Acts 14: 13-15a, We’re Just Men

13] Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes.

14] But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out 15] and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things?  We also are men with the same nature as you,”

This is the response of Barnabas and Paul to the  efforts of the astonished townspeople and leaders of Lycaonia to sacrifice to them as a result of the miraculous healing of the man born crippled and unable to walk, as the previous verses record for us.  Barnabas and Paul were greatly distressed at this misguided attempt to worship and honor them, and did all they could to dissuade the people from this, even tearing their clothes and crying out.  They were barely able to stop the people, v. 18.  We’ll have more to say about these verses, Lord willing, but for now want to focus on their assertion that they were just men with like nature as the Lycaonians.  They were no different from them, not superior to them, not “gods”.

I think sometimes that it’s easy for us to forget this.  Men, and women, are just that – men and women.  And it doesn’t matter whether they are in the US or Africa or Asia or Europe or some island in the sea – they, and we, are just human, “just men”.  Men and women have been able to do astonishing things, amazing things, things which might seem to belie the fact that they, and we, are “just men”.  But they’re still “just men,” just human.

Paul had to deal with this problem, as well.  Writing to the Corinthian believers, he said, For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you.  Now I say this, that each one of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you”  Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?  1 Corinthians 1:12, 13.  It’s easy to set men on a pedestal.  Those whose ministry has been blessed to us – it’s easy to hold them in high esteem.  And Paul even tells us to do that:  Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine, 1 Timothy 6:1.

The problem with these what seem to be contrary ideas is that while there is to be a certain respect paid to those who lead us in the Lord, at the same time we must remember that it is the Lord who has called these men and equipped them for their ministry.  We may “plant,” and we may “water,” and indeed, we must do these things, but unless the Lord “gives the increase,” there will be no growing, no flowering and no harvest, 1 Corinthians 3:6.  The reason the church, and thus the culture, is in such a mess is that we’ve forgotten that basic truth and have tried to bring about the harvest – that is, to “get results” – on our own.

There has only been one time that “the gods,” and I hate even to put it like that, “have come down to us in the likeness of men,” one time when the true God came down to this earth.  It was the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men, Philippians 2:6, 7.  Believers are so used to that idea that we really don’t stop to think about what that means.  “Oh, yes,” we say, “Jesus was God incarnate, God in the flesh,” but do we really stop to consider that the One who walked the dusty roads of Israel was the some One who created and sustains the planet on which those roads were located.  Paul mentioned this.  He wanted these Lycaonians to turn from the useless false gods they worshiped to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, Acts 14:15.

We’ll have more to say about this, Lord willing, in our next post.

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Revelation 8:12-9:21: “Woe, Woe, Woe.”

13] And I looked, and I heard an angel flying though the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!”

9:1] Then the fifth angel sounded:  And I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth.  To him was given the key to the bottomless pit.  2] And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace.  So the sun and the air were darkened because of the smoke of the pit.  3] Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth.  And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. 4] They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green things, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.  5] And they were not given authority to kill them, but to torment them for five months.  Their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man.  6] In those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them.

7] The shapes of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle.  On their heads were crown of something like gold, and their faces were like lions’ teeth.  9] And they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots with many horses running into battle.  10] They had tails like scorpions, and there were stings in their tails.  Their power was to hurt men five months.  11]  And they had as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, but in Greek he has the name Apollyon.

12] One woe is past.  Behold, still two more woes are coming after these things.

13] Then the sixth angel sounded:  And I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, 14] saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.”  15] So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind.  16] Now the number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them.  17]  And thus I saw the horses in the vision: those who sat on them had breastplates of fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow; and the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone.  18] By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed – by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which came out of their mouths.  19] For their power is in their mouth and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents, having heads; and with them they do harm.

20] But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk.  21]  And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.  (NKJV)

Chapter 8 gives us the sounding of the first four trumpets, which themselves are part of the judgment of the seventh seal, 8:1, 2.  These trumpets herald what might be called “natural” catastrophes, as they deal with physical things happening to the earth and in some way we can’t understand, things also happen to heavenly bodies: sun, moon and stars.

8:13 introduces a new perspective, things which aren’t “natural” at all, at least as we understand it, but which come from the spirit world.  Science tells us there is no such thing; everything is natural and material, “spirit” doesn’t exist.  Now it’s true that the angel doesn’t specifically say “spirit world,” only that there are some things coming which will bring “woe” to humanity.  Chapter 9 gives us the first two “woes”.

