Funerals.

In my last post, I mentioned a funeral Sharon and I attended a while ago.  I’m not going to rehash that post, but the truth is, people don’t like funerals.  They’re sad affairs.  (If you’ve recently endured such an event, I’m sorry.  I don’t mean or want to add to your sorrow.)
I think one reason we don’t like them is that, at the back of our minds, they remind us of our own mortality.  Young people don’t think about this so much, but us older folks are aware of the fact that the sun is setting on our day.
It’s been said that the only sure things are death and taxes.  Truly, in our culture, taxes are indeed an ever-present, ever-increasing reality.  Our property-taxes went up 223% this year.  But lots of people have never paid taxes.  Those same people died, or will die.  Death is the only certain “fact of life”.  You might say that this planet is just one enormous grave-yard.
Scripture has a lot to say about death.  We’re just going to look at a couple of verses.
Hebrews 2:14 says, Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself [the Lord Jesus] shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil. (NKJV)
This verse tells us that there is coming a time in which there will be no death. Revelation 21:4 says the same thing:  And God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.  There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.
Men fondly imagine that they can create such a world, a utopia, a perfect world, a world in which they will defeat hunger, disease and death.  This will never happen in this life.

It will happen.

Paul wrote to the Corinthian church –

We shall not all sleep [that is, die], but we shall all be changed…for this corruptible [body] must put on incorruption, and this mortal [body] must put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass that saying, “Death is swallowed up in victory”…thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Corinthians 15:51, 53-55, 57.

But please note:  this blessing, this future, is only “through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Apart from Him, there is no such blessing, no such future.  The future which faces those who die without Him is not one of blessing, but of condemnation.  Revelation 20:15 calls it a lake of fire.  We pretty much don’t believe in such things anymore; everyone’s going to “a better place.”

But our Lord said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me,” John 14:6.

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The Missing Verse.

My wife and I attended a funeral last week.  It was a gray, cold, windy, trying to rain, funeral kind of day.  The funeral was in a national cemetery and as the funeral procession wound its way past row after row of white marble headstones, I saw names of people who had served in WWI and WWII, old headstones showing the effects of 60+ years of weather.  I wondered if anybody remembered these people who had served their country so long ago.
The thing that sticks with me, though, was the message of the gentleman conducting the memorial service.  I don’t really know anything about him, just that he had been called in at the last moment because the original speaker couldn’t be there.
Part of his message was the 23rd Psalm, one of my favorites and the first Scripture I memorized as a youngster.  The thing is, and I don’t know why, he left out a verse –

He leads me in the paths of righteousness, for His name’s sake.

Without that verse, the rest of the Psalm has no meaning, no comfort.  Without “righteousness,” there are no “green pastures,” no “still waters,” no cup running over, no “goodness and mercy.”
It’s true, the Psalmist lived under the Old Testament Law, in which there was provision for “righteousness.”  In Deuteronomy 6:5, Moses told the people, “Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the LORD our God, as He has commanded us.”  Yet the sad truth is that Israel was never “careful to observe” those commandments; indeed, Moses wasn’t even down Mt. Sinai before the people were engaged in a drunken orgy, Exodus 32.
David himself, the author of Psalm 23, after the sad affair with Bathsheba, confessed his own sinfulness, Psalm 51, in which he said, “I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me,” v. 3.
But what about us?  We don’t live under that Law, that Covenant.  What then?  Are we better than they?  Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks [Gentiles] that they are all under sin, Romans 3:9.  No, no, if we’re honest, we have to agree with the assessment of Israel in Isaiah 64:6, all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.  The word translated “filthy rags” referred to a cloth a woman might use during her monthly cycle or a leper might use to dress his sores – not a very pretty picture, but expressive of what God thinks of the best we can do, our “righteousnesses,” those things we think so much of and put down on the plus side of the ledger.
This is why the Lord Jesus came to this earth.  He came to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  He didn’t come just so we can pay lip service to Him at Christmas or Easter; He came to live the life we cannot live, and die the death we cannot die.  His life was one of complete obedience to the Father.  One time, He asked those who opposed Him, “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” John 8:46.  He’s the only One who’s ever been able truthfully to say, “I always do those things which please Him,” that is, the Father, John 8:29.  And when He died on the Cross, He wasn’t dying because of His sins, like the two who died with Him; He was dying for the sins of you and me, His people.
The Lord Jesus came as a Substitute and Sacrifice for His people.  He lived a perfect, sinless life, satisfying all the provisions of God’s law and died a sacrificial death, satisfying the claims of that broken law.  To those who repent of their sins and trust Him alone for salvation, God credits what Jesus did to them.  The Psalmist said, He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities, Psalm 103:10.  That’s because He dealt with the Lord Jesus “according to our iniquities.”  To those who receive Him as Lord and Savior, the Father treats us according to His righteousness.  Paul put it like this:  God 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.
That’s the righteousness, the only righteousness, that brings the comfort and blessings of Psalm 23.

The Book of Deuteronomy: On The Threshold.

(Once again, we’re taking a little side-trip from our study in Acts, although it may turn out not to be so “little”.)

This may seem a rather strange title for the book, but we have to remember two things in this regard.  Moses himself was on the threshold of eternity, cf. Deuteronomy 32:48-50,  and Israel, 40 years after leaving Egypt, was finally on the threshold of entering the Promised Land.  Deuteronomy includes Moses’ instruction to her about this.

