The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Blood Moons and Red Flags


The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood – Joel 2:31

 

Now I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am He. – John 13:19

 

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1). That first verse of Holy Scripture is the bedrock beginning of all other scriptures. This first verse presupposes that as Creator, God owns, oversees, and maintains control of His creation. We see this verified in His inspired word where it states, “The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). The apostle Paul in his inspired Athenian address said, “For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Then later in his letter to the Colossians Paul is further inspired to write of Jesus, “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist” (Colossians 1:16-17). That last word “consist” (Greek synestao) means Jesus stands near His creation and holds it together. Jesus is involved with His creation.

 

Jesus is the Suffering Servant Messiah who gave His life for His lost sheep (Isaiah 53). He’s the Lamb of God that came to take away the sins of the world through His substitutionary sacrifice on the cross (John 1:29). Jesus finished His redemptive cross work. He said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). But Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He continues to work to build His flock and care for those in the fold. He knows His sheep by name and they know Him (John 10:3, 14). The Good Shepherd Jesus gave His life for the sheep (John 10:11, 15-18). The Good Shepherd Jesus protects and oversees His flock today.

 

Like any good shepherd, Jesus watches for danger that threatens the flock. He watches for wolves and wields His Shepherd’s staff and club in defense. He routs the enemy of the sheep. He also watches for stormy weather and seeks to steer His sheep to safe haven. He directs their attention to the storm clouds so they’ll follow Him to safety. He calms them when the lightning flashes and the thunder peels. Jesus was aware of the signs in the sky. Even the Pharisees knew the old adage, “Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky in morning, sailor take warning” (compare to Matthew 16:1-3).

 

From the very beginning God in His word states, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years” (Genesis 1:14). The sun, moon, stars and other bodies in the heavens are useable by God for “signs.” The word “signs” (Hebrew ‘ot) means a signal, a beacon, evidence, monument, omen, or flag. Is there evidence that God, at least in part, uses the “lights in the heavens” as a sign or a warning flag?

 

It wasn’t too long into the Bible before humanity fell under the influence of the serpent and his minions. Things got so bad in God’s creation that He determined to judge the world with a Flood that would eliminate all humanity except for Noah and his family. Prior to the Flood there were no clouds in the sky. The land was moistened and watered by underground canals (Genesis 7:11). The first storm clouds that God assembled in the sky were a warning sign of impending judgment. This world was guilty of great wickedness. Of the people in the world God observed, “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). The first storm clouds in the sky indicated judgment had come for the centuries of demonically influenced immorality, wickedness, corruption, and violence (Genesis 6:5-8, 11). And God did just this world. But aren’t you glad God also chose to give us a sign of promise in the rainbow in the sky? He would never flood the world again (Genesis 9:13f.).

 

I imagine the plagues of hail (Exodus 9:13f.) and darkness (Exodus 10:21f.) were pretty clear and impressive warning signs of God to the Pharaoh and his Egyptian citizenry. And I imagine the thunder and lightning on Mount Sinai was a pretty vivid and loud indicator from God to His people that He was there and they should think twice about casually setting foot on His holy ground (Exodus 19). There are many, many more incidents where God used natural signs in the sky to indicate His providential presence.

 

Nearly eight centuries (800+ years) before the birth of Jesus a prophet by the name of Joel was called by God to call His people to repentance. Joel was inspired by God to speak of a devastation that was coming on the Land because of the sinfulness of God’s people. But Joel also was inspired to speak of a future revival where the Spirit of God would be poured out on all people. This outpouring would be accompanied by spiritual gifting to minister for the Lord. It would be an awesome and great day (Joel 2:28-29, 31b).

 

We know that Joel’s prophecy was fulfilled in part at Pentecost. It was at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the 120 disciples prayerfully waiting in the upper room. It was then that the church was birthed (Acts 1-2). Baptized and overflowing with the Holy Spirit God’s people impacted the world like never before for the glory of God. Jesus and the powerful gospel were proclaimed in heaven sent power. You can read about the beginnings of this mighty work of the Spirit in the book of Acts.

 

But God’s word through Joel also speaks of a dark downward spiral of humanity away from God in the latter days. And accompanying that end time of His influence in history God said, “And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood” (Joel 2:30-31). On the fateful holy day of Jesus crucifixion the sun was darkened from noon to three in the afternoon (Matthew 27:45). Scientists and skeptics have tried through the years to dismiss this darkness as a natural event; a solar eclipse. But even if that were the case, it’s a pretty good trick to coordinate a solar eclipse at just the right time of Jesus’ crucifixion!

 

Now what about the “moon into blood”? What about the blood moons of our day? There is a controversy over whether or not the two sets of two blood red moons of 2014 and 2015 are merely common coincidence or a sign from God. “Common coincidence” is an oxymoron; there is no such thing. Are these signs from God? Well, I’m no scientist, but the two sets of blood moons do appear extraordinary. Some complain that they can’t even been seen in Israel or that they can only be seen in certain sections of the world. Critics accuse that if these were signs from God they would have to be seen by the entire world. Well, they may not be naturally viewable in all parts of the world, but given the technology of our day such natural phenomena can indeed be accessed from just about every corner of the planet. Others complain that historically when we see such “signs” they sometimes appear after the events. Whether or not a sign appears before or after isn’t the important part though. What is important is that somehow God put His fingerprints on history. History is indeed His-story.

 

I find it very provocative that each set of blood moons in each year just happens to fall on Jewish high holy days (Passover and Tabernacles). I also find it very interesting that this second part of the tetrad (two sets of two) of blood moons just happens to fall not just on a seventh year Sabbath year, but on a Shemitah or year of Jubilee (cf. Leviticus 25). Think about this a bit. Why this particular set of years amongst all the other possible years? Of all the 365 days of the year why do two blood moons fall exactly on two Jewish High Holy days? And of all the possible years in a century why are they falling in a Jubilee year? That sounds a little providential to me.

 

The night Jesus was betrayed He warned His disciples of what was about to happen. He reiterated He was going to the cross, die and later rise from the dead. And as He was telling His disciples these important truths He commented, “Now I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am He.” (John 13:19). Jesus wanted His disciples to be prepared for the hard redemptive work He was about to do. It would be hard for them. It would take courage they wouldn’t have. It would be hard and devastating to watch; even from afar. But their Shepherd Jesus would prepare them.

 

Jesus knew to be forewarned was to be forearmed for the disciples. The prophetic revelation Jesus provided was good preparation for His disciples. They didn’t understand or grasp everything that was about to happen, but having the groundwork for the cross work introduced to them prepared them to weather the storm of evil that was about to be dealt with by Jesus. Jesus always prepares His sheep.

 

The Sabbath day was a day of rest for God’s people. It was a time for God’s people to stop their work, reset their trust in God and focus on Him. By resting on the Sabbath God’s people were being taught by God that what they had and how they survived was not primarily reliant on what they did. There sustenance was primarily based on God’s providential care and provision. God would prove this by providing enough on the sixth day for the sixth and seventh days.

God knew and knows the nature of humanity. They have an insatiable appetite for more. They tend to think all they have is because of all they do. God on the other hand says, “it is He [God] who gives you power to get wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:18). In the New Testament through Paul God questions, “And what do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). We owe everything to God. We are who we are by grace (1 Corinthians 15:10).

The truth that everything we have comes from God is further illustrated in the Old Covenant Sabbath year. Every seventh year there was to be a holy Sabbath; a year of rest. In the sixth year God would prove His provision by providing enough for that year and the Sabbath year. Then again every fiftieth year was a year of Jubilee; a special time of recognizing God as the Source of all we have. To do this the land was to be left alone; unplanted; to rest. In this time of rest they would have to rely on God and see His faithful provision. In the Jubilee year all debts were to be cancelled and all slaves set free. You see, we and our possessions don’t really belong to us; they belong to God (cf. Leviticus 25). They would have to trust God to provide.

But God’s people didn’t trust Him. They took the provisions of God and hoarded them. They used them to make more rather than enjoy fellowship and rest with their God. God’s people rebelled and refused to observe these Sabbaths for 490 years. God graciously and patiently waited for His people to repent. They did not repent. Therefore He removed His hedge of protection and allowed them to be defeated and taken into captivity, just like He said He would (e.g. Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 27-28).

