December 29, 2013

Supernatural Anti-Toxin

Nothing can ruin a good day like an ill-timed poisoning. Poisonings can be of the body...or the mind. They can also be spiritual. There are a few mentions of poisonings in the Bible. One of the common themes of the poisonings is that they are partially symbolic. They are foreshadowing of events that will surround Jesus Christ and His Gospel. The poison is nearly always connected or associated with sin. The poisonings are no accident and part of an overarching plan of God to draw attention to God’s work and to give Him glory. The first I mention can be summed up in two words: Snake venom.

Numbers 21:6 ~ “Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.”

This passage is found in the story of the Bronze serpent in the Israelites wilderness wanderings. The people had been bitten by poisonous snakes for the rebelliousness and are told that if they look upon the bronze serpent, their lives would be spared. What we should see immediately is that immediate response from God to their pleas when their hearts change...when they repent. People begin dying and the correct response is to turn to God. The people do and God responds immediately. The people’s belief and faith in what God has prescribed for their transgression is what saves them. In this way looking to the serpent on the stick is unmeritorious grace…just like trusting in the Gospel. This is the same as the image it portrays of the coming Jesus who will also be put on a post/cross and those that look upon Him also in faith will be saved. There is more here though.

The people turned to another believer for help when death knocked at their door. This other person (in fellowship) helps guide them to the saving action or their salvation. There is an image here of support for other suffering believers. A guide to the holy. There is also Moses reaction to their plea to him. Having had these people turn to him, he in turn goes to the source of all things for salvation in solemn prayer. Moses turned to God in prayer at the very request of the people. They actually requested that he perform intercessory prayer on their behalf. We see a punishment that is the just recompense for sin. We then see the proper response to that punishments which is a repentant heart and plea to God for forgiveness. God is quick to reciprocate in mercy and grace when a true heart change has been made in repentance. Again, God’s response is nearly immediate.

We often look at the Israelites in this story like reprobates and malcontents. We should look at them as if we are looking in a mirror at ourselves. We are all culpable of sin and capable of cursing God in what we perceive is suffering. Along the same lines of suffering we should note the element of pain mentioned here too. The passage says the bite was fiery…as poisonous and painful. If we imagine the bronze serpent as a type of Christ we then must see the bite as a typology of sin. Sin therefore is painful and usually meant to be painful so that it might be avoided. It is also because sin within itself has its own built-in punishment mechanism (Romans 1).

The second poisoning is Elisha’s "healing" a poisonous spring of water.

2 Kings 2:19-22 ~ “The people of the city said to Elisha, “Look, our lord, this town is well situated, as you can see, but the water is bad and the land is unproductive.” “Bring me a new bowl,” he said, “and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. Then he went out to the spring and threw the salt into it, saying, “This is what the Lord says: ‘I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.’” And the water has remained pure to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken.

Again we see a shadow of Christ in this healing of the poisonous waters. Again we see a people in distress and suffering and a trust in the God of a "good man". The healed waters are another symbol…the efficacy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The bowl of salt is the shadow or type of the Gospel being thrown into the pool of sinful humanity. The water is contaminated and clearly not usable in its current condition. It must have something placed within it to fix the situation and purify it. Not only is the water “dead”, the land around it has been made unproductive. Isn’t this the very nature of indwelling sin in a person? Not only does it make the person unusable by God for holy purposes until it is cleaned, it damages and taints all that it touches around it also. We pepper others with sinfulness and unrighteousness.

2 Kings 4:38-41 ~ Elisha returned to Gilgal and there was a famine in that region. While the company of the prophets was meeting with him, he said to his servant, “Put on the large pot and cook some stew for these prophets.” One of them went out into the fields to gather herbs and found a wild vine and picked as many of its gourds as his garment could hold. When he returned, he cut them up into the pot of stew, though no one knew what they were. The stew was poured out for the men, but as they began to eat it, they cried out, “Man of God, there is death in the pot!” And they could not eat it. Elisha said, “Get some flour.” He put it into the pot and said, “Serve it to the people to eat.” And there was nothing harmful in the pot.

Along similar lines the third poisoning presents us with the sons of the prophets 
accidentally poisoning pottage by tossing poisonous gourds into the pot. We can see this as inadvertent sin or sin of omission. Sin taints regardless of motive or lack of motive. Elisha does the same as he did with the tainted water supply but instead of using a salt he uses flour as the physical medium to correct the bad contents. He made the substance fit for use again through the work of God. The same implications as the water purification apply here. Again we see a people come knowing Elisha is a man of  God and their faith in the ability of this God is enough that they expect He can actually do something. Again the act is intercessory. We see power and authority here. We also see a belief that the God of Elisha has true dominion over the elements in their lives.

In all these stories we see a foreshadowing of Christ as an antivenin or what amounts to anti-toxin. He is the cure to all ills and the fix for all maladies. Jesus is the countermeasure to sin. He is the cure for the evils of this world.

It is not ironic therefore that the devil is portrayed as a snake in Genesis I suppose. I also don’t suppose it was an accident that Paul said (Romans 3:13-14) that there is none righteous and that people’s throats are open graves. That their tongues practice deceit” and that “the poison of vipers is on their lips.” “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” We even see James tell us that the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison (James 3:18). In every one of these cases it is what comes out of the person that is the poison or the thing that defiles them (Matthew 15:11). In the sinful man there is no redeeming value. That is why the Gospel is so important to fallen poisonous man. It is anti-venom or antidote to the poisonous bite of sin. A poison that is a result of the Fall in Genesis 3.

