Friday, December 31, 2010

A study in progressive revelation

Throughout the Bible, God has been concerned that His people do not lack for the basic necessities of “food and covering” (I Tim 6:8). However, as we shall see, the means by which He provides for these necessities has changed. To begin with, when the manna fell in the wilderness, Moses told Israel:

...Gather of it every man as much as he should eat; you shall take an omer apiece according to the number of persons each of you has in his tent. The sons of Israel did so, and some gathered much and some little. When they measured it with an omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no lack; every man gathered as much as he should eat...(Ex 16:16-18).

God miraculously provided daily bread for Israel during their wilderness journey, and they “have not lacked a thing” (Deut 2:7). He also supernaturally prevented their shoes and clothing from wearing out during those forty years (Deut 29:5).

The promised land itself was the means by which God continued to provide for Israel, as long as they looked to Him and did not follow after other gods.

Then it shall come about when the LORD your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied, then watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery (Deut 6:10-12).

But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. "It shall come about if you ever forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I testify against you today that you will surely perish (Deut 8:18-19).

'You shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves an image or a sacred pillar, nor shall you place a figured stone in your land to bow down to it; for I am the LORD your God. You shall keep My sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary; I am the LORD. If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out, then I shall give you rains in their season, so that the land will yield its produce and the trees of the field will bear their fruit. Indeed, your threshing will last for you until grape gathering, and grape gathering will last until sowing time You will thus eat your food to the full and live securely in your land (Lev 26:1-5).

...But if you do not obey Me and do not carry out all these commandments, if, instead, you reject My statutes, and if your soul abhors My ordinances so as not to carry out all My commandments, and so break My covenant, I, in turn, will do this to you: I will appoint over you a sudden terror, consumption and fever that will waste away the eyes and cause the soul to pine away; also, you will sow your seed uselessly, for your enemies will eat it up. 'I will set My face against you so that you will be struck down before your enemies; and those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee when no one is pursuing you. 'If also after these things you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins. 'I will also break down your pride of power; I will also make your sky like iron and your earth like bronze. Your strength will be spent uselessly, for your land will not yield its produce and the trees of the land will not yield their fruit. 'If then, you act with hostility against Me and are unwilling to obey Me, I will increase the plague on you seven times according to your sins. I will let loose among you the beasts of the field, which will bereave you of your children and destroy your cattle and reduce your number so that your roads lie deserted. 'And if by these things you are not turned to Me, but act with hostility against Me, then I will act with hostility against you; and I, even I, will strike you seven times for your sins. 'I will also bring upon you a sword which will execute vengeance for the covenant; and when you gather together into your cities, I will send pestilence among you, so that you shall be delivered into enemy hands. When I break your staff of bread, ten women will bake your bread in one oven, and they will bring back your bread in rationed amounts, so that you will eat and not be satisfied (Lev 26:14-26).

But as we turn to the New Testament, we find that the means by which God provided for the His people’s necessities of life has changed.  At Pentecost, we read,

Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!" So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:37-47).

For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles' feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need (Acts 4:34-35).

Today the means by which He supplies our needs has changed yet again. The Apostle Paul tells us: make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need (I Thes 4:11-12).

Now a believer’s needs are met by God as he goes about “performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need” (Eph 4:28), doing "good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10).

So we are reminded yet again that while God Himself never changes, the way in which He deals with men has changed progressively throughout the ages.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"The female factor"

For my husband, who always refers to this sort of thing as "the female factor" — that, when planning a trip, you must factor in 20 extra minutes per female.  And he should know, since he's lived in a houseful of females for years.  Not only has he had to factor in me, but also our two daughters.  In fact, even our dog and cat are females.  Ha!  Sorry, hon. :)  And Happy Anniversary!

Friday, December 24, 2010

What did Mary know?

A popular Christmas song asks that very question:

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy
Would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy
Would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your Baby Boy
Has come to make you new;
This Child that you delivered
Will soon deliver you.