1. Fifth Trumpet:  Locusts from the bottomless pit, 9:1-12.

The chapter starts out with a “star” having fallen from heaven to earth.  Unlike the “star” mentioned in 8:10, this one is an angelic being, whose only activity in the book seems to be the opening of “the bottomless pit.”  This pit is also mentioned in Revelation 20:1, 3 as the place where Satan will be imprisoned for the 1000-year reign of Christ and the saints.  We’ll have more to say about it when we get to that chapter.  One thing:  how can it be “bottomless”?  May I suggest that it doesn’t go straight down, like a well, but follows the curvature of the earth.  In this way, it could truly be “bottomless.”

Once opened, this pit emits a huge billow of smoke, and out of the smoke, a horde of what John calls, “locusts,” though they’re unlike any locusts this earth will have seen before.  John specifically says that these locusts were commanded not to harm the grass, or any green thing, or any tree, but only certain men, Revelation 8:4.  This is in stark contrast to the locust plague described in Exodus 10:15, which decimated the land of Egypt:  For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they did eat every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left:  and there remained not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt. Perhaps Joel refers to them in Joel 2:1-11, where their destruction is described like this:  The land is like the Garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness, v. 3b.

Further, their ability to harm men will be limited to torment like the torment of a scorpion, and that only for five months, vs. 5, 10.  This torment will be so severe that those afflicted will want to die, but will not be able to, vs. 5, 6.  John describes them as fearsome creatures, with stings in their tails like scorpions, and with an angelic leader with a Greek name of Apollyon and a Hebrew name of Abaddon.  Both names mean “destruction.”

2. Sixth Trumpet:  The Angels from the Euphrates, 9:13-21.

This trumpet heralds the release of four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, to kill a third of mankind.  Note, these angels were prepared for this specific time and activity.  As difficult as it might be for us to accept the idea, all the things Revelation describes don’t catch God by surprise, but are part of the outworking of His eternal purpose.  He will demonstrate once and for all that sin brings His judgment.  And apparently these angels will be accompanied by an “army” of fearsome horsemen numbering 200 million.

The interesting thing is that the rest of mankind, those who are left, refuse to repent of their attitudes, but willfully continue in their wickedness and rebellion, vs. 20, 21.  According to John, the root of all this is the fact that they are idolaters and, in fact, are worshiping demons.

Daniel 5:23 has something to say about this as well.  Confronting Belshazzar after the appearance of a hand writing on the wall stopped a drunken orgy in its tracks, Daniel said to this wicked king, “And you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven.  They have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine from them.  And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified.”

Daniel told Belshazzar that his actions were a great insult to the very God who held his life and all its activities in His hand.  The word “owns” doesn’t mean that God approved of these things, but rather that the breath which enabled Belshazzar to do them came from the God he was insulting.  That’s true of every single person alive today, regardless of what they do or why.  The breath that gives them the life to do things comes from God – every single breath.

Not every idol men worship is stone or wood.  Whatever keeps them from worshiping and serving God is an idol.  Position, possessions, family, things in general: if these get in the way between us and God, they are idols.  Our Lord put it like this:  “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’  He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of me.  And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.  He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for Me sake will find it,” Matthew 10:34-39.  We can’t serve God and something else at the same time.

There are some today who believe that all that is needed to convince men and women to turn to Christ is enough “evidence.”  This is not to say that there isn’t “evidence;” the Lord Jesus and the early church didn’t happen in a vacuum, but may I suggest that the sixth trumpet demonstrates this idea to be untrue. These men see the hand of God against their wickedness, but refuse to let go of it.

For that matter, who had more “evidence” than those who saw the Lord Jesus and witnessed what He did and what He said?  True, many did follow Him as long as He fed them, but when He began to impress spiritual truth on them, most deserted Him, John 6.  Even the leaders of the nation, who should have been first to receive Him, for the most part rejected Him and demanded His crucifixion, because He didn’t fit their ideas of the Messiah.  More is needed than mere “evidence.”  Our Lord is not on trial.  We are.  Actually, the verdict is already in and, apart from saving faith in the Lord Jesus, just like these men we all stand condemned in His sight.

More Than An “April Fool.”

April 1, at least in the US, is known as “April Fool’s Day.”  It’s a day when people like to play jokes on other people, to “prank” them, though anymore that doesn’t seem to be limited to one day of the year.  In Luke 12:13-21, our Lord told of a man who was more than an “April fool.”

This incident in the Lord’s life happened because someone asked Him to arbitrate a dispute over an inheritance.  Jesus replied that He wasn’t here for such things, that there was more to life than a lot of “things” and the desire for more of them was to be avoided.  In v. 23, He said, “Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.”  This echoes something He said in Matthew 6:25, “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”   I don’t think He meant that we should ignore physical needs; He was just telling those who were listening to Him, and us, that they’re not to be all we focus on.

And Paul, warning Timothy against the love of “things,” wrote, having food and raiment, let us therewith be content (KJV).

