wicked man, whose wife, Jezebel, a Zidonian pagan woman, was even worse than Ahab. Jezebel had ordered that all the prophets of God be killed. Some had escaped, including 100 prophets hidden in two caves, and fed by a high-ranking steward of the king’s household, Obadiah. But we don’t learn about that until after the fact. Ahab had built numerous pagan altars. Because of their animosity toward the God of Israel and disregard for His word through His prophets, God sent Elijah to curse the land (the northern ten tribes, specifically) for Ahab’s sake.

Elijah was sent with a very simple message: “It will not rain again until I say so!” Then he went off and hid where God sent him, beside the brook Cherith, near the Jordan river. “Cherith” apparently means “gorge” so possibly there was a small ravine there, in which he hid himself. At any rate, he stayed put, as God told him to do, and God had ravens bring him bread and meat, twice a day, morning and evening, so long as he was to stay there. Ravens are unclean birds: we are not told just where they got the bread or meat, but Elijah did not question God’s provision. He obeyed the Lord, and stayed put until God told him to leave. His water came from the creek; when the creek dried up, God told him to go to a city called Zarephath, as He had commanded a widow there to feed Elijah. I am assuming it was a small industrial town of that day, since the name “Zarephath” means a “workshop for refining metals”. Nothing more is said about it, though, so it is just an interesting side note.

Now, during a famine, we might not feel that was very fair to the widow, to command her to feed Elijah, when it was hard enough to feed herself. But, in the first place, take note that God had commanded her…so Elijah didn’t have to twist her arm much. In the second place, as it turned out, the food with which she was to feed Elijah was miraculously provided, and was sufficient to save her life and that of Elijah and her household as well.

When Elijah arrived, she had gone out to gather firewood to cook the very last of her meal (barley-meal, perhaps) with the very last of her olive-oil, and was expecting her son and herself to die of starvation thereafter. What a strange thing, that God had commanded her to feed Elijah! Elijah asked that she make a little loaf for him first, and then to do so for herself and her son. She did so, but I wonder what she was thinking. Elijah had promised her by the Word of the LORD that the meal in the barrel would not run out, nor would the oil in the jar, until rain came again in Israel. And it didn’t! She obeyed, and that barley-meal and oil were the supernatural sustenance for Elijah, the widow, and her household, throughout the remaining time of famine.

But at the end of the famine, God sent Elijah to meet Ahab, and through him, to challenge all the prophets of Baal, and the prophets of the Asherim (sacred groves dedicated to the female Babylonian deity—Ishtar: Aphrodite, and Venus were later names…different names for the same sex and fertility goddess). Elijah was calling them all to what amounted to a duel…only it was one prophet of Jehovah against all the false prophets Jezebel had been feeding during the reign of Ahab.

We all know the story, how Elijah offered the eight hundred and fifty servants of the pagan gods the first try at calling down fire from heaven. They spent all day trying to get Baal to ignite his own altar. But there was no answer. Then Elijah declared that it was his turn, and, at the time for the evening sacrifice, he built up the altar of Jehovah that had been broken down, using twelve stones—one for each tribe of Israel—and laid wood on it, and a cut-up ox…but no fire. He had the people soak down the wood and rock and meat with twelve barrels of water. Then he offered a very short prayer for God to vindicate Himself, and show the people that He was God. The fire of God immediately fell and burned up the water, the meat, the wood, the rocks and the dirt…left a smoking hole. The people fell on their faces and confessed that Jehovah was the true God. Then Elijah called for the slaughter of the false prophets, and killed them all. He called for rain, out of a clear sky, and it came very soon, with huge dark clouds and torrents of rain. He outran Ahab’s chariot 17 miles back to the gates of Jezreel, and then went home victorious. So…how did any of that end up with him out hiding again, under the Juniper tree?

Well, Ahab had arrived home, and said “Honey, I’m home, and I’ve had a bad day! Elijah and Jehovah won, and all your pet prophets are dead.” So, Jezebel sent a message to Elijah, telling him that by the next evening he would be as dead as they were. Elijah was exhausted, and probably his guard was down, since he had thought the battle was already won and over. So, instead of calling on God to “fry” Jezebel, he ran off into the desert to hide. He sat under that Juniper tree and begged God to take his life. God did not rebuke him, but he did ask him what he was doing there.

That is a good question for us to ask ourselves when we find ourselves in similar straits. “What am I doing here?” If the honest answer is “Nothing! I am just feeling sorry for myself, and am no longer willing to trust God and to try to serve Him”, then we need to confess that, and allow Him to encourage our hearts. Elijah was in the shade of that Juniper tree, and his needs were provided by God, just as when he was hiding at the brook Cherith, but this time it was an Angel, not a raven, who brought him food and guarded his sleep. After a couple of good long naps, and a couple of heaven-sent meals, he took a long walk with God; and afterward, God provided the necessary correction to his thinking, and gave him a new job to do. The shadow of the Juniper tree was not a “bad place” for Elijah—it was a place where he was re-directed by God. But what about Jonah?

Jonah and the Shadow of the Gourd

Jonah is somewhat of a “special case” scenario from start to finish. God sent Jonah to do a job: he was to pronounce judgment on Nineveh (which would ultimately result in repentance. Jonah rebelled and ran away, for what was, to him, a very good reason: Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the oppressor of his people, and he did not want those people to repent.

But, at every step of the way, God had prepared a solution for Jonah: it says that God had prepared a great fish to take Jonah back to the beach—not an elegant mode of travel, but it got the job done, and also brought Jonah to repentance. After his own repentance, Jonah preached in Nineveh, and the entire city repented of their evil behavior: the king proclaimed a fast, that both humans and animals should have no food or water, and that all, both humans and animals, should be clothed in sackcloth and cry out to God for mercy. That must have been a very strange sight, seeing all the animals of Nineveh clothed in sackcloth. But it had the desired result. God postponed the judgment.

After Jonah had delivered his message, he was deeply angered that God had changed his divine sentence because of their repentance, and had not destroyed the city as Jonah had predicted. He said, “You see, this is why I ran off in the first place: I knew you were going to do somethinglike this!” So Jonah asked that God take his life. God didn’t really respond; He only asked whether Jonah was doing right, to be angry. Jonah didn’t answer, but moved off to the east of the city, to watch, hoping God would change His mind.

He sat outside of Nineveh, some distance away, and hoped God would destroy the city in spite of their repentance. The sun was hot, and he was in danger of getting sunstroke, so he built himself a little shelter of branches or something, and tried to shade himself that way. God had prepared a gourd plant, with its broad leaves, to grow up rapidly and give him shade, specifically as an act of deliverance, to deliver him from his grief. Jonah was glad for the gourd, but still hoped to see the Assyrians die. So God prepared a worm the following day, that ate the stalk of the gourd plant and it died. Then, instead of deliverance, He added to Jonah’s suffering by preparing and sending a strong east wind, hot and dry. Evidently even his little hut blew away, because it says the sun beat directly on his head, so that he fainted from the heat.

Jonah was furious with God, and asked for death again. When God questioned him again, whether he was right to be angry, Jonah angrily claimed his own righteousness. God handled him pretty gently, considering all that had already occurred: He reasoned with him concerning his values; how he valued a gourd plant more than the souls of over 120,000 people. Pretty sad story, but evidently Jonah must have repented again, because he wrote the account of the whole story, including all his failures.

We tend to focus on the story of the fish, and Jonah’s repentance in the fish’s belly. But the Shadow of the Gourd is perhaps equally important, and just as miraculous. Yes, gourds grow fast, but they don’t naturally grow so quickly as to grow up overnight, enough to shade a man from the middle-eastern sun. The Gourd was prepared by God, as both a mercy to Jonah and a lesson to him and us. The Shadow of the Gourd was given to show Jonah his sin. He valued human life very little. He was forgetting that those people (the enemies of his people) were people that God created. He didn’t know that God had plans for Assyria. Isaiah later predicted that Assyria, Egypt and Israel would be blessed together by God. (By the way, Assyria included all of what is now Iran; think that one over….) So God had a purpose in sparing them. But Jonah saw his own comfort and his own desires to be more important than the lives and souls of over 120,000 people. Do we do the same? Where are our priorities? How do we respond to God’s call to be witnesses for him? Do we head for the beach, and say, “I’m outta here!”? Or do we look for the road to Nineveh, and at least try to lead the enemies of God to the foot of the Cross, to approach His throne in peace?

What shadow do you find yourself under, today? If you have been broken down by stress, worry, and fear (unbelief, really) in the midst of trying to walk in obedience to God, then perhaps the Shadow of the Juniper tree is where you find yourself.

If you are angry at God, and are sure He has somehow short-changed you (believe me, He hasn’t), then perhaps what you are experiencing, with limited blessing, but your needs still being met, is the Shadow of the Gourd. Remember that because Jonah was grateful for the provision of the Gourd, but not changing his heart-attitude regarding the lost, God took away the Shadow of the Gourd, and even Jonah’s own provision of shade, so that Jonah experienced some real chastening. I pray that we will all seek God’s face, and repent of our hard-heartedness, so that the small but sufficient blessings we now have will not be taken from us in order to teach us the Grace and Mercy of God toward our fellow humans. But what shadow should we seek?

