Acts 5:12-28: In Trouble Again

12] And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.  13] Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly.  14] And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15] so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them.  16] Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

17] Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadduccees), and they were filled with indignation, 18] and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.  19] But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20] “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.”

21] And when they heard that, the entered the temple early in the morning and taught. But the high priest and those with him came and called the council together, with all the elders of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.

22] But when the officers came and did not find them in the prison, they returned and reported, 23] “Indeed we found the prison shut securely, and the guards standing outside before the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside!” 24] Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these things, they wondered what the outcome might be. 25] So one came and told them, saying, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!”

26] Then the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned. 27] And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, 28] saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!”  (NKJV)

This portion seems like deja vu all over again.  Sometimes, instead of going away, trouble just gets worse.  This time, all the apostles were arrested.  However, God was pleased to intervene and the men were freed from their imprisonment, vs. 17-20.  They were told to resume their preaching.  Circumstances do not change responsibility.

We can well imagine the shock, astonishment and frustration caused by this deliverance.  To all appearances, everything was normal.  Gates were closed and locked; guards were at their stations, but “there was no one inside!” v. 23.

While the officials were pondering this unexpected turn of events, someone came and told them that the escaped prisoners were “standing in the temple and teaching the people!” v, 25.

Arrested once more, but peacefully because the people held them in high esteem, v. 26, the apostles were brought before the council.  The high priest reminded them that they had been commanded not to teach in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, but, instead of obeying that injunction, the apostles had “filled” Jerusalem with their doctrine.  This is described in vs. 14-16.  He then blamed them for trying to fix the blame for the death of Jesus on him and his fellows.  By this, we see that he totally missed the point of the apostles’ preaching.  It wasn’t about assigning “blame” at all, but about revealing the purpose of that death, which was “to bring repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins,” v. 32.

People today still “miss the point.”  As I write these words, we’re in the middle of the Christmas season, with all its festivities and frivolity.  But in the midst of all that, with the exception of an occasional Christmas carol or maybe a nativity scene tucked in among all the decorations, there is still no room for the Lord Jesus.

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“Beginning At Jerusalem,” Part 2.

This post continues and concludes our last post.

Scripture texts:  Luke 24:26, 27, 45-49; John 20:21-23.

3. Luke 24:26, 45-49, The Message Committed to the Churches.

Verse 26 gives us the essence of Gospel preaching.  There are many Biblical subjects we can preach and teach on, but the Gospel itself is about the two things in Luke’s text.

a. An Awful Reality, vs. 26,

1). “the sufferings of Christ”.

We pretty much don’t like the idea of suffering.  If we have a headache, we take an aspirin.  If we have to have surgery, we welcome the anesthesiologist.  In every part of our life, we try to be as comfortable as possible.  Even typing this, I’m not sitting on a hard, straight-backed chair.  We want air-conditioning and heat in our cars, comfortable pews in our churches.  We’re pretty spoiled.

Even in our views of Christ, we don’t think a lot about His suffering.  I’ve heard preachers describe the agony of crucifixion with the dispassion they might use with some ordinary topic.  And, truly, we have no idea what a crucifixion was like.  We are concerned in capital cases that the criminal suffer as little as possible and great outcry is made if, by some chance, something goes wrong and he does suffer.  I’m not advocating cruelty toward criminals, but the Romans had no qualms about things we cringe at.

Our pictures of His death have been pretty sanitized, as well.  One branch of the church even boasts of its “bloodless icons.”  But with the beatings, the scourging and the nails in His wrists and ankles, in the words of Isaiah 52:14, His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.  In the common vernacular, He was a bloody mess.

Now, some men and women do have an idea of what physical suffering can be like, with serious injuries and such.  But there was more to it than just the physical.  Isaiah 53:6 says, The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  Paul carried it even further, he made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin…, 2 Corinthians 5:21.

“He made Him to be sin….”

I don’t think we have any idea what that meant to the Lord Jesus.  Incarnate holiness to be made imputed sin.  That One who had enjoyed eternal fellowship with the Father now turned away and suffering His wrath against sin.

No.

We have no idea….

But He didn’t just die.

2). and that He should rise from the dead.

The Cross isn’t the end of the story.  He’s not still hanging there.  The crucifix gives a false narrative.  There is no grave holding His remains.  Yes, it was necessary for the Christ to suffer,” but something else was necessary, as well.  That was for Him to rise from the dead the third day,” Luke 24:45.  The Cross is empty.  So is the tomb.

The truth of the Resurrection is what distinguishes Christianity from religions of the world.  Other religions have holy books, death, angels, “visions,” etc.  But none of them has a resurrection, indeed, may even deny the resurrection.

Without the Resurrection, there is no proof that Christ’s death was any different than the deaths of the two men who dies with Him that day.  But He did rise from the dead.  This also proved His assertion that He was God, Romans 1:4.  Some deny that He ever claimed to be God, but that claim was the main reason, humanly speaking, He was crucified, John 19:7.  And, further, because He did rise from the dead, then we have –

b. An Individual Applicability, Luke 24:47.