In Matthew 6, which contains similar teaching, Jesus continued, “…seek first the kingdom of God AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS…,” emphasis added because we tend to forget that part of what He said.  The best we can do can never be anywhere near good enough.  We must have “His righteousness” if we are to stand before God uncondemned.  

Then Jesus told a story to illustrate what He meant.  “There was a man….”  Perhaps not a real man, in that the Lord had a specific individual in mind, but certainly a representative man, because there were a lot like him around.  Still are.  Always have been.

He was a very successful man.  The story centers around what he did about it.  Liberals see only a condemnation of covetousness.  Is that all?

The Lord wasn’t scolding this man for planning or for possessing, but for planning too far ahead.  For not planning enough.  For being possessed by his “things.”

The man was a “fool” because –

1.  He considered the body, but forgot the spirit.

He was getting ready to take it easy; to enjoy his “golden years.”  He did have a little knowledge that there is more to us that just an animate body.  He referred to his “soul.”  Without getting further into the discussion about whether man is two-part or three-part, let me just say this.  The body enables us to live in this particular world, breathe its air, walk its surface.  Our soul is what makes us conscious of this world, the things which are around us, the warmth of the Sun, the coolness of water splashed on our face.  Our spirit is that which makes us understand that there is more to existence than just this world.  It’s that which makes us ask with the old song by Peggy Lee, “Is That All?” and know that it isn’t.  To know that we’re not the highest being in existence, even if we don’t or won’t admit it.

2.  He considered time, but forgot eternity.

He was looking forward to “many years,” but God said, “Tonight.”  The only breath we’re guaranteed is the one we have right now.

3.  He considered “goods,” but forgot God.

He apparently already had plenty.  The text speaks of “barns” – plural.  But that wasn’t enough; he was going for bigger and better.  He farmed, but apparently never thought about where the rain and sun that nourished his crops came from, to say nothing of the ground in which they were planted and the strength he had to take care of it all.

4.  He considered riches, but forgot righteousness.

The Bible does not condemn wealth.  In fact, in the OT, it was often a sign of God’s blessing.  That’s what puzzled the disciples when the Lord told them how difficult it was for  a rich man to enter heaven.

This man wasn’t condemned because he was rich.  He was condemned because he never considered his standing before God.  I don’t want to read more into the story than what’s there, but surely that’s at least implied by God’s statement to him that his soul would be required of him.  There would be an accounting of his life.

Hebrews 9:27 says, it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment….  So then, death isn’t “the end.”  It’s just a transition into a different plane of existence.  Science fiction, and some religion, talks about “ascending to a ‘higher plane’,” whatever that is, but Scripture talks about leaving this temporal life, this life confined to a body, and entering one beyond this body, one in which righteousness, justice and truth are paramount.  One in which God will be the ultimate “reality,” and our relationship to Him is determined by our relationship to the Lord Jesus.

Easter is this coming Sunday.  In the frenzy of sunrise services, easter egg hunts, and new clothes, it’s reality will largely be forgotten.  That reality is that the Lord Jesus Christ came into this world to redeem sinners.  He lived the life we could never live – a perfect, holy life, and died the death we could never die – a death that paid for sin.  We could never pay for even one sin, let alone the uncountable number of sins we’ve committed.  He rose from that death, proof that He had conquered it.  He told His disciples to proclaim to the world that eternal life was to be had through faith in Him.

Only through faith in Him.

In short, this man in the story forgot everything that really matters, that is really important to our being.  He lived for the moment, but forgot that moment when he would leave this life and face God.

He was more than an “April Fool.”

 

 

 

 

“No Longer A Canaanite in the House of the Lord.”

Our last post finished with our title statement from Zechariah 14:21.

Why this strange statement, seemingly out of harmony with the rest of the chapter?

The Canaanites were the original occupants of the land.  Israel displaced them.

There’s a lot of angst over “the poor Canaanites.”  However, Moses and Joshua didn’t just arbitrarily decide to invade Canaan on the spur of the moment.  Almost from the beginning of Biblical history, the land of Canaan has been singled out for special attention, long before there was an Israel.

In Genesis 9:18 and 10:6, Canaan is listed as the son of Ham, one of Noah’s children.  Ham is brought to our attention in Genesis 9:20-27 as a result of some indiscretion against Noah.  We’re not told what that indiscretion was, only that it happened.  Nor are we told why Noah “cursed” Canaan instead of Ham.

Genesis 10:6 lists the children of Canaan and the territory in which they settled.  This is the only “nation” so described.

