Acts 2:40-46, “They Continued”

40] And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.”  41] Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.  42] And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.  43] Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.  44] Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45] and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.

46] So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47] praising God and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. 

Verses 14 through 39 give us only a small portion of of what Peter said to the crowd who gathered as a result of the commotion surrounding the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.  The thrust of what he said is found in v. 40, which says that with many words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.  His words didn’t fall on deaf ears as we read that three thousand souls were converted to the Lord.

The thing that I find interesting is the fact that they “continued” is mentioned twice, in vs. 42 and 46.  This is the great distinguishing mark of true believers in the Lord Jesus, for there are many who draw back unto perdition, Hebrews 10:39.  It’s the characteristic of His people mentioned by our Lord, John 8:31, Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.”  He’s not saying that they remain His disciples, or that they become His disciples, but that they are His disciples.  This reminds us of an earlier incident in His life, recorded in John 2:23-25, Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did.  But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what is in man. 

We have such a shallow view of salvation.  As long as one makes some sort of  “profession of faith,” or even might have, well, that seems to be enough.  I saw an example of this just the other day.  The media has been filled with the terrible events which happened in Las Vegas.  Of the man identified as the shooter, one pastor wrote, “Now it is possible that he was saved, that he had believed on Jesus at one point in his life.”  Then this pastor wrote, as this man was preparing to shoot, “in those moments, he was not right with God, regardless of his salvation.”

Now, I grant that, generally speaking, we can’t know for certain the spiritual condition of any particular person.  However, Scripture says, you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him, 1 John 3:15.  So, while it is “possible” that this man was “saved,” it doesn’t seem very likely.  He doesn’t seem to have been “continuing”.

We read of these early believers in Acts 2, that they continued, emphasis added.  Verse 42 gives us four examples.

1. apostles’ doctrine.  Since the apostles were still alive, this was possible.  The word translated “apostle” basically means “one who is sent.”  In that respect, any true Christian might say he or she is “an apostle.”  However, there are no “Apostles” in the sense that the twelve were Apostles.  There are no people giving new revelations of Scripture or “messages from God.”  Today, we have the Scriptures.  Our question must be, What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3, not what does this or that preacher or teacher say?  What does “the church” say?

What does God say, as given in His Word?

2. and fellowship.  This seems to be tied in with the first item:  “apostles’ doctrine and fellowship.”  There’s an old saying, which I’ve turned around somewhat:  “the feathers with whom you flock show what kind of a bird you are.”  What kind of people do we like to be around, to associate with?  That’s a reflection of who we are.  These is Acts 2 wanted to be with God’s people.

3. in the breaking of bread.  Perhaps what we call communion or the Lord’s Supper and ordinary meals were together.  Our Lord instituted His Supper at the meal of the Passover, Matthew 26:26.

4. and in prayers.  The hallmark of the NT church.

Verses 44, 45 tell of another aspect of the early church:  they were together, and all things in common, and sold their possessions and good, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.  Karl Marx used these ideas as a basis for his views on government.  Many others have tried “communal” living of various sorts.  However, especially as it regards communism and other socialist ideas, there are some things to keep in mind about this “community of goods.”

1. It was voluntary.  There is no evidence that this was a “forced” sharing, as in communism.  The government wasn’t involved at all.  Nor does it have anything to do with the current idea of “making the rich pay their fair share.”  It was voluntary,

2. It seems to have been temporary.  We don’t read of this past chapter 6, though the NT is filled with efforts of Paul and others to relieve the necessities of the saints.

3.  It didn’t work, as we see in chapter 6:1, which tells us of the beginning of “deacons.”  We’ll have more about this when we get to that chapter.

It could be this came about because those early disciples believed that the Lord would return very soon.  They had no inkling of “the church,” at least as we know it, or of the time interval between the Ascension and the Return.  We still don’t know of that interval, though that doesn’t stop speculation.  Just a few weeks ago, there were two different such speculations of facebook, both saying that such-and-such was the date on which our Lord would return, and both were wrong.  You’d think, after nearly 2000 years of such misses, that folks would give up trying to figure it out.  He may come before I get done with this post.  He may not come until our grandchildren’s grandchildren are alive.  In the meantime, there are things for us to do.

Verses 46 and 47 gives us a final summary.  The split between Jew and Christian had not yet happened.  As we said earlier, the early church was Jewish.  It wasn’t really until Paul that the Gospel really began to be preached to Gentiles – usually with Jewish opposition.  It was still a time of Apostolic miracle and ministry, a time of generosity and grace.  A time of joy and happiness.  A time of great salvation, as the last verse tells us.  It was a daily occurrence, no special meetings or anything, just apparently the result of the way these early Christians lived.

They continued.