“and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

The announcement of our Lord’s birth to Joseph was that “He will save His people from their sins,” Matthew 1:21.  The Cross was the payment that made salvation even possible.  The Resurrection was the receipt, if you will, for that payment.  We enter into that salvation through two things:

1). Repentance.

Why didn’t Peter mention “faith”?  To hear some preachers, repentance has nothing to do with it.  We have only to “believe.”  Some even say that repentance is a “Jewish doctrine,” and not applicable to us.  Is that true?  Why did Peter mention it?  – and not faith?

And, yes, just to be sure, we are “saved by faith.”  Scripture is very clear about that:  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast, Ephesians 2:8, 9, emphasis added.

At the same time and regardless of what men may say about it, our Lord specifically commanded repentance to be preached.  In his last remarks to the Ephesian elders, Paul told that he had testified to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,”  Acts 20:21.

“Repentance toward God.”

Too many people have the idea that we’re already the children of God and He is our Father.  He is indeed our Creator and in Him we live and move and have our being,” Acts 17:28, but we are not little children wandering from the side of a loving Father.  We are traitors and rebels against the God of Heaven and would dethrone Him if we could.  Granted, there are different degrees of rebellion, but it is still true that we all go astray.  Isaiah 53:11 says, All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way.  While that verse refers directly to Israel’s repentance at the Return of our Lord, Romans 3:23 says, we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

We have to do with God.  “Sin” is not defined by the latest social or cultural ideas.  It isn’t determined by “social justice warriors.”  Those who can riot and cause the most damage or kill the most people have nothing to say about it.  Indeed, such ideas lead only to the filth, violence and perversion we see engulfing our world and our cultures.

To “repent” means to change our mind so that we agree with and obey God, not this world or our own sinful inclinations.  It doesn’t mean just to be “sorry” for our sins, which too often just means that we’re sorry about the results of our sin.  It doesn’t mean just to “show remorse” at our sins, which just usually means that we got caught.  It means to reject our sins, to view them as God views them: as terrible, heinous things deserving of judgment and punishment and ourselves as wicked felons for doing such things and having pleasure in them.

Even the most decent and moral among us have “fallen short” in this matter.  Too often we judge ourselves by seeing someone worse that we are.  But that person isn’t the standard.  God’s Law is.  The Lord Jesus is the human example of what that looks like.

We have sinned, we have “fallen short.”  This brings us to the second thing our Lord mentioned:

2). remission of sin.

In the words of Paul, faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

He didn’t come to this world just to give us a reason to give each other presents or to dye eggs.  He came into this world to be a substitute, to be a sacrifice.

He came to take care of our sins.

That is why He lived and died:

to save His people from their sins.

It took the death of the incarnate God to pay for sin.  Money can’t do it.  Our “good works” can’t do it.  A few “Hail Marys” or “Our Fathers” can’t do anything about our sins.  Indeed such things, the good works or trying to “bribe” God in some way, only add to our sin.  No “priest,” no human effort or idea, can cause “remission of sin.”  There is nothing and no one in this world that can forgive sin.  Apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, even the very best we could possibly do is sin.  Apart from Him, there is no hope, no salvation.  He Himself said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me,” John 14:6.

And “to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” isn’t some physical thing: walking an aisle, “saying a prayer,” “raising a hand for salvation.”  It isn’t baptism or communion.  It isn’t about some ritual or ceremony.

It is to have a “death grip,” as it were, on Him as the Only One who can rescue us from our sin.

4. John 20:21-23, The Means Given to the Churches.

a. His promise, v. 21.

The Lord is not saying that He is sending out His disciples in the same way that the Father sent Him.  There are two words translated “send” in this verse.   The word translated “send” as it pertains to the disciples is more general than the other word.  Some translate the verse so as to indicate that even though the disciples are being sent out, it is still the Lord who is responsible for their mission.  This is a great blessing.  We have enough on our plates to think about without having to worry, as some think, about the results of our faithfulness.  It is the Lord’s mission and it will accomplish what He wants it to, cf. 1 Corinthians 3:6-8.

b. His power, vs. 22, 23.

Many think that the disciples didn’t receive the Spirit until the Day of Pentecost.  However, John indicates that they received Him here.  They received the power of the Spirit at Pentecost.

Verse 23 presents a great difficulty.  The KJV and some other translations seem to indicate that the loosing and remitting of sin is done by the disciples.  A more correct translation indicates that these actions have already been done, and the disciples, through the Holy Spirit, are merely confirming what has already taken place, as people either receive or reject the message.

This is solemn.  It is time to quit “playing church.”  We are dealing with eternity-bound men and women.  We are eternity-bound men and women.  How little do we really act as if we realize that we will soon stand before God and give an account of our lives.  The Word of God is all that really matters in this sin-cursed world.  Only the Lord Jesus is able to make “life” what it’s supposed to be.