Believers and the Shadow of God

There are a number of references that call us to shelter under the Shadow of God—Psalm 57:1 says that we can shelter under the shadow of God’s wings, until the calamity has passed. Psalm 91:1 and 2, again speaking of refuge, says that if we dwell in the secret place of the Most High, we shall “abide under the Shadow of the Almighty”. He gives a condition—how to abide there. It requires that we make our personal walk with God central to our lives. Dwell in the secret place of the Most High: that’s private fellowship and personal prayer-life and worship of God…our personal devotions. Don’t just visit there once in a while…make that your home base! Then you can abide under the Shadow of the Almighty…God Himself.

In Song of Solomon 2:3, we see another aspect of that Shadow of God: The Shulamite girl, the bride, a picture of the Church, states regarding her relationship with the King (a picture of Christ) that: “I sat down under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to my taste!”

Are you approaching the Throne of God with great delight? Do you sit down under His shadow (this time not as a refuge from destruction, but as a sanctuary of joy) with great anticipation of basking in the Joy of His presence? Or is it a chore?

If we find that our relationship with God seems a chore, we need to confess that our hearts are not right. Israel saw their relationship with God as “wearisome” (Malachi 1:13), so God told them, “If that’s the way you feel about Me, then stay away! I don’t want your sacrifices, if they come from a polluted heart!” (Wow!)

I don’t want God to feel that way toward me! I want to see my relationship with Him as precious and Holy, so that I can enjoy it forever, and so that He is free to bless me and my service toward Him. The results of a right heart toward God should be:

  1. Great delight in His presence and in Prayer
  2. Sweet fruit from His Spirit and from His Word
  3. Urgent outreach toward the lost, and a genuine desire for their salvation
  4. Refuge from the Evil one, so that, even in time of trouble, we find Peace in Christ.

Examine the place in which you find yourself. Ask yourself: what “Shadow” is my current experience? Am I joyfully trusting in the refuge of the Shadow of God, and eating the fruit of that relationship? Or am I broken down in fear, depression or defeat, and afraid to try again? Worse yet, am I angry at God, and desiring the destruction of the wicked around me, not caring for their eternal souls? Wherever you are, today, God calls you to “come away” with Him. If you are a believer, then you are part of the Bride of Christ, and, as Solomon called to the Shulamite girl, Jesus calls to you, “Come away with Me, my Love!”

Listen to His call, and meet him in the “Secret Place of the Most High.” Abide under the shadow of the Almighty, in joy and in peace.

Lord Jesus, grant us the wisdom to understand your word, to hear your invitation, and to choose joyfully the shadow of the Cross.


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.


What Were They All Doing on Christmas Morning?

What Were They All Doing on Christmas Morning?

© 12/25/2016 C. O. Bishop THCF 12/25/2016 Revised 12/19

Hebrews 1:6; Luke 2:1-20

Introduction:

I took some time off from work, to spend Christmas with my family. When I get back to work, people will greet me in friendly fashion, and several are sure to ask, “Did you have a good Christmas?” It is almost a rhetorical question, since the expected answer is always “Yes”, though qualifiers are acceptable. Expansion on what was good or not so good are also acceptable. But we are expected to, at most, tell “What we were doing on Christmas Morning.”

So: let’s ask the same question regarding those persons who were present the Night of the Lord’s birth. What were they all doing on Christmas Morning?

We sing, “Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plain!” Were they? Really? We talk about “We three kings, etc.” and we usually forget that they were possibly as much as two years away on Christmas morning…not part of the show at all. We say “Shepherds quaked at the sight”, and sing all manner of songs about drummer boys, and donkeys, and Mary and Joseph, and…most of it is very pleasant fiction. Let’s set all that aside for just a few moments and ask, seriously, “What were they all doing on Christmas Morning?”

What were the Angels doing?

What were the Angels really doing? (“Sweetly singing o’er the plain?” Nope…sorry!) Let’s read and see: Luke 2:9-14 The Angel of the Lord appeared (Think about that one! We’ve done a bit of Old Testament study: Who is the Angel of the LORD? In the Old Testament, it was the preincarnate Christ!) The Glory of the Lord shone around the Shepherds. The Shepherds were terribly afraid. (I’ll bet they were!) And the Angel of the Lord told them to not be afraid, “because He was bringing them good news (Glad tidings—what is the word we usually associate with “Good News?”), of Great Joy which shall be (future tense) to all people. (The Gospel)” He went on to announce the birth of the Savior; Christ the Lord. He told the shepherds to go and find the baby (Not Mary; not Joseph: the baby!) and told them where to look, and how to recognize Him.

Immediately there appeared with him a multitude of other angelic beings (the heavenly host—heavenly army) praising God, and saying (not singing…sorry!) “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth, Peace, Good Will toward Men!”

And then they were gone! Just disappeared into the sky!

But what were they doing, by God’s command? Let’s read Hebrews 1:6; “…and when He (God) bringeth forth the firstbegotten into the world, He saith, And let all the angels of God worship Him (the baby!)”

The Angels were worshipping the baby! (Not Mary, not Joseph, or anyone else.) Now: who is the only one (according to God) who can rightfully receive worship? It is God himself! So this is part of the recognition of, and part of the teaching of the deity of Christ.

The Angels, who worship no one but God, were worshipping Him. In fact, that is what we were seeing over in Luke 2:13, 14…they were praising God…the one in the Manger. They knew Him for who he was.

They were not distracted by His infancy, or his appearance of helplessness. They knew who he was, and worshipped Him as their own Creator! (Hebrews 1:7 confirms this! “He maketh His Angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire.”) They were not impressed for better or worse, by the surroundings, nor the other people present. They were there for one purpose: to Worship the Newborn King!

What was Mary doing?

What should she be doing? She was a young (probably teen-aged) mother, who had just had a baby. She was terribly tired, but probably very happy with her little Baby. She was with her husband, and was probably pretty overwhelmed by the events of the last nine months. We are not told that she even saw or heard the angelic army worshipping her baby. She evidently heard about the events through the shepherds, as we see in Luke 2:19 that she “kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”

How did she feel about the surroundings? We aren’t told…but even in that culture, a woman wanted other women around when they gave birth. An aunt, or a mother or a sister, usually…a midwife, if you could afford one. Hospitals weren’t an option, in that time and place, but a stable wasn’t exactly optimal or normal.

How do we know the manger bed and all the rest were not normal? The Angel of the Lord gave those facts to the shepherd as being the signs by which they would recognize the baby. Why would he give the shepherds things that were completely common, as signs by which to recognize the Savior? The manger and the swaddling clothes, while not unheard of, were unusual enough that they were the signs given by the angel by which to recognize the Savior! If they were that unusual, how did Mary feel about it all? We aren’t told.

Mary probably spent the next few hours alternately sleeping, and tending to her baby. And the visit by the shepherds was probably a surprise. She and Joseph were huddling together in a dark stable, trying to stay warm, and trying to re-group; figure out what they were going to do next, when these grubby shepherds burst in the door, looking for a baby dressed in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger. And there he was! Did they give Mary special attention? Probably so. Most people give special attention to new mothers. But they were there to see the baby! They saw Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the manger, just as they had been told. But the baby was who they had been sent to find, and He was the One with whom they were primarily concerned.

What was Joseph doing?

We really are not told, but, consider this: He was evidently an older man, as we see him apparently gone, well before Jesus began His ministry. Joseph was freshly out of work, as he had been forced to travel away from Nazareth, in Galilee, which is where he had lived and worked, because of the new rule from Caesar. He was eighty miles from home, and a very poor man.

Joseph was probably thinking ahead, wondering what he was going to do for work. He may have also been thinking back to the visit he had had from the Angel Gabriel, telling him that his fiancée had been chosen by God to bear the child who is the Savior. That has to have been a hard time, as the neighbors were looking at him and assuming that he had committed fornication, and gotten his fiancée pregnant…or worse, that she herself was immoral and he was just choosing to cover for her. The stigma was there, and would not go away. Think about it: they were in the city of his family, of his ancestry, but there was no one to whom he could turn for a place to stay. How else did they end up in that stable? Why were no doors open to him and his bride? I would guess it was because he was an embarrassment to them. Perhaps they even ostracized him. We really don’t know. All we know for sure are the facts, as revealed in scripture.

What were the Shepherds doing?

That is one about which we are told a fair amount: They were minding their own business, caring for flocks at night, in the open field. Possibly having a bit of a chat, to stay awake, or walking around the flock to keep them safe from predators. But they were just carrying on business as usual, until the Angel of the Lord dropped in for a visit. When God steps into the picture, everything changes!

