Observations on life; particularly spiritual

God and Jesus

Jesus is greater than …

sergio romero  - Jul 2014

sergio romero  - Jul 2014Did you watch the recent soccer World Cup? One of the close games was the semi-final between the Netherlands and Argentina which went to a penalty shoot-out. There was a great cheer when Sergio Romero stopped the first Dutch shot. Even more when he did it again. He was a hero for the Argentinians.

We all have heroes. We all admire someone and have desires that can influence our behavior. Today we are looking at the highlights of the first 10 chapters of the book of Hebrews where we see that, because Jesus is greater than all our heroes and all our desires, He’s the one to follow and live for.

Context

We don’t know who wrote the book of Hebrews, but we do know that it was written to Jews. That’s why it’s called Hebrews. These Jewish Christians were being persecuted for their faith (Heb. 12:4-13). Other Jews usually persecute those who convert to Christianity. In this instance, Jewish Christians were being tempted to go back to their Jewish customs and maybe force Gentiles to follow them as well (Gal. 2:14). The book answers the question, while the Jews have their heroes and customs, what do Christians have?

Who were the heroes of a devout first century Jew? Their earliest ancestors Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (who was also named Israel) and Joseph (Acts 7:2-16; Heb. 11:8-22). Their leaders such as Moses (Acts 7:20-41; Heb. 11:24-28 and Joshua were also heroes. Their kings such as David and Solomon. Their priests, particularly the High Priest. And their prophets who conveyed messages from God.

They also revered the Mosaic Law given at Mt Sinai which governed their life and the temple in Jerusalem because that was where God lived on earth (Acts 7:44-47).

Hebrews shows that Jesus is better than all their heroes. It’s a bit like a song by Rod Boucher that went:

God is better than football
God is better than beer
God is better than cricket
God’s there all the year!

Greater than the prophets

prophetsThe writer of Hebrews jumps straight into his topic: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son” (Heb. 1:1-2).

The Old Testament was written by the prophets and the New by the apostles and their associates. The revelation of God’s truth is added progressively as we move from Genesis through to Revelation. What Jesus taught is summarized in the gospels. His teachings supersede those of the Old Testament prophets. While the prophets predicted the Messiah (Acts 10:43), Jesus was the Messiah. So of course He is greater than the prophets.

Seven more reasons are given for Christ being superior to the prophets, including Jesus made the universe and sustains it. He is the divine God. Through His death, our sins can be forgiven. And after His resurrection and ascension, He now sits on a place of honor and privilege at God’s right hand. None of these apply to the prophets.

Who are equivalent to prophets today? I think that scientists could be because they speak with authority. So an updated principle is that “Jesus is greater than the scientists”.

A British geneticist has published a book titled, “The Serpent’s Promise: The Bible Retold as Science”. He claims the Bible is out of date and that science is a better way to understand the universe than through its doctrine. So he gives the scientific version of parts of the Bible.

What do we do when experts and scientists ridicule the Bible? What about when they make statements that conflict with the Bible? Do we always believe them? Or are we skeptical?

Not only is Jesus greater than the prophets and scientists, He is also greater than the angels.

Greater than the angels

ark of covenantStraight after this, Hebrews says that Jesus is superior to the angels (Heb. 1:4). The Mosaic Law was given by angels (Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19; Heb. 2:2). In the Old Testament, angels brought messages from God (Zech. 1:14-17) and protected God’s people (Dan. 6:22). Angels also told Mary and Joseph about Christ’s birth (Mt. 1:20-25; Lk. 2:26-38). That’s why the Jews revered angels.

The Jews thought that Jesus was only a man and therefore He was inferior to the angels (Ps. 8:5; Heb. 2:7). But Hebrews says that Jesus is superior to angels in two ways: as Son of God (Heb. 1:4-14) and as Son of Man (Heb. 2:5-18).

As Son of God, Jesus has a close relationship with God the Father. That’s what this metaphor means. But God never addressed an angel as His Son. The angels praised God at His birth (Lk. 2:13-14) and will worship Christ when He returns to rule over the earth (Heb. 1:6). Another contrast is that Jesus rules while angels serve. Jesus is in a position of honor and power at God’s right hand, while angels serve God’s people (Heb. 11:13-14).

Hebrews stresses “It is not to angels He has subject the world to come” (Heb. 2:5). According to Psalm 8, mankind was to have dominion over the earth, not the angels (Ps. 8:6-8). But this dominion was lost when Adam sinned. Hebrews reminds us “Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them” (Heb. 2:8). This is illustrated by the fact that some people are still killed by animals. But there is hope because he writes, “But we do see Jesus … now crowned with glory and honor”. As Son of Man, in a coming day, Jesus will rule over the earth and restore mankind’s dominion over the rest of God’s creation on earth.

Then Hebrews describes how the effects of the fall into sin are reversed. Jesus became a human being and offered His perfect life as a sacrifice for our sin. It notes that Jesus became a man, not an angel and Jesus saved people, not angels (Heb. 2:16-17). So even as a man, Jesus was greater than the angels. He did what they couldn’t do.

Who are equivalent to angels today? I think that those into dreams and visions, meditation and the new age could be because they involve spiritual experiences and the mystical. So an updated principle is that “Jesus is greater than those promoting spiritual experiences”.

How do we respond when someone claims that John the Baptist was the reincarnation of Elijah? Or if they blame demons for all their ailments and misfortunes? What if they always seek to know God’s will through dreams and visions?

Not only is Jesus greater than the angels and those promoting spiritual experiences, He is also greater than Moses and Joshua.

Greater than Moses and Joshua

mosesMoses was one of Israel’s greatest national heroes. He led them out of slavery in Egypt and received their law at Mt Sinai.