It is also why it is so important and so critical that we take in God’s word almost like a daily injection. We must internalize it and allow the Spirit of God to do His work in us. For Jesus to work in our lives we need to trust Him. We need to internalize His teaching through the very word of God from which we got these narratives today. To take in His Spirit is to accept the divine abolishing of death. By accepting him, the venom of death’s sting is neutralized.

December 26, 2013

Paradox of the Poor: Blind Beggars in the Bible

It is a constant theme in the Bible to take what is common and expected by man and turn it on its head. That is because the Bible says things like... 

Matthew 20:16 ~ "So the last will be first, and the first will be last."

It also says that God...

1 Corinthians 1:27-31 ~ "...chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, o that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

The Bible is full of paradoxes not contradictions (of which it is normally accused). A few people will say that paradoxes are contradictions but in reality they are a sovereign God working beyond what human's think is possible and exceeding what man thinks is possible. It is things (such as situations) that are made up of two opposite things and that seem impossible but in actuality are true or possible. In God's economy men's calculations and figuring hold little sway. In God's economy we see the distinction between what is probable and what is improbable. We see the difference between what is possible and impossible. And as the Bible also says.

Matthew 9:26 ~ "But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

So let us enter the problem of poverty.

Poverty, the Kingdom and therefore the Church are relational or relationship based. Tithes and charity by the church are good but they are trumped by mercy and compassion in the heart of the believer. Sometimes loving your neighbor is more than just throwing money at them. Sometimes help is not giving a homeless drug addict a $20 dollar bill. Sometimes love and compassion is buying them a meal and getting them help to wean them off their drug dependency. Tithes or offerings are not necessarily an accurate indicator of the heart as is evident in the lesson from Jesus, the Widow and her offering of mites.

Personal interaction and the “human touch” always trumped a faceless system or government driven charity (contrary to Liberation Theology). In this aspect of Jesus’ ministry to the poor and His concern for the downtrodden we see the relational requirements of God’s Kingdom. Proper communal function is not based in a centralized bureaucratic system but rather a decentralized “soft” network of people, bodies or souls. When the body of Christ is balanced and healthy, so will be the Kingdom. There will be no malignancy or imbalance, poverty, prejudice, bias, sickness, etc. All will be equal in Christ. Again, this is the general essence of the Kingdom. In God’s Kingdom, relationships take precedence over benevolent actions, otherwise these benevolent actions lack the main currency necessary between the giver and receiver to create a lasting bond necessary in the Kingdom: Love and affection for your fellow man.

We must note that God is not specifically favoring the poor when they are singled out for special care but rather they are being treated like the human beings that they truly are. They are given the love they should have gotten as people created in God's image all along. The idea of reversal or at least normalizing/equalizing of the social order are found in many of Jesus' sayings about the first being last (Matthew 19:30; Mark 10:31 & Luke 13:30).

So the question behind the episodes of the beggars in the Bible is: What drives the charity to them?

Beggars say something about a society as a whole. That people often do not take care of them or take them in. This is sad and unbiblical. It will not be this way in the Kingdom of God.

Mark 10:46-52 ~ “Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

In God’s economy the poor become rich. Yes, it is that simple. People are following Jesus at Passover. It is clear in this passage that this blind man Bartimaeus knew of Jesus and he knew that he was the “Son of David”. This means he knew Jesus was the One spoken of in the Old Testament. In a plea that expected mercy he attempted to gain Jesus’ attention and is unceremoniously silenced (or at least the crowd around Jesus tried).

God will not be dissuaded nor will this blind man's date with destiny. Jesus summons him. The crowd does an about-face and encourages the beggar to come forward. Then Jesus asks the rhetorical question: “What do you want me to do for you?” 

Strange question. Jesus is God and the man is blind. Why the question? It is similar to the question asked in John 5:5 at the Pool of Bethesda, “Do you wish to be healed?” We ask ourselves the question internally, “Why wouldn’t he?”

Jesus is giving the man time to confess his desire out-loud in a form or public testimony. In asking the question Jesus solicits what the man believes Jesus can do for him. In so doing we see that faith of Bartimaeus is extraordinarily strong based on his reply, “Rabbi, I want to see.” Bartimaeus clearly expected Jesus to do what even modern medical science cannot do…give sight to the blind. He expected a supernatural miracle. A tall order...except for God. He also calls Jesus "Lord" meaning master and Son of David which was a Jewish Messianic title. Bartimaeus knew Jesus was the promised Messiah. This means Bartimaeus trusted in the Gospel.

We know from the parallel Matthew 20 passage that Jesus is moved to compassion (mercy) in lieu of these unfolding events. As we would expect in the narrative of the Gospel of Mark we see that his sight is regained immediately and these men immediately follow Jesus. There is no hesitation and they commit 100%. There is no stutter-stepping here. He jumps in head-first. He throws his garment aside so that he will not trip over it in pursuit of the crowd that follows Jesus. In Jesus’ march to His death on the Cross…he essentially gives Bartimaeous (and another beggar in Matthew 20) new lives, right before he would lose His. Jesus overcomes the effects of sin in healing the blind and he overcomes the effects of sin on humanity by being crucified and risen after three days.