That line about “Shepherds quake at the sight!” is probably one of the most accurate in all the hymns about the birth of Christ. They were scared to death! Isn’t it interesting that all the people who really saw angels or met the pre-incarnate Christ, or saw the Lord in his glory, were not “feeling all happy and blessed:” they were afraid! Why is it that today all the folk who claim to have seen the Lord say what a wonderful, peaceful experience it was, just flooding their souls with Joy? My guess is that they really didn’t experience what they say they experienced. The ones who really did were terrified, pretty much without exception.

The disciples in the boat, when Jesus calmed the storm, didn’t look around and say, “Way cool, Jesus! We didn’t know you could do that!” They had been afraid they were all going to drown. These were seasoned commercial fishermen, who were masters at small boat handling, and had been in storms before… and they were seriously expecting to die, in this storm! But when they woke up the Lord, and asked Him to take a hand, he calmed the storm; and far from being overjoyed and relieved, they were more afraid! They said, “what manner of man is this, that even the wind and waves obey him?” They were more afraid of the very presence of God than they were of death itself.

So, when the Angel of the Lord appeared, the shepherds were terrified. They had dealt with jackals, bears, and lions by night all their lives (How would you feel dealing with wild predators at night, with only a stick or a sling, or a sword, maybe, or some other rather primitive weapon to protect yourself and the flock?) But they were terrified at the sight of the Angel. His first words were to set aside their fear so that he could communicate the Joy of Christmas. And that Joy was in the person of Jesus.

The shepherds left their flocks in the field, which is not normal! (If you leave the flock, you are a bad shepherd!) But they were commanded to do so, and they did. Maybe they figured that the angels could take a turn watching the flock.

They went to Bethlehem, and hunted through stables until they found the Lord and Joseph and Mary. They told others around the area what had happened, about the angelic messenger, and the child…and finally went back to the flock, leaving an amazed village behind them, and having great Joy in themselves, at the privilege they had shared.

They were glorifying God, and Praising God for all that they had heard and seen, and the fact that all had been just as they had been told to expect. They thanked him for fulfilled prophecy, in other words. I don’t know whether they had thought through all the other fulfilled prophecies, yet. Micah 5:2 comes to mind, though: The Lord had promised, 400 years earlier, that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. They were the witnesses to the fulfillment of that promise, and others. If they had expanded from that beginning and considered who that was, and what else was prophesied about Him, they might not have wanted to go back to the flock, at all. I don’t think they put it all together, though…we seldom do today, either, really.

What are You doing on Christmas?

We have been conditioned to think of Christmas as a time of joy and peace…and we want it to be so. But we also tend to focus pretty much on family, rest, children, gifts, and food…lots of food. I don’t see a problem with most of that. When God commanded his people to throw a party, and have a national feast day, they focused on all those things, too. But they remembered what they were celebrating…they didn’t forget why they were there.

I think it is important that we give some time to considering who Jesus really is, and the fact that, right there in that manger, wrapped up in rags, he was the Creator … He was God! When we sing that song, “Mary did you know,” I have to tell you, I don’t think she could have known! We are looking back from the vantage point (and the safe distance) of 2000 years, and we still don’t really comprehend it. If she had seen him as the disciples saw him when he calmed the storm, do you think she would have been snuggling him in her arms and crooning a lullaby? She couldn’t have seen Him that way! But I feel it is imperative that we do! It is vital that we experience the utter amazement of the fact of the incarnation, and be blessed by the Grace which God has extended to us. We cannot grasp it all, but we can reach out by faith and receive it as a gift. We can place our faith in His Grace, and know the Peace of God in an eternal relationship. We are not dragged in as an orphaned waif, and simply “called” his child: we are born into His family by the new birth, and live eternally as his child…his real child, born of His Grace.

When we think about Christmas, we need to be looking beyond the “manger scene”, and look far enough ahead to see the Cross, and the tomb, and the resurrection. We need to look even further, and see His soon coming, and His eternal reign. We need to look beyond the manger, and find Peace and Joy in the fact of the Savior. Mary pondered these things in her heart. It seems good that we should do the same. Think about these things: ponder them in your heart. Consider the enormity of what was really going on that first Christmas.

The Christmas story was not about Mary. It was not about Joseph or the shepherds. It was not about the angels…and they knew that better than anyone: They worshipped the newborn king! They guarded his humanity (though He certainly needed no help), but they worshipped Him as God.

We can do the same. Christmas is about Jesus, our Savior; God in the flesh, our only advocate with God the Father. To the World, He is the Judge, though He offered Himself as the Savior. To us, He is the Savior, though He is still the King, and the Judge and the God of the Universe. In our case, relationally, the fact that He is our Savior takes precedence over all the rest. We no longer have to fear God’s wrath. We have His Grace. This is not a “seasonal” thing. His Grace has been conferred as a permanent gift, in Eternal life.

The Shepherds told others about what they had seen and heard. We can do that, too, especially because we know who He really is, whereas they only knew a little. He is the source of all things, and the key to the Joy of Christmas. And we can be a part of extending that joy to the rest of the world around us. If we really know Him for who He is, and really believe the true Christmas story, then sharing it with others should be the most natural thing in the world.

Also, none of the people in the story just “went back to normal” after that night. It was not a “seasonal thing.” It changed their lives forever, and they shared it with others, just as we are called to do. We need to rise above the pattern of just “putting the decorations away, and getting on with life.” He is the Life! We are not supposed to “get over” what He is doing in our lives, but rather we are to grow deeper into that relationship, and allow it to bear fruit.

Lord Jesus, allow us, momentarily at least, to see you in your Glory, and to worship you as God. Allow us to love you in your humanity, but to look beyond your humanity and to worship and love you as the faithful Creator. Allow us to serve as witnesses to your glory, as did the shepherds. Allow us to continually ponder these things in our hearts.


Paul’s Blessing to the Believers

Paul’s Blessing to the Believers

© C. O. Bishop 5/16/2018

Philippians 4:10-23

Introduction:

We have been studying through Paul’s epistle to the believers at Philippi: We have witnessed the close relationship between the Apostle Paul and this particular assembly of believers.

We have seen that, in spite of the epistle being quite a personal and tender letter to Paul’s dear friends, and fellow-laborers, it is also addressed to the believers in all ages: to us!

Paul has just concluded some pretty important directives as to how to experience the Peace of God (as opposed to Peace with God), and has concluded in Philippians 4:9 that if the believers would put into practice all that they had learned from Paul, and had witnessed in his living example, then the God of Peace would “be with” them. That he would sustain and uphold them through the hard experiences of life, and that they would live lives saturated with the Peace of God. They already had, permanently conferred upon them, Peace with God. They were learning to experience the Peace of God.

Now Paul changes the subject and blesses them for their recent gift.

The Supporting Church

10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity.

Evidently the Church at Philippi had lost track of Paul for a while, and, though they had desired to support him, they couldn’t, simply because they didn’t know where he was. He acknowledged that, and graciously relieved them of any feelings they may have had, that they had somehow let him down.

11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.

Paul says that he was not hurt in their absence…he had matured to the point that he was satisfied with little or much, and neither would distract him from the job at hand. This is an important point. I have had people tell me that if God would not support them, they would not serve Him. To be fair, I think their logic was that “God’s blessing comes in the form of support”, therefore a lack of (financial) support would indicate a lack of his blessing, and that they would take that as a signal to stop whatever ministry they were involved in. That is still poor logic: Every single child of God is called to be an ambassador for Christ. You serve, regardless of circumstances, and regardless of reward. The privilege is to serve, and the blessing was the Great Commission.

So Paul had learned the lesson of true blessing, and knew it seldom is dependent upon finances. This seems perfectly logical to me, but, if you recall, the people of Israel had sought a very mercenary relationship with God, often. “You bless us, and we’ll serve you!” (Witness Jacob at Bethel: “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme, and I will bring you back a tithe!” Really? If God just wanted the money, why would he bother giving it to you? He could just keep it! Jacob seemed to have things rather backward…but God taught him differently over the ensuing years. Jacob learned what it meant to put God first.)

But this little church, out of their deep poverty, had regularly sought the privilege of supporting Paul in his work. They gave far beyond their means, counting it a privilege, and he received it as a blessing from God. But he was not dependent upon their gifts.

12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

Paul says that he was completely satisfied to serve, regardless of the conditions, just as they evidently were pleased to serve. He had learned (been instructed) how to be full, and how to be hungry: to live with abundance and to live with poverty. And he was able to serve under either extreme:

13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

Notice how the context, here, changes the meaning of the verse? How many times have you heard someone “claim this verse” as their “promise” that they could do some hard task, or perhaps win a football game, or some similar application? This is a great case-in-point for learning to get the interpretation correct, and then look for application.

Do you see what the context is? It is the question of living with plenty or living with barely enough to survive: not “winning a game,” or lifting a load, or overcoming a trial, a disease, a court case, or whatever…it had to do with learning the peace of trusting God for everything….not worrying about where the next meal is coming from, etc., because Paul was doing what God sent him to do, and he was confident that God was meeting his needs according to His own plan. And Paul was satisfied with the plan!