The name of the book – “Deuteronomy – comes from the Latin and means, “second law”.  This doesn’t mean that it’s merely a repetition of what was given 40 years earlier at Sinai.  Most of the generation which was at Sinai was dead; most of the people who were here on the border of Canaan had been born in the wilderness.  While indeed giving the Law to a new generation, it was also a time of application of Moses’ 40 years’ experience in leading a rebellious, ungrateful people through a barren, uninhabited wilderness.  It is his counsel to them, showing them how various facets of life are to be handled.  He has much to say to us, as well, even though we don’t live “under the Law”.

Here is an outline of the book:

  1. The Preaching of Moses, 1:1-28:68.
    A. Reflections on the Wanderings,1:1-3:29.
    1. Departure from Horeb, 1:1-18.
    2. Disaster at Kadesh, 1:19-46.
    3. Desert Wanderings, 2:1-3:11.
    4. Division of the Eastern Conquest, 3:12-22.
    5. Denial of Moses’ Request, 3:23-29.
    B. Review of the Word, 4:1-26:19.
    1. Serious Warnings, 4:1-40.
    2. Setting Up Cities of Refuge, 4:41-43.
    3. Substance of the Law, 4:44-8:20.
    4. Stubbornness of the People, 9:1-11:32.
    5. “Statutes and Judgments,” 12:1-26:15.
    6. Special Responsibilities and Relationship, 26:16-19.
    C. Regarding the “Memorial” and the “Mountains”, 27:1–28:68.
  2. The Promise Given Through Moses, chs. 29, 30.
  3. Passing The Torch, 31:1-13.
    A. Raising A New Leader, 31:1-8
    B. Reading of the Law Before the People Established, 31:9-13.  Leaders come and go; God’s word abides forever.
  4. The Passing of Moses, 31:14-34:12.

1.  The Preaching of Moses, 1:1-31:13.

Reflections on the Wandering, 1:1-3:29.

“Wandering” is usually the term applied to this time in Israel’s history, and specifically of the time between their rebellion at Kadesh and their long-delayed entrance into the Land.  It isn’t a bad word, but remember that even then they were under the control and direction of God, Numbers 9:15-23.  Though their rebellion delayed their entrance into the land, it did not derail God’s purpose for them.
1. Departure from Horeb, 1:1-18.
Israel had camped at the foot of Mt. Sinai for nearly two years, Exodus 19:1; Numbers 1:1.  During this time, they had been entrusted with the oracles of God, Romans 3:2, which would eventually consist of the adoption, the glory, the covenants [note the plural], the giving of the Law, the service of God, and the promises, Romans 9:4.  They weren’t given everything at Sinai.
2. Disaster at Kadesh, 1:19-46.
Though it might have seemed a good idea to send spies into the land to see what was there, it wasn’t necessary.  With a pillar of cloud or of fire, God had led them through “a great and terrible wilderness,” Numbers 9:20-23.  If they hadn’t send the spies, they wouldn’t have learned about the incredible obstacles facing them: the gigantic people, the fortified cities, perhaps some sickness infecting the people of the land, Numbers 13:28, 32.  Even though they saw the land was incredibly fertile – it took two men to carry one cluster of grapes, Numbers 13:23! –  they refused to go forward.  They even went so far as to accuse God of bringing them out of Egypt to kill them, Numbers 14:3; Deuteronomy 1:27!  Because of this rebellion, they would spend 38 more years trudging through the wilderness, instead of enjoying “a land flowing with milk and honey.”
But they weren’t done with their foolhardiness!  Even though God told them to turn back into the wilderness, they decided that, after all, they would go up and fight, v. 41.  They were soundly defeated, and even though they returned and wept before the LORD, He paid no attention to them.  Sometimes, there is no “second chance,” as Moses himself found out because he struck the rock the second time and was forbidden to enter the land on account of it, Deuteronomy 3:23-27; Exodus 17:5, 6; Numbers 20:7-12
Eventually, though, Israel’s time of wandering was over, and they were ready to enter the land.  The rest of Moses’ review is taken up with some of the things they experienced, the battles that were fought, a decision by some of the tribes that they wanted their land on the east side of the Jordan, and not in the actual Promised Land itself.  They had a very great multitude of livestock and the east side was a place for livestock, Numbers 32:1-5.  God gave it to them, but they were often the first ones attacked later on.  Like Eve and Lot before them, they found out that what looks so good sometimes isn’t, Genesis 3:6; 13:10.  The saying, “Be careful what you wish for” might be applicable here.
3. Desert Wanderings, 2:1-3:29.
Driven back into the wilderness because of their rebellion at Kadesh, as Moses put it later, they circled Mt. Seir for many days, 2:1.  What ordinarily was an 11-day journey took 38 years, Deuteronomy 1:2!  Granted, during this time, they conquered the lands on the east side of the Jordan and the families of the tribes who wanted it were settled there, but there was still a lot of wasted time.

Review of the Word, 4:1-26:19.