God’s people owed God 70 Sabbath years therefore they were taken into captivity for 70 years (Jeremiah 25). God’s people didn’t let their slaves go in the Sabbath years therefore God allowed them to go into slavery. The people didn’t allow the land to rest but instead worked it mercilessly to gain greater profits therefore they ended up losing everything. There is a principle of sowing and reaping that we see in both Testaments. There is a consequence for our decisions (cf. Galatians 6:7-9).

Joel spoke of the moon turning to blood “Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD” (Joel 2:31b). Jesus warned of false christs and false prophets showing signs to deceive (Matthew 24:23-26).  Jesus said His coming at the end of the Tribulation would be associated with “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Matthew 24:29). He told His first disciples this and the Spirit recorded this for us as a warning; a prophetic revelation of preparation. Maybe the recent blood moons are the birth pangs of such predicted developments (Matthew 24:8).

Are the tetrad of blood moons a sign of warning from God? A popular evangelist once said if Jesus didn’t return soon He would have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.  Things aren’t getting better, they are getting worse. Civilization isn’t seeking God or getting closer to Him, they are hell-bent and unrepentant. You don’t’ need blood moons and signs in the sky to know our world is in a whole lot of trouble. Jesus said the latter days would be “as the days of Noah” (Matthew 24:37); they are. Jesus said, “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26). There’s a whole lot of shaken going on in this world. It’s as though Someone is trying to get our attention.

When I send an email that is very important, that I want a person to read, I flag it with a red flag email marker. That red flag is a sign to the recipient to pay attention and take notice; to read carefully. Maybe God is sending us a blood red warning flag. Maybe He’s giving us a big blood red moon of a warning sign in the sky for all to see. If so, then we need to get serious with Him and His word. If not, there’s still plenty of “signs” in our world today that human history is winding down to a conclusion. Joel wrapped up his prophecy with the statement that in those last days, “it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved” (Joel 2:32a). Maybe it’s time to heed the red flag and call on the Lord. He’s warned you because He loves you.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Are You Washed?


Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you” – John 13:10

 

 

In southern Israel, in an arid place called Qumran, where the Dead Seas Scrolls were found, there used to be an Essene community. The Essenes sought to isolate themselves from the world and devote themselves to God. They lived in an enclosed community. There focus was on the study and copying of the scriptures. They saw themselves as God’s sons of light living in a dark world. Some scholars believe John the Baptist belonged to one of these Essene communities. And if that is the case, then the LORD called John the Baptist from this setting to return to the world  and “prepare the way of the LORD”; to prepare the way of Jesus (Mark 1:1-3).

 

In this isolated community there were ritual bathes dug into the stony bedrock of the area. These micveh bathes were used for regular ritual cleansing. A person would descend into the bath and immerse themselves in the water so that their entire body was cleansed. This body cleansing was a symbol of spiritual heart purification  (e.g. Leviticus 8). Before a priest could minister in the presence of the Lord they had to be cleansed physically as a symbol of their total consecration or commitment to the Lord (e.g. Exodus 28-29).

 

Another word closely associated with the idea of cleansing is sanctification. In the Old Testament to be sanctified meant to be separated unto God for His use. Sanctification involves heart cleansing from anything that would challenge the Lordship of God. This idea was applied to the physical instruments of ritual used in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple. Anything used in service to God had to be ceremonially cleansed. Similarly any person serving God had to be clean before Him. The idea of a person being  cleansed or purified meant a person’s heart was cleansed from anything that would distract a person from serving the Lord as well as from anything that would be offensive to God, e.g. sin (Exodus 28:41).  Anything that deterred one’s service to God or contrary to His word was viewed as sinful and needed to be washed away.

 

The idea in all of this is that God is Holy. God is unique, special, and not common. You can’t  serve the Lord or go into His presence like you would with any common circumstance. You had to be holy to serve and worship Holy God. In the Old Testament holiness and making yourself acceptable to the Lord involved the keeping of the Law and the sacrificial system (e.g. Exodus 22:31). The book of Leviticus is a manual for holiness. Its key verse is “For I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44a).

 

“Sanctification” (Greek hagiasmos) in the New Testament means purification, purity, holiness, and sanctification. The idea is to be purified from whatever would hinder us hearing the voice of God or hinder our walk and ministry in His name. To be sanctified means God and His will is our number one top priority. It means to be fully surrendered to the Lord and His will for us. It means to be separated to God and available for His use. Sanctification is bound up in our relationship to Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:30). We learn what sanctification is by looking at Jesus. Jesus is the One who provides sanctifying power in the cross.  It is God’s will that we be sanctified and live a morally pure life (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Sanctification is a work of God and God’s desire is that we be entirely or completely sanctified (1 Thessalonians 5:23). In regards to this work of God in us the Bible states, “he who calls you is faithful, who also will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24). We can count on God to sanctify us.

 

Another pertinent word in this regard is “purification” (Greek katharizdo) which means cleanse, purge, purify. In Acts the purification of the heart is associated with the work of the Holy Spirit. This work of the Spirit is received by faith. Peter described the Holy Spirit’s work amongst the Gentiles by saying, “So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8-9).

 

Sanctification and purification are not something we attain in our own strength. Sanctification is a state of being and way of life rooted in the work of the Holy Spirit in a believer. The Holy Spirit makes us holy. As we live in tune with and in total surrender to the Holy Spirit, He produces spiritual fruit in and through us (Galatians 5:22-24). When we walk in the Spirit it enables us to overcome our flesh (Galatians 5:16). The flesh (i.e. our sinful nature; our selfish sinfulness) is contrary to what the Spirit desires for us. Therefore by faith we need to follow the Spirit if we want to be sanctified (cf. Galatians 5:17-21).

 

Before sanctification could be offered to humanity they needed to learn the futility of attempting to be cleaned and made righteous in their own strength. The limitation and insufficiency of religious efforts needed to be exposed. Those seeking cleansing from sin today need to understand that too. The message of the New Testament is that the Old Testament Law and sacrificial system was unable to provide any lasting or effective means to cleanse away sin (cf. Hebrews 7-10). The Law depended on human ability to keep the Law (Galatians 3:10-13; James 2:10). In our own strength we are unable to keep the Law. Humanity on its own falls short and the Law exposes these shortcomings (Romans 3:10, 23). That is why even in the Old Testament any righteousness a person could receive was by faith in God apart from keeping the Law and performing sacrifices (Genesis 15:6).

 

Why then the Law and sacrifices? Keeping the Law and performing sacrifices were merely opportunities to express of one’s faith in obedience. It was faith in God that made one righteous. The Law was also given to expose our guiltiness of sin and remove any human excuse before the judgment seat of God (Romans 3 and 7). Animal sacrifices illustrated the seriousness of sin and its consequences. Sacrifices demonstrated the need for a Substitute to give life, spill blood, to show the cost of sin and redemption. Sin is serious and we are guilty of it.

 

When God looked at an Old Testament person and saw faith in God He passed over their sin. The first Passover was an illustration of this (Exodus 12). God did this because in foreknowledge He saw the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross (Romans 3:25). The cross of Christ is in the center of history. The cross of Jesus is the source of all forgiveness of sin. Jesus is our Passover sacrifice Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). Jesus accomplished what humanity could not; an absolute sinless life. And because He was without sin He alone qualified to be the Lamb with a capital “L” worthy to remove our sins (cf. Revelation 4-5).  Jesus the God-Man reversed the curse of sin introduced by Adam (Romans 5:12-21).

 

The Bible says, “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Salvation “to the uttermost” starts in justification, continues in sanctification, and ends in glorification. What does this mean?

 

The reason Jesus can “save to the uttermost” is because as the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29), He shed His precious blood of atonement on the cross. He paid a death penalty for sin in our place (Romans 6:23). The Gospel proclamation to the Jew was and is, “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). It is the precious blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son that cleanses us from our sin (1 John 1:7).

 

When a person turns from their sins to God trusting in Jesus and His atoning work on the cross as the just basis to receive forgiveness of sins from God the results are twofold. First they are justified. Justification is something received as a gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus (Romans 5:1-11). Justification is a legal standing before God just-as-if-I’d-never sinned. Concurrent with this conversion from darkness to light by faith in Christ is spiritual regeneration. By faith in Jesus a person goes from spiritually dead to regenerate eternal life. The Holy Spirit indwells the new believer as they trust in Jesus as Savior. This is what being “born again’ involves (John 3). An old man of sin is left and replaced by a new man in Christ (Romans 6:5-6; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Colossians 3:5-17).