Next we are told. “Fix your thoughts on Jesus” (Heb. 3:1). He is our Apostle and High Priest. These are figures of speech. An apostle is sent – Jesus was sent to earth by God the Father. Whereas a high priest entered God’s presence to make atonement for the people of God (Heb. 2:17). So Jesus represents God to us and also represents us before God. He is a mediator or go-between.

Then there is another figure of speech – “God’s house” means God’s people – it is explained later as “we are His house” (Heb. 3:6). Moses was a faithful servant in all God’s house, which means that he served the Israelites (Heb. 3:5). But Jesus Christ was the builder of the house and He was God (Heb. 3:3-4. He was also faithful as the Son over God’s house (Heb. 3:6). Being a Son means that He is equal with God. So Jesus is greater than Moses.

Joshua took over from Moses and led the Israelites into Canaan, which was to be a land of rest for them. But most of them died before they reached Canaan and those that entered didn’t find that rest (Heb. 3:1-19). Instead there was conflict in Canaan, and sin, sickness, sorrow, suffering and death. While Joshua was unable to provide rest, it is available through Jesus Christ – “we who believed enter that rest” (Heb. 4:3). So Jesus is greater than Joshua.

Who are equivalent to Moses and Joshua today? I think that Presidents, Prime Ministers, kings and queens could be because they lead nations. So an updated principle is that “Jesus is greater than the leaders of nations”.

What if someone believes that a certain politician is superhuman and can solve all our problems? If they praise them and put them on a pedestal?

Not only is Jesus greater than Moses and Joshua and the leaders of nations, He is also greater than the Jewish high priests.

Greater than the Jewish high priests

high priest 2Next Jesus is called “a great high priest” (Heb. 4:14). We have already said that He represents us to God like a high priest did for the Jews. His priesthood was greater than the Jewish one because it was like that of Melchizedek in the Old Testament (Gen. 14:18-20; Heb. 7:1-3). Melchizedek was king of Salem (now called Jerusalem) in the time of Abraham. His priesthood was similar to Jesus’ priesthood because it didn’t depend on his genealogy (he was not a descendant of Aaron like in the Jewish priesthood) and his priesthood continues forever (it didn’t end when he died like in the Jewish priesthood).

Three reasons are given to show that the priesthood of Melchizedek and Jesus is greater than that of Aaron:

  • The first involves tithes and blessings (Heb. 7:4-10). Abraham paid Melchizedek a tithe of 10%. The one who collects a tithe has a greater position than the one who pays it. Melchizedek blessed Abraham. The one who blesses has a greater position than the one who is blessed.
  • Second, there has been a change in the priesthood (Heb. 7:11-19). The eternal priesthood of Jesus has replaced the temporary priesthood of Aaron. But the Jewish priesthood was established by the Mosaic Law. This means that the law has also changed. Because of Jesus, both the Jewish priesthood and their law have been replaced. When Jesus died this was signified by the tearing apart from top to bottom of the curtain to the Most Holy Place in the temple. (Mt. 27:51; Mk. 15:38; Lk. 23:45).
  • Third, the priesthood of Melchizedek and Jesus is perpetual and permanent (Heb. 7:23-28). Jesus lives forever, whereas the Jewish high priests were replaced when they died. Also Jesus is “holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens”. He didn’t need to offer sacrifices for His own sins because he was sinless. Also, “He offered Himself”, not an animal.

So the Jewish priesthood was superseded by a divine eternal priesthood.

Who are equivalent to the high priests today? I think that archbishops and popes could be because they are religious leaders. So an updated principle is that “Jesus is greater than the religious leaders”.

What if someone believes that a certain religious leader is always right and can solve all our problems? If they put them on a pedestal?

Not only is Jesus greater than the Jewish high priests and the religious leaders, He also offered a greater sacrifice.

His sacrifice is greater than the Jewish sacrifices

We now come to the writer’s main point – “Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (Heb. 8:1). Here’s his answer to the Jews who say ‘We have the temple, the priests, the offerings, and the ceremonies; but you Christians have nothing like this’. His response is ‘We have such a high priest’ who sits at the right hand of God in heaven! Our high priest is in heaven close to God! He is greater than all your Jewish high priests. We have Jesus Christ. What you have is “a copy and shadow of what is in heaven” (Heb. 8:5). You have the model, we have the full-scale. You have a photo or illustration or copy or shadow or silhouette, we have the real thing (Heb. 8:3; 9:23).

Christ’s ministry as a high priest was superior to that of a Jewish high priest because He worked under a superior covenant (Heb. 8:6). The new covenant, which superseded the old Mosaic covenant has “better promises” because they are unconditional, not conditional on obedience like the old covenant (Heb. 7:22; 8:6b-13). “God found fault with the people” because they were unable to obey the Law of Moses. So it was replaced with the new covenant which depended on God alone. He said:

  • “I will put my laws in their minds”
  • “I will be their God, and they will be my people”
  • “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more”

This makes the old covenant and its priests and animal sacrifices obsolete (Heb. 8:13).

Since the writer is going to contrast the offerings of Christ and Judaism, he selects the most important offering – the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur; Lev. 16) (Heb. 9:7). This is the most important day in the Jewish calendar. On this day the high priest sacrificed an animal to pay for his sins and the sins of the people. He entered the Most Holy place of the temple and sprinkled blood on the mercy seat of the ark. But Jesus put away sins, not merely covered them. And He gave believers a clear conscience, not an annual reminder of sins (Heb. 9:14, 26, 28; 10:3). This shows that Christ’s ministry is greater than that of the Jewish high priest on the Day of Atonement.