In Jesus we see a perfect balance of divine power / ability to heal and mercy and compassion. He does not force His ability to heal on people. He allows them to call to Him and state their desire. You won’t always get what you ask for sometimes…but you won’t receive unless you ask. In Bartimaeous’ call to Jesus he is essentially issuing a prayer to God. He does so in faith based in who he understands Jesus to be...and he receives.

Matthew 20:22 ~ “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

Who do you believe Jesus to be? Is he beckoning you to come in your infirmities to see what you want from Him? How vehemently do you call to Him in your disabilities and suffering? Do you curse Him for the wrongs that have happened to you or do you go in faith expecting a miracle? One thing we do not see in this story is Bartimaeous bad-mouthing Jesus for what has happened to him in life. He calls on Jesus to have mercy on him a poor blind beggar. A man from the fringe of society with nothing to lose and everything to gain…and gain he does. Faith has made him well. Specifically Jesus says Bartimaeous’ faith has σέσωκέν σε…or as we say in English, his faith has saved him. In the Greek here the word saved is in the perfect active indicative which means it had been completed and it would remain completed indefinitely into the future. The whole point of using a perfect tense is to drive home a point to a reader that it emphasizes the present, or ongoing result of a completed action done in the past. Jesus praised Bartimaeous for exercising his faith. In turn Jesus rewards him physically and based on the words in Greek, Jesus blessed him spiritually too. His faith had saved him. Bartimaeous had received the only healing he would ever need and it was eternal. Just like John Newton wrote in Amazing Grace we see that Bartimaeous was once lost but now he's found, he was blind but now he sees.

In a similar incident with a man that had a similar condition in John 9, Jesus heals another blind beggar by putting mud on his eyes and sending the beggar to wash in the pool of Siloam.

Mark 9:1-8 ~ “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man's eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”

Again we see a public attestation of Jesus’ divine power. This time the man had not solicited the healing, by grace and mercy Jesus had healed him. Different scenario but similar divine initiative to give to the blind beggar that which he could not acquire for himself. In this way we then begin to see the parallel to salvation and being saved again. It is only through Jesus’ initiative and mercy that this man could be saved from a life of darkness and being lost. The only thing this blind man had the ability to do to solicit a reaction from Jesus was to beg mercy.

Are we as sinners any different? I think not. There were probably many blind people in Israel and around Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ ministry. It is literally grace that Jesus select this man in particular. Those around Jesus didn’t see this man as an object of mercy like Jesus did but rather a curiosity for theological debate. This is sort of damning for the theology geeks I know that would rather discuss doctrine rather than pray for someone in sin or suffering. There is a time for theology and it isn’t while the sick are dying, the blind cannot see and the lame cannot walk. These are the times for grace and mercy. Mercy over Law. Save the doctrine and dogma for the theological debate clubs and Bible studies.

In both of these cases the beggar’s conditions solicits a reaction from God/Jesus. His reaction to both is rooted in mercy and grace. In both cases, the men are unable to improve their own condition but are willing to allow God to do work in their lives to remove the infirmities. Like the Pharisees that will later question the newly healed man and his parents, we should not get too hung up on how the healing took place. We need to focus on who did the healing and why. It was God’s ultimate initiative to heal in mercy and grace. Both men had to trust that Jesus would complete what He had set out to do. This required faith whether explicitly stated in the text or not. In Bartimaeous’ case it is explicit saving faith, in this case it is a general faith that something good may come from trusting in Jesus who at the time of this healing…appeared only as a man (the blind beggar didn’t even know Jesus’ name initially) Another evidence that Jesus was fully human yet fully divine (take that heretics!). The beggar here must make a “leap of faith” just as a non-believer must to become a believer. In obedience the man takes this step and washes off his eyes and his sight is given to him. Totally blind the man obeys a single command and his sight is given to him.

Even if we could understand how it took place (which many will assert is necessary), it does not diminish the fact that it took place and was the result of the work of God. Can we not just accept that it happened in faith now as we read the account? For some that will read this, it will be like Bartimaeous. The belief and trust will save them. For others the faith will require a leap and it may not take effect in the believer because the change might be attributed to something they don’t understand. In the passage about the man with mud on his eyes it never says it is saving faith…yet this does not prevent Jesus from helping the man.

Which one are you? Do you have the saving faith?

December 24, 2013

Jesus Christ: The Focus of Christian Faith

This is a post from Christmas past. It hits on a much needed truth mostly absent from American society and the world at-large. Sadly, it is also conspicuously absent from many churches too and this is the main reason it is absent from society. Salt and light has become dirt and darkness. We must relight the flame.

Simply put, Jesus is not just the focal point of the Christmas season, He is the focal point of everything seen and unseen. He is given authority over all and sustains all things by his powerful word. Having said this  we now look at the first portion of Colossians. It is considered to be an extremely early Christian hymn. I will not be doing a complete interpretation of the passage but rather pulling thoughts out of it within their context.

Supremacy of the Son of God

"The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." Colossians 1:15-20

As if there is any question of Jesus Christ's headship/authority or position in the Church or in Creation, it is squelched here. First place or the head belongs to Jesus. He is Primary, He is Primacy, He is Perfect. Our lives should center on Him. History centers on Him. The Bible centers on Him. Time centers on Him. He is and without Him, everything is not.