Revelation 3:21, A Tale of Two Thrones.

“To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”  (NKJV)

I really hadn’t meant to have so many posts on these last few verses, but there’s just so much in them.

The idea of “thrones” brings up the subject of “kings” and “kingdoms.”  There is a great deal of discussion about “the kingdom,” and it’s not our purpose, at least as we start, to get into all that.

A Study Bible that I’ve used has a note on our verse, which it quotes like this:  the Lord Jesus…sat down on His throne (Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible, p. 2172.)  Even though the note goes on to say that our Lord “will be highly exalted,” I fear it misses the point of the verse.  It’s true that the Lord Jesus will indeed sit on His own throne, and be highly exalted, as the note quotes from Philippians 2:9-11, but that’s not what this verse says.  It says that right now He’s seated on, or at the right hand of, the Father’s throne.  This is in agreement with several other Scriptures.

The first verse is found in Psalm 110:1, The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”  This is the only reference to this in the Old Testament, so far as I know.  Our Lord quotes this in Matthew 22:44, one of many confrontations with His enemies, who contested His every statement.  Without getting into the entire discussion between them, He uses this verse to ask them, “How can David’s son be David’s God?”

Just in passing, with regard to the phrase in Psalm 110:1, “Rule in the midst of Your enemies,” since many believe that “the kingdom” only involves Christ’s headship over His church, how does that fit in with His ruling in the midst of His enemies?

Psalm 110:1 is the foundational verse.  It’s quoted several times in the NT and more than 15 other verses refer to our Lord as being at the right hand of the Father.  The point is, what is He doing there?  Not in the sense of “deserving” to be there, but what is He doing as He sits there?  Scripture tells us.

Perhaps the main thing is that He is sitting at the right hand of the Father because His work is done.  Hebrews 1:3 says, When He had by Himself purged our sins, [He] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.  The Book of Hebrews spends a lot of time talking about OT things the reader would have been familiar with, and showing how the Lord Jesus fulfills or is superior to those things.  For example, in the Mosaic Tabernacle, there was no seat, no place to sit down, for the officiating priest.  That’s because his work was never done.

There is one exception to the verses saying that He sits.  Acts 7:56 tells us that, as he was finishing his testimony before the Sanhedrin, Stephen told them that he saw the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.  To these Jewish leaders, this was blasphemy, and, enraged, they killed him.  No reason is given as to why the Lord Jesus was standing.  Someone has suggested that it was to welcome home this first martyr of the church.

Our Lord sat down.  His work was done.  He had by himself purged our sins.  Notice that the writer did not say, “He died for our sins.”  “He made it possible for our sins to be purged.”

No. No.

He purged –

purged

our sins.  He got rid of them on the Cross, and then went home to heaven and sat down.  He was done.  And so were our sins.

This is a tough nut to crack.  We’re so inundated with the idea that there must be something that we have to do in order to make what He did effective.  We have to “validate,” as it were, by accepting Him, what He did on the Cross.  We’re told sin isn’t really paid for until we do that.  And, yes, without doubt, we are told to believe on Him to be saved.  There is no salvation apart from faith in Him.  But that faith rests on His finished, completed work – or there is no salvation, either.  He sat down because sin has been taken care of, taken away.

But He’s doing something else, as well.  In the words of the KJV, But this man after he had offered one sacrifice forever, sat down on the right hand of God, from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool, Hebrews 10:12, 13, emphasis added.  Newer versions translating “expecting” as “waiting,” and though accurate, it’s incomplete.  The word means “to wait expectantly.”

What did the Father say to the Son?  “Sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”  Our Lord is waiting for, expecting, His Father to fulfill that promise.  Has that happened?  Or is He just talking about some “spiritual” victory, in which the great majority of the world continues to ignore, reject, or violently oppose His rule?  Follow some false religion?

Christmas is 4 days away as I write this.  Who’s the most prominent figure at this time?  Who are little children told to expect?  Not our Lord.  Oh, He might get an “honorable mention,” so to speak, with a nativity scene tucked away among the ornaments and decorations, but He’s not really the center of attention, is He?

When the Father fulfills His promise to the Son, such treatment will not be the case, or even possible.  God made a second promise which goes along with this.  In Psalm 2:9, 10, He told the Son, “Ask of Me, and I will give you the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; you shall dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Revelation 19:11 tells us this will happen when the Lord returns to earth, not before.  Verse 15 says, He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron.  The word translated “rule” means “to shepherd”:  “He Himself will shepherd them with a rod of iron.”  This gives quite a different picture than the idea that He’ll return, there will be the final judgment, and then eternity.  Zechariah 14:12-21 gives us further details of events at and following His return.  These indeed portray a “rod of iron.”

