Hebrews 12:12-24, Continue….

[12]Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, [13]and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated,but rather healed.
[14]Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord:  [15]looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; [16]lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright.  [17]For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.
[18]For you  have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, [19]and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore.  [20](For they could not endure what was commanded:  “and if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot through with an arrow.”  [21]And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceeding afraid and trembling.”
[22]But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, [23]to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, [24]to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. 

Scripture tells us that every true believer experiences trouble of one kind or another.  It’s God’s way of weaning us away from the world and bringing us to Himself.  As someone has said, whether or not trouble is a blessing to us depends on where it is in relation to us and God.  If it comes between us and God, then it’s not a blessing, because it acts as a wedge, driving us away from God, but if God is between it and us, then it brings us closer to God.

I think it’s this latter idea that the writer has in mind in our text for this post.  We’re to strengthen that which is weak and straighten out what is crooked.  We’re to look at trouble as something designed to bring us closer to God.  In our vernacular, I think the writer might be saying, “Take a deep breath.”

The trouble with trouble is that it tends to make us contentious.  To counteract this tendency, the writer says to pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.  Trouble tends to make us self-centered, forgetting not only those around us, but He who is above us.  We’re to “look carefully,” or be diligent, in this matter, because becoming absorbed by our troubles tends to make us bitter, and this leads to nothing good.

Bitterness acts as a poison, corrupting not only ourselves, but our interactions with others.  It doesn’t just affect us; it affects others – and not in a good way.

Self-absorption also opens the door to sin to enter.  The writer mentions Esau as a classic example of this.  The incident he refers to is in Genesis 25:29-34.  As the firstborn son, his was a double portion of inheritance, as well as a priority in blessing.  When the father died, the firstborn became the leader of the family.  Esau threw all that away because he was hungry.  His brother Jacob was at fault here, to be sure, but the responsibility was Esau’s.  He was supposed to be the leader.  Esau might have had other faults, as well, since the writer describes him as a fornicator and profane.  This latter word doesn’t mean that he swore or used bad language, though that may be included.  It simply means “common,” as opposed to “sacred.”  Esau had no thought for the things of God.  In the words of Philippians 3:19, his belly was his god.  He set his mind on earthly things.  And, because of this, he lost heavenly things.  He sold his birthright, Hebrews 12:16.

Earlier, the writer had mentioned that there is an “afterward” for the believer, v. 11.  But there is an “afterward” for the unbeliever, as well.  In v. 17, he says, For you know that afterward, when he [Esau] wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears, emphasis added.  This incident occurs in Genesis 27:30-40.  And this “place of repentance” wasn’t in himself; it was in his father.

Isaac’s family was a mess.  Several chapters in Genesis tells us this, but when the dust was settled in this event, Isaac realized that it was Jacob who was to receive the blessing, not Esau, though Esau was his favorite, and Isaac had intended to give him the blessing.  That Jacob deceived his father in this matter in no way cancels out the fact that God had said, “The older [Esau] shall serve the younger [Jacob],” Genesis 25:23.  (There was an “afterward” for Rebekah as well.  After Jacob’s deception came to light, she sent him away, hoping that he wouldn’t have to be gone too long, Genesis 27:41-45.  She never saw her favorite son again.)

Notice here also that the writer says of the blessing that Esau sought it diligently, v. 17.  It didn’t matter.  It was too late!  His father confirmed this.  After Esau had begged him for the blessing, Isaac said, “I have blessed him [Jacob] – and indeed he shall be blessed,” Genesis 27:33.  The time for Esau to have been diligent, to “look carefully” [v.15], would have been when he was hungry!  I wonder how many blessings we lose because we’re careful too late.  We get “hungry” for the wrong things!

The rest of our text, vs. 18-24, might seem strange.  What do they have to do with how we’re to handle trouble?  I think the answer lies in the main difference between the two covenants alluded to.  Vs. 18-21 describe the scene at the giving of the Law, or the Mosaic Covenant.  This was when Israel officially became a nation.  The things given to her on Sinai were her constitution and bylaws.  Vs. 22-24 have to do with the New Covenant, which the writer has already mentioned in 8:7-13.

There’s probably a lot we could say about these two covenants, but we’ll try to restrict ourselves to only one.  The Mosaic Law had no provision to help the OT Jew fulfill his obligations.  In Deuteronomy 29:2-4, Moses referred to this.  He said to the crowd gathered before him, “You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land- , the great trials which your eyes have seen, the signs and those great wonders.  Yet the Lord has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day (emphasis added.)  This explains why Israel was so slow to obey and so quick to rebel.  The Law has no provision to help the sinner obey its commands and can do nothing about the sinner’s condition.  Israel was on her own.  It was up to her to make herself righteous.  That’s why Israel failed so miserably.  That’s why those today who believe they can keep the Law fail so miserably.  They’re on their own.