Genesis 15 is the famous chapter in which God promises Abraham a son and foretells something of the future of his descendants.  Our post, “Look Now Toward Heaven,” gives more detail about this event.  For now, we’re interested in the last part of v. 16, where, after telling Abraham of the sojourn in Egypt and that Israel will come out with great riches, God tells him that this will happen in the “fourth generation…, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” 

“The iniquity of the Amorites,” who stand as representatives of the Canaanites.

The Canaanites were not an innocent and childlike people.  Archaeology has confirmed that.  Scripture describes some of their depravity.  Leviticus 18 gives a long list of the degenerate acts committed by the Canaanites which were not to be committed by Israel.  God warns Israel in v. 18, “Do not defile yourselves with any of these things, for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you.  For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity on it.”   In v. 29, He warns of punishment for anyone who engages in these acts.  Israel paid very little attention to this, and did indeed suffer much as the nations before them had suffered.

In addition to this, the Canaanites were idolaters, to the extent of burning their own children as sacrifices to their false gods.  They engaged in witchcraft and spiritism.  Israel really was no better fundamentally than these other nations and her dissolution by Nebuchadnezzar was because of all these very sins, cf. 2 Kings 21:1-16. But nobody worries about “the poor Israelites.”  See also Exodus 34:11-16 and Deuteronomy 12:29-32.

The Canaanites were to be destroyed as a punishment for their sins.  Many find this difficult to accept.  We’ve so diluted the idea of “the love of God,” that we have totally dismissed the idea of His holiness and justice.  It is true that the Christian has no such command or right.  But the Canaanites were also to be destroyed as a protection for Israel and to prevent her from being tempted to follow their degenerate ways.  The Old Testament bears sad testimony to how badly Israel failed at this.

The only reason Israel and the Jewish people have not completely disappeared from the pages of history like so many other nations and peoples is because God isn’t finished with her.  Our last post dealt with that.  Israel’s continued existence is inexplicable apart from that thought.

So then, how did Canaanites get into the house of the Lord?

Joshua 9 gives us the story.  Realizing they were doomed, the Gibeonites sent men who pretended to be from a country a long way away and who wanted to make a treaty with Israel.  Taking the men’s statements at face value and not consulting the LORD, cf. Numbers 27:21, Joshua made a treaty with them.  It wasn’t until three days later that Israel discovered she had been fooled.  There were those who wanted to destroy the Gibeonites, anyway.  Joshua prevented this from happening, saying that the treaty must be honored, even though falsely obtained.  King Saul got Israel into trouble many years later for violating this same treaty, 2 Samuel 21:1.

Let this be a lesson to us.  We often get into trouble because we “take things at face value,” and don’t “inquire of the LORD” about what to do in a specific situation.

As a result of their deception, the Gibeonites were sentenced to a lifetime of serving the Tabernacle.  They would be woodcutters and water carriers for the house of…God, Joshua 9:23, 27.

They got into the house of God, even unintentionally because they were idolaters, by deception.  That’s not how we’re to enter God’s presence.

Our Lord addresses a somewhat similar situation in Matthew 7:22, “Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” 

These are solemn words.  We live in a time when there are professing Christians who are all about the casting out of demons and the performing of signs and miracles.  This isn’t to say that they’re not sincere in what they believe and do.  The men in Matthew 7 were sincere, and were no doubt dumbfounded when the Lord rejected their works as “lawlessness.”

The Lord also predicted a time when “every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted,”  Matthew 15:13.  In a time of “tolerance,” this isn’t a message that people want to hear.  But it’s important.  Eternity is just around the corner for all of us, young or old, and what seems so great in this life might turn out to be not so great in the light of “forever.”

The message for us is that not everything in “church” is of God.  Where there are sons of the kingdom, there are also sons of the wicked one, Matthew 13:37-39.  Even the Lord had His “Judas.”  Paul went so far as to say, in effect, that if you want to find the Devil, look for him behind the pulpit, 2 Corinthians 11:14, 15.  After all, what is more important than what one believes about eternity?  The Devil doesn’t care how “right” or how “orthodox” we are about anything else if he can get us to be wrong about eternity.

According to Matthew, four separate times our Lord predicted that there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth,”  Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30.  “Weeping” because people have done what their preacher or priest or rabbi or imam or guru or whoever has told them to do, but they’ll find out when it’s too late that it’s not what God told them to do.

Everything we read or hear, including this blog, is to be measured according to the rule of Scripture, cf. Acts 17:11.  It doesn’t matter if everybody in the entire world says, “A”, if God’s Word says, “B”.  There is no greater responsibility than our hearing or ministering the Word of God.

Oh!  to be students of the Word.  To find it of more importance than anything else in the world.  Way back in the early days of history, Job said, “I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food,” Job 23:12(ESV).  When we step on the scale, more than likely we see that we’ve had plenty of food.  If we could weigh them, I wonder if our souls would say the same thing?