1. Declarations and Warnings, 4:1-40.
These and other verses seem as if God didn’t want Israel to “have a good time.”  This is certainly how the world views such things.  As a co-worker once told me, “God forbids all the things we want to do!”  It’s thought that Christians have to “give up” too much, and settle for a dreary and dull life of “religion”.  As far as Israel was concerned, Moses refutes this in v. 1:  these things were in order that Israel may live and go in and possess the land which the LORD…is giving you, a land described a little later in the book as filled with large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses filled with good things which you did not fill, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant…, 6:10, 11.
While the New Testament Christian doesn’t have promise of similar material blessing, Paul wrote to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:8 that godliness…has promise for the life that now is and of that which is to come.  The true Christian has eternal life, and the things of this world, some of which may be necessary for sustaining physical life, like food and shelter, can never satisfy the innate recognition that this world does not know and cannot provide a “good life” that will last forever.
Besides, Moses’ reference to Baal Peor, v. 3, shows that a “good time” as far as the world is concerned is often filled with gross immorality, against which the Lord has pronounced severe judgment, as shown by what happened to the men who sinned there, Numbers 25:1-9.
Further, Israel was reminded that it was God with whom they had to do.  They were to have no other gods, or worship Him by pagan methods.  They had been blessed like no other nation in the world; they were to live like it.
2. Setting up the Cities of Refuge, 4:41-43.
According to Numbers 35:9-34, these cities, three each on either side of the Jordan, were to be set up as places of safety for those who accidentally killed another Israelite, without premeditation or intent.  One of the very few Scriptures unbelievers and skeptics seem to want to live by is the one which says, “Do not kill.”  Using this verse, they rail against the death penalty for even the most heinous crimes.  However, they fail to notice that there are more than 40 such sins in the Old Testament.   But. as we see in Numbers 35, there is a distinguishing between accidental death and murder.  The murderer was not to be spared; the innocent were protected, though even the accidental taking of life had consequences.
3. Substance of the Law, 4:44-8:20.
In these verses, Moses repeats the Ten Commandments and assures them that their days would be prolonged and blessed if they were obedient.  However, if they disobeyed, cursing, that is, punishment, would be their lot.  There were things they were to do, not only personally, but with regard to their children, their culture and society, and the inhabitants of the land.  With regard to this latter, folks get so worked-up over the “poor Canaanites,” but these were not innocent, childlike people, but wicked and depraved beyond words.  Leviticus 18 gives us a sampling of what they did.  Israel was not to be like that.  And our culture may not like it, but God has given clear and definite instructions about such things.
4. Stubbornness of the people, 9:1-11:32.
This portion includes the incident of the golden calf.  How quickly the people fell into gross sin!  Even though God continued to bless them, those who were guilty of sin perished.  This is a good example of “grace,” but that doesn’t mean that we can live as we like.  We are to live as God likes.

I had hoped to have just one post on the book, but there is just so much material.  Even this post just skims the surface.

The Book of Numbers: “The Way of Transgressors is Hard”

(In this post, we’re taking a little side-trip.  A friend was curious about the Book of Numbers.  Since my printer has expired, I give this to him, and to you, like this.  Thanks for your patience.  C.)

Numbers is the fourth of the first five books of the Bible:  the Pentateuch.  After telling us a little of the origins of this world and its inhabitants in Genesis 1-11, these books focus on the nation of Israel, its origin and what happened to it before it finally entered the Promised Land as told in Joshua and the books following.

1. GENESIS speaks of ELECTION, as God chose Abraham out of all the family of Terah, Isaac instead of Ishmael, and Jacob instead of Esau.

2. EXODUS speaks of EMANCIPATION, with the redemption and release of Israel from Egyptian bondage.

3. LEVITICUS speaks of EXPECTATION, as God instructs His people about their worship of Him.  In passing, it’s interesting that nowhere in the OT is it ever said that God expected Israel would actually do what He told them to.  Israel had a “relationship” with God as a NATION, but this did not guarantee an INDIVIDUAL relationship to any particular Israelite.  There were some in every generation who knew and followed the Lord, but for the most part, if we can put it like this, the Mosaic Law given to Israel at Sinai was “religion for lost people,” showing them, and us, the righteousness required to walk with God and also showing that it’s not possible for us on our own.  This explains why it was so easy for Israel to stray – indeed, they were in a wild orgy before Moses came down from the mountain!

4. NUMBERS speaks of EXPERIENCE, revealing the wilderness journeys and the sad failure of Israel to live up to their responsibilities.

5. DEUTERONOMY speaks of EXHORTATION, as Moses makes one final plea and appeal to Israel as they prepare to enter the Promised Land.
_____________

Numbers may be divided like this:

1. Preparation for the Journey, chs. 1:1-10:10

2. Progress of the Journey, chs. 10:11-22:1

3. Postscript to the Journey, chs. 22:2-36:13.
______________

1. Preparation for the Journey, 1:1-10:10.

The nation of Israel wasn’t just to be a motley collection of people with no direction.  They were carefully organized into a coherent nation and every part of the national life was covered in the laws they were given.  Much of their personal lives was covered as well, as any nation is, by necessity, made up of individuals.