But Jesus was not only the high priest, He was also the sacrifice. He was a “better sacrifice” (Heb. 9:23) because He offered Himself as a sacrifice, instead of animals (Heb. 9:25-26). One sacrifice was sufficient – it was “once for all” (Heb. 7:27; 10:10), not again and again (Heb. 9:25). It gave “eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12). Fortunately the Old Testament system of sacrifices has now been superseded by Christ’s sacrifice (Heb. 10:8-10).

The New Covenant is an unconditional agreement of grace which God will make with the Israelites when the Lord Jesus sets up His kingdom on earth (Jer. 31:33-34). Today Christians enjoy some of the blessings of the New Covenant but its complete fulfilment waits until Israel is restored and redeemed nationally.

What is equivalent to Jewish sacrifices today? I think that good works could be because that is how people generally think they will get to heaven. So an updated principle is that “Jesus’ sacrifice is greater that our good works”.

We get requests to support charities and the needy. Some do volunteer community service. How do we rate such good works against spreading the good news about Christ’s sacrifice?

Lessons for us

Are we tempted like the Jewish Christians to go back to our old heroes? To those who occupied us before we changed to follow the Lord. Those which are popular and followed by the majority.

We have seen that Jesus is greater than all the Jewish heroes like the prophets, angels, Moses and Joshua, and the priests. He is also greater than all our heroes whoever they may be including scientists, those promoting spiritual experiences, and the leaders of nations and religions. Likewise Jesus’ sacrifice is greater than the Jewish sacrifices and our good works.

What about our desires for money and what it can buy? Our desires for recognition, success and popularity? And our desires for recreation, entertainment, leisure and pleasure? Are we placing these temptations above living for Jesus? How do we use our time? How do we spend our money?

Because Jesus is greater than all our heroes and all our desires, He’s the greatest of all. So let’s follow and live for Him.

Written, July 2014

Also see:
Keep on running – Heb. Ch 10-12


Who are we following?

following

followingHave you noticed how many media commentators ridicule God, Christians and the Bible? Their biased comments stir up controversy and attract attention. They promote atheism and ungodly lifestyles. But we can choose to either accept their views or reject them.

When Jesus was on earth people (the Jews) also had a choice between their religious leaders (who He called thieves) and Jesus. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10NIV). But what is life to the full? After looking at what this verse means we will see that following Jesus turns an empty spiritual life into a bountiful one.

Context

The book of John is a selective biography of Jesus Christ. In the previous chapter Jesus heals a man who was born blind. As this miracle was done on the Sabbath day, the Pharisees used it to criticize Jesus saying that He was “not from God” and was a sinner (Jn. 9:16, 31). Jesus replied with a figure of speech saying that they were spiritually blind (Jn. 9:39-41). Chapter 10 is a continuation of this conversation as Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you Pharisees …” (Jn. 10:1).

In John 10:1-18 Jesus uses metaphors (v.6). He is the Good Shepherd and the gate. The Pharisees are thieves, robbers and hired hands. The Jewish people are sheep. In the Old Testament kings and leaders were often called shepherds (Ezek. 34:1-10) and God is said to be like a shepherd (Ps. 23:1; Is. 40:10-11; Ezek. 34:11-16). As shepherds lead sheep, leaders lead people. So this imagery should have been familiar to the Jews.

The main point is the contrast between Jesus and the Pharisees. They are selfish and damaging like thieves and robbers and like hired hands they don’t care about the sheep (people) (v.12-13); whereas He sacrificially lays down His life for people (v.11, 15, 17-18) and saves and sustains them (v.9).

The Jews who heard this conversation were divided (Jn. 10:19-39). Some opposed Jesus saying He was demon-passed, raving mad, guilty of blasphemy and tried to seize Him and to kill Him by stoning (v. 20, 31-33, 39). They didn’t believe His words (v.25-26). Others disagreed (v.21).

Contrast

John 10:10 is an example of contrastive parallelism where the second line contrasts with the first line:
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
The contrast is between the purpose of the thief and of the Shepherd. One destroys life and the other gives an abundant life. But what does “life” mean, is it physical or spiritual?

The Greek word “zoe” (Strongs #2222) means life, both physical (present) and spiritual (particularly future). It occurs 36 times in the book of John and each time seems to refer to eternal spiritual life. For example:
• Later in the same chapter, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (Jn. 10:28), where “life” means God’s gift of spiritual life.
• Other examples of spiritual life in John are, “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
• And, “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (Jn. 14:6).
This life is given by God upon trust in Jesus Christ (Jn. 5:39-40; 1 Jn. 5:11-12).

So the contrast in John 10:10 is between the presence and absence of spiritual life.

Steal, kill and destroy

John 10:10 says the thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. These words graphically describe the impact of the lack of spiritual life in the Pharisees. The Greek word “apollumi” (Strongs #622) means permanent destruction or loss. It is translated “perish” in John 10:28 (in the same chapter) and John 3:16. It is eternal death, which is the opposite of eternal life.

If we ignore Jesus, we:
• Are following the thieves, robbers and hired hands of this world that don’t care about people.
• Have an empty spiritual life that leads to eternal punishment.
• Miss out on a bountiful spiritual life that leads to eternal joy.

However, Jesus said with regard to those who follow Him, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (Jn. 10:28). Note the contrast, they get eternal life and miss perishing.

Life to the full

John 10:10 says that Jesus gives life to the full. The Greek word “perissos” (Strongs #4053) is an adjective that means over and above, more than is necessary, abundant, and greater. This is the only instance of this word in John’s writings, but he uses the verb, “perisseuo” (Strongs #4052) to describe leftover food after people had eaten (Jn. 6:12-13).

If we follow Jesus, we:
• Are following the One who sacrificially laid down His life for people and saves and sustains them.
• Have a bountiful spiritual life that leads to eternal joy.
• Avoid an empty spiritual life that leads to eternal punishment.