But there’s more.  As our Lord sits there waiting, He’s not inactive.  I believe that He is calling His sheep.  In John 10:14-16, our Lord says, “I am the good shepherd; and know My sheep, and am known by My own.  As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.  And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they well hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one Shepherd.” 

“Other sheep I have…, them also I must bring.”

Those for whom He died must be brought home.

Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, He’s calling His sheep to Himself.  We can only know them because they follow the Shepherd.  Not just “religion,” not just some religious figure or authority, but the Lord Jesus.  He is their Lord and Savior.  There is some discussion, sometimes heated, about this idea of Lord and Savior, but we can’t cut the Lord Jesus into two parts, only accepting Him as “Savior” and leaving behind the idea that He’s Lord, or that He has any claim on us.  We seem to think He has to save us if we “accept” Him, but that He’s not supposed to tell us what to do until we decide that He can.  That may be a lot of fundamental or evangelical Christianity, but I don’t believe that it’s true.  It certainly isn’t Biblical.

He is Lord, and He has willing subjects.  Are we among them?

There is one final thing.  He intercedes for us.  Hebrews 9:24 says, For Christ has not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, to appear in the presence of God for us. 

“To appear in the presence of God for us”….

I don’t even know how to begin with this.  This whole truth of the Incarnation, the death, the resurrection, the return, of our Lord….  Who can really describe what these things mean?  The God of the Universe, who spoke and it was done, that One who upholds the stars in their courses and calls them all by name, that One who has numbered – not counted, numbered the hairs on our head, that One who holds every breath of ours in His hand, that One whom we continually rebel against,…that One.

That One came and lived the life we could never live, died a death we can’t even begin to imagine, with our sanitized pictures and crucifixes, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and now prays for the very ones who put Him on the cross.  The Romans might have physically nailed Him to it, but you and I, if we’re believers, we were there, too.

Matthew 25:31 says that the Lord Jesus will not sit on His own throne until He returns to this earth.  Other Scriptures tell us that He will do so at Jerusalem, where He will assume His rightful place as Lord and Ruler of this world.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Revelation 3:20a, “Behold, I Stand At the Door”

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me.”  

Revelation 3:20 is a very familiar Scripture.  One of my earliest memories is sitting in a church service in which a famous picture derived from this verse was being explained.  I don’t remember a lot about it anymore, except that it was the usual approach that Christ is standing at the door of the heart of the lost sinner, calling to him to open the door and let the Lord in.  One preacher in this vein even went so far as to refer to our Lord as “the Christ of the bloody knuckles.”

Ah, beloved, the Lord God and His Son have more interest in and concern for the salvation of sinners than you or I can even begin to imagine.  Look at all they’ve done to bring it about.  Salvation isn’t just the thing of a moment, the result of an “oops” on God’s part when our first parents fell.  It wasn’t some result of a “hastily called emergency meeting,” as one writer put it.  How anyone can even think such a thing of our God is beyond me.  There are no “emergencies” with God.

No. no.

Scripture tells us salvation stretches from eternity past, when it was conceived in the heart, mind, purpose and action of God, through today and the work of the Spirit in regenerating sinners and bringing them to faith in the Lord Jesus, into the boundless eternity of the future in the presence of These who loved us and gave themselves for us.  It was the Lord Jesus who died on the Cross, but the others have been or are just as active and have their own part in our salvation.

Christmas, just a few days from now, should remind us of all this.

But that’s not what John is telling us.  Our Lord is not talking to sinners, but to His own churches!  And since churches are made up of individuals, He’s talking to the individual members of those churches.

It ought to be a staggering thought – that the Lord of the church stands on the outside!  Asking for entrance!  No wonder John records Him as saying, “Behold”!

This doesn’t mean that the Lord is impotent, or that He “must” wait for us to “take the first step.”  It does mean that we are responsible for how we respond to His commands, and His entreaties.  Besides, Scripture tells us that He is quite able to open the door Himself, cf. Acts 16:14, which tells of us of Lydia, whose heart the Lord opened…to heed the things spoken by Paul.

And we are responsible to respond.  Make no mistake about it.  Some have taken the sovereignty of God to such an extreme that they almost make men puppets or robots.  Or take them out of the picture altogether.  They’re like those who responded to William Carey, “the father of modern missions,” who felt a call and desire to go to India.  In effect, he was told, “Young man, if God wants to save the heathen, He can do it without you.”  Others go to the other extreme and make God little more than a humble supplicant at the throne of man’s will.

We’re not sticks or stones.  And we don’t just run on instinct, as much of the animal world seems to.  We’re creatures with intellect, emotions and will. We’re able to think, to feel, and to do.  The fact that these faculties have all been corrupted by the Fall of Adam doesn’t make us any less responsible to use them, or for how we use them.

Churches.

The Lord’s talking to them.

I wonder how many in their church services really look to see if the Lord is with them, or if He’s on the outside.  Or if they assume that just because they’re there, then so is He.  And Baptists tend to be as bad at this as those “formal” churches they differ with.  After all, their “order of services” is pretty much as “set” as any routine in any liturgical church.