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“New Testament Christians”

This post was suggested by an article I recently read from Creation Ministries International.  This is a ministry, as its name suggests, that specializes in the defense and explanation of the opening chapters of Genesis as being authoritative, accurate and historical.  I highly recommend it and the publications it produces.  You can contact them at Creation.com.

The article refers to Christians, churches and individuals alike, who, for various reasons, downplay the importance of the Old Testament, and especially the first 11 chapters of Genesis.

Without getting into the article’s approach to the subject, may I suggest some reasons why Genesis is important and should be studied, not neglected.

1. It gives an account of the origin of the earth and its inhabitants that is quite different from the science of our day.  It simply says that in the beginning God created….  Evolutionary science tells us that things just simply happened, without rhyme or reason, and we’re lucky that a planet evolved on which life could form and we could show up.

2. Genesis tells us that it took God six days to create everything and that He “rested” on the seventh day.  Evolution requires numerous billions of years for the development of nothing into everything.  Some try to get around this by saying that Genesis’ “days” are really eons of time.  Genesis describes them as “evening” and “morning.”  If eons of time are really involved, then how did vegetation, which was created on the third day, survive without sunlight, which was created on the fourth day?

3. Genesis tells us that man was a unique and separate creation, not just a development from a lower form of animal.  Nor does it tell us, as some have taught, that God took a couple of hominids with which to form a “special relationship.”  God formed man out of the dust of the earth, not from an ancestor of apes and monkeys.

4. Without Genesis, we have no account of why this world is so messed up, or how, as Paul put it, sin entered.  Genesis tells us that man is a fallen creature, under the judgment of God and driven out from His presence.

5. Genesis gives us the foundation and background of the Gospel.  It contains the very first promise of redemption, when God told Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.  He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel,” Genesis 3:15.

There is a great deal more we could say about this, no doubt.  Simply put, Genesis is the foundation of the rest of the Bible.  Without it, we lose a great deal of what we need to understand it.

We need Genesis.

Having said that, there is another use of the term, “New Testament Christian,” a term very familiar in my own background and history.

Perhaps the majority of professing Christians believe, in one way or another, that we have to live according to the Old Testament, in particular, the Law of Moses.  They try very hard to mold New Testament believers according to an Old Testament pattern.  From this view, for example,  has come infant baptism, because Jewish male babies were circumcised, and, it is said, infant baptism and communion have replaced circumcision and the Passover.  However, circumcision and the Passover weren’t replaced by other symbols, but were fulfilled in that which they symbolized and foreshadowed.  Circumcision is fulfilled in regeneration, and the Passover was fulfilled in the death of Christ.  Baptism, believer’s baptism, the only kind commanded by our Lord and observed in the New Testament, is the believer’s profession of faith, and Communion or the Lord’s Supper, looks back to the death of Christ, not a release from Egyptian bondage.

From the view that we’re obligated to live by the Old Testament has come the idea of a “national church,” in which one is a member simply by virtue of being a citizen of that country.  Spiritual condition has nothing to do with it.  The New Testament knows of no such thing.  Salvation is a personal and individual thing, not a corporate thing.  Nor is it “familial,” that is, the infant has some sort of relationship with God simply because the parent does.  It was to one who perhaps exemplified an Old Testament relationship to God more than any other person in Scripture to whom our Lord said, “You must be born again.”

Though the term “church” is sometimes used in a general sense, its predominant use is in reference to a local group of believers in a given area.  The NT knows nothing of the monolithic religious structures which have risen since the days of the early church.

Along with the idea of a national church has come the idea of a priesthood, based on the OT idea of priesthood, in which the people of God are separated into “clergy” and “laity.”  While it is true that God has given only some men gifts and abilities to be pastors and teachers, every believer may come into the presence of God in prayer for himself and for others.  Such access isn’t limited to a certain “family” or class of believers.  There is no NT office of “priest.”

Well, then, if we’re not to live by the OT Law, does this mean that we can live as we please?

Certainly not.

While there are no instructions for animal sacrifice or any “ritual” in the worship of God, every commandment of the Ten except one is repeated in the New Testament, along with a great deal else unknown to the Old Testament.  The only commandment not repeated in the NT is the one about keeping the seventh day as Sabbath.

There is a great deal more that could be said about this.  It’s a minority viewpoint, to be sure.  Nevertheless, this is what “New Testament Christian” means:  that we live under the teachings of Christ in the New Testament, not under the rules and regulations of Moses in the Old.

Revelation 1:6, “Kings and Priests”

And has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen. (NKJV)

For the most part, we live in the moment.  That’s all any of us really have.  The past is over with and done, and we have no guarantee of the future, even to our next breath.  So this, right now, this is it.  That doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t plan for the future, but simply that we realize, as James 4:15 says, If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.