So the contrast between Jesus and the Pharisees in John 10:10 is:
• They are spiritually dead and influence others to remain in this state.
• Jesus offers people spiritual life that is so abundant that it is more than people need.
The people had a choice to follow either Jesus or the Pharisees.

Lessons for us

In view of humanity’s sinfulness, John 10:10 teaches us that God is gracious, loving and merciful. From the context, we see that there is conflict when some people believe this and some don’t. As Jesus was opposed strongly, we shouldn’t be surprised when there is opposition to God, Christians and the Bible.

Some use John 10:10 to teach that Christians will be blessed abundantly in their physical lives. But we know from Scripture that this is not the case. For example, Stephen was a godly man who witnessed faithfully to the Jewish Sanhedrin, but he was martyred (Acts 6:8 – 7:60).

Jesus is not on earth today, but the Bible contains a record of His teachings. The Pharisees are not opposing Christ today, but others are, including atheistic commentators who don’t believe the words of Scripture. As there was a contrast between Jesus and the Pharisees, so there is a contrast between Christ’s teachings and those who reject Christianity. Who will you follow?

Jesus cares for our eternal welfare and has provided an abundant spiritual life for those who follow Him. Following Jesus turns an empty spiritual life into a bountiful one.

Written, May 2014


Who is accountable to God?

What's your excuse illustration design over white

What's your excuse illustration design over whiteChildren grow up from infancy, to childhood, to adolescence and then to adulthood. At the beginning they are totally dependent on their parents and are not held accountable for their behavior. But as they grow up, they are trained to be responsible and accountable. The Bible teaches that everyone is answerable to God (Mt. 12:36-37; Rom. 3:19; Heb. 9:27). But when are children accountable to God?

The Bible says that both Christians and non-Christians are accountable to God. At the end of their lives, Christians “must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10NIV) when “each of us will give an account of ourselves to God” (Rom. 14:12). This is used to determine their rewards in heaven (1 Cor. 3:12-15). Non-Christians are “judged according to what they had done” at the “great white throne” (Rev. 20:11-15). This is used to determine their punishment in hell.

Is this fair? God has revealed Himself to everyone in at least two ways. First the natural world demands a Creator – complicated things, like animals and plants and people, don’t make themselves (Rom. 1:19-20). Second, we all have a conscience and so can know instinctively what is right and wrong and feel guilty when we do wrong (Rom. 2:14-15). If someone hasn’t heard about how God revealed Himself in history (in the Bible), then they are judged according to their response to these more general revelations of God. So God is fair and “people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).

Non-accountable

The Bible teaches that we are sinful from birth (Gen. 8:21; Ps. 51:5; 58:3). We are all sinners (Rom. 3:10, 23). So children are never innocent in the sense of being sinless. This is serious because spiritual death leads to eternal separation from God (Jn. 3:16; Rom 6:23).

The Bible also teaches that because they do not yet know the difference between right and wrong or good and evil, infants are not accountable for their sin (Dt. 1:39; Num. 14:31; Isa. 7:14-16; Jon. 4:11). They are not yet aware of their sinful condition or God’s cure.

So very young children are not accountable for their sin. Their minds are not developed well enough to understand that things don’t make themselves or to feel guilty when they do wrong. But what about when they grow past this stage of life?

Accountable

The Bible makes two types of statements about the sins of parents and children. First, with regard to the commandment given to the Israelites against idolatry, “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Ex. 20:5; 34:7; Num. 14:18; Dt. 5:9). As they lived in households that extended to three or four generations, this means that the temporal judgment for their rebellion against God was on themselves and their households. The Bible gives examples of households that experienced the consequence of God’s judgment of the sins of their patriarch (Num. 16:31-35; Josh. 7:24-25). Likewise, today the consequences of a parent’s behaviour can impact others in their household.

When the Jews used this statement to say that they were suffering for their ancestors’ sins, Ezekiel corrected them writing “The one who sins is the one who will die (Ezek. 18:4, 20). This is an example of the second type of statement, which relates to the death penalty. “Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin” (Dt. 24:16; 2 Ki. 14:6; 2 Chron. 25:4). So in the Israelite legal system, a penalty was to be imposed only on those who committed the crime, and not on those who were innocent. This meant that after children reached the age when they knew the difference between right and wrong, they were accountable for their behavior. Likewise, today when children are old enough to respond to their conscience they are responsible to God for their own behaviour.

Conclusion

So the statement that everyone is accountable to God doesn’t apply to young children or those whose minds are not developed well enough to understand that things don’t make themselves or to feel guilty when they do wrong.

But those who have grown past this stage of life and can understand these things are accountable to God. They have no excuse. That’s why it’s important to know that our sinful ways separate us from God, but Jesus died to take the punishment that we deserve (which is hell) and reconcile us to God. We need to take responsibility for our behavior and confess our sins, because God cannot forgive our sin until it is confessed.

Written, May 2014


Why did Jesus tell the paralyzed man, “Your sins are forgiven”?

forgive 1

forgive 1Politicians often make sweeping statements. But can we trust them? Because of our doubts, the Australian ABC news features a “Fact Check” which determines the accuracy of claims by politicians, public figures, advocacy groups and institutions. Their verdict often highlights the selective use of statistics.

People often doubt politician’s promises. When Jesus was on earth, many of the Jews doubted God’s promises in the Old Testament. They didn’t live like they were God’s covenant people. We will see that they were challenged by a message from God to consider their spiritual need for the forgiveness of their sins.

The promise

Because He healed many people, crowds of people followed Jesus at Capernaum in Galilee. When He was preaching in a house that was packed full of people, four men brought a paralyzed man to Jesus by lowering him down through a hole in the roof (Mk. 2:1-5)! The preaching was interrupted and “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’”. On another occasion Jesus also announced publicly that a woman’s sins were forgiven (Lk. 7:36-50). Later the man was healed instantly, took up his mat and walked home. This amazed everyone because they had never seen anything like it before.