But He’s not talking just to individuals in churches.

There’s so much application here.

He’s talking to churches, yes.

But I think He might also be talking to –

Families…

Neighborhoods…

Cultures…

Our nation….

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock….”

 

Revelation 3:14-19, Laodicea: The Church of the Good Self Image, part 2.

“And to the church of the Laodiceans write,
‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I could wish that you were cold or hot.  So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.  Because you say, ‘I am rich, having become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked  – I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may be not revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.  As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.  Be zealous, therefore, and repent.  (NKJV) 

In our last post, we looked at the city of Laodicea and how our Lord used the situation of the city to instruct His church.  We saw how the Lord presented Himself to the church as the True and Faithful Witness, as the One who shows the credibility of God’s Word (the “Amen”), and as the One through whom everything had been created, even the very environment in which Laodicea found itself.  He had quite a lot to say to the church there, this church which was so very pleased with itself.

How they saw themselves, v. 17,  ‘I am rich, have become wealthy and have need of nothing.’

In short, they had arrived.

How the Lord saw them“you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot,” v. 16. “You are wretched, poor, blind, miserable and naked,” v. 17.

In short, they hadn’t even started.

What about this thing of “cold and hot and lukewarm”?  Mostly, it’s thought that “cold” is either lost folks or Christians whose names are on a church role, but they’re not at all active in the church.  “Hot” speaks of feverent service to the Lord.  “Lukewarm” is kind of the Christian who comes to church once in a while, puts a little money in the plate, “believes” the Bible, but has no real enthusiasm for the things of God.  One maybe who serves “God and mammon”.

The Laodiceans would likely have understood it differently.  They were dependent for their water supply on aqueducts bringing water from two different springs some distance away from the city.  The thing is, one of these springs was hot and the other was cold.  By the time the water from either of these springs reached the city through these aqueducts, it had become lukewarm.  These waters were also heavily contaminated with minerals, so that lukewarm water would be undrinkable, hence the reference to “vomit,” or as the KJV has it:  “spue” (the old spelling of “spew”).  Have you ever taken a drink of something that was repulsive?  You don’t swallow it; you immediate spit it out, you “spew” it out.  You get rid of it right away.

When the Lord said that He wished they were either “cold” or “hot,” He wasn’t saying He wished they were either lost or saved, or fervent.  Cold water and hot water both have their uses.  Jesus was saying He wanted them to be useful to Him.

How different is their view of themselves and the Lord’s view of them!  There is so much that could be said about this!  They judged themselves by what they saw in the mirror, so to speak.  Perhaps they looked down on some of the other churches as not being quite up to their standard.  This is contrary to Paul’s admonition in 2 Corinthians 10:12, For they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.  You see, we can always find someone “worse” than we are.  The trouble is, “they” aren’t the standard.  The Lord Jesus is.  Only a fool thinks he or she measures up to that standard!

What He counseled them, vs. 18, 19.

“To buy”.  This reminds me of Isaiah 55:1, 2, Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat.  Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? 

This doesn’t mean that the things the Lord offers and requires are for sale.  There is no amount of money or wealth which can “buy” a single blessing.  At the same time, there is a “cost” to obtaining these things.  We have to let go of the world if we want to take hold of the blessing.  We cannot serve this world and the Lord.  Cf. our Lord’s teaching in Luke 14:25-33.  This doesn’t mean that we don’t have responsibilities in this world; it means that we can’t let them come between us and serving the Lord.

– “gold refined in the fire.”  This refers to “faith.”  Cf. 1 Peter 1:5, which speak of faith as being more precious than gold that perishes.  

“that you may be rich.”  James 2:5 refers to the poor of this world rich in faith (KJV).  The poorest believer has more wealth than the richest billionaire can even begin to imagine, Matthew 16:26.

But pay attention to the fact that the Lord says, “Buy from Me.”  It isn’t enough to have the faith of your parents or your spouse or your church.  They may have true faith, but they can’t give it to you.  They might be able to show you the way, but you have to get it from the Lord yourself – and that’s done through reading and studying the Bible, the Word of God:  So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, Romans 10:17.  You can hear it through faithful preachers and teachers or from others, but faith must become yours and not just theirs.

– “white garments that you may be clothed.”  This speaks of righteousness, and since it must come from Christ, it refers to the righteousness of Christ imputed to believers.  2 Corinthians 5:21 says, For He [God] made Him who knew no sin [Jesus] to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

It’s just a couple of weeks until Christmas.  But that little “babe in a manger” didn’t stay there, though the world leaves Him there.  He grew up to die on a Cross, not as an accident, not as a criminal, but as a substitute.  That little, helpless infant was to be God’s substitute for believers.  He would grow up to live that life we could never live, be that person we could never be, and die that death we could never die.  His life satisfied God’s law by obeying its every provision.  His death satisfied God’s law by paying the price for every broken provision.   He paid the price for the sins of believers.  God looked at Him on the cross as He looks at us in our sins.  He looks at us, if we’re believers, and sees us as righteous and perfect as His Son was, and is..  Mind you, we’re neither righteous nor perfect in ourselves, but we’re accepted in the beloved, Ephesians 1:6.  It will only be because of Him that we make it to heaven, forgiven of our sins and considered to be righteous.

