Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Respecting Authority

Deep in the Old Testament there is the story of King Saul’s failure to respect God’s authority. After having only partially obeying God’s explicit commandments, he tried to make up for his self-willed action by promising to offer burnt offerings and sacrifices to God. At this point the Scriptures present one of the finest statements in the entire Bible concerning the importance of obedience: “Has Jehovah as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of Jehovah? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry and teraphim.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23) The principle of obedience runs through all of God’s dealings with man. It was a vital principle during the Patriarchal Age and the Mosaical Age, as it continues to be today during the Christian era. In all of the 1189 chapters of the Bible there is no more fundamental principle than that God expects man to obey His commandments. This is seen in a statement from the Prophet Isaiah, “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land: but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured with the sword; for the mouth of Jehovah has spoken it.” (Isaiah 1:19-20) God created the universe for man and then placed him upon the Earth as His crowning work of creation. God then gave men guidelines about how to live in order to make his life happy and successful. These rules and commandments are not arbitrary, but are given out of the infinite love of God for mankind, for the purpose of making mankind’s life meaningful. When man violates these laws he destroys himself. It is seen more readily when man violates the law of gravity, but it is nevertheless true in the moral and spiritual realms that when man violates God’s laws, he crushes himself. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus Christ said, “Not everyone that says unto Me, ‘Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he that does the will of My Father Who is in Heaven,’” (Matthew 7:21). A similar statement is found in James 1:22, where the writer says, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves.” In the entire Bible there is no more fundamental principle than that of obedience. All of us are aware, out of our own experience, that it is not easy to be obedient to authority. It appears that there is an innate desire on the part of all of us to be independent and to have our own way. This seems to be an inborn, natural, universal tendency of man. Even our children do not like to be told when to get up, how to dress, what to eat, what to do, and where to go. Any superimposed authority from outside ourselves is likely to be met with resentment. But when we refuse to obey God, the results are always disastrous.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Kingdom of Priests

Good morning, fellow priests and priestesses! That is not a typical greeting one hears when a church of Christ gathers, but it certainly is appropriate!

The New Testament teaches that all believers who have followed the gospel plan of salvation are to be priests in the service of their King. 4. Come to Him, to that Living Stone, rejected by men but in God's sight chosen and precious; 5. and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 9. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:4-5; 9 [RSV]) There is no longer any special class as there was under the Law of Moses with the Levitical priesthood, for no longer will God accept any mere man to act as mediator between Him and man. Why should He? He already has the perfect Mediator in His Son, Jesus Christ: “For there is one God, and there is one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5 [RSV]).

With the advent of the New Covenant of liberty of Jesus Christ, which is far superior to the Old Covenant under the Law of Moses, we see fulfilled in this priesthood what God intended originally for the nation of Israel: 5. Now therefore, if you will obey My voice and keep My covenant, you shall be My own possession among all peoples; for all the Earth is Mine, 6. and you shall be to Me a Kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:5-6 [RSV]) Because of their disobedience, the priesthood fell to the tribe of Levi only, and Isaiah prophesied of a time to come when a new nation of priests would come to the Gentiles: “but you shall be called the priests of the Lord, men shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their riches you shall glory” (Isaiah 61:6 [RSV]).

To become a priest under the Law of Moses one needed to undergo a consecration process involving a cleansing and an anointing ceremony. This ceremony involved a washing, an oil anointing and the sprinkling of sacrificial blood (Exodus 29:1; 4; 7 and 20). In the New Covenant of Christ we, too, are consecrated to be priests when we are cleansed and anointed. We are cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:26) our sacrificial Lamb (Revelation 7:14) when we are immersed into Him and clothed with His holy garments (Galatians 3:27), washing away our sins (Acts 22:15). We are simultaneously anointed with His Holy Spirit when we undergo baptism. The Apostle Peter said on the Day of Pentecost, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38 [RSV]). This gift of the Holy Spirit is bestowed upon all obedient believers in Christ, and it is also our down payment and promise of eternal life: 13. In Him you also, Who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14. Which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14 [RSV])

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

To Know Him Is To Know Love

As we have discussed previously, the Gnostics believed they were better than everyone else. They believed they were the special, enlightened individuals who held secret knowledge only elites such as themselves were privy to, and from this secret knowledge they could unlock the mysteries of the universe and become gods themselves. Their very name Gnostic comes from the Greek word for knowledge, gnosis.