The man and his companion’s faith may have come from the Old Testament or they may have heard the message of John the Baptist or Jesus of confessing and repenting of sins for forgiveness (Mt. 3:6; Mk 1:14-15; Lk. 3:3).

This happened before a crowd of people comprised of people with faith (like the paralytic and his friends), people with no faith (like the religious leaders who saw Jesus as a threat), and people with uncertain and doubtful faith. What did the claim of “your sins are forgiven” mean to each of these groups?

The faithful

The faithful probably knew what the Old Testament says about sin and forgiveness. That is what Jesus would have preached about. For Jews, sin was disobedience of the laws given to Moses (Exodus – Deuteronomy). Sin was serious because it resulted in God’s punishment instead of His blessing. They were given sacrifices to be offered to atone for unintentional sins such as the sin offering, the guilt offering, and the annual day of atonement (Lev. 4:1 – 5:13; 5:14 – 6:7; 16:1-34).

Sin is serious because “you may be sure that your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23). Our sins separate us from God (Isa. 59:2). Wilful sin was to be punished by execution or banishment (Num. 15:30-31). In the case of unintentional sin, a sacrifice restored their covenant relationship with the Lord.

Sin also has other consequences, for example Moses and Aaron didn’t enter Canaan because of their sin (Num. 20:12). The Old Testament records the sins of the Israelites and their consequences. History teaches that despite their deliverance from Egypt and sustenance in the wilderness journey, “they kept on sinning” (Ps. 78:32). Their sins were listed and Daniel confessed them (Ps. 106:6-46; Dan. 9:4-15). Their persistent sin and rebellion against God resulted in their conquest by the Assyrians and Babylonians (Ps. 79:8).

Like David (Ps. 51:1-10), they were to confess their sins and pray for God’s forgiveness (Ps. 19:12-13; 32:5; Prov. 28:13). When they did this, God promised to forgive them (Ps. 32:5; 99:8; 103:3; 130:3-4). Because the faithful had confessed their sins, when these people heard “your sins are forgiven”, they took it as a message of assurance from God that their sins were forgiven. Their faith was affirmed.

The unfaithful

Like many of the religious leaders, the unfaithful Jews may still have followed the Jewish rituals and sacrifices, but they were selfish and didn’t trust in God. As the news of Jesus’ ministry spread the religious leaders became increasingly hostile. On this occasion they “had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem” with the purpose of finding some accusation against Him (Lk. 5:17).

When these people heard “your sins are forgiven”, they knew that only God can forgive sins (Mk. 2:7). But they didn’t believe that Jesus had this power. Then Jesus said “But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Lk. 2:10). His power to heal the man was a visible affirmation of His invisible power to forgive sins. But they continued in unbelief.

When these people heard “your sins are forgiven”, they used it to make accusations against Jesus. While the faithful helped the helpless man, the unfaithful hindered Jesus’ ministry. They remained in their unbelief.

The doubtful and uncertain

What about people between the two previous categories with uncertain and doubtful faith? These would have been impacted by the miraculous healing. Because Jesus linked the physical healing and the spiritual forgiveness, they should have been challenged about their spiritual need and been convicted of their sin and reminded of the Old Testament or the message of John the Baptist or Jesus of confessing and repenting of sins for their forgiveness.

These were the people that Jesus was targeting because they needed to hear this message and respond to it. Because, “everyone who believes in Him (Christ) receives forgiveness of sins through His name” (Acts 10:43).

Conclusion

Because we have the New Testament, we know much more than these people. They didn’t know that Jesus was the promised Messiah (Mt. 9:8) who would give up His life as a sacrifice so that no more sacrifices would be required for their sins. We have the Scriptural evidence that Jesus was the Son of God and not just another prophet. Because Christ died for our sins (past, present and future), God can forgive us (Mt. 26:28). His judicial forgiveness is eternal.

When we hear or read the words of God from the Bible, is our faith affirmed, our unbelief unchanged, or are we moved do something about it? Are we challenged to consider our spiritual need for the forgiveness of sins? The Bible says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (Jas. 1:22).

Written, March 2014


A change of mind

u turn

u turnWhat does it take to change your mind about something? Did you know that Jesus’ bothers changed their mind about Him? They did a u-turn from opposition to attraction.

Opposition

Jesus had at least four brothers (James, Joseph, Simon and Judas) and at least two sisters (Mt. 13:55-56; Mk. 6:3). They had the same mother, but not the same father. It was a Jewish family, Mary is a shortened form of Miriam, Jesus’ Hebrew name was Joshua, James’ Hebrew name was Jacob, and Judas’ Hebrew name was Judah.

Jesus was popular and many people followed Him, but His brothers thought he was insane and mentally ill (Mk. 3:21-22). This is consistent with others who thought He was demon possessed (Mk. 3:22; Jn. 10:20). After crowds came when he healed many people, His brothers travelled from Nazareth to Capernaum “to take charge of Him” (Mk. 3:21). They may have thought he brought shame and embarrassment to the family. John said that “even His own brothers did not believe in Him” (Jn. 7:5). They didn’t believe He was the promised Messiah. Instead they were deeply offended and refused to believe in Him when He preached (Mt. 13:57; Mk. 6:3-4). So He was rejected in His hometown of Nazareth and in His own home.

Even at His death Jesus entrusted the care of His mother, Mary, to His disciple John instead to His half brothers (Jn.19:26-27). It seems as though the brothers still didn’t believe in Him at this time.

Attraction

The next reference in Scripture to Christ’s brothers is after His resurrection when the believers who gathered together to pray included, “Mary the mother of Jesus, and … His brothers” (Acts 1:14). Here we see that the brothers had changed their mind about Jesus and had joined His disciples. What caused the change?