Nowhere should this Christ-centeredness be more evident than in The Church where His people openly submit to Him as Lord. He is the only proper and legitimate head of the Church. That means all leaders of the Church are to submit and serve Him, thereby they become servants of the Servant King or Suffering Servant. If He served how much more should we? Denial of this fact is nothing more than apostasy. To make one's self the center of attention in the Church is to displace Jesus at the center and putting one's self in His place. This idea is abhorrent. Grandstanding and self-aggrandizing leaders and pastors take note.

When it speaks of Him being firstborn. This does not mean Christ is created. It is a phrase that expresses Christ's sovereignty over all creation. This phrase proclaims Christ’s preeminence. It does not make Him part of the Creation it makes Him Ruler and sovereign over it.

He will reconcile people with their God (Himself). He will also reconcile non-human things also as evident from the "all things" statement. The aim and end result of this reconciliation is holiness...that is the whole point. To bring man and creation back into the proper relationship with God. For humans this reconciliation will require a obligation. An obligation to stay obedient and faithful to the statutes and requirements of God.

On Christ's Behavior & Fruits of His Ministry

Jesus' kindness toward spent, burned-out sinners regardless of social standing, wealth or race was unending. Jesus did not however extent the same compassion and patience to hypocrites, liars and false teachers. When faced with false teaching and religious error Jesus was quick to correct. Sinners are sinners by their very nature and are incapable without the work of God to correct their ways. Many of their sins are often unintentional. Hypocrites, liars and false teachers commit their sins on purpose to achieve and illicit ill-gained end. When Jesus addressed the liars and hypocrites he was eloquent but never arrogant. He was forceful but never unloving. He was firm and uncompromising but always gracious. Christ's ministry laid out perfect template of how we are to deal with and confront sin, false teaching and engage the culture. Behavior that reflects the reality contained within...and an abundance of Life.

Summation That Is Culmination

Do we give Christ the center in our decision-making process when we deal with the modern culture or do we attempt to shuffle Him aside thinking our methods for engagement are more proper for today's culture? Are we allowing Christ to do the work or are we trying to do it? The Gospel message is preeminent because of its focus on the Preeminent One. Is it coming out through our actions and words or words only? I do not want to hear you tell me you are a Christian, I want to see that you are. If we have Christ at the center it will reflect in all aspects of our life and it will bear evidence of our salvation through our actions (James 2). We will walk in Christ as He will be in us and like a seed He will grow in us and push out of us what does not belong.

"No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." 1 John 3:9

Seed above is "σπέρμα/sperma" something sown (including the male "sperm") by implication, offspring; specially,or ironically something that will create something new that, as it grows, pushes outward from the center and replaces the old object that once occupied the space (sin) with something more/better (holiness). New growth, fruit, etc. Interestingly, we see that the Holy Spirit does this too. At our justification when we convert to Christ a down payment is deposited in us in the form of the Spirit that works with us to "work out" our sanctification (Philippians 2:13). It works from within us outward. In manifests in the form of fruits (of the Spirit). Fruit being an abundance of life previously mentioned. Like most all fruits the vehicle to create progeny or pass on this life is within its own abundance of life in the form of a seed that grows if we cultivate it. Otherwise it dies or stays dormant if we do not cultivate. Life that sustains. Life that gives life.

I am in no way saying that Jesus had an inception anymore than I am saying He is literally a seed that you plant in the ground. What I am saying is that the work He does in us will, like a seed once planted and cultivated properly, bring forth abundance of life and fruit which carry within it the ability to regenerate itself into more abundant life (seed/sperma). It is no accident that the Parable of the Sower and Faith of a Mustard seed and Fruits of the Spirit are used when referring to believers faith, whether it is effective and manifests itself in a believer's life. These agricultural metaphor are closer to the reality of the spiritual life in Christ than most realize. The continuity is's as if it was planned that way.

So as we celebrate the birth of the One that brings eternal life today and tomorrow, I ask you only to consider this fact. The fact that the Holy Spirit came and conceived the Messiah that would be God incarnate. Jesus would be physically conceived in Mary by the work of the Holy Spirit in accordance with the will of the Father in accordance to the prophetic Scripture. God would take on the attribute of flesh and become עִמָּנוּאֵל /Imanu'el or "God with us". His influence, teachings, death and Resurrection would overcome the sin of the world and ring in the Kingdom of God. A Kingdom that will one day see its complete culmination when He (Jesus) comes to reign in power...for the Kingdom will be where the King reigns

Peace and grace to you all and a Merry Christmas 2013

December 23, 2013

Getting What You Want or Getting What You Deserve

When I think of large meals nowadays, I think about Thanksgiving and Christmas and McDonalds super-sized meals (just kidding). When I think about large meals in the Bible I am drawn to two specific examples where a lot of people got fed a lot of food and they are nearly opposite one another in terms of spirituality.

One of the things I want to show in this post is that God provides for His people when they are in need and sometimes even when they are not. He does it all to His own glory. Both of the following examples will show this through opposite means.

The first is the feeding of God’s people in their desert wanderings. I will focus on both in the manna and quail combined as the first seems to precipitate the second to some degree.

Deuteronomy 8:16 ~ “He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you.”

Numbers 11:18-19, 31 ~ “Tell the people: ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The Lord heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it. You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days… Now a wind went out from the Lord and drove quail in from the sea. It scattered them up to two cubits deep all around the camp, as far as a day’s walk in any direction.

Exodus 16:11-12 ~ “The Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.”