There is no hint, here of “special empowering” for super-human tasks, though we know that Paul was used, on more than a few occasions, to bring about various miracles. I think it is really instructive to observe that, when Epaphroditus was sick (Philippians 2:25-30), and nearly died, Paul was not given authority for a miraculous healing, though God did eventually provide a rather ordinary kind of convalescence and healing. Further, when Paul himself was afflicted in some way (2nd Corinthians 12:1-10…I’m not sure exactly what it was, but it seems likely that it had to do with his failing sight) he pleaded with God for healing, and after three such prayers, God told him to drop it: that God’s Grace would be sufficient for him. So, it was Christ who strengthened him to endure hard times, not to do super-human stunts, nor even miraculous deliverances, as a rule.

But Paul wanted them to know that they had served well, in supporting him.

14 Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction.
15 Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only.
16 For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity.

Paul let the Philippian believers know that they had done well in sharing with him, and that he personally appreciated it…furthermore, that they were the only church supporting him. I’ll bet there was a great reward for them! They were literally part of the ministry of the Apostle Paul! And, over in 2nd Corinthians 8:1-5 we see that they were very poor. This was not a casual “giving of alms,” but a joining together in ministry. The churches in Macedonia gave to the believers in Jerusalem, and the Philippian believers (also one of the churches of Macedonia) supported Paul’s ministry.

Guess what! We do the same thing when we support missionaries who are taking the Gospel where it has not gone before, or who are part of a team doing so. Paul said, over in Romans 15:20, “Yea, so have I strived, to preach the Gospel not where Christ was named….” I think that is (or should be) one of the highest priorities of the church. And this little church was right there in the thick of things, working with Paul to get the job done! What a blessing, to see how they were serving right along with the Apostles!

And notice that Paul himself was not so anxious to get the gift…he was grateful that it was given, but especially because he saw it adding to their reward. Money had never been an issue with Paul. He says:

17 Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.

Worship in Giving

Paul was not in the ministry for money. Usually he was completely self-supporting, though he acknowledged elsewhere that this was not the norm among the apostles. He simply chose to work that way, so that no one could falsely accuse him of mercenary motives, and also so that he would not be a financial burden to any of the churches he served. He worked as a tentmaker on at least one occasion, to provide travelling expenses for himself and his entourage.

He was pleased that the believers in the Philippian Church were sharing, because it did them good—it brought fruit that is to their credit. They are being rewarded, now (today, and forever) for helping on his job. We have the option to join in the work of world evangelism, too, by praying for missionaries, and by giving to support God’s work.

18 But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.

Paul assures them that their gift delighted him, and it pleased God, as well. He recognized it for what it was—a worship offering to God, and their service to God. He assured them that he was personally blessed by their generosity, and he felt that he had more than enough of everything he needed. (Bear in mind that he said this from a Roman dungeon!)

Over in Romans 12:1, 2, Paul begs the believers in Rome, on the basis of the Grace of God they had already received, to present their bodies as living sacrifices to God. And he called it their reasonable service of worship. So these Philippian believers were doing just that: they were in extreme poverty, but they scraped together enough to send a gift to him and make his ministry easier.

The Sustaining God

19 But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

When we read this, we need to think carefully about the difference between “needs” and “wants”.  God does not say he will give us everything we want.

Recently I wasted a lot of time, idly thinking about buying a different (larger) vehicle, because certain items I thought Ineeded to transport would not fit in my small SUV. I have been very grateful to have this present car, and am very satisfied with it, but I was beginning to worry about “needing” a larger van, perhaps. After some time of thinking about it, I decided that I should not be worrying about that, yet, as the object I was concerned about transporting (a double bass) did not exist yet, and that, when it did materialize, God would see to it that our needs were met. At that moment it suddenly occurred to me that He had already done so!

A few years earlier, my wife’s uncle had died, and she really felt strongly about buying his old, but well-cared-for pick-up truck, with a canopy, so we bought it. We have hardly driven it since then, except to carry gardening things, or firewood, etc., so I really hadn’t given it a thought, but the fact is that it will serve perfectly for the things I want to carry (upright basses.) It is not what I had in mind, but my needs had already been met. When I set aside the “wants” I had been entertaining, the facts were made clear to me.

Paul’s Conclusion and Benediction

20 Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

This seems to have been the underlying motive in Paul’s whole life. He wanted to bring glory to God. Like Jesus, he determined that “My food is to do the will of Him that sent Me and to finish His work!” Is that my motive in life? Is it yours? What is your core reason for what you do? How does it work out in what you do and say? Paul wanted to bring glory to his God. It seems to me that he lived up to that objective.

He made it inclusive, as well: he referred to God as “our Father”…he invited us to join in that purpose. We have been chosen to function as emissaries of God’s Grace, and ambassadors of Christ. As we step into the reality of those tasks, we find ourselves laboring along with Jesus Himself, and bringing eternal Glory to God by our service.

21 Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren which are with me greet you.

22 All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household.

It is always somewhat heart-warming, to me, to see that Paul does not forget the believers around him. In some cases he calls them by name: for example, he names the one (Epaphroditus) who acted as scribe in writing this letter, in the next verse. Paul was nearly blind, and had to have someone else do his writing, as he dictated. In other epistles, he only names a group, but it is clear that he valued each of them as individuals, and fervently loved the church as a whole. He prayed for them continually, and sought to bless them and strengthen them in every way.

It is also encouraging, to see that his personal testimony had made inroads into the very household of Caesar: There were believers in Rome, by this time, feeding upon the same bread of life that had been offered at Philippi, through Paul. And they felt the kinship shared among believers; they extended their greeting to their brethren in Philippi. It is interesting to me, too, that the believers in the household of Caesar evidently did not see themselves as being anything special, because of their position in life, in the household of the emperor. They were anxious to join in fellowship with this tiny group of poor, but utterly faithful and valiant saints in Philippi.

Living Grace

23 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. (To the Philippians written from Rome, by Epaphroditus.)

Paul’s final word is virtually always to invoke God’s Grace for the lives of the believers to whom the letter is addressed. I believe it is in keeping with the tone of the rest of his letters to assume that God’s Grace is what we are to look for as well—that this prayer, in fact, addresses the needs in our own lives, not just those in a tiny church in a Macedonian city, 2000 years ago.

We need God’s grace for salvation, obviously, but we also need it daily, in order to serve, and to live healthy, happy lives. We are not born again just to be left to our own devices: we have a Heavenly Father who watches over His children.

Jesus promised that He would not leave his people comfortless. And he has come, in the person of the Holy Spirit, to indwell each of them. He guides us, teaches us, blesses us, and directs our lives, so far as we are willing to allow him preeminence.

If we are satisfied to just have him reside within us, then our lives will not be much more fruitful than they were as unbelievers. But if we daily invite him to preside…to take the throne and reign, in our lives…then His Grace will fill our lives, and, though things may be hard (as they certainly were in Paul’s life), we will be able to see His hand of provision, and know that we are in the center of His will.

The Lord bless you all as you put the practical truths of the Book of Philippians into practical use in your own lives.

Lord Jesus, take the words of this epistle, and graft them into our hearts, by your Holy Spirit. Allow the Word to take precedence over all the various voices with which we find ourselves bombarded. Help us to listen more and more attentively to your voice, and learn to walk with you as your children, serving as your ambassadors, joining in your work.

Amen!


Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 5

Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 5

© C. O. Bishop 2012 revised 2018

Genesis 12-17—Abram, Man of God

Introduction:

We have been reading through the book of Genesis, with the specific intent of finding either actual, physical appearances of Christ, there, in the form of “Christophanies”, or finding foreshadowings of His coming, his ministry or his character. Sometimes He actually shows up in person, but frequently it is simply a “footprint or a fingerprint,” so to speak, that we find there. A trace of His presence, through which we can learn something of His character and person.

In chapters ten and eleven we saw the break-up of the super-continent, and the division of the languages. We also saw that Noah lived long enough after the flood, to have personally witnessed the beginning of the continental break-up, and that he was still alive when Abram was born, ten generations removed. That is hard for us to grasp, and some people flatly reject the Biblical history, saying it is impossible, or that people counted time differently, or some such thing. What we can see, is the rapidly diminishing lifespan in the first ten or twelve generations after the flood. The normal lifespans dropped from a peak of over nine hundred years, down to less than two hundred, in ten generations, and continued to drop until they stabilized at about 70 years as a norm. That is historical. God tells us of this, so that it is not just a mystery to us.

Abram: Called by God

Beginning in chapter 12, the narrative begins to center on a single man, and a single family. It is interesting, at least, to note that, back in Genesis 9:28, it says that Noah lived for 350 years after the flood. But, in the genealogies in chapter 11, we can see that Abram was born 328 years after the flood. So, he was 22, or thereabouts, when Noah died. Did Abram actually know the old ark-builder personally? I really don’t know, but it certainly was possible at any rate…if he even still spoke the same language! We don’t know at exactly what point the languages were divided.