In his ongoing battle against the heretical Gnostics who denied that Jesus came in the flesh, the Apostle John, the beloved disciple of the Lord, wrote in 1 John 2:20-23 [RSV], 20. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all know. 21. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and know that no lie is of the truth. 22. Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23. No one who denies the Son has the Father. He who confesses the Son has the Father also.

John goes on the offensive quite strongly here in defense of the true gospel of salvation found only in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The word translated “know” above comes from the Greek word ginosko. This word ginosko is gnosis on steroids for it means to come to understand completely. John uses ginosko 40 times alone in 1 John to drive home his point: Have nothing to do with those Gnostics for you know better. There is no secret mystery yet to be revealed to only a select few. That mystery “was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things which have now been announced to you by those who preached the good news to you through the Holy Spirit sent from Heaven, things into which Angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12 [RSV]) when “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14 [RSV]). As the Apostle Paul put it, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by Angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16 [RSV]).

God has given us all we need in order to have complete knowledge of where our salvation lies. It is this knowledge, this coming to understand completely, that gives us assurance, just as it did the Apostle Paul (2 Timothy 4:7-8), of our final and eternal salvation in Christ as long as we, too, remain “faithful unto death” (Revelation 2:10 [RSV]) whereby we will receive “the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10 [RSV]).

Finally, because we know Him in Whom our salvation lies we also know true love. As John writes, “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 John 3:16 [RSV])

Thursday, March 10, 2011

No Gods

After a drought of three years, Elijah presented himself to Ahab, the king of Israel, with the promise that the Lord would provide rain. Elijah then challenged 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah to a contest on Mount Carmel. “And Elijah came near to all the people, and said, ‘How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him.’ And the people did not answer him a word.” (1 Kings 18:21 [RSV])

Each side made sacrifices to their God without building a fire. The lighting of the fire was to be performed by the strongest god, and would thus reveal Jehovah as the true and liviing God.

During the battle between the Prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal and Asherah, Baal was silent. Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal. The Bible tells us, 27. And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is musing, or he has gone aside, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 28. And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. 29. And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice; no one answered, no one heeded. (1 Kings 18:27-29 [RSV]) Elijah poured a large amount of water over his sacrifice and asked Jehovah to reveal Himself by consuming the sacrifice. 38. Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God.” (1 Kings 18:38-39 [RSV])

Many people in this world who are seemingly successful and on the outside happy as can be are, in fact, completely miserable. They are miserable because they have placed their faith in the wrong things, just as those prophets of Baal and the Asherah did centuries ago. How tragic that is! Those prophets were sincere to the point of frenzy in their worship, but it was all to no avail. Elijah mocked them, but he also pointed out an important truth, which was that nobody was home. There was no voice and there was no answer to their please because there was no god to pay attention to their cries. Their religion was empty. And ultimately it caused their death (1 Kings 18:40).

Everything the world offers is likewise empty. The money, the fame, the “good times” cannot fill the void in our lives because they have no substance. They seem real when we casually observe them, but the moment the stresses of life hit, they dissolve like cotton candy. Eventually, they also lead to our death, which is eternal separation from the Father. Do not make the same mistake the prophets of Baal did! Make sure that what you put first in your life is real.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lucifer and the Stones of Fire

The Book of Job, the oldest book of the Bible, mentions many known celestial objects by name:

31. "Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, or loose the cords of Orion? 32. Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season, or can you guide the Bear with its children?" (Job 38:31-32 [RSV]) The Pleides are a cluster of stars in the northeastern skies also known as the Seven Sisters. Orion is the most easily recognizable constellation in the winter skies and is also associated with the evil Nimrod of the Tower of Babel fame. Mazzaroth is another name for what we commonly refer to as the Zodiac. It is also noteworthy that the Latin Vulgate interprets Mazzaroth as "Luciferum." (This same word is translated "constellations" in 2 Kings 23:5.) The Bear is a great northern constellation that includes the very familiar Big Dipper within it.