The main thing we see in Numbers 11 is complaining because of provision. Israelites have just left the shadow of Mt Sinai and within one chapter of the Bible they are in full whine mode. The complaints come fast and God’s wrath comes furious. Because of this impetuous behavior even Moses begins to complain about the onerous load (v.10-15) of the people themselves being childish and petulant. Miriam and Aaron will do the same in Chapter 12 of Numbers. None of these complaints will go unanswered...and some of them will not go unpunished either.

Numbers 11:1-3 ~ “Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the Lord and the fire died down. So that place was called Taberah, because fire from the Lord had burned among them.

Herein lie the dangers of the modern errant prosperity Gospel preached in the States and across the pond in Europe, Asia and Africa. To some extent we will see it also in the Liberation Theology of Central and South America too. We see the turning up of one’s nose in favor of what is perceived as better. People nearly always think they know what’s best for them. They act as if they know what will make them happy and strive after those things…often in vain. More, more and more. I the case of the Israelites, they seemed as if they would almost prefer being in bondage again just so they could eat better. Never once does it seem that the majority of them think in the long-view of what is best for God’s plans or what aligns to His will. God is most certain concerned with peoples immediate needs (Matthew 6:25-34). What God is more concerned with is people’s holiness and eternal destination. If things of this world will eventually jeopardize a person’s eternal well-being, God may often make one a pauper not a prince in this world. This is where the prosperity Gospel totally gets it backwards.

It assumes that monetary wealth and worldly provisions are the sole path or provision for happiness and well-being. This is opposed to the overarching theme and analogies of Scripture that tell a believer to be prepared to suffer and that those who persevere will gain reward (1 Corinthians 9, James 1, 1 Peter 5:4, Revelation 3).

The whole mindset of health, wealth and prosperity preaching assumes that health, wealth, affluence and improved social status will make people respond to the Gospel and the message of God in a more positive manner and this is a false assumption (Enns 634). If anything I believe the Bible speaks abundantly to the fact that just the opposite may be true when it comes to affluence and money (David, Solomon, Nebuchadnezzar, Judas, etc.). The change in a person’s social status does not guarantee improvement of the condition one’s life or position with God (salvation)…it just makes a rich or prosperous sinner…not a happy one.

Humanity can only depend on Jesus to remove and halt the effects of sin. God is concerned with the removal of sin and its effects. In this way, this will profit a man much more than monetary goods and health in this world now (i.e.: your best life now). We’re all going to die. The things we have here will all pass away. Why would God want to load us down here with junk we can’t take with us anyway? Especially junk that will act as idols, ballasts on our spiritual life and probably corrupt our souls. It is much more beneficial to be poor or destitute and broken of Spirit (See Matthew 5-7 and the Sermon on the Mount) than it is to be rich, powerful, influential and dead inside destined for damnation (See Matthew 23:27-28 and the Pharisees). As Jerry Bridges once said on his book on grace…
It is difficult for us to see God's hand of love in the adversities and heartaches of life because we persist in thinking, as the world does, that happiness is the greatest good. Thus we tend to evaluate all our circumstances in terms of whether or not they produce happiness. Holiness, however, is the greater good than happiness, so God arranges and orchestrates circumstances to produce holiness before happiness. ~ Jerry Bridges-Transforming Grace (p.209)
The biggest irony of this passage is that one of God’s “rewards” for the complaints about his provision of manna which saved their lives…was even more provision in the form of meat. What God also shows in this episode that too much provision literally ends up choking off the blessing and the provision and actually becomes a curse to some that complained as God’s wrath burns hot against them and He sends a plague among the unrepentant and argumentative and difficult people. The ones that complain are the ones that thought they knew what would be beneficial for them and what would make them happy. Instead, they get what they though they wanted or needed and it makes them severely unhappy or in the extreme case…their reward for ungratefulness makes them quite dead when God in His perfect justice gives them what they deserve.

In the New Testament we see what appears to be a mirror image of Deuteronomy and Numbers in the feeding of the 5000.

Matthew 14:19-21 ~ “And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Bread and fish were normal rations for people of the Galilean area…and people were grateful. They received what they had what they had always received which was down-to-earth and meager. This is just the opposite of what the desert wanderers had received. They Israelites in Moses time had literally been supernaturally been given bread from Heaven and were miraculously sent quail…and they groveled and murmured against the very God that provided the provision.

In this episode we also see Jesus look to Heaven and give thanks to God, something we do not see the Israelites do. The very Son of man does not take for granted the common provision provided by God the Father. What should be particularly noted is that Jesus does not bless the loaves, He blesses God. Jesus’ attention is directed heavenward, not towards the bread. Here we see the proper response to what many usually take for granted. In this way I believe the expectation of more, More, MORE in this world in the Name-It-And-Claim-It and Prosperity Gospel grinds totally against the pattern of Scripture and has these types of people align themselves with the complainers of the desert wandering rather than with Jesus and the 5000 on the hillside.

In both of these situations we see expectation of God to provide for His faithful (or not faithful), the end resultant behavior of the two different groups is what is different. We are told that we should not worry about whether or not God will provide for us Matthew 6 and in this respect we expect that God will come to our aid if it is His will. The expectation of the Israelites is that they get what will suffice and they become even more expectant and petulant. The second group are thankful for what they get which is quite adequate for their needs. So much so that there are leftover fish and loaves which are collected. In blessing God the blessing is turned around on the one blessing. God not only provided, he provided abundantly (v.20).