And we live in the flesh, that is, our natural bodies.  This means that we see and know and experience what our physical bodies are able to see and know and experience, abilities which can diminish or be destroyed.  And even in this world, we know that there are things we can’t see or hear, things in the light spectrum or as sound, things which animals or other creatures can see or hear.  When it comes right down to it, even with all the advances mankind has made over the centuries, I’m not sure we really know any more about our environment than an ant knows about its.

This is especially true about this thing we call salvation.  Without getting into any of the other things we could think about, when was the last time you heard a sermon or read something on our verse today?

What does it mean:  “kings and priests”?

The second word is easy:  “priests”.

This simply means that, through the Lord Jesus, every single believer has direct access to God.  This is called, “the priesthood of the believer.”  This is something largely lost in the denominational view of the church that has sprung up over time.  But there is no NT office known as “priest” which divides believers into “laity” and “clergy.”  This is an idea which was born out of the effort to mold NT believers by an OT pattern.

There are men who are called as pastors and such, but that doesn’t give them a monopoly on God’s presence.  Through the Lord Jesus, the humblest believer in the pew has the same access to God as the man behind the pulpit.  The believer out in the middle of nowhere has the same access as the believer in the most ornate cathedral, and perhaps more, because we tend to get distracted by all the glitter and pomp and ceremony in such places.

Through the Lord Jesus, we can come directly into the presence of God.  We don’t need saints or ceremony or our Lord’s mother.  There is one God and one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus, 1 Timothy 2:5.  Through Him alone, we come to God.

But we must come through Him.  There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved, Acts 4:12.  Without Him, we are shut out from the presence of God.  With Him, we are completely welcome.

The other word is a little more difficult:  “kings”.

After all, look at John himself.  He was no “king” as the world counts it, but a criminal, exiled onto a tiny and barren island in the Aegean Sea.

To the Corinthian church, Paul wrote, For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.  But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence, 1 Corinthians 1:26-29.

There aren’t many among the world’s intelligentsia and elite who name the name of Christ in truth.  There are a few, but not many.  For the most part, God’s people are made up of those whom the world ignores or hates.

So what does it mean?

“Kings”?

I think it’s a promise.

It’s a promise for the future.

Without getting into all the discussion about the future – I do that enough, as it is – let me just say that Scripture says that this world isn’t the end-all and be-all of our lives.  There is coming a time when wickedness and error will be put away, and righteousness and truth will be all there is.  And Scripture seems to indicate that believers will have a key role in the administration of things in that future time.

Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about all the troubles they were having in their midst, Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?…Do you not know that we shall judge angels? 1 Corinthians 6:2, 3.  Cf. also our Lord’s parable in Matthew 25:14-30.

But I think it’s also a promise for the “right now, this is it.”  It may be that, with the Psalmist, we can say that the lines have fallen to me in pleasant places, Psalm 16:6.  This was a reference to the division of the land early in Israel’s history, as also seen in v. 6, with the reference to inheritance.  But it may be that, like Daniel in the lions’ den or his three friends in the furnace, Daniel 6 and 3, we have to spend some time in less than pleasant places.

God said to Israel, “But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel:  “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.  When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.  For I am the LORD your God…,” Isaiah 43:1-3a.  While it’s true that the whole chapter is addressed directly to Israel, I think we can take shelter under a corner of the promise in these verses because God refers to “everyone who is called by My name,” v. 7.  While that also refers to descendants of those in vs. 1-3, are not true believers also called by the name of Christ-ians?

The promise in Isaiah doesn’t mean that Israel won’t suffer as it goes through the river or the fire.  And it doesn’t mean that believers won’t suffer in this world.  As I write these words, and as you read them, many are suffering in ways that words can’t describe.  Many throughout church history have suffered.  And the idea of “kings” doesn’t mean that we “rule” these things.  We still live in a world in which Satan is its “god.”  As his presence becomes increasingly evident, as it has recently in the political and social upheavals, I expect things will get worse for Christians.

Some Christians seem to have the idea that life should be “without a care,” as a “gospel” song I’ve mentioned before says.  It should all be health and good times.  But Scripture and life itself tell us that that isn’t so.  I think Paul gives us the idea in Romans 8 when he wrote, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  Some Christians seem to think that God’s love can’t possibly include such things.

But Paul continues:   As it is written:  “”For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”  Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, Romans 8:32-39, emphasis added.

The word “kings” does have a promise for the future, but it has a promise for the present.  It means that God has made it so that we can rise above whatever our circumstances might be.  Sometimes when one is asked how they are doing, they’ll reply, “Under the circumstances….”  That’s a terrible place to be.  God intends for us to be above the circumstances.

There’s nothing that life can throw at us that, by the grace of God, we can’t catch.