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy
Will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy
Will calm the storm with His hand?

Did you know that your Baby Boy
Has walked where Angels trod?
When you kiss your Little Baby,
You kiss the Face of God!

Oh, Mary, did you know?
Oh, Mary, did you know?

The blind will see, the deaf will hear,
The dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak
The praises of the lamb!

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy
Is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy
Will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your Baby Boy
Is Heaven's Perfect Lamb?
This sleeping Child you're holding
Is the Great I Am!

I love this song; it's both profound and beautiful.  Here's a very poignant rendition of it, if you care to watch and listen:

So what did Mary know?  In Luke 1:26-38 we read the account of what the angel Gabriel told Mary about her coming pregnancy:

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end." Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God."And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. "For nothing will be impossible with God." And Mary said, "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.

And then later in that same chapter in verses 46-55 we read Mary's prayer:
And Mary said:
"My soul exalts the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
"For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
"For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
And holy is His name.
He has done mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
"He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
And sent away the rich empty-handed.
"He has given help to Israel His servant,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and his descendants forever."

So what did Mary understand about the One to Whom she would give birth?  Did she know He would die bearing the sins of the world?  Did she understand He would then rise again and that His resurrection would secure eternal life for all those who believe?  No, but she had faith in what God had revealed up to that point in history, including what He told her through Gabriel.  And it was because of her faith in what God had said that she had exclaimed  " spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior."

But now we know what Mary did not — that, because God loved this world so much, He gave His Son — the uniquely begotten (gk word for begotten is 'gennao' meaning 'born of man') One in order that everyone who places their trust in Him, may not perish (gk word for perish is 'apollumi' meaning 'to destroy utterly'- the idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being but of well-being) but instead may be having life in fellowship with God forever (Jn 3:16). 

Now that you know too, will you place your trust in Him?

Wishing you all a blessed Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children (Gal 4:4-5).

 The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature.  So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins (Rom 8:3).

Monday, December 20, 2010

Should we remain immature, then?

You may wonder why I keep bringing up differences I see between what I hear and read and what I believe the Bible says.  Am I just being overly critical?  What does it matter anyway if some (many!) don't take into account the progression of Scripture?   

It matters for one very important reason:  If we don't remember that Scripture was given "order on order, line on line, little here, a little there" (Is 28), we will present to the world (to the saved and unsaved alike) a confused and inconsistent testimony. 

When we don't observe the distinctions between earlier and later revelation, we will inevitably come across seeming contradictions.  And when that happens, we will try to read back newer revelation into older revelation; or, we will teach one thing one week and the complete opposite the next, oftentimes never realizing we've done so; or, we will merely skim Scripture ("sticking to the basics" and not venturing into anything too deep) and thereby skip over the "contradictions" so as not to have to deal with them; all of which result in inconsistent and/or shallow sermons and believers who remain confused and immature.

Why don't we want to dig deeply?  To study?  To figure out how it all fits together?  Are we lazy?  Or are we just afraid to buck the majority or the latest trend?  I know it's hard; I fear that, too.  In fact, you know how Paul referred to himself as the chief sinner (I Tim 1:15 KJV)?  Well I'm quite sure I'm chief chicken, "cc" for short.:)  I've been battling fear my whole life.  But when it comes right down to it, what's more important, protecting ourselves by not making waves...or staying true to the Word of God?

May we all take 2 Tim 2:15 to heart:

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Interesting tidbit - 6 (2 Timothy 4:17)

Q:  What do you think the lion refers to in 2 Timothy 4:17, the devil, the Roman government, or an actual lion?

At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion's mouth (2 Tim 4:16-17).

A:  While the Romans fed people to the lions, Paul's singular use of "lion" here seems to refer to Nero himself.