So, almost all the things in chapters ten and eleven happened before Noah died. Peleg was born 137 years after the flood, and died 26 years after Noah died. But Genesis 10:25 states that the continental breakup occurred during Peleg’s lifetime. So, Noah saw it all happen, and Peleg died when Abram was 48 years old. Abram saw the immediate aftermath of all these things, at least. We don’t know how much he saw, but his elders literally had “seen it all.”  When I was a child, we travelled on steam-powered trains. At the time I had no idea of their significance, or that it was literally the “ending of an era.” Diesel locomotives were rapidly supplanting all the steam locomotives, so that, by the time I was grown, nearly all the steam-engines had been scrapped, or put in museums. But I only vaguely remember those changes.

The division of the languages may have happened when Abram was quite young, or possibly even before he was born. We know it happened between the end of the flood and the introduction of Abram, but not exactly when. However, it may partly serve to explain why Terah, in Genesis 11:31, took his little “tribe,” and left Ur of the Chaldees, and moved away, toward Canaan, If he was still uncomfortable with his “strange neighbors”, even years later.

But as we will discover, later, that Abram had been told to leave that little “tribe” behind, and that just he and his wife were called to go; not the whole family. But in light of the break-up of the super-tribe at Babel, and the continuing breakup of the super-continent, perhaps Terah just made up his mind that they would all go. Perhaps this fits into the general division that began at Babel—or maybe not: the division of the languages could have happened a generation earlier. But, since the motive for the tower of Babel was to prevent the scattering of the people, it seems that the breakup of the land had already begun, and they were trying to maintain a “reason to be,” in Babel. That would put the time about 100-200 years before Abram was born, at the very most. So, the division of the languages was probably quite recent, when Abram was born…or possibly even after his birth, but that seems less likely. In short, some incredibly important changes had just occurred in the years prior to Genesis 12, and Abram enters the picture just after these break-ups, but evidently long enough that they were no longer on his mind, as he never mentions them, perhaps for the same reason I barely remember the loss of the steam-locomotives.

Abram in introduced in chapter 12, and a “new race” is begun, in rudimentary form. The Jews, proper, did not yet exist, and Abram, though he is the father of the whole race, is not himself a Jew. He is a descendant of Shem, to be sure, but so were many of the folk in that region. Abram was just one of many, and not particularly special, in most respects. He was originally from what we now call Iraq. (That is where Babylon was/is, too: 53 miles straight south of Baghdad, and where the tower of Babel was, just before Abram’s time.) Abram and his father, Terah, and his nephew, Lot, left Ur of the Chaldees (which is also in Iraq, about halfway between Baghdad and the coast of the Persian Gulf…120 miles or so from the gulf coast.) and they traveled to Haran (in the south of modern-day Turkey, 140 miles from the northeast corner of the Mediterranean sea.)

Called: to Leave the Old Life Behind

Evidently God had told Abram to leave his Father’s house (Genesis 12:1) and follow God to a new land. Abram took off, but took his father’s household along with him. We can only assume that he must have told his father of the vision, or dream, or appearance of God. Terah evidently thought that was a great idea, and decided he wanted in on it, because in Genesis 11:31, 32 we see that Terah took Abram and Lot, and their wives and journeyed to Haran. Terah took the lead, and managed the migration. This was a journey of just over 700 miles, depending on which route was travelled (but west by northwest, as a general direction), and probably took nearly six weeks on foot, also depending on what flocks were brought along with them. It could have taken much longer. I don’t know whether Terah named the town “Haran” after his dead son, Haran, or not, but it looks that way. The whole family was held together and managed by Terah, until he died, and then God (The LORD) called Abram again. It is interesting to see that it wasn’t until after the “old man” (Terah) died, that God called Abram again, and said “follow me”. I don’t know how much we should read into that connection, but; it is at least interesting to note that, in Ephesians 4:22, we are told to “put aside” the Old Man, so that God can use us. I don’t know whether there is really a connection there; but it is an interesting parallel, at least.

We attempt to do so much, in the flesh, but, the fact is, when the Old Man (our old sin nature) is in control, even the “good things” we do (or attempt to do) will bear no eternal fruit. So, after Terah died, Abram tried again…he really wanted what God had to offer, but he was still clinging to what the World had taught him to be his responsibility. He was “bringing up his brother’s son”, so to speak. But Lot was a grown man, and Abram really could have left him behind…and he should have. Notice that it does not say “he took Lot with him,”, but that “Lot, his brother’s son went with him.” Both Lot and Abram had a choice, and Abram should have left Lot at Haran. We will see the resulting problems, as they arise. But we are really better off to leave behind our old way of life, and start anew, with God in control.

Called: to be Separate

However, at 75 years of age, Abram still took Lot along with him, which proved problematic, and it got them both in trouble more than once. It wasn’t until Abram separated himself from Lot, in Chapter 13, that God said (Genesis 13:14-18) “Now lift up your eyes to the north, the south, the east and the west. To you I will give this land.” (In other words, not to Terah, and not to Lot.) By the way, the Ammonites and the Moabites, who we will meet later, were all Lot’s offspring. And a good deal of the land that was promised to Abraham’s descendants is still populated by the Ammonites. We call them “Jordanians.” The capitol city of Jordan is still called Amman today. (Do you have any ideas what the fuss over the land might be about, today??)

Looking ahead, just a little, it is interesting to me that, in the latter half of chapter 12 and again in chapter 20, Abram was (correctly, as it turned out) fearful that others would seek to take his wife to be their own. In chapter 17 we find out that Sarai was ten years younger than Abram, and we have seen in chapter 12 that Abram was 75 when he left Haran. So Sarai was at least 65 when Abram headed into Egypt, and he was afraid that he would be killed for Sarai’s sake, as she was such a beautiful woman. That is pretty unusual, by today’s standards, at least. And it happened again when she was 90. Was this some sort of a miraculous rejuvenation brought about by God, so that she could mother a child at 90? I don’t know, but it is certainly unusual that a woman of that age was considered so desirable as a bride. I really don’t know what to make of that.

But, in both cases, Abraham begged Sarah to say that he was her brother (which was a half-truth, as she was his half-sister), so that they would not simply murder him to get his wife.  Also, in both cases, Abram (Abraham, by chapter 20) received material compensation for the error on the part of the men who tried to take Sarah. However, we should recognize that his saying she was his sister was an act of spiritual poverty. He did it out of fear, not faith. Abraham had his weaknesses, as we shall see. But he also had some tremendous strengths. One was a general tendency toward Faith. But he had his failures as well. It is good to remember that “hypocrisy” and “failure” are two different things. Abram was a man of great faith who sometimes stumbled and fell.

He was a man of great faith: He simply believed God! When God made a promise, Abram believed it. When God gave a command, as a rule, Abram obeyed. And He worshipped that one God: Everywhere Abram travelled, with few exceptions, he built an altar specifically for the worship of Jehovah-Yahweh-God: The LORD.

The Name of the LORD

Notice that, in Genesis 12:1, the word “LORD” (all caps) is used. This is the way the Bible translators usually treat the “tetragrammaton”—the YHWH from the Hebrew Scriptures. We do not know how to pronounce this name, because, ironically, the Jews forbade their people to speak that name, lest they inadvertently blaspheme: the result being that they have forgotten how to pronounce the name of their God. (How incredibly sad!) Isaiah 43:11 states that “I, even I, am the LORD, and beside me there is no savior.” They have forgotten the name of their Savior!

Toward the end of the 15th century, a Dutch monk named Erasmus suggested “Jehovah” as a possible pronunciation. (Actually pronounced “Yehovah” in his native Germanic tongue.) The Hebrew pronunciation of the Y and the W, are, respectively, “yuh”, and “vuh”… and the Germans pronounce a “J” the same as we Americans pronounce a “Y”. But, we really don’t know which vowels were associated with those four consonants. Modern scholars have suggested other such variations, such as “Yahweh” (which would still have to be pronounced “Yahveh” to be in keeping with Jewish pronunciation).

But it absolutely delights me to note that, in Acts 4:12, Peter said, “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” And he was referring to the name of Jesusnot the Old Testament name. So, the only Savior (the LORD) called Abram to leave his old life behind, and follow Him; just as today, the only Savior (Jesus) calls us to abandon our old way of life and learn to walk with Him. And it is the same Savior! This is the God to whom Abram built his altars: it was Jesus the whole time!

Called: to Worship

Abram, the Altar-Builder: 

In Genesis 12:5-7, we see that Abram journeyed (south) into Canaan, to the place of Sichem, and the plain of Moreh (in the north end of what is now Israel.) At that time this was all Canaanite territory. The Canaanites were the offspring of Canaan, the son of Ham. And, in verse seven, The LORD appeared to Abram and said that He was giving the land of the Canaanites to Abram and his offspring (though Abram had no children.) And Abram evidently believed God, because his response was to worship God there. He built an altar, for the worship of the LORD, who would thereafter be the God of Israel.