Hebrews 12:1-3, The Race Set Before Us

[1]Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, [2]looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  [3]For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.  (NKJV)

The writer has just finished a long list of the heroes of the faith, men and women who either did great things or suffered great things.  But he’s not content simply to think about the past, or for us to stay there in our thinking.  After all, we live in the present.  What about us?

And what about this great cloud of witnesses in v. 1?

More than once, I’ve heard preaching on this verse as picturing a great stadium, with us down on the field running, and the OT saints up in the stands cheering us on.   That may be, although I don’t know that the Bible says very much about what the inhabitants of heaven are doing right now, or what they think about those of us left behind.

I look at this verse another way.  The writer says that we “also” have a cloud of witnesses.  For the OT saints, what was their “cloud”?  Who was cheering them on?

I think this verse could refer to one of two things.

First, it could simply refer to the testimony they left behind, especially those who endured the sufferings the writer listed.  In the words of Revelation 12:11, some of them did not love their lives to the death.  The way things are going in this country, and are already happening in other parts of the world, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs may be more relevant than we like to think.  (I wonder how many in our comfortable, casual, contemporary Christianity have even heard of it.)

Second, and this is what I think it means, it refers to “the great cloud of witnesses” who see us in our day to day lives.  The clerk in the grocery store, the waitress in the restaurant, the auto mechanic, the people we work with, the people we deal with in a hundred different ways every day.  And I don’t mean that we have to “witness” to them, or try to “get them saved.”  If such an opportunity comes along, we should take advantage of it and thank God for it, but that’s not what I’m writing about.  How do we treat them?  Are we courteous or churlish?  Do we thank them when they help us?  Are we honest when the clerk gives us too much change back?  What kind of a “job” do we do at work?

In short, do we “live” Christianity?

Or, is it “Sunday-only?”

The writer gives us some advice about this race –

“let us lay aside every weight.”  Now, I’ve never really been a runner, but I expect that when someone get ready to run, especially in a race, they don’t load themselves down with extra stuff.  They wear as little as possible.  Their focus is on the race.  They don’t spend a lot of time checking out their electronic devices while they’re on the track or on the road.

There’s something for us here.  We live in a time where “busy” is the order of the day.  There’s just so much going on – so many distractions, that we just don’t have time to serve God.  We don’t have time to read His Word.  Sad, though, that we do have time for our favorite shows on TV or Netflix.  Or some useless Facebook game.

We just carry too much weight.  (No, not that kind.  Though that’s not good for us, either.)

But there’s another kind of weight that we need to get rid of –

weight on the inside:

the sin which so easily ensnares us.

Paul put it like this in Romans 7:21, I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.  There’s a lot more he says, but he would never say that he had “arrived,” as far as perfection was concerned.  In fact, as we’ll see in a moment, he specifically denied that he was where he wanted to be.  He still battled with the corrupt nature he was born with.  There are those who say that this chapter refers to his pre-conversion life, that time before he was saved.  That can’t be.  More than once, he himself refers to that time as a time when he was well-satisfied with himself.  For example, in Philippians 3:4-6, he wrote, If anyone thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so:  circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

“Concerning the law, blameless.”

That was his pre-conversion view of himself.  But in Philippians 3:7, 8, he continued, But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.  Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish.  

There’s only ever been One who could say, “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” John 8:46.

There are some things on the inside we need to get rid of.

“run with endurance the race set before us.”  I like the KJV rendering: “run with patience”.  I know, it’s outdated and out of favor, but it’s what I grew up with, and it’s ingrained.  You see, no race is just about the starting line.  The Christian life isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.  The writer had mentioned “endurance” before in 10:36, in warning his readers to be faithful in their profession, that they had need of it.

In Philippians 3:12-14, Paul wrote, Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.  Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

A good attitude for any and all of us.

Too many of us tend to live in the past, rehashing old hurts or failures.  But as someone has said,

“There’s no future in the past.”

By the grace of God, we look forward to a glorious future, a future beyond description.

Let’s go!

 

 

 

Hebrews 11:23-29, “The Worst Part of Christ”

[23]By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s command.
[24]By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, [25]choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, [26]esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.
[27]By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.  [28]By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, lest he who destroyed the firstborn should touch them.
[29]By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians attempting to do so, were drowned. (NKJV)

These verses tell of three phases of Moses’ life:
1. His parents, v. 23.
2. His persuasion, vs. 24-27.
3. His passage, vs. 28-29.

1. His parents in Egypt, v. 23.
The situation in Egypt was dire for the Israelites at the time of Moses’ birth.  They had been welcomed to Egypt as a result of Joseph’s role in the delivering Egypt from severe famine.  They’d even been given the best of the land in Egypt, Genesis 47:6.  That hadn’t lasted very long.  They had been both prosperous and prolific, Exodus 1:7, but then there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph, v.8.  Likely this didn’t happen right after Joseph’s death.  Time passed and what Joseph did was forgotten.