Look at what happened before this time: Christ had died, was buried, resurrected back to life and ascended to heaven. The Lord had appeared to the disciples twice after His resurrection (Jn. 20:19-23, 26-29). The “disciples” present at this time behind locked doors for fear of the Jewish leaders may have included the women and the Lord’s brothers. Also, a special appearance by Jesus to James would have impacted James (1 Cor. 15:7).

After this the Lord’s brothers were preachers like Paul and the apostles (1 Cor.  9:5). James became an elder in the church at Jerusalem and wrote the book of James (Gal. 1:19; Jas. 1:1) and Judas probably wrote the book of Jude (Jude 1).

So Jesus’ brothers changed their mind radically about Him when they understood who He was and what He had done. Have we?

Written, February 2014


Keeping contracts

rainbow 2 resizedWe live in a world of contracts. They regulate our lives and financial transactions. There are employment contracts and marriage contracts. Contracts for the supply of telephone and internet services. Contracts when you buy a car or a property or build a house. Anti-bullying contracts at schools.

This article looks at some of God’s contracts in the Bible. We will see that because God keeps His contracts, we can rely on them.

Context

Adam and Eve lived in utopia. But after they disobeyed God, they were banished from the Garden of Eden. Sinful behaviour increased until it had to be punished when God destroyed the world in a global flood and started again with Noah’s family. Noah lived about 2,500 years BC. We see two aspects of God’s character in His response to humanity’s sin. First there is judgement and punishment. Second there is grace and mercy. God’s covenants in the Old Testament are contracts with great promises.

The first five books of the Bible were written by Moses at about 1,500 years BC. The most important types of contracts, agreements and treaties at this time involved kings. There were two types:

  • Royal land grants – A king’s free gift of land or some other benefit to a loyal servant. The grant was normally perpetual and unconditional, but the servant’s descendants benefited from it only if they continued to be loyal.
  • Suzerain–vassal treaties – A treaty between a great king and the lesser kings that he ruled. Here the one with the political control is called the suzerain (a French word) and the other is called the vassal (a Latin word). The suzerain protected the vassal as long as the vassal was loyal to him. It was a conditional treaty.

We will now look at a series of covenants/contracts that God made with humanity. A contract is a legally binding agreement between two parties.

Promised protection

After the flood, God told Noah’s family, “Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Gen. 9:11NIV). He called it “a covenant for all generations to come” and an “everlasting covenant” (Gen. 9:12, 16). It was between God and every living creature on earth and was symbolised by the rainbow. It was unconditional, like a royal land grant.

When in Babylon, Ezekiel had the vision of God’s glory, and the radiance was like a rainbow (Ezek. 1:28). When on Patmos, John had the vision of the throne in heaven, which was encircled by a green rainbow (Rev. 4:3). The rainbow symbolises that God keeps His covenants/contracts.

How did people respond to God’s promise never to destroy the world again with a global flood? At this time they were also told to “fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1, 7). But they were disobedient and built the city of Babel instead and resisted being scattered across the earth (Gen. 11:1-4). That’s behaving like a teenager who is given everything by their parents, but rebels and goes their own way.

What about us? The Bible says that Jesus is “sustaining all things by His powerful word” and “in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:11). Do we live as though God sustains the universe, or do we ignore Him and go our own way?

So the first covenant/contract was a promise of God’s protection and now we will move to the second.

Promised nation and land

When the people proudly built a tower as a monument to celebrate their achievements, God judged their sin by causing the people to start using different languages (Gen. 11:7-9). Because they couldn’t understand each other, they scattered across the earth into different nations that spoke different languages.

Then God responded with grace and mercy and promised to give Abraham’s descendants the land of Canaan from the Wadi of Egypt to the Euphrates River (Gen. 15:18-21). This was unconditional like a royal land grant. By the way, this promise has not yet been fulfilled. Although Solomon ruled over it as over vassal states, his people didn’t occupy all of it themselves (1 Ki. 4:21, 24).

How did they respond? Sarah, unable to have any children, persuaded Abraham to father a child by her servant, Hagar (Gen. 16:2). The child was Ishmael, the ancestor of the Arabic people. Sarah and Abraham lacked faith and took matters into their own hands.

So God repeated the promise to give Abraham’s descendants the land of Canaan and promised to be their God (Gen. 17:1-22). He promised a son who was to be named Isaac who would have many descendants and Ishmael would also have many descendants. It was an everlasting covenant/contract (Gen. 17:7-8).  They were to undergo male circumcision because it was the sign of this covenant/contract (Gen. 17:11).

How did they respond? Abraham promptly circumcised the males in his household. When they were told that Sarah would have a son, Abraham worshiped and laughed in amazement, while Sarah laughed in disbelief as she was past the childbearing age (Gen. 17:17-18; 18:9-15). In this case Sarah doubted God’s promise and needed to hear, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14).

Politicians make promises before elections. But people often doubt them because afterwards they can get downgraded into core and non-core promises or scrapped because it is alleged that the circumstances have changed.

What about us? In the New Testament, God promises eternal life, the Holy Spirit, and Christ’s second coming. Do we treat God like we treat politicians? Do we live as though these are doubtful non-core promises? Are we like Abraham who trusted God or like Sarah who didn’t?

So the second covenant/contract was a promise of a nation and land and now we will move to the third.