There is much food for thought, and much to be learned, from what seem to be lengthy, boring and irrelevant details about people long dead and situations long past.  The NT refers to the usefulness of these OT passages in such places as 1 Corinthians 10:1-12, where Paul refers to the example and admonition to be found in them, v. 11.  At the same time, nowhere in the NT are we instructed to try to duplicate what we find in the OT.  We’re not some replacement for or spiritual fulfillment of the nation of Israel.  Christians do not live under the terms of the Mosaic, or old, Covenant.  Through the Lord Jesus, we live under the New Covenant.  Much of Hebrews deals with this.  Even in eternity, Israel and the church will never lose their distinct identities, Revelation 21:12-14. 

In chs. 1-4, Israel was organized.   God is a God of order, 1 Corinthians 14:33.  In the wilderness or in the land, Israel was to be a nation of order.  We see in Judges what happened when Israel ignored that, cf. Judges 17:6; 21:25.

In chs. 5-9:14, Israel was separated from all that was unclean or diseased, 5:1-4.  This wasn’t just a “health” matter, though that certainly was involved.  It was a matter of “holiness.”  Holiness isn’t an experience or a denomination; it’s separation to God from the filth and defilement of the world; it’s the imperfect manifestation of the character of God in the believer.  I say “imperfect” because we’ll never be “perfect” in this life.

In chs. 9:15-10:10, Israel was instructed.  God didn’t let the people wander aimlessly or leave them to their own devices, but led them step by step along the way.  We may not have the pillar of fire or of the cloud or the trumpets, but we have the New Testament and the Spirit of God to guide us in our journey.  Alas, we’re too often like Israel, intent on doing our own thing or doing things our way.

2. Progress of the Journey, 10:11-22:1.

This portion may be divided into two sections.

Chs. 10:11-15:41 tell of the journey.  It began and continued under divine guidance, 10:11, cf. 9:22.  It was plagued by continual complaining by the people, chs.  11, 12.  It was postponed by unbelief and rebellion, chs. 13-15.  Because of this, it took Israel 38 years to complete an 11-day trip, Deuteronomy 1:2.  Yet, in spite of their unbelief and even before they turned back into the wilderness to begin their punishment, God gave instructions to Moses for when they finally would enter the land, Numbers 15.

Chs. 16-21 tell of some judgments which befell the Israelites in their complaining and rebelling.  They finally got the the land, but it was a difficult trip.  Chs. 16-18 tell of the establishment of the Aaronic priesthood because the people accused Moses of promoting himself as leader and because he hadn’t brought them into the land.  It was all his fault!  Almost 15,000 people died as a result of this judgment.  Ch. 19 tells of “the red heifer,” which was sacrificed and her ashes used in purification.  Chs. 20, 21 give some details of the journey:  Moses striking the rock instead of speaking to it, 20:1-13; this lost him the privilege of entering the land.  There is the refusal of Edom to allow passage through its territory, 20:14-21, the death of Aaron, 20:22-29, victory over some attacking Canaanites, 21:1-3, the incident of the bronze serpent, 21:4-9, to which our Lord refers as a foreshadowing of His own death in John 3:14, the last leg of the journey to the border, in which they defeated Sihon, king of the Amorites and took his land as theirs, 21:10-34.

3. Postscript to the Journey, 22-36.

Even on the very border of the land, there were things to be done or overcome.  Moses gives 3 chapters, 23-25, to Balaam, a false prophet referred to 3 times in the NT, 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11; Revelation 2:14.  He was hired by the king of Moab to try to defeat Israel.  Balaam gave four prophecies about Israel, none of which satisfied the king.  We just list them here.  Meditation on their contents is fruitful, cf. Micah 6:5.

a. the people of Israel, 23:7-10.
b. the God of Israel, 23:18-24.  Note v. 21!
c. the prosperity and peace of Israel, 24:3-9.
d. the future of Israel, 24:15-24.

Chapter 25 describes yet another failure on Israel’s part.  They were invited to join the Moabites in the immoral worship of their gods and did so.  Though we’re not specifically told here, Balaam was behind this sin, Numbers 31:16; Revelation 2:14.  Perhaps he thought that since he himself could not curse Israel, he would get God to do it.

Chapter 26 describes a census of Israel.  This was to make sure that all the men who had rebelled 38 years earlier had died, vs. 64, 65, in fulfillment of the judgment pronounced against them for that rebellion, Numbers 14:34-36.

Chapter 27:1-11 describes a strange request by some women.  We spent some time on this in our post on “The Daughters of Zelophehad.”  If you’re interested, you can look for it in the “search” box at the top of the blog.  We’ll only say here that it’s because of these four women that the Lord Jesus will one day sit on the throne of David in Jerusalem.

Chapter 27:12-23 tells of Joshua, the young man chosen to be Moses’ successor.  Chapters 28-30 give instruction for sacrifices as well as some other laws.  Chapter 31 gives the victory over yet another of Israel’s enemies.