Lions are considered the king of the beasts, and in Scripture kings are associated with lions (Prov 20:2; 28:15; Ezek 32:2).  Judah was called "a lion's whelp" (Gen 49:9-10), and Israel's kings sprang from this tribe, including her King of kings, "the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah (Rev 5:5).

In addition, the Greek word for "defense" in 2 Tim 4:16 (apologia) is translated "defense" and "answer" when Paul was answering charges levied by rulers (Acts 22:1; 25:16).

And so in 2 Timothy 4, Paul is speaking of his "answer" (apologia) before the Roman ruler Nero, from whom the Lord delivered him, as he says, "that by me the proclamation might be fully accomplished."   Though Paul was about to "answer" again before Nero, with a very different outcome, God spared him at his first answer so that he could finish his course (2 Tim 4:7) and the epistles that fulfilled the Word of God (Col 1:25).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Faith is not a work

For those who worry that faith itself might be considered a work — it's not.

But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness
(Rom 4:5).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Among life's precious jewels,
Genuine and rare,
The one that we call friendship
Has worth beyond compare.

- Author Unknown -

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Acts 2 Church today? The Message.

Is Peter's message of Acts 2 and 3 different than Paul's of Romans 3:21-28?

Let's start by setting the scene and looking at the bigger picture. We know the OT record shows that Israel was waiting for the Messiah to come and set up His Kingdom on earth (Jer 23:5-6), and that this Kingdom was proclaimed to be at hand during our Lord's earthly ministry (Matt 4:17, 23). We also know that at the time of the Messiah's arrival as a baby in Bethlehem, Israel was under the Law (Lk 2:22; Gal 4:4), and that Jesus Christ not only taught the Law but made it even more challenging — The Sermon on the Mount — with a view to establishing His Kingdom (Matt 5:18-20; 7:12; 8:4; 19:17; 23:2-3; Mk 1:44; Lk 5:14). But Israel repeatedly turned away from Jesus Christ in disbelief. Events continued to unfold and Christ was crucified, was buried, rose again, and ascended into heaven, telling His disciples He would send them a comforter. The day of Pentecost (a Jewish feast)* arrived, at which every male's attendance was required by law (Ex 23:14-17; Lev 23:16). It was at that time that the eleven elected a twelfth apostle to replace Judas (see Matt 19:28; Lk 22:28-30) and the Holy Spirit was given (Acts 2).

Now let's look at the second chapter of Acts, specifically verse 38. The Greek plainly says this: "And Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized each of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for remission of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." It's interesting, and sad, that many preachers and teachers leave off the last part of this verse in their efforts to make it fit with Pauline theology. Here are but two examples:

"And if these considerations be not enough, is not Peter's message in Acts 2:38 imperative as to it? — 'Repent, and be baptized every one of you,' etc."

"Acts 2:38, 'Then Peter said unto them, Repent and be baptized...'"

The first author substitutes an "etc." and the second, an ellipsis, for the last part of the verse.

But obviously, two conditions prior to the forgiveness of sins were necessary at that time — repentance and water baptism. If a professed believer refused either of these conditions, or both, he could not have claimed the promise of the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of sins. This harmonizes perfectly with Mark 16:16 — "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved..." The requirements for salvation here are no different than those previously stated by John the Baptist because Mark 1:4 says that "John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." The only difference between Peter's proposition in Acts 2:38 and John's is one of historical development. The Holy Spirit had come so Peter could add: "and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." But there was no change in the meaning of the ordinance because at John's baptism too "they had confessed their sins" (Matt 3:6); both Peter and John were operating under the Law.

"Now wait just a minute," you may be thinking, "are you trying to tell me that Peter at Pentecost was not preaching 'the gospel of the grace of God?'" Well yes, I am. Let me be plain. What exactly is "the gospel of the grace of God?" It's simply that we are sinners, that Christ died for our sins and that whoever believes in His shed blood will be eternally saved, wholly by grace through faith, right? Can that be found anywhere in Peter's Pentecostal address? Some may point to 2:21, "'AND IT SHALL BE THAT EVERYONE WHO CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.'" But what did Peter tell them to do when they did call? He told them to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins.