 

When a person is born again or justified they are forgiven all their sins. There is no more basis for condemnation for the one who is in Christ Jesus by faith (Romans 8). Their penalty for sin has been paid on the cross by Jesus. The righteousness of Jesus has been transferred to their account. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Once saved from sin, we live for Jesus (Galatians 2:20).

 

On the southern steps of the Temple Mount leading up to the platform where the Temple used to be are micveh bathes carved out of the rock. Pilgrims coming to worship on Holy Feast Days like Passover would first wash in the bathes to be made ritually clean for approaching God’s Holy place. The night Jesus was betrayed, just after their supper, John is inspired to record in His gospel, “Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you’” (John 13:10). It’s very possible that the disciples had all gone through the ritual cleansing of the micveh in preparation for Passover. If this was the case their bodies were clean but their feet may have accumulated dirt on the way from their ritual cleansing to the upper room.

 

To plunge into the micveh bath was to be totally cleaned. It was a predecessor to baptism and its symbol of dying to sin as you are buried under the water. Rising up out of the watery bath was like the symbol of being born again of baptism. But this physical bath also illustrated a need through a practical reality. What  a person stepped out of the ritual bath into the street it meant accumulating the dirt of the common roads. Your body was clean but your exposed feet quickly got dirty. Dirty feet ruin a clean body. When Jesus said the one who had bathed needed “only to wash his feet,” He was pointing to this practical need. In doing so He was illustrating the need for sanctification.

 

We are cleansed from our sins by the blood of Jesus when we trust in Him as our Savior. That is  justification; our being born again; forgiven our sins; regenerated as a gift of Gods’ grace through faith in Christ. But as we live each day our spiritual feet accumulate dirt that needs to be washed off. We need ongoing cleaning which is sanctification. How are we, how can we be sanctified or daily cleansed from the sins of this world that we pick up in daily life?

 

We need a daily meeting with God to clean the daily accumulated dirt from the world in which we live. We need to meet daily with Jesus for cleansing. Shortly after Jesus spoke of the disciples need for a foot washing He says, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). Elsewhere in the New Testament it states of Jesus and His church bride, “that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26). Jesus’ scrub brush is the word of God. And the One who scrubs us in Jesus’ name is the Holy Spirit.

 

As we live in this world moving in and out of the corridors filled with temptations to sin and worldly views contrary to God, we are exposed and sometimes influenced by sinful thoughts. This is the dirt of a sinful world we pick up each day. We see immoral images and hear ungodly opinions. These have a way of polluting our mind and boring a hole in our heart. We are cleansed by the blood of Jesus from our sin, but daily we need to submit to the spiritual cleansing of God’s word. We need daily quiet times with Jesus, one on one, in the word. We need this so any deviations from God’s word that tempt us can be exposed and cleansed away as the Holy Spirit uses the word of God to cleanse the filth of sin away. We need a regular bath in the word of God. They say our hair absorbs chemicals in the environment. We need our spiritual hair washed and rinsed in the word of God. We need our spiritual ears cleaned from worldly wax. We need the dust of sin washed from our eyes. Our teeth and maybe even our tongue need brushing. We need to let God’s word wash over us. Let those verses get in between each toe. Let the shower of God’s word clean away from top to bottom.  

 

And the completion of Jesus’ work in us will be when we are glorified with Him. The Bible says, “and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Romans 8:30). One day, when we pass from this life to the next, we will be in the glorious heavenly presence of Jesus. AND THERE IS NO DIRT IN HEAVEN! The streets are gold. It’s completely holy and clean. When we get to heaven we will receive “glorified bodies”; perfect bodies suited for our eternal blissful existence with our Lord (1 Corinthians 15:35-49). These new glorification bodies don’t get dirty! Oh, what a thought! Honestly, I can’t wait for that! And the way things in this world are piling up, His return and our glorification will come soon and very soon.  What a wonderful hope we have in Jesus.

 

Until that glorification we are called to live for Him in this dark world. That means we will walk in the dirt and inevitably track some muck and mire into our spiritual homes. We need regular washing as a result. But it also means we splash His word on others in hope they too will be cleaned. Let the perfumed aroma of a cleaned spiritual body attract others to Jesus.

 

How important is it to be daily cleansed? The disciples had lived three years with Jesus. His words were ringing in their ears and had deeply penetrated their hearts. Jesus said to His twelve, “and you are clean.” But then He added, “but not all of you.” And John clarifies what is going on by saying, “ For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean” (John 13:11). Not all were clean. Judas was dirty.

 

Judas’ heart was filthy with greed and betrayal. Judas weighed the cost of loyalty to Jesus versus material gain and felt thirty pieces of silver were worth more than Jesus and His mission. Judas was willing to sell out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Judas had a price; he could be bought. How did Judas get to that place where he would betray Messiah Jesus, the Miracle Worker, the Great Teacher, the Son of David, and the Holy One of God? How did he degenerate to the depth of a willingness to sell out Jesus for a mere 30 coins? He got to that point because at some point he turned a deaf ear to Jesus and His words. At some point he didn’t clean his filters or ream out his arteries. He let his feet get dirty, filthy. He let his feet get caked with worldly, carnal, fleshly, devilish defecation. At some point he just gave in to the tempter’s evil thoughts of self-gain and self-reliance. At some point he lost his respect and reverence for Jesus and His word. And the end of his folly was a self-made hangman’s noose and busted open bowels.  

 

We are cleansed by the blood of Jesus. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. We may neglect God’s word, but the consequence will be a carnal self-centered Christian. But if we want to approach the presence of God, to live abundantly in His presence and walk in the Spirit, we need to keep clean in God’s word. Otherwise we will become deafened to the still small voice of God and His direction. Otherwise we’ll be deafened to the comfort and counsel of our dear Savior Jesus. We don’t want to be ashamed by soiled spiritual feet when we come face to face with our wonderful Savior Lord Jesus. So I ask you, “Are you washed?”

Monday, March 16, 2015

Willing to Wash Feet


“. . . having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. . . . and began to wash His disciple’s feet.” – John 13:1, 5

 

“Enough is enough!” Have you ever said or thought that? It’s a common response for those who actually are or feel as though they are being taken advantage of. It’s a response from the person who has bent over backwards to meet what they feel is someone’s unfair, unjust, or unreasonable expectations.

“Enough is enough!” Spouses say or think that. Parents say or think that. Grandparents say or think that. Children say or think that. Victims say or think that. Police, social workers, medical practitioners, politicians, citizens often come to a point where they say or think that. Christians in ministry, pastors, and/or disciples of Jesus sometimes say or think that. Those inclined to extend kindness or help to the needy sometimes come to a point of saying or thinking that. “Enough is enough!” is an expression of limitation.

There are legitimate times to say, “Enough is enough!” When protecting or coming to the aid of those who can’t defend themselves “enough is enough” is an appropriate response. That phrase is a line in the sand; an end of the line notice; or a declaration of a willingness to fight for what is right. The injustice and oppression must end. But I want to talk to you about a different perspective. I want to talk to you about Someone and something for which “Enough is enough!” is not appropriate. When it came to love and service Jesus never said, “Enough is enough!”

When we study scripture it is vitally important that we do so in context. We can dissect a portion of a passage, a single verse, a portion of a single verse or even a word as we study scripture. But we should always keep the context, the surrounding content of that study in mind. John 12-17 begins a section of the Gospel of John where we see the revelation of Jesus’ personality. In John 13 we see Jesus walk His talk. Jesus said He came to serve (e.g. Mark 10:45) and He actually served. Jesus didn’t merely teach or talk about doing something. Jesus actually did what He taught about. He lived out His teaching before His disciples and the people of His day.

The context of scripture gives us perspective and insight into God’s truth. For instance, the Gospel of John contains Jesus most detailed teaching on the Holy Spirit.  John is inspired to record three whole chapters of Jesus’ teaching on the Holy Spirit (John 14-16). Contextually Jesus’ teaching on the Spirit is preceded by Jesus teaching and ministry of service. In John 13 Jesus washes the disciples feet, defines discipleship and proclaims His “new commandment” (John 13:34-35). In this chapter Jesus speaks heart-fully of the sign of His disciples; “that you love one another; as I have loved you.” As we look at our passage in context as a whole, we learn to love and serve as Jesus loved and served is only possible in the power of the Holy Spirit.  