Then he moved again: I don’t know why. But he moved to a mountain, to the East of what would later be called Bethel (the house of God).  And He built an altar there, as well, and “called upon the name of the LORD.” This is a good pattern in Abram’s life. He was putting his relationship with God first, it seems. He was making a place of worship and a pattern of worship the predominant thing in his life. God took first priority. That is a good choice!

But a test came, and he stumbled: a famine began, and he left the land he had been promised and went to Egypt. Is it possible God sent him? Yes, but it doesn’t say that He did, and Abram also apparently did not build an altar there. My guess would be that this was a fleshly response, and he was responding in fear, not faith. All we know for sure is what is written: He left the Promised Land and went to Egypt, because of the Famine. (Not because God sent him.)

Just as he feared, Pharaoh did take Sarah, and gave him lots of money, slaves and herds, etc…. (We don’t like it, but, yes, Abram was a slave-owner, like many others.) But God plagued Pharaoh and his household, because of Sarah, and Pharaoh knew he had been deceived. He confronted Abram, and rebuked him for not telling him that Sarah was actually his wife. Then he sent him packing, but allowed Abram to keep all the gifts, so that he went away a very wealthy man. Sometimes we may profit, in temporal ways, by our actions, even when those actions are not pleasing to God. Wealth is not a good measure of God’s blessing or approval of our behavior. I have known a Christian man who profited by tax-evasion…temporarily…but it caught up to him later, and it shamed him for the rest of his life. Evidently God graciously allowed Abram to prosper, in spite of the lapse in faith, but God never approves unbelief. I would imagine that every time Abram remembered how he had risked Sarah to save himself, he probably was ashamed, and grieved for his failure, in spite of the wealth that resulted.

Final Separation: and Service

Genesis 13—Separating Abram from Lot

Ultimately, Abram and Lot were both too prosperous to live together, as their huge flocks and herds were competing for forage; their herdsmen were beginning to quarrel, on top of the fact that the land was still inhabited by the Canaanites and the Perizzites. So, Abram suggested a peaceful separation: he gave Lot first choice of territory, and said that he, Abram, would move away from wherever Lot chose. And Lot chose the valley of the Jordan, richly watered and verdant at that time. Lot left, and headed straight for Sodom. We will see the result of that, later.

Remember that God had told Abram to leave his old life behind. Up until this point, the baggage of his old life and family ties had weighed him down and kept God’s full blessings from him. How do I know? Look what happened next: (Genesis 13:14-18)

Then the LORD said to Abram, after Lot was gone, NOW lift up your eyes…look North, South, East and West…to YOU and your offspring I will give this land.” God had to wait until Abram set aside everything else, before He could bless Him as He intended. And God told him (this time) to get up and walk through the land. Then Abram moved to Mamre, lived there, and built an altar to His God. Later, God met with him there, in Person. Later, too, we will see God’s description of the land set apart for the offspring of Abraham, and it is a very large piece of territory, many times the size of what Israel now holds.

Conclusion

How can we lay hold of the inheritance of God? I think we can emulate Abram, and separate ourselves from our old patterns, our old passions, and learn to walk with Jesus, so that He can reveal to us what He has in store.

Wherever God has called us to live, and feed, and work, we need to leave behind our old thought-patterns, and fears, and “build an altar,” at least in our own mind and life, at which we will worship, and bring the sacrifices of Praises, Thanksgiving, and Obedience. And there at that altar, we need to realize that our relationship with God is personal. We are to deal with Him personally, not theoretically. There is where He holds out His Grace and His blessing to us, not in some dream-place where we think we want to go. Not based upon a creed, or a ritual, or even a personal routine of piety, but on a personal relationship with the Savior.

Lord Jesus draw us to yourself, in a personal, obedient, faith-relationship that carries and supports us above the fears and turmoil of this world. Allow us to worship you there, and serve you in the world around us. Make us emissaries of your Grace and Love; ambassadors of the Cross.


Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 3

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 3

The Coming Redeemer

© C. O. Bishop 2012, (revisited and revised 2018)

Genesis 3-9

Introduction:

The Bible is not “the history of God.” The “history of God” would be impossible to encapsulate in a book, or even millions of books, as He is Eternal.

It is not the history of Man, as it leaves out the vast majority of human history. It is historical, but in a very limited sense. In Genesis we can see one aspect of the beginning of earth’s history: specifically, it is the history of God’s redemptive work toward the fallen human race. It tells us how we began, how we became sinners, and what God has chosen to do about it. We will discover, as we read the Old Testament, that Jesus is “Plan A”, and there is no “Plan B”. We can see God’s wisdom and his saving Grace, from the very beginning.

The Fall and the Promise

When Man fell into sin, in Genesis, chapter three, we see the first prediction of the Person who would be the Savior. In this passage he is referred to as the “Seed of Woman”. The masculine gender is applied, and the singular personal pronoun is applied—it is not a group of people that are called the Seed of Woman, but one male Child. And only one such child in history could accurately claim that title, because all the rest had a human father—they were NOT the Seed of Woman, but the seed of a man and a woman. This is the first Prophecy of the Christ, and it predicted the destruction of Satan, and the reinstatement of fallen man. The prophecy was given as part of the curse on the Serpent (and Satan), but God continued on, to lay out the consequences of sin for both the Man and the Woman, as well. The only Good News in this passage is the Seed of the Woman. And Adam believed that “Good News” (the Gospel, in its earliest form.)

The Sacrifice and the Safeguard

Adam placed his trust in that promise (Genesis 3:20, 21), in that he named his wife “Eve”, which means “mother of all the living”…and, on the basis of that Faith, God clothed him and his wife in the skins of slain animals: this was the first blood sacrifice, and it signified the covering of sin by means of that sacrifice. God’s chosen sacrifice for sin in the Old Testament was invariably blood, and it resulted in the “atonement” (Heb. “Kophar”, or covering) for sins. Every single one of the God ordained blood sacrifices in the Old Testament looked forward, by faith, to the one sacrifice that would be offered at the Cross. Revelation 13:8 refers to Jesus as the “Lamb slain from the Foundation of the world…and, indeed, the Apostle saw him on the throne (Revelation 5:6) as a Lamb, having been slain. We look back to that one sacrifice, when we take communion. We are not asking that he die again, nor does that wine become blood. His sacrifice was once for all time, to take away sin, but his death was pre-figured, or pictured, countless times throughout the Old Testament, in animal sacrifices that could only cover sin.

Finally, God moved Adam and Eve out of the Garden…not as punishment, or banishment, but as protection, so that they would not eat of the tree of life, and gain eternal life in their fallen state, thus becoming like the demons; unsalvageable, and lost forever, soaked in evil. This was Mercy, pure and simple. It was a safeguard for the human race.

Consider this, as well: Who was it that came walking in the Garden, in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8)? Who was the judge that listened quietly to the plea of each of his guilty human subjects, then dispensed Justice and Mercy and Grace? Who is the “Judge of all the earth?” These are just some things to consider. I hope we will find answers as we move through Genesis.

In Genesis 4, we see that Abel brought “of the firstlings of his flock”…a blood sacrifice, and he was accepted by God. How did he know to do that? Possibly Adam told him…possibly God told him, because we see that God himself reasoned with Cain regarding his rejected sacrifice, saying “if you do right, you will also be accepted.” Evidently Cain knew what was required, and refused to comply. Hebrews 11:4 recalls this passage, and specifies that it was the sacrifice that was the issue, not just the heart-attitude. Cain brought a vegetable offering, which would have been fine as a worship offering, after the sin issue had been dealt with. But God called for a blood sacrifice for sin, before worship could be accepted. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the LORD will not hear me.” We can’t approach God in our sins. Abel brought a sin-offering. Cain did not.

Throughout the Bible, we see faith being demonstrated as “an obedient response to a revealed truth”. Faith is not a feeling, or a power, or a gift, in general, (though there does seem to be a special gift of faith.) Faith is simply taking God at His Word. Faith believes God enough to do something about it. Sometimes that “something” is just to believe God. (John 6:28, 29) Sometimes it requires some real shoe-leather. In Cain’s case it simply meant that he had to recognize himself as a guilty sinner, and accept GOD’S remedy for sin…not his own. God’s remedy involves the shedding of blood, whether we like it or not. And Cain rebelled. He “had his own religion”. That is a common problem today, isn’t it? We think our way is better than God’s way, and we can’t understand why it isn’t.

The Flood

In the following chapters we read about the decline of the human race into violence and wickedness—we aren’t told much about the specifics, only that the whole human race was corrupt. (Whoa! That’s news, huh!? We must have a good dose of that left around today!)

In Genesis 6:8, God says that “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” It does not say that he was not a sinner—in fact, the use of the word Grace necessitates that he was a sinner. Grace is unmerited favor—unearned favor. And, sure enough, after the flood, Noah proved he was a sinner, by getting drunk.