Now, it’s believed that this king arose from a group of invaders called the Hyksos.  Even though they were powerful, they were still an ethnic minority and the king feared this growing power of the Israelites as a threat to him and his own people.  So he enslaved them.  When this didn’t work, and Israel continued to multiply, he ordered that all male babies were to be killed, Exodus 1:11-22.

This is the background of Moses.  His parents were under orders to kill him, but they didn’t.  The story is in Exodus 2:1-8.  Ultimately and in the providence of God, he came to live in the palace or at least the family of the very Pharaoh who had ordered his death.

2. His persuasion concerning Egypt, vs. 24-27.
The writer skips over the early life of Moses and brings him to the point of what we might call emancipation, that is, when children become independent of the family and go out on their own.  We’re not told what happened, but only that Moses made a choice – not to be identified as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.  He turned away from a very rich and respected heritage.

It’s here that the title of the post comes into play.  The text says that he esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt.

Think about this –

“The reproach of Christ” –

(what a Puritan writer called, “the worst part of Him”) –

greater riches than the treasures in Egypt.”

Even after 3500 years, we’re amazed at the “treasures in Egypt”.  Archaeology has shown us probably just a tiny part of them.  What must they have been like to Moses?!  To walk among, nay, to live in and be part of, those “treasures.”  To walk around and live in the splendor and luxury of Pharaoh’s palace.  To see the pyramids as new.  He could have told us how they were built, which is still a topic of discussion.

He rejected all that.

Why?

He knew of a far greater treasure –

the reproach of Christ.

I wonder how a “modern” Moses might have handled this.  Just think of the opportunity, the power, he could have had!  Why, he might even become Pharaoh!  He could have helped his people be free of their bondage.  He could have provided for them.  He could have given them all kinds of advantages.  He could have given them political power, as it were, and made them a force to be reckoned with.

He didn’t do any of that.  Egypt wasn’t their home.  He chose to identify with his natural people, not their oppressors.  Granted, when he first tried to intervene, it didn’t go well and he was forced to flee for his life, Exodus 2:11-15.

Enough about Moses here.  What do we “treasure” about Christ?

Here in the US, we still have a measure of freedom and prosperity.  But there are countries in which even to be suspected of being a Christian is to invite persecution, even death.  Unbelievable atrocities are committed against these people, and in other countries where Christianity is forbidden or frowned upon, and there is no outcry about it.

But here we meet in air-conditioned or heated buildings with comfortable pews or chairs, good lighting, and plenty of electronic aids for “worship.”  We get in our comfortable cars and drive home to our comfortable houses.  We have electricity and hot and cold running water, and turn on the big flat-screen TV for entertainment.  We’re able to have clean clothes, and some have closets full of them.  We have plenty to eat.  Granted, there are some who don’t have all these things, but, for the most part, we do have them.

And we’re told that prosperity and plenty are the natural result of “faith,” that if we’re sick or in need, all we need is “faith”.  If we’re not healthy and happy, something’s wrong.  We don’t have enough “faith”.

But, what does all this have to do with “the worst part of Christ”?

Moses had more than we can possibly imagine, even if he didn’t have the internet, but he gave that all up for something he thought worth immeasurably more – reproach and persecution with God’s people.

Our Lord had something to say about all this.  As He finished giving “The Beatitudes,” He gave a final one that we don’t pay nearly as much attention to as we do to the first eight: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil things against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven,” Matthew 5:11, 12, emphasis added.  But even the eighth one says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” v. 10.

Another time, He said, “The time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service,” John 16:2.  Though we can trace such killing through much of church history, beginning in Acts, we see it in what’s happening in the Middle East today with ISIS.  They believe in killing Christians that they are serving God.

I believe that’s coming even here.  How will we fare?

What will we choose?

How was Moses able to choose?

a. His concern, v. 26, he looked to the reward.
Paul had made a similar choice.  Apparently he had been on the way to becoming a “superstar” in his culture.  He was on the way to the top!  But then, the Lord Jesus met him.  After this happened, in comparing his former life with his present outlook, Paul wrote, But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.  Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish…, Philippians 3:7, 8.

At the same time, it isn’t always about what we have to give up.

Sometimes it’s about what we have to endure.