I am beginning to think that the Book of Job, which gives a great insight into the relationship of Satan with God and how the Lord interacts with "the sons of God," the Angels, (Job 1:6; Job 2:1 and Job 3:8), may actually mention by name a planet that no longer exists, but did at one time in the ancient past. This planet's remnants have been left behind in what is now the asteroid belt that orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. I believe this planet's name was "Rahab."

11. The pillars of heaven tremble, and are astounded at His rebuke. 12. By His power He stilled the sea; by His understanding He smote Rahab. 13. By His wind the heavens were made fair; His hand pierced the fleeing Serpent. (Job 26:11-13 [RSV]) "Rahab" literally means "blustering pride." It was pride that was the downfall of Lucifer: "Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you." (Ezekiel 28:14 [RSV]. See also Isaiah 14.) I do not believe it is a mere coincidence that we are told the Lord smote Rahab and that He also pierced the fleeing Serpent in the same paragraph. We are told specifically in the Book of Revelation just who this Serpent is and where he was cast down to: it was the Earth: "And the great Dragon was thrown down, that ancient Serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world--he was thrown down to the Earth, and his Angels were thrown down with him." (Revelation 12:9 [RSV])

The word translated above as "smote" in Job 26:12 is "machats" which literally means to smash or dash asunder. This very much describes what has been left behind in the asteroid belt. So it very possibly may be that "the stones of fire" Lucifer walked among as we are told in Ezekiel 28:14 just may refer to the planets themselves. But I could be wrong.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Things Are Not Always What They Seem To Be

Sometimes, things are not what they seem at first blush. Take, for example, the following:

"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the Angels of Heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only." (Matthew 24:36)

What Jesus stated above is what is called a Jewish idiom. In brief, an idiom is an expression taken to mean something entirely different from the normal definition of the individual words found within the idiom. We use idioms in our own speech all the time. Examples of American idioms commonly stated are "hold your horses" or "keep your pants on," neither of which has a thing to do with horses or pants, but instead they both mean "be patient."

So how does all of this relate to what Jesus said in Matthew 24:36? It means we are not to take these English words literally. This is a perfect example as why Paul instructed, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 [RSV]). It is incorrect for us to apply a literal meaning to these English words that were not meant to be taken in that fashion as they were spoken in the Aramaic (Hebrew) originally and understood by that First Century audience. So what, then, is meant by this Jewish idiom, "But of that day and hour, no one knows"? According to the Jewish rabbis I have researched, this is an expression used in reference to Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year in which the shofar, the ram’s horn, was blown. The Jews operated on a lunar calendar year, not a solar one as we do, so the New Year began at different times from one year to the next, as much as 36 to 48 hours. That is why the Jewish Rosh Hashana is celebrated over two days, and not one, because it required two witnesses to determine the new month had arrived at dusk when the New Moon or sliver of the Moon first appeared in the sky. The Rosh Hoshana shofar ram's horn was then blown, and the celebration began. So Jesus was referring to Rosh Hashana in this verse!

So it is possible Jesus was saying that when these things occur He was speaking about in Matthew 24, a new day would be dawning for mankind.

A few themes linked to this Jewish festival of Rosh Hashana are resurrection, repentance, kingship, coronation and a marriage feast. Rosh HaShanah is not only the start of the Jewish New Year, it is also the day of the resurrection! It has to do with the Moon and its 29-day cycle of renewal.

In this period of slightly less than 30 days, the Moon goes from darkness to light and back to darkness again. This is not a haphazard occurrence attributed to evolution or science. God planned it for many reasons, one being as a picture of resurrection and renewal. With each cycle of nearly 30 days the ancient rabbis understood the Moon was being reborn or "born again" (Sefard Siddur, Mussaf for Shabbat and Shabbat Rosh Chodesh, p. 509 and 646-648). And that is why God had them operate on a lunar cycle as a constant reminder of resurrection in Him!