Moreover, how did Peter deal with the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ? Did he proclaim it as good news? Did he say that "we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace?" Did he offer his hearers salvation by faith in the blood of the One who had recently died on Calvary? Did he say anything about being reconciled to God by the cross, or about the cross having put away the enmity between God and man? In a word, was it Peter's purpose to offer salvation to his hearers through faith in the death and resurrection of Christ? No, nor did he make such an offer.

What Peter presents to his hearers is that the One whom they dared to crucify is the Messiah, and that their Victim is alive again. He presses home this truth through reason (Acts 2:24), Scripture (Ps 16 and 110), circumstances (Acts 2:33), and the testimony of the apostles (Acts 2:32). Peter strikes the final blow in verse 36, proclaiming:

Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ--this Jesus whom you crucified.

Clearly it was Peter's purpose to convict his hearers of their guilt and to bring them to repentance. And again, how did he answer their troubled question, "What shall we do?"

Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

What a vast difference between Peter at Pentecost, demanding repentance and baptism for the remission of sins, and Paul later proclaiming Christ's righteousness for the remission of sins (Rom 3:21-28).

It's important to remember that salvation has always been by grace through faith, but, up to this point in Scripture — Acts 2 — no new revelation had yet been given that salvation was to be by grace through faith alone.** In fact, we will not clearly see the "gospel of the grace of God" until Paul comes on the scene. The keys of the kingdom were committed to Peter; "the gospel of the grace of God" to Paul (Matt 16:19; Acts 20:24; Eph 3:1-3), and Peter learned of the gospel of God's grace and the delay in Christ's return only as he heard it later from Paul (Gal 2:2, 7, 9; 2 Pet 3:9, 15-16).

Peter didn’t offer his hearers (Israel) salvation through faith in the death and resurrection of Christ, but he did present them with a different offer — the offer of the Messiah and His earthly Kingdom (Acts 3:13-21). This was, in fact, the main purpose and thrust of Peter's message.  And all the "wonders and signs" of the Kingdom, as predicted in the ancient prophets, and which had marked the offer of the Kingdom by the Messiah during the period of the Gospels, must have encouraged these Israelites. But first they had to "repent and return" in order to meet the spiritual and moral demands of this Kingdom, which in every age were attached to the enjoyment of the great social, economic, and political blessings of the Kingdom.

In fact, we are given a definition of this Kingdom, which is still to come (Rom 11), in Acts 3:19-21: It will bring “the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time”; it will come when God “send[s] Jesus, the Christ” back from His present session in “heaven”; and its coming is contingent upon the repentance and conversion of Israel.

*Pentecost was an integral part of the Law given by God at Sinai when the Theocratic Kingdom was established. According to Jewish tradition, it commemorated the very day when the Law was given and the Kingdom established, as recorded in Exodus 19.

**"Faith will most assuredly approach God in God’s way at any time, and to seek to gain acceptance with Him in any other way would, of course, be unbelief and self-will. Thus, while works never did or could save as such, they did once save as expressions of faith…..Does this mean that works will be efficacious in themselves? No! They will avail only as the expression and evidence of faith..."

(to be continued)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Morning Star Will Rise

Out in the darkness of the night,
Comes into view a distant light,
For the day is drawing near
When God's radiance will appear.

Ent'ring the world by humble birth,
Jesus, the Light of all the earth,
Is the Bright and Morning Star,
Spreading brilliance near and far.

My people, lift your eyes.
God's glory fills the skies.
Salvation is near.
The way is made clear,
For the Morning Star will rise.

Blessed Emmanuel, Who came
Into our world in God's own name,
Will reveal God's grand design
To deliver humankind.

My people, lift your eyes.
God's glory fills the skies.
The dawn is at hand
With God's redeeming plan,
When the Morning Star will rise.

by Lee and Susan Dengler