Paul knew something of this, as well.  He wrote to the Corinthian church:  We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed, 2 Corinthians 4:8, 9.   What was his reaction to this?  Did he throw a pity party?  Did he give up?  Not at all.  He wrote, …we do not lose heart.  Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day,  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory….  For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed [that is, if we die], we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, .4:16, 17, 5:1.  He goes on to say that we long for this transformation, this final move to an eternal abode.  Then he wrote, Now He who prepared us for this very thing is God, v. 5, emphasis added.  You see, even in the OT, and certainly in the New, God never intended His people to be earth-bound, but to realize and understand that we’re destined for something far beyond what this impoverished world has to offer.  See also Romans 8:18-23.  It’s sad that so few in our day seem to look at it this way.

b. His consciousness, v. 27, he endured as seeing him who is invisible.
There’s some discussion about when the first part of v. 27 happened:  he didn’t fear the wrath of the king.  Some think this is when he fled to Midian after standing up the first time for his people, Exodus 2:11-15, but v. 14, 15 expressly says that he feared and that he fled.  It’s more likely this refers to the time just before the Exodus, when Moses had severe confrontation with Pharaoh – the plagues and such, Exodus 5-11.  He knew that One Who is inconceivably greater than any and all earthly power.

Daniel 11:32 says, the people who know their God shall be strong and do exploits. (KJV).  While this is a prophecy of a specific time and people, still the principle holds true that true strength comes only from knowing the true God.  The reason the church in America is so weak and the forces of evil are so strong is that we have almost completely lost the knowledge of that God.  We’ve taken a verse or two of Scripture and a couple of words here and there and formed our own god.  The people who first came to this country had a robust knowledge of God.  Today, we not only deny that God, but deny that they knew this God.  And the result is the corruption, violence and filth we see on every hand and folks who in earlier generations would have been scorned and rejected are elevated to high positions and honor.

3. His passage from Egypt, 11:28, 29.
Just a couple of things in closing.  First, who would have though of animal sacrifices as a means of deliverance from slavery?  Well, God did.  The animal substituted for the firstborn of the Israelites, who, without the blood put on the doors of their homes, would have died themselves.  This blood was the evidence of the faith of the people inside – that what God said and promised was worth believing, trusting and obeying.

There is one thing about the Passover.  We studied it in church and as I was reading through the account in Exodus, there was one thing – an omission – that struck me.  I had never noticed it before.  Nowhere in that account is it written that those Israelites, having done all that was required, would be forgiven.  Read through it for yourself to see if that isn’t true.  Now, it’s true that 1 Corinthians 5:7 refers to Christ our Passover, but even there it’s in the context of getting rid of leaven, which was the other thing the Israelites in Egypt were to do in preparation for the Passover, Exodus 12:14-20, especially v. 19.  The Passover and the blood on the doorposts and lintel were a rite of separation of Israel from Egypt.  Likewise, because of Christ, His people are to be separated from the sins of this world, 1 Corinthians 5:1-8 (which rebukes the Corinthians for not dealing with grievous sin in their midst).  We are to be a pure people.

Second, the writer mentions the crossing of the Red Sea.  Unbelief and skepticism ridicule this idea and claim that the water just very shallow, it was just muddy, or there wasn’t any water at all.  Some of the maps of the crossing attempt to show this last viewpoint.  However, the text tells us that the Egyptians were drowned in this “shallow water,” every last one of them, Exodus 14:26-31.  Yet Exodus and Hebrews both tell us that the people walked through the sea on dry land, Exodus 14:29; Hebrews 11:29.

There is no contradiction.  My own view, for which I will not be dogmatic because I may not be right, is that the force of wind, Exodus 14:21, required to divide a body of water sufficient to drown Pharaoh’s army would have frozen it, and also the ground that was uncovered.  The ground would, in effect, be dry. And v. 22 says that waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.  And something Moses said reinforces this idea.  In rejoicing over Israel’s deliverance and praising God for it, Moses said, “The floods stood upright like a heap; the depths congealed in the heart of the sea,” Exodus 15:8, emphasis added.  As for Pharaoh’s army:  “The sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters,” v. 10.  So much for “shallow water” or mud!

And it all began because, 40 years earlier, Moses made a choice,

for –

“the worst part of Christ.”

Hebrews 10:38-11:1, “The Just Shall Live By Faith”

[10:38]“Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.”  [39]But we are not of those who draw back, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.
[11:1]Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  (NKJV)

We haven’t particularly noted the change in emphasis in the book, which occurs in 10:19.  The first portion was basically an explanation of the preeminence of the Lord Jesus, both as the Revelation of God and as the Redeemer of His people.  From 10:19, the writer in effect answers the question, “So what?” – what does this mean to the believer – or to the unbeliever, for that matter?
As for the believer, there are responsibilities to God, to ourselves and to others, 10:22-24.  For the unbeliever, there is only “judgment and fiery indignation,” 10:27.
To his readers, the writer urges that they remember all that they have suffered for the Gospel’s sake, and not to throw it all away, but to persevere under God’s will, looking for the coming of the Lord Jesus, vs. 32-37.  In 6:12 and in 10:22, 23, the writer mentions “faith,” especially in reference to the “promises.”  Now he continues with that theme.
In our portion, we note two sections:

1. The Necessity of Faith, 10:38, 39.
2. The Nature of Faith, 11:1.

  1. The Necessity of Faith, 10:38, 39.

In quoting from Habakkuk 2:3, 4, in the Old Testament, the writer again shows that he isn’t introducing something “foreign” to the Word of God.  Even in the Old Testament, faith was essential.