Chapters 32-36 close the book and give us these incidents:
a. Some of the tribes requested land on the east side of the Jordan River (Canaan was on the west side).  They had a lot of cattle and the eastern plains were lush and fertile.  Moses granted this request after some discussion, but this area was almost always the first to come under attack because it wasn’t protected by the river.  Like Lot, they chose according to what they could see and not by the wisdom of God, and their descendants suffered because of it.
b. Chapter 33:1-49 gives a recap of Israel’s journey in the wilderness.
c. In the rest of the book, chs. 33:50 through ch. 36, God instructs Israel about what they were to do once they entered into the land.
1).  They were to destroy the present inhabitants.  This troubles a lot of people.  How could such genocide be justified?  Two things to remember:  a). it was a judgment against the inhabitants of the land for their wickedness.  The Canaanites were not an innocent and childlike people.  Archaeology has brought some of their wicked activities  to light.  Leviticus 18 lists some of these abominable practices and forbids them to the Israelites.  b). It was a protection for the Israelites, lest they be tempted to do the same things.  In Numbers 33:55, 56, God warned Israel that if they did these things, the Canaanites would be trouble, and Israel would suffer the same judgments as the Canaanites.  Well, they did, and God did.
2). The rest of the book, chs. 34, 35, shows the division of the land, the boundaries of the land, and the distribution of Levitical cities throughout the land.  Just a couple of thoughts on this.  Israel is the only nation in the history of the world whose boundaries are listed in Scripture, and they are listed several times.  Israel was never to extend herself beyond those boundaries.  She was never, at least in this world, to be an “empire” like the Babylonians or the Romans.  So it’s not a matter of UN directives or political or military maneuvering, but from God, that Israel lives where she does.  No one else has any claim on that land.
In the distribution of the Levites throughout the land, God made provision for His word to be everywhere in that land.  Even though the Temple was the central focus, there was to be a spiritual influence throughout the land with the Levites.  As Israel obeyed in this matter, she prospered.  When she was lax, she suffered.
An application can be made to this land.  In spite of those who deny it, this country was founded by men who had some respect for the Bible.  Being men, they were imperfect and the country they founded was imperfect.  But it rose to be a beacon of freedom and opportunity for its inhabitants, and we’ve never had to build walls to keep people from leaving.  But as the Word of God has had less and less influence, we’ve seen what happens.  The daily newscasts give abundance evidence of the truth that the nations who forget God shall perish. Things done in secret just a few years ago are now done in broad daylight and people demand to do these things as their “rights”.

Hebrews: 1:1-2, God Has Spoken….

1] In many portions and in many ways, of old God was speaking to the fathers in the prophets; 2] in the last of these days, He spoke to us in [His] Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the ages

[Please note: the above is my own translation.  I claim no particular scholarship or authority for it.]

In the introduction, we noted that Hebrews is both a defense and a declaration of the position and preeminence of the Lord Jesus.  His position is that of sovereign Lord and Ruler of all, though that has not yet been made fully manifest.  His preeminence, the writer asserts, is that He is superior to everything that the Jews held in high regard:  Moses, the prophets, the priesthood, even Abraham; and that the New Covenant, of which Jesus is the sole Mediator, succeeds and fulfills the First Covenant, of which Moses and Aaron stand as representative mediators.  To a large degree, Hebrews answers the question:  How do men approach God?

The pride of the Jews was that God was their God.  He had spoken to them, cf. Deuteronomy 4:6-8, 2 Samuel 7:23, 24.  This is where it all began with the Jews.  This is where it begins with Hebrews.

1.  God Has Spoken Formerly, 1:1.

He spoke in bits and pieces, as it were, over a period of time through and to many different individuals.  What we know as the Old Testament wasn’t given all at once, but a little bit at a time to Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David and all the other named and unnamed prophets of the OT period.  Clement of Alexandria associated Hebrews 1:1 with Ephesians 3:10, the many-tinted [polupoikilos] wisdom of God.

Thus, the OT was a progressive revelation, cf. Isaiah 28:10, beginning with the origin and fall of mankind through Adam.    This included the first prophecy in Genesis 2:16, a prophecy of ruin if Adam and Eve disobeyed a simple restriction, then the first redemptive prophecy, Genesis 3:15.  This revelation continued until the final prophecy of the coming of the Sun of righteousness, as well as the ministry of His forerunner, Malachi 4:2-6.

The OT was also a patient revelation, taking nearly 4000 years to complete.  Since God was pleased to take so long a time to reveal Himself to His OT people, perhaps we shouldn’t expect an instant understanding of it.  We must continue to read, to study, and to meditate if we would unlock this treasure.  There are great riches in the OT, but they aren’t uncovered by the casual and occasional glance at a verse or two.

The OT was also a varied revelation.  That is, God didn’t just narrate or dictate His Word one word at a time, but over time used law, prophecy, history, psalm, sign, type or symbol, parable.  Now He spoke through a gatherer of sycamore fruit, now through a shepherd, now in the sunlight of His favor, now in the thunder of His judgment, now as the people were obedient, now as they were rebellious.

The OT was also a partial revelation.  By this, we mean that God didn’t tell Israel everything He ultimately intended that men should know.  He gave them what they needed to know to make them a nation and, as individuals, to be His people.  But there were things that He kept “secret,” as even Moses acknowledged in Deuteronomy 29:29, The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” 

Finally, the OT was a passing revelation.  What does this mean?  In the original language, there are two words translated, “old.”  One is archaios.  We get our word “archaic” from it.  It means “old in point of time,”  The other word is palaios, “old in point of use, worn out, ready to be replaced by something new.”  Perhaps the writer is telling us that the OT, having served its purpose, at least so far as the first coming of Christ was involved, was coming, or had come, to an end.