In John 13 Jesus says, “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). The way we are enabled and empowered to do what Jesus did in John 13 is explained in the subsequent chapters 14, 15, and 16. There Jesus points His disciples (and us) to life in the Spirit. John’s inspired Gospel depicts the abundant life Jesus incarnated to humanity (cf. John 10:10). And for Jesus abundant life is life in the Spirit. That raises a question: “How can we experience Jesus’ abundant life in the Spirit?” The answer to that pivotal question is that contextually, service is His means to introduce by our need His provision of the Spirit. We look at Jesus’ service and say “I can’t do that.” We see our need and therefore seek the empowering of the Holy Spirit and find, “He will do that through me.” If we want to learn about life in the Spirit we must be willing to take a step of faith and serve. Service and the Holy Spirit are inextricably linked.

This contextual view of the gospel (and really of any study in the Bible) is vitally important for the application of what we learn. For if we ever try to apply the example of Christ’s service in our own strength we will pass out from the pressure of the work. We are weak and powerless without the Spirit. But if we view Christ’s call to serve from a Spirit illuminating position we will learn the joy of serving side by side with our Savior and Lord Jesus.

The historical setting of John 13 is the final week leading up to the cross. It was the Holy week of Passover. Jesus was well aware of what lay ahead for Him; the cross. He knew the hardest part of His redemptive mission was fast approaching. But He also knew He would soon be back with the Father (John 13:1). That’s a sub-lesson for us. Whenever difficulty approaches, we can make it through with the assurance that He is there for us now and later (Matthew 18:20; 28:20; Hebrews 13:5).

If it were you or I and we knew we were about to go to the cross to pay a substitutionary atoning death for the sins of the world, we might be a little or even a lot righteously indignant. We may have turned to our disciples and remarked, “Hey, you know in a few short hours I’m going to pay the penalty for your sins and the sins of the world. You’re all going to forsake me and one will particularly betray me. You don’t deserve it. You couldn’t do it. Only I can do this. No act of history will be so sacrificially loving and costly. No act will be so humble. So why don’t you do me the pleasure of washing my feet in preparation of my task?” In the same situation we probably would have thought we deserved some service from others. We may have gotten fired up, a little lifted up and proud. We may have thought enough is enough; it’s their turn to do something for me! By worldly and fleshly standards such thinking would be reasonable and justified, but not by Jesus’ standards.

Jesus wasn’t proud in these final hours. Jesus didn’t emotionally manipulate His disciples. He didn’t try to make them pity Him. On that last night before being betrayed, sinfully and falsely accused, crucified and murdered Jesus did something completely and totally otherworldly. Jesus did something that night that would or should have, shook the world. It does shake the ones who think about it; who take it to heart. What Jesus did was in perfect harmony with the cross work He would soon complete. Jesus, in the hour of His greatest need began to do the heavy lifting of the divine. What did Jesus do? John’s inspired account of Jesus states, “having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1).  Jesus didn’t seek to be served. Jesus sought to serve. His service was an incredible demonstration of the extent of His love. Jesus didn’t say or think “Enough is enough!” Jesus simply, quietly, got into His work clothes, bent down as if to say, “I’ve only just begun.” Then He washed the disciples’ feet.

At the southern steps of the Temple Mount were ritual Micveh baths. Pilgrims in Jerusalem to worship God would physically wash themselves in these bathtubs hewn in the stone leading up to the Holy Mount. Their washing was a symbol of consecration and spiritual cleansing. The disciples of Jesus likely had bathed in these ritual bathes in preparation for the Passover. So when they made their way to the Upper Room to have their holy supper with Jesus their body was ritually clean but their feet no doubt were dirty. Feet dirty with refuse smell. Jesus didn’t embarrass the disciples. He simply waited to complete the meal and then used the situation to teach a valuable lesson.

 

The supper ended. The devil got a grip on Judas. Jesus would soon be betrayed (John 13:2). Jesus knew the Father had given Him full control. He knew He was from God. He would soon return to God (John 13:3). These circumstances were foreknown by God and a part of His plan. God is able to utilize the evil sinful decisions of people like Judas to fulfill His righteous redemptive plans. God can cause all things to work together for His good (Romans 8:28). When we look at the world today we see a great deal of betrayal and sin. Such evil and darkness tempts us to think that perhaps God isn’t working or even that God really isn’t in control. But God is working. He can bring good from evil intentions. This is another lesson to be learned from this night.  

Jesus, “rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself” (John 13:4).  Maybe those who should have washed their feet had been delinquent to do so. Jesus didn’t make a fuss. Jesus peacefully prepared Himself to serve. In Jesus’ day people walked on dirt roads along with beasts of burden. There was dirt of all sorts on those roads. People walked everywhere. There were possibly millions crammed into the city of Jerusalem for the Passover. They came with their animals. They wore open sandals. Their feet got pretty filthy. The feet Jesus was to wash were unpedicured and rough. These were feet of burly men. These were ugly feet of working men not pretty feet of the privileged. It was the dirty black feet of His disciples that Jesus washed. Washing feet was usually reserved for the lowest of the servants. But Jesus assumed this lowest of positions and washed the disciple’s feet. For Jesus no low service is too low to do.

We clean diapers of cute little babies and remark how sweet their bowel movement smells. But as that child grows that sweetness disappears. Changing those diapers becomes more of a chore. And those diapers keep coming. Life goes on. Potty training comes. People grow. They grow old. And age has a way of bringing us full circle. Children become the caretakers of their parents. And parents sometimes grow incontinent. A child may be called upon to change a parent’s diaper. That’s a tough one.  Sometimes we are led to get help in institutions. Sometimes that’s necessary. But when such decisions are made do we make them in light of Jesus’ washing feet?

Dirty feet take many forms. The dirt we wash many be in a bathroom or a yard that needs cleaning. We may need to clean up a classroom. We may be called upon by Jesus to be instrumental in cleaning up a dirty life. Sometimes those dirty feet are an unkempt or unclean person in church. Other times they’re a street person. Sometimes they’re a hard to get along with person, or a proud, unforgiving, unkind, unloving person. A lot of times those dirty feet are an unsaved person. There’s all kinds of dirt that needs washing. When we encounter the smell of the dirt from the street of the world there’s a question we need to ask. Are you willing to kneel down in the name of Jesus and wash some feet? Are you willing to be like Jesus?

Jesus is Creator and Sustainer of the universe (Colossians 1:15-18). Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 17:14; 19:16). There could not be a greater extreme from the highest of high position to the lowest of low positions. And this Highest, Holiest, God-Man Jesus was going to the cross. That might have been enough for a man. But it wasn’t enough for Jesus. Jesus was going all the way in His love. He uses these precious last hours before the cross to teach His disciples a valuable lesson about service. First, there is no one above service. Jesus taught by example that the greatest is a servant of all (Mark 9:35). Second, there is no excuse not to serve; even when evil men attack and betray you; even when you are going to give your life on a cross; it’s always time to serve. Jesus modeled these truths for us when He washed the disciples’ feet. Are you willing to wash feet too?

 

After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” (John 13:5).  Water is a symbol of God’s word. Later in John Jesus will tell the disciples that they are clean because of the word He has shared with them (John 15:3). It is the water of the word that washes us from sin (Ephesians 5:26). God’s word exposes our dirt and shows us how to be washed clean. This is a picture of sanctification.

 

When we are born again we are forgiven our sins and have the righteousness of Jesus imputed to us (2 Cor. 5:21). The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from our sin (1 Peter 1:18-19). As we walk with Him His blood is applied (1 John 1:7). That cleansing comes as we confess our sins to God (1 John 1:9). Our water baptism is an illustration of this initial cleansing. Jesus was sinless but was baptized in obedience to His Father’s word (Matthew 3:13-17). If Jesus was baptized its likely His disciples were too. We aren’t saved by baptism. Baptism is an outward sign of an inner reality. We are baptized in obedience to God.

 

As we walk on from our point of initial cleansing it becomes apparent our spiritual feet pick up dirt. We walk in a dirty world. Every day we need to wash our feet. Jesus makes provision for this ongoing sanctifying work through the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:32-33). We need something regularly daily imparted to us by the Lord. The Holy Spirit provides what we need.

 

Before He ascended to heaven Jesus instructed His disciples to wait and be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). This was a subsequent work of Jesus upon His disciples. This happened at Pentecost (Acts 2 ff.). It was something that would be repeated (Acts 4:31). It would later be described as the Spirit’s purifying work in the heart by faith (Acts 15:8-9). The Holy Spirit pours His Christ-like love into our heart (Romans 5:5).The love of Jesus is the compelling power of service (2 Corinthians 5:14-16).