But, what about the flood? Was that a picture of Christ, too? No, it was a demonstration of God’s judgment on all sin…and the Ark was the picture of Christ—God’s grace to mankind; God’s power to save those who believe him. (Read Genesis 6:5-22)

Please remember that Jesus treated this as history, not legend: this is fact, not fiction. In the account of Noah’s Ark we see that, ultimately, there are only two places one can be in relation to God; in the ark or outside it. One can be in Christ, or in Adam. (1st Corinthians 15:22)

Similarities between Jesus and the Ark:

  1. Everyone started off outside the Ark…including Noah and his family. (We all start off in Adam…outside Christ…we are born that way.)
  2. Only Noah and his family looked forward to the completion of the Ark. (Only believers looked forward to the coming Messiah)
  3. Only Noah and his family saw the Ark as God’s means of deliverance. (Only believers see Jesus as their hope for salvation.)
  4. Only Noah and his family responded to the call to repentance. (Only believers respond to the Gospel call.)
  5. Only Noah and his family responded to the call to enter the Ark. (Only believers heed the call to enter into Christ.)
  6. Noah and his family entered by faith—God revealed that they were to get on board, and they believed, and entered by faith. (We do too!)
  7. I think it is interesting that (in KJV) God said “Come into the Ark”, not “Go into the Ark”.
    1. We see that God was there among them! His hand guided that craft, as it had no sails, no oars, no rudder…He controlled its destiny from beginning to end. (This is also, even more, true for the believer. Jesus said “Come unto me”, and God controls our destiny in Christ—and, beyond our imagination, we are already seated with Him in the Heavenlies.)
  8. Everyone who was aboard the Ark was safe with God. All outside were lost without him. (All in Christ have been made alive…all still in Adam are lost…though in our case, the door is still open for them to enter.)
  9. The Ark was sufficient to save all who trusted in it. (Jesus saves all who call upon His name.)
  10. The Ark was built according to the Word of God. (Jesus came in full accord with the Prophecies, fulfilling them all to the letter.)
  11. The Ark took the brunt of the judgment that fell on the earth (the water of the Flood) but rose above it. (At the Cross, Jesus took upon himself the full weight of the wrath of God for the sin of the World, but He rose from the dead, in triumph over the grave.
  12. The Ark was coated with pitch, outside, to make it immune to the judgment without, and coated with pitch inside, to make it immune to the contamination within. (Well? What would you expect to happen in a 450-foot floating barn full of animals, on a year-long cruise, with no way to clean the stalls?) (Jesus’ righteousness made him ultimately immune to the judgment for sin, and makes Him completely immune to our continuing sin as well…we cannot “torpedo the Ark” through our unworthiness… we were unworthy before He saved us, and guess what? We still are! Our sins were all paid for in full at the Cross…the fact that ALL of them were still in the future when he died should tell us something about the completeness of his redemption.)
  13. The one window of the Ark, possibly for ventilation, either looked upward, or was positioned in such a way that Noah could not really see out—he could not see the destruction that was all around him, nor could he tell when it was time to get back out onto the land. He could only look up and wait on God. (Does that sound familiar? “Look up, and wait on God.”)
  14. All those aboard the Ark were there for the duration. Nobody got off before the Ark was safely aground and the earth was dry enough to be safe and habitable. (No one gets out of Christ, either.) In some ways this could seem to be a parallel to the Tribulation as well, though not a very tight parallel…Only Noah and his family survived the flood, but there will be many who survive the Tribulation, who are saved during the Tribulation, and live through its horror. BUT—it does seem to me that the Church, having been taken away for the duration of the Tribulation, will come back to a cleansed world, just as Noah and his family emerged from the Ark to enter a cleansed world.
  15. Finally, after the only ones left alive were Noah and his family, God said “the imagination of Man’s heart is evil from his youth”. (Don’t get the idea that Christians are not sinners. We are sinners, who admit it and want to do something about it. Christians are saved sinners. We are beggars, who have been fed, and who have been reborn as children of the King. We are the recipients of Grace, and Grace cannot be earned.)
  16. Grace was the thing that saved Noah—and it is what has saved every person who was ever saved in the history of this planet. God offers Grace—we respond by faith. From Genesis to Revelation, that is the message. Notice, too, that when Noah was on dry land again, he offered that seventh animal of every clean variety, as a sacrifice. God’s chosen sacrifice is always blood, for a sin offering. We come by the Blood of Jesus. In reality, so did Noah, Abel and Adam.
  17. To stretch things, just a bit: when God gave the rainbow as a sign, it was a promise that He would not again destroy the world by flood. We look back to the Cross as God’s promise that he will no longer condemn us for our sins. Romans 8 states that “there is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And it is because of the Cross. I do not think the rainbow is a picture of the cross, but I do think the promise is a picture of the security of the believer today.
  18. One final note: The Ark was God’s only provision for the salvation of the human race from destruction in the Flood. Jesus said, “No man cometh unto the Father but by me.” Jesus is God’s only provision for the salvation of the human race from eternal damnation.

Lessons from the Ark

We should also remember that the experience of the Ark was not a “pleasant cruise on a calm sea.” It was a violent ride on tumultuous seas, with swells and breakers, raging uncontrolled, over the surface of the whole earth. The Christian life is not easy, for most believers. It is a tumultuous ride through a World that is violently opposed to the message of the Cross, and the raging surges of human sin that cover the whole earth. There is no “safe haven,” except in the person of Christ.

The Ark was the only safe place, but it was not comfortable. There was the overwhelming smell of thousands of animals, unless God miraculously cleared the air (which He may have done.) There was the darkness of an entirely enclosed wooden ship, or barge, unless God supernaturally provided light (which He may have done.)  There was the rolling and pitching, and the groaning of the ships timbers, as the storm raged. They were in that Ark for a year and seventeen days; seven days before the flood began, and a year and ten days from the beginning of the flood until they disembarked.

Sometimes we may feel that we are enduring hard times, and we are doubtful about our future. How doubtful must Noah and his family have felt, during that experience? But consider this: if they were doubtful, did it take them out of the Ark? If they were afraid? If they were angry, and resentful? If they were seasick, and despairing of ever seeing the light of day again? No, the fact is, regardless of their condition, their position was perfect! They were safe in the Ark. In fact, the only thing that made a difference between those inside, who may have been uncomfortable and frightened, and those outside, who were dead, and eternally lost, was their position inside the Ark.

I am not necessarily a better person than any particular unbeliever. In fact, I suspect that the reverse is likely true. The only thing that makes me different than those in the World, is the person of Christ, and my position in Him: and He is the only Hope we have, to offer to the World.

We offer the only provision God has ever made for the salvation of sinners: If they are hungry, we offer the Bread of Life. If they are thirsty, we offer the Living Water. If they see that they are in darkness, we offer the Light of the World. If they are open at all to the Person of Christ, then He is all those things to them. We hold out Jesus, the Living Word of God, to those around us.

We need to live in such a way as to not diminish the light of the Gospel. God needs clean vessels through which to pour His Grace. He asks that we present our bodies, daily, as living sacrifices, so that He can offer His Grace to the World around us. Each of us has that responsibility before God, and He points out that it is our “reasonable service.” And it really is, isn’t it? After what He has done for us, how can we offer less?

Lord Jesus, teach us to see your face in the scriptures, as well as in the world around us. Help us to see the people of this world as precious souls for whom you died, and to count them as priceless in our eyes. Enable us to reach them with the good news of eternal life.


What Child is This?

What Child is This?

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

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

“Who do the People say that I am?”

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

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

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

What Child is This?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take it Personally!

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who do YOU say that I am?”

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

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

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

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

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

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


Obedient to the Truth?

 

The Truth of the Crucifixion

© C. O. Bishop 12/5/14 THCF 12/7/14

Galatians 3:1


“O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?”

Introduction:

Paul is gently berating the Galatian believers: he states that they clearly had known the truth—that Jesus had been clearly displayed among them as having been crucified— and that there was a “truth” involved to which they had been “obedient”, but now were being persuaded to disobey.

So, perhaps we need to look a little more closely, to find out what the truth was, and how they had obeyed it, and why Paul says they are now disobeying it, so that we can gain understanding for our own lives, and avoid the trap to which they had fallen prey.

How does one obey or disobey a “truth?”

When Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness (Numbers 21), the people were under a judgment from God, because of sin. The judgment involved thousands of venomous snakes migrating through the path of the children of Israel: many people were bitten, and many died. When the bronze serpent was hung up on the pole, the command was to “look and live!” They did not magically get rid of the venom—they did not immediately have the fang-marks in their bodies healed: they simply did not die. Had they not believed God’s promise through Moses enough to look to the serpent on the pole they would have died, regardless of their best efforts.

Consider: when we hear the truth of the Gospel, we can either believe it, to the extent of personally placing our trust in the completed work of Jesus at the Cross, or not believe it…and place our trust in something else. If we choose to trust in something else, we will eventually die in our sins regardless of our best efforts.

So, what if they had looked, believing, but the pain of the snake-bite and the earnest voices of their friends persuaded them to try some home-remedies anyway, perhaps just to lessen the pain? Did God rescind His promise and see to it that they died? No—the promise was sure—but the best their own efforts could do was to alleviate symptoms. Without that initial faith, to look to God’s solution for sin, they would have died.