This does not cancel the prophetic implications for the nation of Israel, cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Zechariah 10:6; 12:9-14.  The events recorded by the NT were necessary to lay the groundwork for the fulfillment of those prophecies.  Now isn’t the time to deal with what the OT says about Israel, except to say that it is not “fulfilled in the church.”  Even the OT, as in the verses noted above and many others, tells of a change in the covenantal relationship between Israel and her God.  The OT also prophesies of God’s blessing to the Gentiles.  The NT tells us more about that.

2.  God Has Spoken Finally.

When.  “in the last of these days”.  There are some who try to tell us that this phrase means that revelation is still going on, and they are the recipients of it.  This is not true.  The writer is clear that Jesus Christ is, and brought, the final revelation of God to men.

“These days,” referring to the time of the One through whom God spoke, were “the last days,” not of or during the Church age, as we might understand it, but were the last days of the Old Testament age, Galatians 4:4.  God accurately foretold the time, to the year, of the First Coming of Christ, Daniel 9:24, 25.  Cf. Mark 1:14, 15.  In passing, God also foretold, for that generation that will see it, the very day of the Second Coming, Daniel 12:11, 12.  Cf. Matthew 24:15.  Incidentally, Matthew tells us that the Daniel wasn’t all fulfilled by the First Coming of Christ.  Neither was the rest of the Old Testament.

To whom.  “Us,” that is, believers, in this case, Jewish believers, directly, not through priest or sacrifice.  Although God has been pleased to set the office of “pastor-teacher” in the local assembly, such a one does not speak as the OT prophet did.  Implicit in the OT revelation is the thought of “barrier.”  Men could not come into the presence of God directly, but had to go through the priest.  Cf. Exodus 19:10-13.  In the OT, God spoke to the prophets, and the prophets relayed the message to the people.  In Christ, God has spoken directly to us through His Word.  Cf. Hebrews 9:8; 10:19-20.

Incidentally, this “directness” was a stumblingblock to the early church.  The first believers were all Jews, who had been taught that one could only come to God through the sacrificial system, and that could only be accomplished at Jerusalem.  One had to become a Jew, or at least one of two different kinds of proselytes.

This change was the difficulty of the “Judaizers” who plagued Paul and the early church.  They tried to put believers back under the OT Law, cf. Acts 10:15.  We have a lot of their descendants with us today.  Early believers found it extremely difficult to receive the idea that one no longer came to God indirectly, through a place, that is the Temple, or through a procedure, that is, the sacrifices, or even through the priesthood, but one comes to God directly, through a Person, the Lord Jesus.

Through Whom. “In [His] Son,” literally, “in Son.”  There is no article in the Greek.  This emphasizes the character and nature of the One through Whom God spoke.  The writer expands on this thought, and we will do so in the next post, Lord willing.

Hebrews: The Preeminence of Christ. Introduction

The Book of Hebrews isn’t commonly taught in the church. Perhaps some few verses, or chapter 11, are referred to, but the book itself seems to be largely ignored. Perhaps this is because it is believed that the book doesn’t really apply to us, since it speaks of the Old Testament priesthood and sacrifices.  To a large degree, this might be true, as we’ll see in a moment, however, the purpose of the writer is that we might consider Him who endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, 12:3, and there are many things beside priests and offerings which take our mind off the Lord.  The book does indeed have a message for us.

The Nature of Hebrews.

Hebrews is a book of

1.  Worship.

It exalts the Lord Jesus.  It is, in a sense, an exposition of Colossians 1:18, that in all things He [Christ] might have the preeminence…. There are two things Satan doesn’t want:  for men to worship or to serve the true God.  If he can get them away from doing that, then they are, in effect, worshiping and serving him.  So he has introduced a great number of substitute gods and activities to draw them away from God.  So long as men don’t worship or serve the true God, Satan doesn’t much care what they believe about Him.

But Hebrews is also a book of

2.  Warning.

As we’ll see in a moment, Hebrews was written to people who were being tempted to leave Christ and to go back to the “old way” of doing things, so to speak.  While the exact historical situation is gone, still the book speaks directly to our own day, and to the diluted and distorted views of grace which allow “believers” to live pretty much as they want to, without regard to what God might want of them.

Background of Hebrews.

Perhaps about 30 years had passed since the death and resurrection of our Lord.  Persecution was rising and the Temple had not yet been destroyed.  This impressive building, with its attendant ritual and ceremony, was still there in apparent contradiction of our Lord’s prophecies of its destruction, Matthew 24:2.  The question might have arisen, “Why suffer all this?  Why not just go back to the sacrificial system of Moses?

“Why not find some ‘common ground’?”

Date of Hebrews.

Hebrews 2:3, 4 seem to indicate that quite a bit of time had passed, yet the Temple was still standing and sacrifices were still being offered, cf. 10:11.  There is no mention of that terrible war which began in 67 A.D., which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and which included the leveling of the Temple.  It would seem therefore that the book was written in the 60s A.D., perhaps to prepare the Jews for the coming destruction of all they held dear, as well as to warn them to persevere in following the Lord Jesus.

Author of Hebrews.

Since the earliest days, there has been uncertainty as to who wrote this epistle.  The point is, though, regardless of whether Paul or Barnabas or Luke or Clement of Alexandria or any of the others said to be the author…, if the Holy Spirit isn’t its primary author, as we believe He is, then it doesn’t really matter who wrote it.