 

The water that exposes and washes away the dirt of sin is the word of God. The Holy Spirit inspired human beings to write God’s word (2 Timothy 3:16-17). And it is that Spirit inspired word that speaks to us of our need spiritual washing. The word of God is the Spirit’s scrub brush. The word of God is the Spirit’s soap. We know where to go for the cleansing by the word of God. The word of God points us to Jesus and His cleansing blood.  

 

Jesus served in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14-15). He gave us an example of love and service to live. He calls us to serve and experience the power of the Spirit. To follow Jesus is to lovingly serve. He has shown us no service is beneath us. He has promised to enable us through the Spirit to serve Him by serving others. Jesus demonstrated through His humble service that such service was what love is all about. Jesus loved His disciples to the end. That end meant washing feet. That end meant the cross. He calls us to love and serve. His Spirit enables us to do so. So I ask you, is enough really enough? When it comes to loving like Jesus and serving like Jesus enough is never enough. Jesus was willing to wash feet, dirty feet, are you?

 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

In What or Whom Do You Trust?




“. . . for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” – John 12:43

 

 

Have you ever had someone wave off a conversation about Jesus with the words, “I’m Catholic. . . .” or “I’m Baptist” or “I’m ­­­­­­__________"? Such a comment and wave off is thought to be a decisive and dismissive means of cutting off a conversation that the person saying it doesn’t feel is necessary or of value for them. I want to speak to those who use such tactics. I also want all of us to consider where we have placed our faith. Jesus addressed the very same tactic in the Gospels. On one such occasion Jesus’ listeners tried to dismiss His teaching with the claim, “We are Abraham’s descendants” (John 8:33). They thought their nationality and religious heritage removed them from the idea that they were bound in sin (John 8:31-36). This is a teaching that cuts to an underlying issue. You see, it isn’t your church or religious affiliation that is of prime importance. It isn’t what you trust in but Who you trust in that is of prime eternal import.  You can belong to a church or synagogue and still be bound in sin.

 

John 12 marks the beginning of John the Apostle’s account of the final week of Jesus ministry leading up to the cross and resurrection. The chapter begins with a Triumphal entry and ends with heightening trials of opposition to Jesus and His message. Jesus remains true to the end. But toward the end of the chapter, despite the powerful teaching and signs of Jesus, John is inspired to write, “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (John 12:42-43).  Jesus was having an impact on the heart of even the ruling elite. But because of the religious leaders and their hold on the people by the shackles of religious affiliation, those who believed Jesus and His message chose to submit to the praise of men rather than surrender to the praise of God. They were in the clutches of a club mentality. They were swallowed by allegiance to the synagogue. And today we see a very similar scenario as people creep away from Jesus using church affiliation.

 

How sad it is when people know Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, they know the gospel message is right and true and real and still don’t follow Him. Here people have “believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue.” The synagogue was the center of Jewish life. The synagogue system had been used by God to sustain His people during the seventy years of captivity when Israel as a nation and the center of national pride, the Temple, was laid low. The synagogue system remained prominent even after the Temple was rebuilt. This was a credible and real cost those who believed in Jesus would have to count. But the synagogue, as well as the Temple, is not greater than Jesus.

 

The synagogue’s purpose was to be a place where God’s people could be taught about God. It was in the synagogue that people heard the exposition of God’s word. Although it must be said that rabbinical “exposition” consisted mostly of rabbi’s quoting other prestigious rabbis as a means of garnering authority for themselves and their teaching. When Jesus came the only One He referred to as a root of authority was God His Father (cf. John 12:44-50). Because of this, (and because of the anointing of the Spirit – Luke 4:14-15) Jesus’ teaching was seen as unique and powerfully authoritative (cf. Mark 1:37; Luke 4:32 and 36).  The people saw Jesus and His teaching as holy, unique. When you compare Jesus to an institution and its promoters that will always be the case.

 

There is an extremely important distinction to make when considering the object of our faith. Our eternal destiny depends on this distinction. And that distinction can be summed up with the question: Is your faith in Christ or in a church or similar institution? You might be quick to respond, “Of course my faith is in Jesus!” But wait a minute. Is it really? Let me ask you something. Do you have a thriving, real, genuine, living, personal relationship with the risen Savior and Lord Jesus Christ? Or, are you simply depending on a church for your eternal life? What do I mean by that? Well, let me ask you a few more probing questions and hopefully you’ll catch my drift.

 

Do you regularly spend time alone with Jesus, one on One, with the Word of God open, prayerfully listening for His still small voice, or do you spiritually exist on maybe an hour a week of a sermon? Is what you believe based on a second hand trust in others’ teaching or opinions, or traditions, or is it based on a first hand working and walking through scripture with the Lord? Do you spend time with Jesus or spend time in a church? The two are not necessarily the same. Do you have a “personal” firsthand relationship with Jesus, or do you depend on a human mediator or tradition laden mediatrix? Is your “Jesus” still on a crucifix or is He in your heart? Scripture tells us, “Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, . . . the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Romans 8:9-10). The Bible proclaims, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Is Christ in you? When you stand before God on Judgment Day He will not ask you the name of the church you belonged to, He will ask you if His Son, the Savior and Lord, is in you. What will you answer Him on that day?

 

I want to encourage you to engage the Lord Jesus in a personal way. Listen, the church never saved anyone, Jesus, the Head of the church, saves anyone and everyone who has ever been saved from their sin. When we have greater allegiance to the church than to Jesus it’s as though we praise the scalpel rather than the surgeon who performs successful surgery on us. The church, like a scalpel in the surgeon’s hand, is only as valuable and effective as the one using it. In truth, the church is not enough to sustain your faith. An hour or two a week in a church, even if God’s word is faithfully taught, is not enough to sustain you, or your children, or your family; anyone. Your personal relationship with Jesus needs personal attention every day. We need to walk each day with Jesus. So I ask you, “Is your trust in a church or in Christ?”

 

The church is the Bride of Christ and we should do everything we can to support it and keep it a place of holiness. But we are not saved by faith in a church. We are saved by faith in Christ. The church is only the church as long as it is in alignment with and in submission to its Head, Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:18). The “church” is only the church as it is in submission to and guided by God’s word (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Apostle Peter put it this way, “And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). Sometimes that “dark place” is the church.

 

The church of Jesus, the only true church, is a scripture based, scripture oriented church. The “church” is only the church as it fulfills God’s definition of “church.” Peter also says, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21). It was the move of the Spirit that inspired men to write the scriptures. The Spirit moved these human penmen like a wind blows into the sails of a ship and drives it. And it is a current move of the Spirit to direct members of the church to live by God’s word that determines the genuineness and authenticity of the “church.” The Spirit will never, never, never, contradict Himself or the Holy Word He has inspired. Spirit-filled, Spirit-empowered, and Spirit led people will never disregard, dismiss, redact, or edit out portions of God’s word in order to appease secular trends no matter how offensive God’s truth becomes. God’s truth and His word is settled in heaven and eternity (Psalm 119:89). God’s word has God’s Holy Name stamped on it (Psalm 138:2). Therefore, a “magisterium,” “church council,” or any “church” official is only as valid and worth obeying in that they bow to and serve God in obedience to His Holy Word.

 

The authority and foundation of the church is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11). The “church” of Jesus Christ is a church steadfastly devoted first to “the apostles teaching” or word of God, second, to the “fellowship” of believers, third, to the “breaking of bread” or worship, and finally, “to prayer” (Acts 2:42). That; that is the “church.” The true “church” is depicted in Acts. That is the church you can trust. But we have to constantly guard against getting off course from God’s word. The church must maneuver within the parameters of God’s word. And the sad reality is we have, as a church, strayed very far from the New Testament scriptural definition of the “church.” 

 

Unfortunately, people, due in part to laziness or ill-placed trust, have supplanted a possible personal relationship with Jesus with a second hand walk in and walk out of a church. It takes time and effort to maintain a relationship. The breakdown of the marriage and shack-up mentality of our present time is evidence that people aren’t willing to work on or work through the often puzzling parts of relationship. And that mentality has infected the church of our day.

 

People shack-up with churches. They exit out of their church at the first sign of something they don’t like. They enter into another one and stay until that new car smell wears out. All the while they are looking in a church for something they can only find with Jesus. Like those new cars driven off the lot, that “new” church depreciates pretty quick. In fact, to many people, a church loses its worth when through the teaching of the word of God it becomes challenging or discomforting. People take offense at the preaching and teaching of the word. What did they expect? Sound Scriptural teaching speaks of “the offense of the cross” (Galatians 5:11). If you are offended that may be a sign that something good and true is being taught. Don’t leave it, embrace it and be crucified with Christ! (Galatians 2:20).