Seen in the Bible, v. 38.
1. witness, the just shall live by faith.  We hear much today about “exercising faith,” but the writer isn’t referring to some sort of “decision” in which a person “decides” for Christ, although there is a time in the life of God’s people when they are brought to faith in Him.  No one is “born saved.”  “Faith” doesn’t refer to a one-time act which “seals the deal,” but to a “life:” the just shall live by faith.  This “life” is characterized by daily reliance on and obedience to God.  To such a one, there is no division between sacred and secular.  He is the same on Monday as he is on Sunday, and lives his life in the light of God’s eternal Word and not in the ephemeral “fads” of today.  Such a one knows that “contemporary Christianity” is likely to be a contradiction of terms.
2. warning, if any man draw back….  The word translated “draw back” here means “to shrink,” “to withdraw,” and doesn’t refer to a momentary stumbling from weakness (as Peter in Galatians 2:12, where the same word is translated, “withdrew”).  It refers to a habitual character, a settled determination.  Such a one was never truly saved, but is a spiritual descendant of those mentioned in John 2:23-25.  These are solemn verses.  May we hear what they say to us:
Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did.  But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.
On the surface, these verses seem to speak of great success for our Lord: “Many believed in His name,” v. 23.  Many would rejoice today in such a result and do rejoice and even boast in their abilities and of the “success” of their ministries.  However, vs. 24, 25 follow v. 23 and warn us that all that glitters is not gold, and not all “belief” leads to salvation.
The words “believed,” v. 23, and “commit,” v. 24 are translations of the same word.  Many “believed” in Jesus, but He did not “believe” in them.  How can this be?  The answer is given in v. 24:  Jesus knew what is in man.
Jesus didn’t need a “testimony meeting” about their “belief.”  He didn’t need them to “like and share” a Facebook meme about how much they loved God, or to type “amen” to it.  He knew men, that they are easily swayed and deceived.  These men were following Him only because of His miracles.  He was “ministering to their needs.”  Now, there’s nothing wrong with that in itself, but as soon as Jesus began to press spiritual truths on His hearers, they left in great numbers, John 6:60-66.
We see a similar example of this in John 8:30-59.  In v. 30, many believed in Him.  But by the end of the chapter, these “believers” took up stones to throw at Him, v. 59.
If we dilute the message in order to have a “greater” ministry, then we’re only deceiving ourselves and those who follow us.
My soul shall have no pleasure in him.  Here is the crux of the matter.  Our main audience isn’t those men and women who hear us, or read our posts, but God Himself.  We do indeed have a responsibility to those who hear or follow us – a very great responsibility.  Spurgeon used to say that the idea of the multitudes who listened to him crushed him to the ground.  It is no small thing to serve in eternal realities.  Even Paul was moved by this: who is sufficient for these things? 2 Corinthians 2:14-16.  And it is no small thing to listen to eternal realities.  Over and over again, our Lord warned those who heard Him to pay attention to how and what they heard.  Woe to us if we only dabble in these things!

Seen in the Believer, v. 39.
As with similar statements in the book (6:4-6, etc.) the writer boldly states that what he has said about “drawing back” doesn’t refer to his readers, whom he describes as “believing to the saving of the soul.”  The word translated “saving” is interesting:  one aspect of its meaning is “to preserve.”  The word itself is a compound of two words literally meaning “to make around,” and perhaps refers to the preservation and protection of something by its being enclosed.
Here, then, is the glorious teaching of the “preservation of the saints.”  And note, this preservation is through faith.  We’re not kept by what we do, but, as Peter put it, we are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, 1 Peter 1:5.  We are preserved by what God has done on our behalf.

2. The Nature of Faith, 11:1

 This verse is not a definition of faith, although it’s often quoted as such.  It’s a description of faith and its results in the life of the believer.  It expands what the writer meant when he wrote, “the just shall live by faith,” examples of which follow in the rest of the chapter.  Salvation is so much more that mere consent to a creed, or agreement with a few historical or doctrinal facts.  Salvation is life from the dead, spiritual resurrection by the power of God, spiritual energy by the Spirit of God, energy leading to activity with reference to God, not just to “religion.”

Faith does not boast of its claims on God, as certain people teach.  It recognizes God’s claim on it!  It doesn’t say, “God, this is what I want you to do!” as if God were no more than our servant, anxiously hovering around until we give Him something to do.  No, no.  It says with Paul on the Damascus Road, “What do you want me to do?”

The just shall live by faith.

Hebrews 2:1-4, …Listen Up!