The difference between the two groups? Heart condition and then God’s subsequent reaction. Correct response to God’s blessing brings more blessing. Lashing out at God brings His eventual wrath. Is it because God likes punishing man? No. It is because God has laid out these plans for men to give them the best possible opportunity to make the best of their lives and reach eternal life in the presence of the Lord. Rejection of this condemns man for eternity and God knows this. Again, a heart condition of repentance is necessary, not a heart of rebellion. Jesus doing what He does in the feeding of the 5000 not only shows the Kingdom breaking through in the miracle of the feeding…it also shows that correct behavior towards God aids in this end result of seeing the Kingdom of Heaven break through here and now. Jesus acting the way He does as an example for shows for certain that blessings will inevitably come if we do the same. It all starts with a turn towards God and a turn away from our sin.

December 22, 2013

The Night Before Christmas (1933)

A copy of Silly Symphony's The Night Before Christmas your viewing pleasure. 

December 19, 2013

Eternal Lifebouy

Although there are not many direct references to swimmers or divers in the Bible, there are a few points about actions in water I’d like to mention. The first is sort of tongue-in-cheek but there is theological significance behind the story.

2 Kings 6:5-6 ~ But as one was felling a log, his axe head fell into the water, and he cried out, “Alas, my master! It was borrowed.” Then the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, he cut off a stick and threw it in there and made the iron float.”

We see an iron axe head float in this passage. I admit, it is not a swimmer in the strictest sense but it does indeed stay buoyant in spite of the physics that should’ve forbid this phenomena. We see Elisha being not only a prophet and miracle worker in this incident but we also see him being more or less an overseer of a men called to ministry as prophets. Not only does God end up supernaturally lifting an axe head out of the water through the power of the Spirit with Elisha, he is used the same incident to lift up those around him in teaching.

This is a continuation of the story that left off in 2 Kings 4:44. The account continues after God had blessed a school at Jericho and it had grown exponentially. With growth comes the need to expand building(s). In the process of expanding, a log is being felled and the prophet's/feller’s axe head ends up in the water much to his consternation. Iron tools were precious and were hard to come by during this time and to lose it is traumatic and a severe loss. Having borrowed the axe, the cutter’s angst would’ve been doubly magnified.  Unlike today, this loss would’ve been quite substantial in terms of finances and loss of labor time.

Having seen where it fell, the student was honest enough to report it to Elisha. Elisha throws in a stick where it fell and the Lord raised the iron head so that it floated against the laws of physics. We see glory given to God on many accounts here. The axe rises as do the spirits of the observers. In lifting the axe, the faith of those who saw and read about this account are raised or increased also.

What we should also see is that the student had lost the tool while in the service of the Lord. Our Master will provide us the tools we need when in His service. He will never send us out unprepared. It shows that the Lord can recover what we have lost in service to Him no matter how irretrievable it seems. God can not only restore what we need…he can also restore us.

The last thing I should mention is the condition of the axe itself. Axes of the time usually were crude and unpredictable. So much so there was a Mosaic law passed in the event of an accidentally airborne axe head. My guess is they were prone to failure since there are even stipulations about axe heads and their failure in the Law of Moses. It is in the context of the cities of refuge.

Deuteronomy 19:4-5 ~ ““This is the provision for the manslayer, who by fleeing there may save his life. If anyone kills his neighbor unintentionally without having hated him in the past— as when someone goes into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and his hand swings the axe to cut down a tree, and the head slips from the handle and strikes his neighbor so that he dies—he may flee to one of these cities and live…

This can possible be seen in a metaphorical manner. The Lord may provide us with tools we need for the job but stewardship of them is our task. We need to keep our axe sharp. We must keep our tolls honed for duty. Everything is God’s but we are charged with the upkeep of the things we have been given responsibility over. This doesn’t just apply to physical tools either. It could be stewardship over our gifts, our family, our children, or in exceptional circumstances… the responsibility of an entire church congregation. Regardless, we should never take any of these charges given to us lightly. We will be held accountable for everything we have been given by the Lord when judgment day comes.

John 21:7-11 ~ That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When ~and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn.

Much has been written on things such as Jesus’ call to Peter to feed His sheep in this chapter. Another focus has been the number of fish and other peculiarities of this meeting with Jesus. I will not dwell too much on these things other than to mention that the recording of exact amount of fish is unique. My guess is this exact number itself is not significant but the catch itself must have been so much out of the ordinary that the disciples felt it worthy to count or number the total. Trying to read anything else into this leads to pointless conjecture.

Peter’s spiritual insight about who is standing on the shore is razor-sharp. Being true to his impetuous unpredictable nature he jumps into the water from a perfectly good boat. What makes this incident even more amusing is that he essentially does it in his underwear (v.7). In today’s understanding to be wearing a tunic was to be essentially naked. This was to not prevent him from swimming properly. In other words his haste is so great he did not want to be impeded. The boat with a fishing net dragging behind it would’ve been quite slow.

What I find interesting is that the disciples are being called by thee Fisher of Men and they are told what to catch and where to catch it. Having not succeeded getting fish under their own approaches they are told to drop nets again as directed by God. The results are obvious. They are then told to bring their catch. Jesus’ catch (the disciples), are being asked to bring from their catch (fish). Verse is even more specific and seems to allude to something more poignant. The net is drawn up and it contains not just any fish but μεγάλων / megalon “great” fish. The great apostles who have been drawn up from a sea of humanity are now asked to bring great fish to the Lord to feed people.