 

The church should introduce people to Jesus. The church should never take the place of Jesus. When people look to the church rather than to Jesus for fulfillment the result is exactly what we see today. Today we see an epidemic of church transience as people date instead of commit to churches. There is little to no loyalty to a church family. Just like people choose to trash their family for adulterous trysts, they do the same by hopping from one church to the next lusting for something or someone to quench a thirst that only Jesus can quench. Jesus is and can only be our true love. The church is a vehicle to bring people to Jesus. Do you love the limo at the wedding or the Groom?

 

The church is the Bride of Christ. The church is the people in it. “Now you are the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27). The church is not the organization. The church is not the name given to it. The church is the instrument Jesus uses and ordains as the place to unite people in Himself (Ephesians 2-3). Love the church and its people like Jesus loved them (2 Corinthians 5:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 5:10; 1 Peter 3:18-19). But don’t worship the church. Worship Jesus, the Head of the church. Every knee will bow and tongue will confess Jesus, not the church (Philippians 2:9-11). The church is only powerful and of value inasmuch as it is “My church” (Matthew 16:18). Is your church His church?

 

The church because it is filled with weak and limited human beings, Christians who are walking according to their own understanding rather than the Spirit and His Word, are for the most part carnal like the Corinthians (cf. I and II Corinthians). The epistles of the New Testament were inspired by the Spirit to a great extent to address problems in the church. If you look at the seven churches of Revelation to which Jesus wrote letters you find that 5 of the 7 churches had some serious problems (Revelation 2-3). By the end of the first century, less than 100 years after the birth and ministry of Jesus, the church had problems and had strayed. If that is true of the early church, how true might it be of the church of today?

 

The Apostle Peter spoke of the root of such problems when he received the inspiration of the Spirit and wrote about people who followed the, “aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers” (1 Peter 1:18). Human tradition is too often merely human explanation and worse, embellishment of faith and practice. And because of that it frequently leads people astray from God’s word. Tradition is second to scripture in terms of authority. Any tradition that contradicts or deviates from scripture must be discarded by the church and those who attend it.

 

Jesus confronted manmade traditions that contradicted and undermined God’s Holy Word (Matthew 15:1-20). Jesus told the religious leaders that the reason they erred was that they didn’t understand the scripture (Matthew 22:29). Scripture points us to Jesus. Tradition can sometimes stray off course from Jesus. Sometimes tradition points us to the church. Sometimes traditions subtly sway us from looking to Jesus and His word. The church can be self serving. The church and its tradition must always bow to Jesus and His Word. It bears repeating, the church is only as authoritative as it is in alignment with God’s word.

 

Not all tradition is wrong or bad. Good and acceptable tradition is rooted in and based on scripture. Paul referred to his delivered message as “traditions” (Greek paradosis e.g. 1 Corinthians 11:2). A tradition is something handed down from generation to generation. Paul therefore was referring to the teaching and instruction he had been led in by the Spirit and was passing on to the church. Tradition that is scripturally sound is good.

 

All traditions and every church needs to be appraised and seen through the lens of scripture. Tradition and churches are acceptable only in as much as they comply and conform to God’s Holy Word. Tradition that contradicts scripture ceases to be acceptable tradition. The church that contradicts scripture ceases to be the church acceptable to Christ. This is why we must give priority and allegiance primarily to Jesus and His Word over and above human tradition and the church. 

 

 

It is faith in Christ alone that saves. If our loyalties to a church exceed our loyalty to Jesus we are in great danger. Jesus endorses His word as the supreme authority for the church. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matthew 24:35). The church is only the church in as much as it is in alignment with and submitted to the word of God. The true church serves and submits to Jesus Christ. The true church introduces people to Jesus. The church steps aside and never gets in the way of people coming to Jesus Christ. So again, I ask you, is your faith in Christ or the church? Hopefully your faith is in the Person Jesus Christ. Hopefully you have been introduced to and encouraged to grow in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Hopefully this has been done through the faithful teaching of scripture by a church faithful and fully surrendered to Her Groom Jesus Christ. 

 

There is a final feature of misplaced faith. The reason they did not follow Jesus was peer pressure. “They loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” They cared more about what their religious leaders or fellow affiliates to a religious institution thought of them than they did of what God incarnate invited them to be a part of. That is about the saddest reason for not following Jesus that can be. It’s simply a question of God versus man. The early genuine church was powerful and proclaimed, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). What would you proclaim?

 

The dynamic involved with peer pressured decisions is pride. It was because of pride that they “loved the praise of men.” Pride goes before destruction (Proverbs 16:18). The serpent Lucifer rebelled against God Almighty in pride (Isaiah 14:12-15). At the center of “sin,” is “I.” “I” and life revolving around yourself or anyone other than Jesus is sin. This has been true from the start. Holding Jesus and His word off at arm’s length because of a proud religious affiliation is nothing more than pride. It is the same temptation the serpent used with Eve in the Garden (Genesis 3). The serpent’s enticing of  Eve could be translated, “Come over to my side.” The serpent coaxed Adam and Eve with a false promise. The serpent wanted to break God’s heart by luring our first parents into breaking their covenant contract with God. That serpent agent used every trick he knew to get Adam and Eve to sign a contract with him. That serpent slithered his way into the hearts of our first parents and he used pride to do it. It’s as though he were saying, “Come to me, come to my side, come to my gathering, my church and I’ll see that you have cushier seating, more alluring worship, and no one will ever get in your business. Just come to my side and you’ll be your own ruler. No restricting rules with me. You’ll be free to do what you want; you’ll be ‘God’!” Sound familiar? People leave one church for another; people leave Jesus for another all the time for stuff like that.

 

The serpent tempted Eve to disobey God by insinuating God didn’t want what was best for Eve. The serpent promised that if Eve ate the forbidden fruit she would be “like God.” In other words Satan the serpent was saying, “Eat the fruit and you won’t have to take any orders from God anymore. You’ll be just like Him. You’ll be your own master.” And that idea, self-rule, is at the heart of misplaced faith. People don’t want a personal relationship with Jesus as their Lord because they don’t want to count the cost. People are afraid of what Jesus might call them to give up. They don’t want to give up self-rule. That is sin. That is the sinful nature in its essence.


What the serpent and those who want to take the place of Jesus in people’s lives don’t tell you is that there is no greater slavery than slavery to someone or something other than Jesus. And what they try to shield you from is the truthful reality that lasting fulfillment, eternal fulfillment only comes through Jesus. The church and those connected to it shouldn’t be drawing people to themselves; they should be pointing people to Jesus. Jesus spoke the truth when He said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32). The church is the means to that end. The church should never be the end of that means. Is your trust in a church or is your trust in Jesus Christ? How you answer that question could determine your eternal destiny. In what or Whom do you trust?

 

 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Hardening of a Heart



Therefore they could not believe – John 12:39


How does a heart become hardened to the gospel, to Jesus? Some would say that God creates some people with a predetermined heart to accept the gospel and others with a predetermined hard heart to reject the gospel. Some would say salvation is not a matter of decision or the exertion of their God given free will. Is a heart born hard or is there a process involved? Is our heart condition predetermined apart from us or is every human culpable and responsible for their own decision for or against God and His gospel? That is what we will consider in this teaching.


Before we go any further let me begin by admitting a teaching such as this runs the risk of over simplifying the issues involved. I am not about to claim to have solved the tensions between God’s sovereignty and human free will that men far greater, incredibly far superior to this mice of a man can. But there is a message to be communicated here and it is an important one. It’s a message that calls the sinner to repent and receive the gospel while there is still time and opportunity to do so. That is an urgent and necessary message I choose to try and convey.


In the gospel of John the apostle records seven miracles of Jesus which served as signs to identify Jesus as God and Savior. However, not everyone responded to these signs in a way that led to their forgiveness of sin and eternal life. All they would have had to do to become children of God was to receive Jesus as Messiah, Savior, by faith (John 1:12). But instead John is inspired to record  “But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe” (John 12:37). John then quotes from Isaiah 53 and Isaiah 6. Isaiah 53 is one of the greatest Old Testament descriptions of Messiah and the salvation that would come through Him. Isaiah 6 is God’s call on Isaiah to go to a people who would generally not receive His God ordained message. And then a few lines later John makes the stunning statement, “Therefore they could not believe” (John 12:39). This last verse tells us it is possible to get to a point where a person cannot believe. How does that happen? How is a heart hardened to the extent that a person cannot believe?