Key Word: “better”.

This does not mean “improved”,  The “New Covenant” is “better” than the First, or Mosaic, Covenant, and Christ, as fulfillment and benefactor of the New Covenant, is “better” than the people mentioned by the author.

1.  The New Covenant is better than the First.

a.  The First was typical, or symbolic; the New is actual.

The ceremonies and sacrifices of the First Covenant, though real, were only symbolic of the realities, Hebrews 9:9.  The New Covenant brings their fulfillment.

b.  The First was only “temporal,” temporary, or “carnal,” dealing only with the physical, 9:10; the New deals with the “eternal,” 9:12.

c.  The First dealt with the “natural,” the New with the “spiritual.”  By this, we mean that under the First Covenant, there was no provision for help or enabling  for those under it to fulfill its obligations, cf. Deuteronomy 29:4.  The New guarantees such help, Hebrews 8:10-12.

Work and run, the Law commands,
But gives me neither feet nor hands.
But sweeter sounds the Gospel brings –
It bids me fly, and gives me wings.

d.  The First demonstrates man’s guilt; the New declares God’s grace.

e.  The First is a “shadow of good things to come,” Hebrews 10:1; the New is “the good things” themselves.

2.  Christ Himself is “better.”  We see this in how the book presents Christ in relationship to the Covenant.

a.  He is THE SPOKESMAN of the New Covenant, 1:1-4.  Here He is seen as PROPHET.

b.  He  is THE HEIR of the New Covenant, 1:4-2:9.  Here Christ is seen as LORD.  Though Hebrews isn’t a book about prophecy, being more concerned that we be prepared for the future than that we be taught about it, there are things in it in which our understanding of them will be influenced by how we view the future.

It’s sadly true that often even Christians, or at least professing Christians, don’t pay much attention to Christ as Prophet or Lord, being more interested in their own affairs than His.  Perhaps that’s why the writer spends a great deal of time in the third view of Christ:

c.  He is THE MEDIATOR of the New Covenant, 2:10-10:18.  Here Christ is seen as PRIEST, as well as, in contrast to the First Covenant priesthood, SACRIFICE.

Outline of Hebrews.

 I.  Christ and the New Covenant, 1:1-10:18.
II.  The Christian and the New Covenant, 10:19-13:25.

Cornelius Revisited, or, Must We Be Baptized to be Saved?

A few weeks ago, I did a post on Cornelius, the Roman centurion in Acts 10.  I told of the lady I’d worked with who believed that baptism was necessary for salvation, and who had no answer for Acts 10.  I mentioned that in all the time since then, no one who believes as she did has ever had an answer to that chapter of the Bible.

That is no longer true.  Now someone has, or so they believe.

For a while, I belonged to a Bible study group on facebook.  The subject of baptismal salvation came up and someone attempted to answer the idea that Acts 10 forever rejects the idea that baptism is necessary for salvation.  This person had several remarks.  I’ve seen him in other groups, as well, saying the same things.

First, he seems to think that Cornelius and his people speaking in tongues was no different than Balaam’s donkey talking to Balaam.  He believes that the speaking in tongues was simply God’s way of showing Peter that it was ok to preach the Gospel to Cornelius.  As for the first thing, I really don’t know how to answer such a preposterous idea, except to say that it is preposterous.  To compare Balaam’s donkey’s temporary ability to speak with the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in a fair-sized group of people is beyond preposterous.  It seems to me perilously close to blaspheming the Spirit.  As for the second idea, the vision given to Peter in the earlier part of the chapter was God’s telling him it was ok to go to Cornelius’ house.  Otherwise, Peter would never have gone to the house of a Gentile.  As it was, he had some difficulty interacting with Gentile believers even after this, Galatians 2:11, 12.

Peter certainly thought that Cornelius and his associates were saved.  In Acts 10:47, he asked, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”   He didn’t ask that these be baptized in order to be saved.  They were already saved, as proved by the presence of the Holy Spirit – unless we are to conclude that the Holy Spirit can be received by lost people, or if we are to demean and dismiss their experience as nothing more than what happened to Balaam and his donkey.

There are two or three other verses that this gentlemen and those who believe like him use.

Perhaps the most familiar is Acts 2:38 (NKJV), where this same Peter had earlier urged a Jewish audience to, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

“See,” they say, “‘Be baptized for the remission of sins.’  You have to be baptized in order to be saved.”

The main difficulty with that is that you cannot take a specific command to a specific group of people and turn it into a general command for everyone.  Peter was speaking to a specific group of people, many of whom had seen the crucifixion of Jesus with its attendant unusual occurrences.  He charged them with being guilty of the murder of Jesus.

They became convicted of their guilt and asked, “What shall WE do?” (emphasis added.)  Since they had rejected and crucified their Messiah, they were concerned with what could be done for them to obtain forgiveness.  Could they even obtain forgiveness??  They weren’t asking a general question about salvation, but a specific question about theirs.

Peter’s answer?

“Repent, and let EVERY ONE OF YOU be baptized….”  (emphasis added).  In spite of what some claim, this is not a general command.  He never said it again, and certainly not to Cornelius, whose salvation, and that of his household and friends, forever denies the idea that baptism is necessary for salvation.