Promised relationship

The promises given to Abraham were repeated to Isaac and Jacob; and Jacob’s family followed Joseph to Egypt. After being in Egypt for many years, Jacob’s family grew to a nation of 2 million people and Moses led them out in the exodus to Canaan. At Mt Sinai, God promised the Israelites they would be His special people – “my treasured possession” (Ex. 19:5) and He would drive out the Canaanites so they could occupy their land (Ex. 19 – 31). As it was conditional on obeying God’s laws, including the 10 commandments, social laws and religious laws, this covenant/contract was like a Suzerain-vassal agreement. There were blessings for obedience and punishment for disobedience (Lev. 26, Dt. 28-29). It was based on works; if people obeyed, God would do His part. The Sabbath day was given to Israel as a sign of this covenant/contract (Ex. 31:13, 17).

How did they respond? The 4th time that Moses went up Mt Sinai to met with God lasted 40 days (Ex. 24:18) and the people got impatient and made a golden idol shaped like a calf (Ex. 32:1-6). It was not a good start! Then after the spies explored Canaan, the people rebelled against God and wanted to go back to Egypt (Num. 14:1-4). Their punishment was to wander in the wilderness for 38 years, while those that rebelled died before they reached Canaan.

After the Israelites occupied Canaan, they were ruled by Judges for about 300 years. Then they became a monarchy. Saul was the first king and David the second. David lived about 1,000 years BC. Later in the monarchy they divided into the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. All of Israel’s kings were ungodly; they followed idols instead of keeping the covenant/contract. They were punished in the Assyrian conquest of 722BC. Many of the kings of Judah also followed idols instead of keeping the covenant/contract. They were punished in the Babylonian conquest of 586BC.

If a tenant fails to pay the rent on time or damages the property, they are warned of the danger of being evicted. If they continue failing to comply with the contract then the lease is terminated and they are evicted.

Fortunately, it wasn’t the end for the Jews as some returned to Judah after the exile in Babylon. But we will see later that this covenant/contract is now called the “old covenant”.

Likewise, sin shouldn’t be the end of our fellowship with the Lord. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). If we confess our sins, then we can experience God’s parental forgiveness.

So the third covenant was a promise of a special relationship with God and now we will move to the fourth.

Promised dynasty

When king David planned to build a temple for God, God promised him an everlasting dynasty, a great name, and peace for the nation of Israel (2 Sam. 7:5-16, 28; 1 Chron. 17:11-14; 2 Chron. 6:16; Ps. 89:3-4). His son Solomon would build the temple and experience God’s mercy. This covenant/contract was unconditional like a royal land grant. But it was conditional for Solomon’s descendants (Ps. 132:11-12). It was repeated by Jeremiah and Luke (Jer. 33:17-26; Lk. 1:32-33). The prophets also predicted a Messiah who would bring peace and prosperity.

A descendant of David ruled in Judah until the Babylonian conquest in 586BC when the descendants went into exile and there was no kingdom and no king for about 400 years. Then King Herod ruled but he wasn’t Jewish as he had Edomite (Idumean) ancestry. At this time Jesus was rejected as king, but since His ascension, He is on His throne in heaven. Peter and Paul said that Jesus Christ was the fulfilment of God’s promise to David (Acts 2:29-36; 13:20-24). Jesus is a descendant of David (Lk. 3). His kingdom is everlasting.

Unrest has stopped peace talks in the Ukraine and between Pakistan and the Taliban. There is little progress in Syrian and Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Peace is illusive in the world’s hot spots.

The Bible says that this world will not have peace until Jesus returns to set up His kingdom. Just as Solomon had a peaceful kingdom, Jesus will bring peace to the world. Do we believe this?

So the fourth covenant/contract was a promise of a dynasty and now we will move to the final one.

Promised revival

We’ve seen that the Israelites couldn’t keep the old covenant/contract. The prophet Jeremiah said that because they had broken the covenant by disobedience and idolatry, God would bring a disaster (Jer. 11). He predicts a Babylonian conquest and 70 year exile (Jer. 12-13; 25; 27). Then he predicts that Israel would be restored after the captivity (Jer. 30-31).

He also promises the Israelites a new covenant/contract, which becomes effective after the 2nd advent of Christ (Jer. 31:31-34). “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jer. 31:33-34).

The nation is revived and indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Ezek. 36:25, 27); they willingly obey the Word of God; they have a unique relationship with God; everyone will know the Lord; their sins are forgiven and forgotten; and the nation continues forever (Jer. 31:35-37). In fact Paul says that Jews will begin to turn to God after the rapture (Rom. 11:25-26). This was a mystery to people in the first century and many are ignorant of it today.

This is called the “New covenant” (Heb. 8). It’s a promise for the Jews, involving Christ’s millennial reign on earth which will merge into the eternal kingdom. This covenant/contract was instituted at the first Lord’s Supper when Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Lk. 22:20). It began at His death when the curtain inside the temple was torn in two. His death makes the new covenant/contract possible. It’s the foundation.

Ancient covenants were validated by the sacrificial death of an animal (Gen. 15:9-21; Heb. 9:19). Christ had to die before the new covenant/contract commenced. He is the mediator of the new covenant/contract (Heb. 12:22).

The blessings of the new covenant/contract for the Jews are both physical and spiritual. Believers enter into it spiritually; they enjoy its spiritual blessings. Our sins are forgiven and we have peace with God if we accept the gospel by believing that Christ paid the penalty for our sin. Gentiles like us have been grafted into the tree of the faithful, but in future believing Jews will be grafted back into the tree (Rom.11:17, 23-24).

The new covenant/contract is different to the one given at Mt Sinai. It is unconditional like a royal land grant. It depends on God alone. The old covenant/contract of the Jewish law is now obsolete (Heb. 8:13). We shouldn’t live by those rules and practices. The old covenant/contract was a shadow of what was to come. Its purpose was to bring a knowledge and conviction of sin (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:10). It was temporary, until the time of Christ. God confirmed this by destroying the temple in AD 70 (1 Cor. 3:7, 11). The new covenant/contract is eternal (Heb. 13:20). Since Christ’s death, the Jewish law has been replaced with the Christian faith and the Jews have been replaced by the church as God’s people on earth (Gal. 3:23-25).