This comparison is so thick with imagery, it is hard to ignore. It would be expected that in a net there would’ve been “throwaway” fish. The text says otherwise, it is filled with great fish but the net has not failed. Those caught by Jesus are going feed others with what they have been given by God. This is the same mode of passing of the Gospel that has been used since the Resurrection. In this church there will be those like the disciples that stayed in the boat and not act or react immediately.  There will also be those like the impetuous Peter. Ones that are chomping at the bit to be with Christ’s side doing His work basking in His glorious presence. Neither should be faulted for their reactions. What should be seen is that all eventually reach Jesus.

The fish having being caught will need to die to nourish the one who have caught them. Just as the disciples of Christ need to die to self to gain true life absorbing the truths of Scripture and the Gospel. To maintain spiritual life one must die to self-importance and pass on through teaching the truths of God. Thereby it is God who feeds them. It is further paradoxical that it will be Jesus Himself who will die on the Cross to give that life that will be passed down disciple to disciple until modern day. By dying for us to cover sin, the curse of death is then overturned.

In Jesus' immersion into death, he gave all those that trusted in Him an eternal life-preserver. This is how we need to approach the work that Jesus has done. He has thrown the preserver into the water as we flail in distress. Whether or not we take hold of that life preserver is our choice. It is a choice we will be held accountable for. We are responsible for our choices. It is then no surprise that the Baptism of the believer which is also an immersion or dive into water then symbolizes the death of the believer to their old life and a resurfacing in the new. In these stories the thing that restores what is lost, saves the life, restores the life or recreates the life of the one who submerges the Lord.

December 17, 2013

One Ring to Rule Them All

After Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream with God’s guidance, Pharaoh places Joseph in charge of the whole land of Egypt and he gives him his signet ring. In this way Joseph is put in charge of the whole of Egypt. 

Genesis 41:42 ~ “Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck.

Pharaoh would then have him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and people would shout before him, “Make way!” This was due to his importance. If this sounds strikingly is because it should. We will read it in Isaiah and read similar in the New Testament in multiple place in the Gospels.

Isaiah 40:3 ~ “A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Matthew 3:1-3 ~ “In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

By giving Joseph his signet ring Pharaoh is entrusting Joseph to make official decisions for the State and the ring would be the symbol impressed upon the wax seal on official Egyptian documents. Not only is the ring an item of symbolic power, it is an item of literal power invested in the person that had the ring. The ring literally allowed Joseph to work in Pharaohs stead or act as his proxy and agent. This is extraordinary similar to the office that we will see in the New Testament called Apostle and we will also see it in Jesus' disciples right down to the modern day. 

An apostle in its strictest translation means/meant “sent one” or “agent” and comes from the word apostolos / ἀπόστολος. Therefore an apostle means that they are “a man’s agent” and is “like unto himself…” or one sent in place of another as a representative. Here we begin to see the true idea of what an apostle is and how it very closely parallels Joseph’s role to Pharaoh. It is literally a modern equivalent of the modern concept of “the power of attorney”. Ironically, Joseph even marries into the family so to speak, just as the believer marries into covenant with God as part of the body of Christ…which is Jesus’ bride.

In one or two hours and through the act of one decision we see bondage turned into royalty. We see the parallel to the Christian believer who accepts Jesus Christ and His atoning work on the cross. Slowly and carefully we see God prepare His people for their great works. Joseph is wholeheartedly put into God’s service here at age thirty (v.46). It is another striking parallel to the age of the start of Jesus’ ministry. An entire kingdom and the fate of humanity will hinge on the actions and decisions of both Joseph and Jesus.

Like Jesus, Joseph will not enter into this position with pride and arrogance. Life and wisdom has tempered them too well to be that foolish. No, they will enter into their full-blown ministries with cautious self-awareness and a meekness few others will manifest either in the world then or now.

There is no reason to believe that Pharaoh believed in Joseph’s God. So what we see here is the most powerful man in the known world rewarding Joseph for what amount to God working supernaturally through him. In Joseph’s obedience to God’s will we see Joseph’s alignment to God’s will. In aligning to that will Joseph acts as a conduit of God’s will to the unbelieving world. In this way God can save unbelievers from death through the life of an obedient believer. Yes, the imagery here is spiritually rich.

In what appears to be a evil mirror image of the Joseph and Pharaoh story we have King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) give his signet ring to Haman. Where Pharoah’s signet ring on the hand of Joseph probably saved millions, the ring Xerxes gives Haman almost does the opposite in an attempt to kill millions. Xerxes ring on Haman’s hand seals copies of an edict to destroy all Jews in what would amount to a systematic extermination.

Esther 3:10-13 ~ “So the king took his signet ring from his finger and gave it to Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. “Keep the money,” the king said to Haman, “and do with the people as you please.” Then on the thirteenth day of the first month the royal secretaries were summoned. They wrote out in the script of each province and in the language of each people all Haman’s orders to the king’s satraps, the governors of the various provinces and the nobles of the various peoples. These were written in the name of King Xerxes himself and sealed with his own ring. Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews—young and old, women and children—on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.