In the case of Peter’s audience in Acts 2, they were to be baptized in order to identify with Jesus as Israel’s Messiah.  He had been officially rejected by the leaders of the nation, who had demanded His crucifixion.  These to whom Peter was speaking were, in effect, to reject the leaders of their nation and receive this One whom the leaders had rejected.  Baptism was the sign that they had done so.

The verse itself tells us that baptism isn’t necessary for salvation.  The word translated “for” – “eis” – is a very common preposition, occurring more than 1700 times in the New Testament.  It has a variety of meanings, only one of which is “for the purpose of.”  This is the meaning that would be required if Peter were telling his audience to be baptized “for the purpose of” receiving, or “in order to” receive, remission or forgiveness of sins.

However, the word also means, “because of.”  For example, it is used like this in Romans 4:20 (NKJV) in speaking of Abraham, he did not waver at the promise of God through [“eis” – “because of”] unbelief….  

This is the meaning of “eis” in Acts 2:38.  Peter was requiring his audience to be baptized in order to show that they had repented of their rejection of Christ, had turned to Him and had therefore received the forgiveness of sins.

This is verified in an earlier occurrence of baptism, in fact, the first in the New Testament record.  Matthew 3 is Matthew’s account of the ministry of John the Baptist.  Multitudes came to John, and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins, v. 6.

Included in the crowds coming to John were many of the Pharisees and Sadducces, v. 7.  Seeing them, he said to them, “Brood of vipers!”  Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance…,” v. 8.

 John required repentance before baptism.  So did Peter.

To say that it is baptism that brings forgiveness of sins and not repentance and faith is to deny the entire teaching of the New Testament that we are saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  To require baptism for salvation is really to say that we are saved by faith in baptism, not in the Lord Jesus.

To require baptism for salvation is to be lost.

There are other verses that are used in this erroneous teaching.

One of them is in Acts 22, where Paul is describing his conversion to the Sanhedrin.   In v. 16, he quotes Ananias as telling him, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord Jesus.”

“See,” say the proponents of baptismal salvation.  “Wash away your sins by being baptized.”

I attended some Bible studies by an elder of the Boston Church of Christ.  One evening, he baptized a young lady in the swimming pool of the house where we met.  There’s nothing wrong with using a swimming pool for baptism.  But after the young lady came up out of the water, the elder said something to the effect that her sins were now at the bottom of that pool.  I’ve referred to this elsewhere, also my reaction that I certainly didn’t want to go into THAT water!

We can say the same thing about Acts 22 that we did about Acts 2.  It’s a specific situation, not a general teaching.  Paul’s own teaching on this is instructive.  Writing to the Corinthian church and discussing reasons for the divisions in it, one of which seems to have been about who was baptized by whom, Paul wrote, I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 1 Corinthians 1:14, though he did add the household of Stephanas in v. 16.  He concluded in v. 17, for Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel,…lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.

“Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel….”

For those who believe in baptismal salvation, to preach the gospel is to baptize!

The Gospel isn’t about baptism; it’s about blood.  It’s about the Cross of Christ, on which He paid the penalty for sin and secured the salvation of all for whom He died, of all who believe on Him for salvation.

Another verse these folks really like is 1 Peter 3:20, where Noah and his family were saved by water (KJV).  The above-mentioned gentleman has used this in a couple of places I’ve seen.

Both times I’ve pointed out, apparently to no avail, that one should really read the whole verse, not just three words taken out of context.  The verse actually says, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water.  The NKJV translates it, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, IN WHICH a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water (emphasis added).  Peter is clear that THE ARK was the means of deliverance, not the Flood.  In fact, those in the water perished.  Those in the Ark – before the Flood came – were spared.  Those in the Ark didn’t get there by swimming to it and somehow getting into its closed interior after the Flood came.

In his second epistle, Peter wrote that the flood was to destroy the world of the ungodly, 2 Peter 2:5.  It had nothing to do with the salvation of Noah and his family mentioned in that same verse, except perhaps that they were saved from it by the Ark.  The Flood itself, the water, was not how they were saved.

Baptism isn’t how folks are saved, either.

In fact, requiring baptism for forgiveness of sins is to add sin, not get rid of it.  It’s sin because it denies the sufficiency of the life and death of the Lord Jesus to save sinners.  Saying that baptism is necessary for salvation is to add something to repentance and faith in the Lord.  It’s saying that we have to do something to be saved besides believe, that faith in what the Lord did isn’t enough.

This teaching is so pervasive, it’s unbelievable.  I watched a movie on Netflix about a lady who had to leave a career elsewhere and go back home because her father died.  It wasn’t even really what you could call a “religious” movie.  The gist of the movie is that the lady found out that’s where she belonged, though she did turn out to be wildly successful in her former life, as well.  The thing is, at the end of the movie, leading into the credits, this lady sang a song about going back home.  The first verse was really good, but the second verse mentioned “being baptized in the creek to wash away our sins.”

Friends, you can be baptized in a creek, in a baptistry, in a swimming pool, or in the Jordan River itself every day for a hundred years and never wash away a single sin.  In fact, you’re just adding to your sins.

Though baptism does have a place in the Christian life, it isn’t the obtaining of that life.