There is a principle God sovereignly implements which affects the heart. This principle determines the condition of a heart. It is a principle of justice and truth. This principle is described as sowing and reaping. It states a person’s decisions direct them on a path. There is a result, a consequence to a person’s decisions. This principle is found in the New Testament where it states, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:7-8).  Decisions (sowing) lead to momentum or consequences (reaping) in a direction. This principle states there are two options of choice, toward the flesh or toward the Spirit.


If a person chooses to make decisions based on their flesh or sinful nature their ultimate consequence will be “corruption.” “Corruption” (Greek phthora) means decay, corruption, ruin or destruction. When we look at these words of definition for “corruption” we see stages of a downward spiral of sinful decisions. When a person sows to their flesh there is a consequential degrading or decay in their heart and ability to subsequently respond to God. If they persist they digress to corruption. If they live a life against God they will end in ruin and on the final judgment day destruction in the lake of fire (cf. Revelation 20). This is the just recompense for those who sow to their flesh.


But if a person chooses to sow to the Spirit they will reap everlasting life or eternal oriented blessing. If a person sows to the Spirit it doesn’t mean they won’t have difficulty, hence the exhortation to “not grow weary.” But decisions made in the Spirit will ultimately lead to eternal blessing. We could refer to the antonyms of corruption such as revival, purity, victory, and ultimate realization of eternal life with Jesus. This is what awaits those who sow to the Spirit.


These verses in Galatians begin with the words, “Do not be deceived.” Paul who was inspired to write those words knows “the heart is deceitful” (Jeremiah 17:9). It’s possible to be self-deceived (e.g. 1 John 1:8 and 10). The principle of sowing and reaping helps us cut through the deceit and falsehood to get to the heart of the matter. This principle tells us where in truth we are with the Lord. This principle affects the heart. This principle helps us to gauge our spiritual heart condition. Are we softened and receptive or hardened and unreceptive to God and His word? This principle helps us diagnose and monitor our heart condition.


In Jesus’ parable of the Sower He describes four heart soils (Mark 4:1-20). The seed of the word of God is sown or shared with people. Some, like packed down hard paths of soil do not allow the seed to penetrate at all and Satan comes and steals God’s word from their consideration. Some people receive the word of God in only a very shallow way. They do not allow God’s word to take root so that the first trial that enters their life results in their faith withering. Then there are people who receive God’s word into an unkempt cluttered heart. For them God’s word is just one other thing in their life and the things of the world choke off the word. None of these heart responses describe a person who is genuinely saved. But there is a heart that receives the word of God and produces fruit. This is the heart that demonstrates genuine salvation. This last heart welcomes and cultivates God’s word. The first three heart soils described here are examples of inadequate and irresponsible receptivity to God’s word. The fourth heart soil takes God’s word seriously and lets it grow in them. They hear God’s word and cooperate with it to see their faith grow (Romans 10:17). God’s word tells us there is a principle that states our heart is impacted by the decisions we make. Our decisions determine the condition of our heart.


There is deception that involves contradicting this principle of sowing and reaping. Some view a disconnect or even a dissolution of the idea of decisions and consequences. Oh they still use words like “decision” and even “will” but they do so in a way that strips them of any true meaning. Decision without free will is no longer decision. Furthermore, if God were to create hearts with built in predetermined locked in responses to the gospel (which some contend He does) then it would remove all responsibility from a person as well as strip them of God’s image in them. What do I mean?


A person cannot be held responsible for something they have no other choice to do. This is common sense. If you overpower a person, take their hand, put a gun in it, constrain them holding your hand over theirs and hold a pointed gun in their hand toward someone and then you press their trigger finger and fire the gun killing the human target, are they guilty of murder? No one would convict such a person of a crime. But that is exactly what some theologians claim. They claim those created by God to reject His gospel are somehow culpable for choosing and doing exactly what God created them to do. This is irrational and unrighteous.


God created man in His own image (Genesis 1:26-27). There is something in the image of humanity that is a reflection of our Creator. What does this image consist of? Jesus physically came as a Man and so to some extent our physical appearance reflects God in Christ. God thinks. We think. Therefore our capacity to think is a reflection of our Creator. God loves. We love. Therefore our capacity to love is a reflection of our Creator. But the nature of love leads us to the greatest image of God in humanity. Love by nature involves choice. You can’t force someone to love you. Someone can’t force you to love them. Love without a free will decision to do so is no longer love, it is robotic, lifeless or at worst the perversion of love, rape.


Love by definition involves choice; the exertion of the will; decision. Humanities capacity to exert their will and make decisions is God’s image in them. Without the capacity to make decisions humanity ceases to be human and ceases to have God’s image in them. Without the capacity to willfully decide a human being loses their personhood and degenerates into an automaton. Apart from the will a person is closer to being a vacuum cleaner than a human being.


God in His sovereign determination has decided to create human beings with the capacity to make decisions. Adam and Eve were put in the rich and splendorous  Garden of Eden with all its juiciness and life. God said they could eat and enjoy it all. He gave only one prohibition for which they would have to decide to obey. They were not permitted to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eat from that tree and “you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). Well, you know the story. Satan the serpent hit them with lies and they chose to disobey God and obey the serpent (Genesis 3). And sin entered the world; a dreadful consequence (Romans 5).


God confronted the first humans about their sin. Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the serpent. People have been trying to evade the guilt and responsibility for sin ever since. We see these evasions in both the sacred and secular worlds.


The world through the teaching of evolution equates human beings as merely highly evolved members of the animal kingdom. Condoms are distributed in schools because educators view our children as unable to resist their animal instincts to interact sexually. The world interprets sinful decisions more in terms of guilt defying disease than acts of disobedience to the laws of nature, government or God. This is dehumanizing. Government turns away from Biblical as well as historical norms to approve and remove any guilt from those who would choose to redefine the gender God created them with. And some use laws to justify a new chameleon gender class who waffle back and forth in gender according by the mood of the day. The world responds to the guiltiness of breaking God’s inherent laws of conscience by attempting to remove culpability under the guise of biological functions or licentious laws. And we can see the resultant corruption and destruction.


Years ago comedian Flip Wilson popularized the phrase, “The devil made me do it.” It was a way of saying, “I’m not to blame, blame the devil.” Adam and Eve said something like that. Over the course of time religious human beings, seeking to understand God and His interactions with people, switched that up a bit. With the idea of God creating humanity with predetermined destinies they have altered that phrase of excuse to be, “God made me do it.” If everything, including sinful things, are authored by God as some claim, then where is human responsibility, human culpability? And is such a notion really that far from what the world teaches? Under the premise of evolutionary theory the world doesn’t say, “The devil made me do it,” or “God made me do it,” but they say, “Nature made me do it.” It’s all pretty much the same; someone else is to blame, not “me.”


Some argue, “But if humanity has free will and can decide their destinies then God is not in control; God is not sovereign; God is not God.” Such a view itself limits God. If God has created humanity with the capacity to make free will decisions, then God is greater when He asserts His redemptive plans despite such bestowed freedoms to humanity. God is so great that He can foreknow the end from the beginning and fulfill His redemptive plans while including the variable of human free will in His decisions. God is able to factor in every possible contingency. God is able to hold everything together in a cosmic order no matter how convoluted humanity tries to mess things up. That speaks far more of the immensity and stupendous power and ability of Almighty God than a view that God is a Puppet Master with us on His strings.


So, if the will of a human being is involved, how does a heart become so hard that a person cannot believe? A good example of how a heart is hardened is found in the Old Testament book of Exodus. In Exodus 3-14 we have the calling of God on Moses to confront Pharaoh and liberate God’s people from slavery. In these chapters we can see details of a hardening heart in the character Pharaoh.


Moses was eighty years old when God called him into ministry. That should be encouraging for anyone questioning whether or not God can use them in the later years of life. God calls people to missions at various times in life. He equips, enables and empowers those He calls.  It isn’t so much age as it is enablement by God that determines the validity of a calling. God sovereignly empowers those He sovereignly elects to serve Him. Moses questioned God’s wisdom in calling Him. But God has a way of speaking truth and encouragement and enlightenment into a person’s life, especially the person He calls (cf. Exodus 3).