[1]Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest we drift away.  [2]For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, [3]how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, [4]God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will? (NKJV)

In chapter 1, the writer began by asserting that God has spoken, first by prophets and then by His own Son.  This post begins by linking 1:1 with 2:1, “God has spoken,…listen up!”

In this country, we live in a time of unprecedented rebellion against Christianity.  The unbeliever says that Christianity is foolish, not worthy of serious pursuit, and is a waste of time or worse.  It is for losers, for the ignorant and uninformed.  Indeed, it is even being labeled as “hate,”  and as such is to be rejected.  Even our President, in connection with the recent sociological flurry, has said that people need to “adjust their religious views” to take into account, and to agree with, the tremendous changes that have taken place recently, thanks to the Supreme Court.

Though perhaps to a lesser degree, even Christians are guilty of some of this.  Leaving aside those who more or less might agree with the above paragraph,  a great many believe that Christianity is simply to belong to a certain denomination, or maybe to disregard any “denomination” at all.  It is to be baptized, either as an adult or an infant, or to take communion.  It is to speak with tongues or to have some other type of “spiritual experience.”  It is, as one lady said, “a warm feeling in my heart.”  It is a particular dogma or set of beliefs.  It is to walk an aisle and/or pray a prayer.  It is to do our best – live by the Ten Commandments, or the Sermon on the Mount, or the Golden Rule.

In answer to all these, some of which do have their place, we say that Christianity is what God says it is, not man.  It is not, and never has been, about what society thinks. Indeed, it is more likely to contradict what society says.  God say that Christianity is life, found in a Person, the Lord Jesus, and revealed in particular in the New Testament.

As we come to our text, we see two thoughts.  In this post, we’ll look at the first one.

1.  A Three-fold Warning Concerning the Word, 2:1.
2.  A Three-fold Witness to the Word, 2:2-4.

1.  A Three-fold Warning Concerning the Word, 2:1.

a.  We are to heed the Word, to give more earnest heed to it.

This means to pay attention.  Perhaps James can help us here when he says that we are to be doers of the Word, James 1:22.  The Word isn’t given to us simply as information or so that we can argue about its interpretation.  While it does tell us things we need to know, it also tells us things we need to do.  And, in Hebrews, this “attention” is to be “abundant.”  One of the words translated “more earnest” means “superabundant.”  Not casual.  Not fleeting.  Not if we have the time.  Abundant.  Lots of it.  I believe there is coming a time in this country, and soon, when the Bible will be illegal.  It already is as far as government and education are concerned, but I believe this will be a complete prohibition and Bibles will be confiscated and destroyed – and likely, those who hold to it with them.  So we need to pay attention to it while we can.

Our Lord had something to say about this.  In Matthew 13, He spoke of a man going out to sow seed in his field, and of the growth which came from it.  He then likened that to those who hear the Word.  There were four results of the sowing – and there are four results of the hearing of the Word.  We’ll not go into it a lot, but only one of the four brought forth abundant fruit.  In one case, the devil came right away and took the word away.  I think most of the time he just draws our attention to something else.  I wonder if a preacher standing in the door as the people leave and tell him what a wonderful sermon it was – I wonder if he were to ask them what it was about, how many of them could tell him.  In another case, there was an initial reception, but some form of persecution took it away.  You know, persecution doesn’t have to mean death, it can simply mean derision.  This world has never thought a lot of the Word, even less so now, but there have always been those who have been opposed to those who believe and live the Bible. Or it could simply be that the old life is too strong.  The desires of our human nature are very strong and, if we’re not careful, can become our masters.  The third case failed because the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches entangle the Word like weeds and choke its influence out.  Oh, there’s so much we could say about that one!

b.  We are to hear the Word, the things which we have heard. 

But make no mistake.  We are to hear the Word.  While the previous paragraph was against just hearing it, we do need to hear it.  We are to be students of it.  My wife worked with a gentleman who had been a church member all his life, and he was amazed that she had read the Bible through several times.  But he is not alone.

c.  We are to hold on to the Word, lest we drift away. 

There are two meanings to the word translated, “drift’:

1.  to drift.  “To go with the flow,” as it were.  One day, the pastor of the church in Florida where I was on staff, took us and his family to the beach.  I got onto an air mattress in the water and just floated there, enjoying the beautiful day.  After a few minutes, I looked up and, wow, I had drifted a long way away from where I started.  It’s a good thing the tide wasn’t going out, or I might still be out there!

The point is, if we don’t pay attention, if we just “float,” we are likely to wind up a long ways away from where we started.  We don’t mean to do it, we just do it.  The church has done that.  Things the world scorned in my youth are now accepted and promoted in the church.

2.  to leak.  This refers to a leaky vessel.  Aren’t we often like that?  How little of the Word we retain!

God has spoken…listen up!