“that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed.”  I admit that I don’t understand all that’s involved here, or any of it, really.  The idea seems to be prevalent that everyone will make it into heaven and all will be sweetness and light.  That doesn’t seem to be the picture here.  The Lord is talking to one of His churches!  About their shame….  And 1 John 2:28 speaks of being ashamed before Him at His coming.   Clearly, there is something here to think, and to pray, about.

As for those who are not His –

Revelation 20:11-15 paints a scene with which we really have no comparison, and which many reject or try to water down:  this idea of final, eternal judgment.  To many, hell is only a swear word, but Scripture says it’s an awful reality.  Apart from faith in the Lord Jesus, that’s what every man and woman faces.

“anoint your eyes with eye salve.”  As we mentioned earlier, Laodicea was famous for three things:  commerce, fashion, and medicine.  This last is what our Lord refers to here.  Laodicea was especially noted for an eye salve, or a poultice, to be placed on the eyes.  Jesus uses that word here.  He wants them to be able truly to see what they really are: “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.”  To see that He and He alone has what they need: true riches, a covering for their sin, and understanding of spiritual truth.  And that they might see that they do need these things.

Some people might think all this isn’t very “loving.”  We seem to have the idea that “love” means tolerance, that we just accept anything and everything.  We seem to have lost the idea that anything can actually be “wrong.”

It’s because the Lord did love this church that He told them to repent, to change their attitude and their activity.  If He didn’t love them, He would just have let them go their way.

You see, unlike modern, unbelieving child psychology, our Lord believes in raising His children, not letting them raise themselves.  And that sometimes requires discipline.  A godless world equates the idea of discipline, which in Biblical terms includes corporal punishment, with child abuse.  But the Lord at His most foolish, as the world thinks of it, is wiser than all the people who oppose Him.  We see the results of Dr. Spock and his disciples in the chaos that has enveloped our young people and our culture the last two or three generations.  That’s the real child abuse.  To let youngsters run wild, to grow up as rebellious and miserable adults, with no thought or understanding that actions have consequences.  To wonder what went wrong when their world falls apart, or to blame everyone else for what they themselves have brought upon themselves.

I didn’t really mean this to be about raising children, but this is what the Lord does for us.  This is what the Lord was doing to the church at Laodicea.  They were so satisfied with themselves.  He wanted them to be satisfied with Him.

“Presentation”

In this post, we’ll take a little side-trip from our study in Revelation.  It’s just something that’s been on my mind the last few days.

My wife is an excellent cook and enjoys watching TV shows about cooking.  I watch with her sometimes.  There are several shows where different professional chefs are challenged to take unusual ingredients and make them into something tasty, with other chefs who judge their efforts.  One of these judges in particular I don’t especially like because he’s always concerned about “presentation” and “texture”.  I’ve remarked to Sharon that perhaps he should go to a food bank and learn about folks who are happy just to have food on the plate and don’t worry about how it’s arranged or how it looks.

I’ve never understood the fascination with “gourmet” plates of food with a dab of this and a dollop of that arranged artistically on a plate.  That little mound of edibles in the middle of the plate always looks lonely.

Maybe it’s just me, and my palate has never been properly educated.  I spent a lot of my formative years with my grandmother.  She took in roomers and boarders to help make ends meet.  When I was there, there would be six of us around the  dinner table.  And there was plenty of food!

Meat.

Potatoes.

Vegetables.

Dessert.

Stuff that a lot of people today raise their hands in horror at the idea of eating, except maybe the vegetables.

I got to thinking about this idea of “presentation” the other day after one of my rants to my wife about this judge and it occurred to me that a great deal of what this world does and is concerned about is nothing more than “presentation.”

Advertising types call it “marketing.”

Manufacturers are concerned about “packaging.”

We used to call it “putting our best foot forward.”

am not advocating a haphazard life style of slovenliness.  There’s nothing wrong with being neat and orderly.  It’s just that there’s more to us than what people see on the outside.  Life isn’t about how the food is arranged on the plate.

When our Lord came into this world – and I’ve already seen a TV commercial for “Christmas stuff” this year – He didn’t come to fanfare and big crowds.  He didn’t come to live in a palace or to hobnob with the rich and powerful.

No, no.

He was born to a young woman in the midst of scandal and, no doubt, gossip.   I wonder sometimes what happened when it became obvious that she was with child, in a society where that wasn’t common or accepted as it is in our society.  After all, she wasn’t yet married.  Scripture tells us how she became pregnant, but the world doesn’t accept the testimony of Scripture.  Even when Jesus was an adult, though there is some discussion about what the verse means, references to His birth were thrown in His face, John 8:41.