With the advent of computers, typewriters are now obsolete. Photocopiers have made carbon paper obsolete. Other things like floppy disks and video tapes are also obsolete. So let’s not be tempted to try to please God by following the Old Testament laws, because they are now obsolete.

The gospel is called the “new covenant” (2 Cor. 3:6). Because it depends on God and not humanity, it brings forgiveness of sins, something the old covenant/contract couldn’t do. It’s a “better covenant” with “better promises” (Heb. 7:22; 9:6) as explained in Hebrews chapters 8-10. The law promised blessing for obedience but threatened death for disobedience. It required righteousness but didn’t give the ability to produce it. The gospel imputes righteousness where there is none and empowers believers to live righteously. It’s better, because it relies on God alone. The Old Testament offerings were ceremonial and ritual, they didn’t deal with the guilt of sin (Heb. 9:9-10). Christ’s sacrifice was superior, it was once for all.

The Lord’s Supper is our symbol of the new covenant/contract (Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). Do we celebrate it regularly and recall our spiritual blessings?

So the final covenant/contract was a promise of Jewish revival and spiritual blessings for believers.

Lessons for us

What can we learn from these five covenants/contracts that God made with humanity?

We have seen that God’s covenants in the Old Testament are contracts with great promises. They illustrate God’s grace and mercy.

The covenant/contract often had a sign or symbol to remind people of it:

  • Rainbow – given to Noah to remind of God’s protection for all
  • Male circumcision – given to Abraham to remind of Jewish nation and land
  • Sabbath day – given to Moses to remind of the Jewish relationship with God (They were His special people)

The other two covenants didn’t include a sign, although the Lord’s supper reminds Christians of the spiritual blessings of the new covenant/contract (Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25) and receiving the Holy Spirit could also be viewed as a sign (Eph. 1:13).

They show us that God keeps His covenants/contracts. He is faithful. In particular the rainbow symbolises that God keeps His covenants/contracts. Many of the promises he made in the Old Testament have already been fulfilled. But not all of them.

We have seen that people don’t always accept what God offers to them. Some trust in them like Abraham, while others rebel against them like the Israelites. Do we live as though God is our master, our Suzerain, and we are His servant, His vassal?

Some may say the revival in the new covenant/contract only applies to Christians and that God is finished with the Jews. They are extinct as a separate entity in God’s plans for the future. But when he wrote Romans in AD 57, Paul predicted a Jewish revival and it hasn’t happened yet (Romans 11). Also in AD 55 he divided people into three categories, “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32). The Greeks are unconverted Gentiles and the church includes believing Jews and Gentiles. Also Jews appear in John’s visions of the future in the book of Revelation (Rev. 7:4-8; 11:1-2; 14:1-5; 15:5-8). It includes 144,000 Jewish believers who are sealed for their protection. Although this was written in AD95, 25 years after the temple was destroyed, it hasn’t happened yet. So according to the Bible, God isn’t finished with the Jews. If He was, why has the Jewish nation returned to Israel of recent times after a gap of about 1,900 years?

Conclusion

We have seen how God’s grace and mercy flows through the Old Testament covenants/contracts into the New Testament and to us another 2,000 years later. In a world that has no time for God, and in the struggles of life, it’s good to know that He controls the big picture.

So let’s be like Abraham trusting that God keeps His covenants/contracts.

Because God keeps His contracts, we can rely on them.

Written, February 2014


Two messages

No excuse

Recently the world received messages from the planet Mars that came in the form of photographs taken by Curiosity, the NASA Mars Rover. Psalm 19 contains two messages from God, about His power and His love.

God’s power

In the first, the songwriter, David, personifies (gives human attributes to) the universe: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Ps. 19:1-4aNIV). When David was a shepherd, he lived outdoors and would have seen God’s creation power in the sun, moon and stars (Ps. 8:3; 19:4b-6).

What message does the universe “declare”, “proclaim”, “reveal” and “voice” to us? That all of it is “the work of His hands” alone. God created the universe. Great knowledge and power would be required to provide the countless stars, the immense distances and the warmth of the sun. By looking at the universe, we see abundant evidence that God is a very powerful Creator.

God’s love

When the songwriter David turns to describe Scripture (which at that time comprised portions of the Old Testament written before 1000BC), he changes the title of God from “El”, which means the powerful One behind creation (Strong’s #410), to “Yahweh”, which means the personal loving One who cares for His chosen people (#3068). Scripture is a written message from God to us: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

David’s Scripture message largely contained God’s dealings with the Jews and their ancestors. He said that His words were “refreshing” and “wise”, “giving joy” and “light” and “great reward” (Ps. 19: 7-11). In particular, God made covenants with the children of Israel in the days of Abraham, Moses and David (Gen. 12:2-3; Ex. 19-24; Lev.; 2 Sam. 7:5-16). In these He showed His love for them. Although they would reject Him, He would not reject them (Lev. 26:43-44). When we read the Old Testament, it becomes evident that God lovingly cares for His people, the descendants of Abraham. When we read the New Testament we discover this same care is ours as Christians.

Lessons for us

Today we still have the visible message of the created universe and the written message of the Bible. We have no excuse for not knowing what God has done for us: “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).

In the New Testament Paul quoted Psalm 19:4 when he wrote that people had heard the message of God’s power and love as shown by Jesus: “Did they not hear? Of course they did: ‘Their voice [of the heavens, declaring the glory of God] has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Rom. 10:18; Ps. 19:4).

Seeing God’s power and love in Psalm 19 should bring us to say with the psalmist, “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care” (Ps. 95:6-7)?

Written, August 2012


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