In our own lives, we may have at one time trusted God to save us from our sins…but later have fallen prey to some persuasive philosophy, or our own unbelief, and have come to believe that if we do not hold our hands right when we pray, God will not hear us—or that if we do not perform some other ritual correctly, or avoid certain behaviors, etc., then God will reject us after all, and that the blood of Jesus at the Cross was, in fact, ineffective. At that point, we are disobeying the truth, because we are no longer dependent upon the Grace of the living God, and the effect of His Grace is lessened in our lives, simply because we are no longer receptive to Him…we are depending on our own works, and trying to earn His favor. Human religion can alleviate symptoms, but cannot deal with the curse of Sin. Jesus deals with the curse first, and then proceeds to deal with symptoms throughout our lives.

The Truth of the Gospel

So what is the “Truth” of the Gospel, and how do we “obey it” initially…and, more to the point, how do we obey it on an ongoing lifelong basis?

Paul recites the facts of the Gospel in 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4, where he says that he had delivered to the Corinthians what had been delivered to Him—the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. In Romans 1:16 he states that this Gospel, being believed in, is the power of God to save those who believe—whether Jews or non-Jews. Here in Galatians he only alludes to it because they already know the facts—and have already believed them. He says that Jesus and His crucifixion had been clearly presented among them…and that they had understood it.

The truth of the Gospel involves two or three main concepts, depending on how one wants to outline the facts:

  • Man is lost, and cannot save Himself (which is bad news), and
  • God is Gracious, and has provided for salvation through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (That’s the Good News!)
  • All God has asked Man to do is to place his trust in that Gracious gift.

Every one of us here has heard that truth, regarding the Crucifixion, and has placed his/her trust in that gift. But the question is: can we, like the people of Israel, be guilty of turning our eyes away from the Grace of God and return to our own works? The answer, of course, is yes, we can.

So, let’s look at five aspects of the Crucifixion, and see how we can be “obedient to the truth”.

The Crucifixion was Personal

One thing I have run into periodically when attempting to share the Gospel, is the response that “Yes, I know Jesus died for our sins!” or “Well, of course, he died for the whole world!”, but when I try to pin it down, as to whether His blood was the payment for the sins of that particular individual, he or she hedges and reverts to “ …he died for the world”, or something similar.

That is a little like saying “everyone at work today signed a petition to recall the dog-catcher (or whatever)”…then someone asks “did you sign it?” and all they can get for an answer is “everyone signed it!” I am left to think that, either they did not sign the petition, or they are ashamed of having done so.

Did Jesus die for you personally? Are your sins what put him on that cross? If they are not, then you are missing the point of the Crucifixion. When the nation of Israel initially celebrated Passover, the requirement was that every single person should eat of that Passover lamb. It was not enough to just be part of Israel, or even to just be part of a household that had the blood on the lintel and doorposts: Everyone was to eat of it…personally. I must personally place my trust in Jesus’ blood payment for my personal sins.

The Crucifixion was Vicarious

When we watch adventure movies, or read adventure novels, the idea is that we can experience the wild or dangerous or creepy thing that is in the book or movie without any personal risk. I may enjoy watching some athlete pole-vault over an 18-foot bar, or shoot through some terrible rapids in a kayak, but I am never going to try it myself. I experience his victory vicariously by watching. This is called a vicarious thrill, but it is a weak example:

Webster defines “vicarious” as

1:  a:  serving instead of someone or something else,  b:  that which has been delegated <vicarious authority>

2:  that which is performed or suffered by one person as a substitute for another or to the benefit or advantage of another: substitutionary <a vicarious sacrifice>

3:  that which is experienced or realized through imaginative or sympathetic participation in the experience of another <a vicarious thrill>
The first two definitions are the ones we want, here: Jesus died in my place (2nd definition) because he had the delegated authority from God to do so (1st definition), therefore I died through him when I confirmed that delegation of authority, by faith. I did not have to personally be crucified, or have the full Wrath of God poured out upon me…I experienced it through Christ—he did it as my designated substitute.

The Crucifixion was Substitutionary

This is a part of the definition of “vicarious”, of course, but it carries a stronger idea. We have a hard time with this idea, because it carries the meaning that, “when Jesus died as my substitute, I died!

2nd Corinthians 5:14, 15 is a difficult passage, but critical to understanding our position in Christ: It says …”that, if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves but unto him who died for them, and rose again.” We can either accept this as a fact, and try to learn to believe it and live it experientially, or shrug it off as a mystery, and leave it for the theologians to fight over. That may be a tempting option, but it is really not a live option for a believer, simply because the scripture is absolutely true: if you have placed your faith in Christ then you are dead with him…the substitute completed the transaction in your name, and the transaction is complete! So now, whether you understand it or not, and whether you choose to respond well or not, you have a new position in Christ…and you are dead to sin…dead to the World, dead to the Law. You cannot “fit in” as do the unsaved folk around you—because you have been permanently separated from them through death. You no longer belong to the world community. You are an outcast with Christ, and are an ambassador for Him.

The Crucifixion was Efficacious

When Jesus uttered his final words from the Cross, it included one Greek word that is pretty important to us: the word “tetelestai”. It was translated “It is finished”, which is fine enough as far as an English translation goes, but, because English has so many variable and alternate meanings for words, I misunderstood this statement for years. I thought Jesus was simply saying “It’s all over! I’m gonna die now!” I thought it was the voice of defeat…but in fact, it was the opposite. It was the voice of victory!

He was actually confirming that the job He was sent to do was fully accomplished. Nothing was left to do. All the work was done.  He had said earlier that he was sent to save sinners. John the Baptist had pointed him out, (John 1:29) saying, prophetically, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the World!” So—if that was what he had come to do, and if what he shouted from the Cross was that the job was complete, then I have to believe that it is true…that there is nothing left to do, in order to secure my salvation. There is no work that can be added to his completed work at the Cross.

Further, his blood successfully paid the sin debt for the whole world…there will never be a person born for whom He did not make full payment. I will never meet someone who is not on His “list”—he desires their salvation, and He has already paid the full price for it. That means, if I am living for Him, then I should desire it too—and not just as a “back-burner” afterthought—it was foremost in his mind, and should be for me, too.

The Crucifixion was Final

One of the things pointed out in the book of Hebrews, very strongly, is that, unlike the year-by-year renewed and repeated blood-sacrifices that continually covered sin, Jesus made a one-time-only blood-sacrifice that took away sin. Hebrews 10:3, 4 clearly states that those sacrifices were repeated yearly, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Contrast Hebrews 10:10, 12, “…we are sanctified (made holy) through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” And  “But this man (Jesus) after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.”

There is no further work to be done to pay for my salvation—it is secure forever…but if I am going to live for him, then I need to learn to see the World and the Church and all of Life through His eyes. I need to see my own life as completely belonging to Him. Remember? “I am Crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Conclusion: How can I obey the Truth?

I believe that Jesus died for me, personally—so that should make me aware that, when I sin (and I still do), those sins are part of what put Him on the Cross. This should not be a thing to be “taken for granted”. It is a serious issue.

I can be grateful that He acted in my place, vicariously, so that I do not have to personally experience the wrath of God.

I can daily practice the awareness by faith, that when He died as my substitute, I died—and that my life is never to be the same again. I am dead to the Law, dead to Sin, and dead to the World. That should be my daily concern, to live by faith in that fact.

I should have a genuine heart for the lost around me, knowing that Jesus paid for all their sins, and that their salvation is the primary concern of Christ for the World. We, as believers, have been given the job of being His ambassadors—his representatives—so we are to act in His behalf, and expressing His desires, pursuing His goals.

Finally; I can maintain the awareness that there is nothing to be added to the perfect and final Sacrifice of Christ except thanksgiving, worship, praise and Love. Romans 12:1-3 states that my reasonable service of worship is to offer myself a living sacrifice, so that He can live through me, and bless those around me through my life.

So: what was the issue with those believers in the province of Galatia? The problem was that though they certainly had known and believed the Gospel, they had later allowed someone to lure them away from at least some of the above five points, and were beginning to add works to Grace, and, effectively, to replace Grace with Law. Thus, all five realities of the Gospel of Grace had ceased to be a working reality in their lives. That is why Paul said in Galatians 5:4 “…ye have fallen from Grace”.  Jesus was having no real effect in their lives, anymore, because they had embraced a “do-it-yourself” plan of approaching God, whereas Jesus had said “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me!” Did it affect their salvation? Of course not! But it terribly affected their peace and assurance, and their walk with God. They were trying to “remodel” God’s work with their own works.

As believers, with the full advantage of the written Word of God, let us try to keep in mind the full implications of the Cross, and not fall into the same trap as did the Galatian believers. Guard against legalism, and strive to embrace your new position in Christ, by faith. Yes, the result will be obedience; but it will be the result of Grace and faith, rather than Law.