And Joseph, His earthly father, wasn’t rich.  Some versions call him a carpenter, but the Greek word simply means a craftsman.  He worked with his hands to provide for his family.  He didn’t have a life of ease and luxury.  Neither did our Lord.

Jesus’ life was spent in relative obscurity.  Even though He had large crowds around Him for a while, when He began to talk about things more important than how the food is arranged on the plate, so to speak, people left Him, John 6:66,  and He wound up with just a handful of followers at the time of His death.

And what a death!

Executed like a common criminal, naked and alone, in one of the worst ways to die ever conceived by the twisted mind of mankind.  Granted, He rose from the dead three days later, but as far as the world is concerned, He’s still dead.

And the message He left behind for His disciples to preach!

It wasn’t about building us up.

Making us feel good about ourselves.

Being all we can be.

The message was about how messed up we are.

It was about the fact that we’re all sinners, falling short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23.  It was about the fact that we’re not going to be judged by the fickle, changing standards of this world, but by the inflexible and eternal Word of God.

It was about the fact that the best we can do by ourselves, the things we might think of as being “righteous,” even our “religion,” is still vile and filthy in the sight of God, Isaiah 64:6.  It’s about the fact that even the most backward and primitive societies and cultures have a definition of “right” and “wrong,” as varied and different as those might be, but have failed even to live up to their own standards, let alone the righteous and holy standards of God.  It’s about the fact that, apart from Divine intervention, we’re all doomed to spend an eternity in hell.

It’s about the fact that God did intervene and sent His Son to do what we cannot do – be righteous and perfect in the sight of God.

And to suffer on the Cross that penalty due to our disobedience and sinfulness, that penalty that not all the “goodness” we could perform in a thousand lifetimes could even begin to pay.  In fact, it would add to the penalty because it would say that we know better than God and that we are able to please Him in and of ourselves.

The message is about the fact that those who turn from themselves, their sin and their “goodness,” and turn to the Lord Jesus, trusting who He is and what He did on the Cross for sinners, they, and they alone, are saved, that is, made righteous in God’s sight and the penalty due to their sins is paid and erased.

Life.

There’s more to it than meets the eye.

Hebrews 6:1-8, “Falling Away”

[1]Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, [2]of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.  [3]And this we will do, if God permits.
[4]For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, [6]if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. (NKJV)

Chapter 6 builds upon 5:12-14.  It doesn’t occur in a vacuum, irrespective of what has gone before, or what will come after.  As we’ve seen, the writer has turned aside for a moment to remind his readers, including us, that “the faith” isn’t merely an exercise in certain historic facts and doctrinal truths, but rather that these facts and truths are intended to have a radical and permanent effect in the hearts and lives of sinful men and women.  They’re intended to bring such folks from cursing to blessing – from slavery to sonship – from being foreigners to being “family”.

The writer has contrasted where they are with where they ought to be; that when they should be “teachers,” that is, reaching out and helping others to understand spiritual truth, they themselves are in need of “teaching.”  They are still “on the bottle,” as it were, still in spiritual infancy.

6:1, “therefore” continues his exhortation and admonition.

An Exhortation, 6:1-3.

These believers were to “go on,” to advance, to progress, not “start over.”  True, they weren’t where they were supposed to be, but the answer was not to go back to the beginning, not to “get saved” all over again, not to “rededicate” themselves, but to “go on” from where they were.
In vs. 1a-2, it’s necessary to remember the context of the book – a contrast between the Old and the New:  to show the inability of the Old compared with the efficacy of the New.  Cf. 8:7, 8.
1.  “dead works” – not “sins” – the OT sacrificial and ceremonial system, 4:10.
2.  “faith toward God,” that the Mosaic system is no longer operative, but that God has “provided for Himself a lamb,” (Genesis 22:8).
3.  “baptisms” – washings, Leviticus 15:13 with other OT references either to bathing or washing and being clean.
4.  “laying on of hands” – Leviticus 1:4: identification with OT sacrifices.  The OT Jew, in bringing a sacrifice to the altar, would lay his hand on the head of the animal.  This signified that he himself deserved to die because of his sin, but was able to live because of the death of an innocent substitute.  Thus was pictured salvation by substitution and sacrifice, which was ultimately, finally and completely fulfilled in the substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus.  In this Christmas season, we might remember that the cradle wasn’t the reason the Lord Jesus came into this world.  He came to die, in order that we through Him might live.

An Explanation, 6:4-6.