When God called Moses He told Moses ahead of time that “But I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no, not even by a mighty hand” (Exodus 3:19). God foreknew Pharaoh’s heart condition and the decisions Pharaoh would make. But that doesn’t mean God predetermined Pharaoh’s decisions or removed from Pharaoh the capacity to exert freewill and make a decision. What this does tell us is that God knows the thoughts and intents of the heart (cf. Jeremiah 17:9-10; Hebrews 4:13). God knew the heart of Pharaoh so well that he could unequivocally state what Pharaoh’s decision of the heart would be. Which raises a question for you and me; when God looks at my heart, at your heart, what does He see? What decisions does God foresee me and you making?


God does tell Moses that, “I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go” (Exodus 4:21). Maybe when you read that you think, Wait a minute pastor that sounds pretty close to God predetermining that Pharaoh would not let His people go. All I will say at this point is that good accurate exegesis and interpretation of scripture is done in context. In other words, let’s suspend a conclusion until all the evidence is in.


The next piece of evidence we see is a confession of Pharaoh himself. Pharaoh states, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, nor will I let Israel go” (Exodus 5:2). For Egyptians the Pharaoh was a god incarnate. It was offensive to this “god” to be instructed by “the LORD” of the Hebrews. And so Pharaoh questions the authority of the LORD as well as indignantly objects to obeying Him. And notice his words, “nor will I.” Pharaoh voices a clear willful decision. Pharaoh decides immediately that he neither respects or will he obey the LORD. That was his decision.


Another thing we see about Pharaoh is that he “abhorred” (Hebrew baas) the Hebrews. To Pharaoh the Hebrews literally smelled offensive, were abominable, stinking (Exodus 5:20-23). Pharaoh was filled with bigotry toward the Hebrews. He detested them. It was obvious that Pharaoh had sin in his heart toward the Hebrews by the way he responded to their representative Moses.


But in the middle of this confrontation and Pharaoh’s evil reactions to Moses and the LORD we find an incredibly encouraging truth. God states, “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh will not heed you, so that I may lay My hand on Egypt and bring My armies and My people, the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the children of Israel from among them” (Exodus 7:3-5; cf. also 8:22-23; 9:16). The phrase “so that” indicates the presence of purpose. There was a divine sovereign purpose that God would bring out in the face of Pharaoh’s obstinate rejection of God’s will. Despite Pharaoh’s rejection of God, God would liberate His people, make Himself known to the Egyptians and show His omnipotent might to the world. God was not deterred by the obstacle of Pharaoh’s sinful choices. That should be tremendously encouraging to us. God is able and will bring good even in and through evil intentions.


God is able to cause all things, (including the evil He permits to exist) to work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (e.g. Romans 8:28). For example, in Genesis 37-50 Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. Joseph was wrongly accused of sexual misconduct.  He was forgotten by the one he interpreted a lifesaving dream for. But God took Joseph’s brothers and everyone else’s evil and worked the preservation and salvation of the Messianic line of Israel through it all (Genesis 50:20). God used the injustices against Joseph to maneuver him into a position where he could be God’s instrument to save Egypt as well as His people from famine. Over time Joseph’s goodness was forgotten by the Egyptians and as God’s people flourished the Egyptians grew envious and fearful of them within their borders. But God used the hardened bigoted hearts of those who hated His people to exalt Himself and fulfill His purposes. God is able to do that.


Look at our  nation, it is hell bent against God. Our nation was founded by godly men (not perfect men, but godly men) and on godly principles. Our capitol is filled with scripture quotations and attributions to the providence of God on almost every age old monument. But this nation is trying with all its might to erase any vestige or sign of the Sovereign that birthed her. The actions of this nation are rebelliously and at every turn trying to indulge in everything Holy God defines as sin and evil. And yet God is able to take what some meant for evil and use it for good. I still hold out hope, and I hope you do to, that the persistent dead ends and death working decisions of the sinful will lead to a bottoming out of our nation and even the world’s civilization. And I pray and hope that corruption will wake our nation and this world or sinner up to their  need of God. I hope and pray for revival every day.


Is there evidence that Pharaoh’s decisions were an exertion of his free will? Yes there is. The scripture states of Pharaoh, “And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the LORD had said” (Exodus 7:13). Notice the words “did not.” Pharaoh did something. He chose not to obey God’s command. God then adds to this by commenting, “Pharaoh’s heart is hard; he refuses to let the people go” (Exodus 7:14). To refuse is an act of the will.


Later in the same chapter it states of Pharaoh, “but indeed, until now you would not hear!” (Exodus 7:16-17). Pharaoh “would not hear!” Pharaoh willfully decided to reject God’s commands. A little further in the chapter it continues to describe Pharaoh’s response with the words, “Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the LORD had said. And Pharaoh turned and went into his house. Neither was his heart moved by this” (Exodus 7:22-23). The more you reject God the more likely it is you will continue to do so.


Keep in mind the LORD had inundated Egypt with bloody waters throughout the land at this point. Still to come were supernatural plagues of frogs, lice, flies, diseased livestock, a break out of boils in the skin of all the Egyptians, thunderous and damaging hail, locusts, terrifying darkness and climactically the death of all Egyptian first born children and animals. None of this broke through the heard heart of Pharaoh. Through all of it Pharaoh will exalt himself against God and His people (Exodus 9:17).  That’s a pretty hard heart!


What God does do is He firms and confirms the decisions Pharaoh makes. Pharaoh’s heart “became hard” (Exodus 9:7). God implements His principle of sowing and reaping. “But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh; and he did not heed them, just as the LORD had spoken to Moses” (Exodus 9:12). God “hardened” and Pharaoh “did not heed” (cf. also Exodus 10:20; 11:9-10). Pharaoh decides and God implements His sovereign principle of sowing and reaping based on Pharaoh’s decisions. God institutes consequences to the sinful decisions of Pharaoh.


Pharaoh’s behavior is described as sin. It says of Pharaoh, “he sinned yet more; and he hardened his heart, he and his servants. So the heart of Pharaoh was hard; neither would he let the children of Israel go, as the LORD had spoken by Moses” (Exodus 9:34-35). “He” did it. This is something Pharaoh is doing. God is giving Pharaoh numerous opportunities to relent, repent and let His people go. But Pharaoh refuses; ten plagues and ten opportunities to give in to God, but still hard hearted refusal to let God’s people go. By the way, how many opportunities has God given you to give in to Him?  Are you still hardened to Him? Are you still saying “No!” Watch out my friend.


Pharaoh himself confesses, “I have sinned against the LORD your God and against you” (Exodus 10:16). A “sin” is a willful decision to disobey a known command of God. Sin by definition and nature involves the will of man to disobey God. And the more a person sins, the harder their heart gets. Pharaoh confessed his sin but kept on sinning; kept on growing hard. The more you sin the easier it is to sin. The more you make sinful choices the harder it will be to resist making more sinful choices. This is true even after a person receives Jesus as Savior. No matter who you are, if you choose to sin, you will experience hardening of heart, dulling of your sensitivity to God and a distancing from God. Sin does that in principle and truth. Sin begets further likeliness to sin more.


The ultimate consequence of hardening your heart against God is destruction. Pharaoh bent and nearly broke when his firstborn son breathed his last in God’s final plague. But that acquiescence to God’s command was only temporary. Ultimately Pharaoh and his army pursued God’s people into the miraculously divided Red Sea and was engulfed when God closed the sea up on him and his army (Exodus 14:4-5, 8, 13-18, 26-30). That is the ultimate end of hardening your heart toward God. That is a really hard heart; a heart the “could not believe.”


God foreknew the heart of Pharaoh and what his decisions would ultimately be (Exodus 3:19-21). The outcome was just as God said it would be.  Which raises again a question for us to consider? Are you rejecting God and His word? Take a moment to reflect on that question. Ask yourself, “Am I harder toward God and His word now than I was before? Am I hardened against Jesus and the gospel? Has my indecision and or refusal to surrender to Jesus and trust Him as Savior hardened me?” Indecision is decision. We are only guaranteed the opportunity to receive Jesus as Savior that we are given in the present. And when in our life with Jesus we choose to disobey Him and His word, it has a negative impact on our walk with Him; we will be less sensitive to His voice; less able to hear Him; less in tune with His presence. There are always consequences to sinful decisions. What you sow you will reap. What are you sowing? What are you reaping? When God looks at your heart what does He see? Does He see a heart softened and receptive to His Holy Word? Or does He see more of what He inspired John to write, “Therefore they could not believe”?