Of course Haman never gets to follow through with his despicable plan. What we see is God working in a sovereign manner behind the scenes. It is as if God’s sovereign curse or blessing moves along with Xerxe’s ring. If one obeys the will of God the ring seems to be a symbol of blessing upon the one that bears the ring. The one that would not obey and align their will to that of God, the ring acts as a symbol of condemnation. It is as if the ring shows who rules but it is what rules the man within that dictates the end result or consequence of their actions. Evil men meet and evil end. Godly men meet a godly end. In short, it is not the ring that allows the bearer to reign, it is that which rules within that allows them to rule through God’s divine will. To further illustrate this principle we move forward to chapter 8 of Esther and we see Mordecai gain possession of the very same ring and does just the opposite or Haman.

After the execution of Haman, Ahasuerus bestows his ring and all the legal authority it entails on Haman’s sworn Jewish enemy…Mordecai. It is as if the tables are completely turned and the hinge point in God’s plan is the king’s signet ring. Everything that was once Mordecai’s enemy’s possession is now his. Because Mordecai and Esther are Jewish, what will benefit them will also benefit God’s people. So we see a complete reversal. A sinful depraved man that seeks to exterminate God’s people is himself exterminated and the curses he attempts to inflict on God’s people are instead inflicted on Him without mercy. Haman’s evil plan has no effect. If anything it has just the opposite effect that he intended. All his efforts serve only to further glorify God who shuts him down

Esther 8:2-3, 5, 9-10 ~ “The king took off his signet ring, which he had reclaimed from Haman, and presented it to Mordecai. And Esther appointed him over Haman’s estate. Esther again pleaded with the king, falling at his feet and weeping. She begged him to put an end to the evil plan of Haman the Agagite, which he had devised against the Jews…

…“If it pleases the king,” she said, “and if he regards me with favor and thinks it the right thing to do, and if he is pleased with me, let an order be written overruling the dispatches that Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, devised and wrote to destroy the Jews in all the king’s provinces.” 

“…At once the royal secretaries were summoned—on the twenty-third day of the third month, the month of Sivan. They wrote out all Mordecai’s orders to the Jews, and to the satraps, governors and nobles of the 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush. These orders were written in the script of each province and the language of each people and also to the Jews in their own script and language. Mordecai wrote in the name of King Xerxes, sealed the dispatches with the king’s signet ring, and sent them by mounted couriers, who rode fast horses especially bred for the king.”

The last ring I’ll mention is again a signet ring. It is probably the most famous signet ring mentioned in the Scriptures. It is also a figurative illustration that has much deeper meaning that one would see from a superficial gleaning of the text.

Haggai 2:23 ~ “‘On that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

In the book of Haggai we should read and see the symbolism of Zerubbabel being God’s signet ring. He had led people in return from captivity in Babylonian Exile. This is akin to Jesus leading people back to God from captivity in their sin. It is also interesting to note that Zerubbabel was of the line of David. In this way he is a type or shadow of Christ. In building the Temple he was a servant of the Lord during a time of trouble for God’s people, just as Jesus was for people not only under Roman oppression but for Christians under the system of the world and sinners under their sin.

Because Zerubbabel was called by God to do something in obedience to God, he again is like Christ. In the same way a King makes a simple chair a throne, so too God makes a simple man that is the exact impression of His likeness (Genesis 1:27) a king that is an exact type or shadow of His Son who is Himself a King and an exact representation of the Father (John 14:7), whose Spirit now indwells all believers who accept His Son (Romans 8:9-11) and they too...are to be like Him. If we take this one step further...what does this tell us about the nature of individual believers indwelt by the Spirit of God today if we are indeed like Zerubbabel who was made in the image of God?

That's right folks, we are royalty and co-heirs in Christ because of Christ...just as Paul told us in Romans 8:17. What is even more mind-boggling (or sovereignly planned) is that the seal on our salvation through Jesus Christ also carries and allusion to a signet ring and that seal is the Holy Spirit. The seal being an exact representation of the One that He represents…Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ who is exactly like His Father in Heaven (i.e.: if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father).

2 Corinthians 1:21-22 ~ “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”

Ephesians 1:13-14 ~ “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

It is therefore is remarkably cool to mention that God would call Zerubbabel His signet ring. A signet ring was a ring that makes and exact impression of the object that is on the ring in a wax impression. If Zerubbabel is God’s signet ring, Zerubbabel like Christ is a representation of God, or in Zerubbabel’s case, a likeness or impression of God the Father as no one is a perfect representation of the Father except Jesus Himself.

In a way, as a disciple of Christ, we too are an impression of the one we represent. We are not an exact replica but we are made very much in God’s image both in our original form (Genesis 1:27) and in our reconstitution as new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). In this way we act as God’s signet ring to the world. It is of course the Spirit that places the seal on the salvation of others but it is we that take the message of the Gospel out into the world doing exactly as Jesus did and baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. In this way we are not only in His image spiritually but also in the things we do. God and His word leaves an impression on our hearts that changes us from within. Subsequently, our words and actions leave impressions on others that eventually point them back to the Cross and God.

To usher in the Kingdom of God, God chose Zerubbabel to continue His Davidic line that would give rise to the Hope of the nations in Jesus Christ. 

Isaiah 42:1-4 ~ “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

Matthew 12:20-21 ~ A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.

We as believers in the risen Jesus Christ take the news of His Great Hope in the message of the Gospel out to the nations of the world and we will do so until the end of the age. In so doing we die to self every day and take up our cross... just as He did.
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