Much discussion of these verses centers on whether or not the writer is thinking of “true” Christians.  Without getting into all the various arguments pro and con, it seems to me that verse 6 establishes beyond doubt that the writer is thinking of “true” Christians.  He describes them as having been “renewed unto repentance.”  This is not a description of one who is still “dead in trespasses and sins.”  He also describes them as having been “partakers of the Holy Spirit.”
But what is the writer teaching in these verse?  This is a question of paramount importance.  Some folks never get beyond the first five words of v. 6, “…if they shall fall away,…” and conclude, sometimes quite vehemently, that Christians can indeed lose their salvation, and that “eternal security” is a doctrine from the pit.  I had a Boston Church of Christ elder once tell me that he believed that one could be child of God and still end up in hell.

“If they shall fall away.”  This isn’t to be taken as “when” or “since.”  There is no “if” in the original language.  We might translate the verse like this:

“For [it is] impossible, those once enlightened, who tasted of the heavenly gift and became partakers of the Holy Spirit, and tasted the good word of God and [the] works of power of [the] age to come and [who] fell away, again to renew [them] to repentance, crucifying for themselves [as they do] the Son of God, and exposing [Him] publicly.”

For these people, the “falling away” is as real as any of the other things said about them.  Is the writer thus teaching that it is possible to fall away and lose your salvation??  We don’t think so, primarily of what else is said of these people.  Those groups who believe that you can lose your salvation also believe that you can be “born again” or “saved” again.  I have heard of some who claim to have been saved several times.

However –

If verses 4-6 actually teach that you can lose your salvation, it also teaches something else:

IF YOU CAN LOSE YOUR SALVATION……

YOU CAN NEVER EVER GET IT BACK!!

I can’t put it any more plainly than the writer did; if those truly saved can lose their salvation, then, in the words of vs. 4, 6, it is impossible…to renew them again to repentance (emphasis added).

There are at least two results to the teaching that Hebrews 6:4-6 teaches the loss of salvation.
1.  a superficial view of sin and the innate sinfulness of human nature.  The logical result of this view is “sinless perfection,” for anything less than that opens us up to the danger of losing our salvation.  How much “sin” is “too much”?  After all, it was a minor sin, as we look at such things – the eating of a fruit – that caused Adam and Eve to lose their place in the Garden of Eden and brought into the world all the terrible things that have happened since then.
Even those who believe that they have been “entirely sanctified” recognize that they aren’t perfect, but this is just looked upon as “making mistakes,” hence, sin is minimized and so also in “holiness.”
2.  a superficial view of salvation.  There is no understanding of what salvation is, this being “saved,” then “lost,” then being “saved” again, only to repeat the cycle who knows how many times.
Salvation is a life-changing, nay, it is a life-giving work of the Holy Spirit.  “Being saved” isn’t just the result of some little ritual or ceremony in or of the church, with God passively standing around until we “do our part.”  It is ultimately the work of the Triune God, initiating and completing that work.  True, we must and do believe in order to be saved, but without the working of the Holy Spirit, we have neither the desire nor capability to do so.

One question remains:  why would it be impossible to be “saved” more than once?

It’s impossible to be saved more than once because such a thing would mean that we say, in effect, that the death of Christ was a failure, and that we turn our back on it.  It’s impossible to be saved more than once because God will not permit such an insult to His Son, as the following verses teach.

We have such a superficial view of God in our time.  We pretty much seem to have an idea to the effect that God has to wait on the sidelines of His own creation until we decide to send Him into the game.

There’s a meme I see on facebook every so often that boldly proclaims, “If it’s not in the word of God, it’s not the will of God.”  It gets a lot of “likes”.  Leaving aside the fact that almost nothing in our modern society is mentioned in the Bible: computers, the internet, cars, fancy church buildings with padded pews and air conditioning, etc, this is not how Scripture views things.  It says that God works all things after the counsel of His will, Ephesians 1:11.

Scripture teaches that He superintends and oversees every part of our existence.  That’s hard for some people to accept, but Daniel told a wicked, idolatrous king that even his very breath was in the hand of God, Daniel 5:23, and that God “owned” all his ways.  Then there’s what Joseph told his brothers when the evil of what they had done to him had become known and their father was dead, and the brothers had come to Joseph to beg him not to “get” them:  “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant if for good…,” Genesis 50:20.  These verses don’t mean that God approved or accepted what they did, but simply that they didn’t catch Him off-guard or cause Him to have to go to some imagined “Plan B.”

If I can use a hackneyed phrase:  God “sees the big picture” – which He Himself is painting.  We see only an occasional brush-stroke.  Even our growth in the faith is subject to the will of God, v. 3:  this we will do, if God permit.  But this does not release us from the obligation to be diligent, v. 11, in the things of God.  The writer has much more to say about all this as he goes along.

An Example, vs. 7, 8.

Even in farming, fertile and productive land receives blessing from God, but if it bears thorns, it is rejected…, v. 7.  To “bear” the thorns of unbelief and rejection of Christ means that we, in turn, would be rejected.

There is so much to the Christian life.  This is what the writer to the Hebrews wanted his readers to realize.  I think he would want that for us, too.