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

The New Covenant, on the other hand, is all about remedying the plight of the sinner.  In chapter 8:7-12, the writer quoted an extensive portion from Jeremiah 31:31-34 describing the provisions and benefits of the New Covenant:

Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah – not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD.  For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD:  I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be My people.  None of them shall teach his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.  For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

Under the Mosaic Covenant, Israel was on her own.  Under the New Covenant, Israel will have divine assistance.  And be sure that it is Israel the nation that is in view here, not some “spiritual” Israel, not some convoluted idea that “the church” is really what is meant here.  Under the Mosaic Covenant, God gave no assistance to Israel.  Under the New Covenant, God will put His laws into their hearts and minds.  Every single Jew alive at that time will know God, regardless of their state in life.  This will be the fulfillment of Romans 11:26, So then, all Israel will be saved, a verse where Paul quotes Isaiah 59:20, 21.

But, if all this refers to Israel, then what good does it do us?  God never made any promises to Gentiles in the OT, only about them when He promised Abraham that in him all families of the earth shall be blessed, Genesis 12:3.  I don’t know that the OT, being concerned mainly with Israel, particularly tells us how this will be accomplished.  It’s not until the NT that we find that out.  It is in the NT that the Lord Jesus introduces a new player, as it were, into this thing we call salvation.  In Matthew 16:18, He said, I will build My church, or “My assembly,” emphasis added.  This was to distinguish what He was going to do from every other “assembly” in the world.  The word translated “assembly,” – ekklesia – means a group of people.  It was used to refer to any group or gathering, whether sacred or secular.  In the NT, it’s usually translated, “church,” though it’s used in Acts 19:40 of the riotous crowd which gathered because of the preaching of the gospel in Ephesus, that disorderly gathering which was offended at it.

The Lord’s assembly was to be unique.  It wasn’t like any other “assembly” or gathering or group of people in the world.  It wasn’t just to be a continuation of the nation of Israel or her replacement.

It was, is, His.  He builds it and He rules it.  He will come for it.  It is through Him that Gentiles – us – are able to receive the blessings of salvation.

Some people believe that it’s through the church itself that salvation is received.  Not so.  Not so.  There is no salvation in any church or denomination, but especially not in those who claim that it is.

At the same time, the church – a group of people, not a building – is important.  It’s through her that the gospel is to be preached.  It’s through her that missionaries are to be sent around the world.  It’s through her that the corruption of this world is to be hindered and countered.  Not through politics, not through legislation, not through any of the things men have foisted on her over the years, but through the preaching of the Gospel, and Christians living as if they believed what they say they believe.  Not through the latest social contortions, but through the Scripture.

The strength of the church – the strength of the individual believer – doesn’t come from personalities or programs or promotions.  These should have no place in the church.  It’s a shame that they do.  It’s the reason the church has no power in this increasingly wicked and corrupt world.  Indeed, things have gotten so bad that her voice, that is, the voice of those who say they belong to her, sometimes is heard in favor of that wickedness and corruption.

The strength and success of the church, the true church, the church our Lord started, not this thing called “the church” in our day, comes from her Founder and Head, the Lord Jesus Christ.

It’s a telling thing in the Book of Revelation that the Lord describes Himself as standing at the door, wanting admission to His church, Revelation 3:20.  It’s true that this verse is usually thought of as the Lord patiently waiting at the door of the sinner’s heart, waiting for that sinner to open the door and let Him in.  However, Revelation 3:20 has nothing to do with sinners and salvation.  In v. 22, He says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches, emphasis added.  Incredible though it may seem, the Lord has effectively been shut out of that place where He should be honored and obeyed.  That’s why the world’s in the mess it’s in – the church is in the mess she’s in.

Things won’t get better until the Lord Jesus is given His proper place, the place of preeminence and honor, and that probably won’t happen until He comes back and physically takes it.  And Christians are only able to “continue” as they follow the counsel of the writer in v. 2:

Consider Him.

 

 

Advertisements

Hebrews 11:20-22, Men Come and Go. God Remains.

[20]By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.
[21]By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.
[22]By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones.
(NKJV)

1. Isaac, 11:20.

Genesis devotes about 10 chapters to Isaac; the writer to Hebrews gives him 11 words, and these are about his sons, Jacob and Esau.  Genesis 27:26-40 gives us the actual account.  The writer of Hebrews passes over the favoritism of Jacob for his son Esau and the deceit fostered by Rebekah for her favorite son Jacob (cf. Genesis 25:27, 28) because when the truth came out, Isaac probably remembered what had been said of these sons even before their birth.  Rebekah evidently had a hard pregnancy, and so she went to the LORD, who told her, “Two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body; one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger,” Genesis 25:23, emphasis added.  Isaac had been ruled by fleshly desire and natural inclination, but God overruled everything and brought about His own desire and will.  Notice, also, that God doesn’t just refer to these two boys, but the “nations” which will come from them.  We talked about this in our post on “An Eye for an Eye,” how that there’s a whole world wrapped up in a “baby bump,” though we never think of it that way.  And this is true, whether you look back or ahead.  God says to take care of it.

2. Jacob, 11:21.

The story is found in Genesis 48.  Hebrews leaves out all the travail of his life recorded in Genesis and just gives us the last thing that Jacob did: the blessing of his grandchildren.  The blessing was that these two young teenagers would grow “into a multitude in the midst of the earth,” v. 16.

3. Joseph, 11:22.

Each of these three men were at the end of their lives.  Jacob and Joseph were dying and Isaac knew that his time was rapidly coming to a close.  Yet the record doesn’t show them focusing on this, but rather on the future.  The nation had fairly recently moved to Egypt, but Joseph thinks of their departure.  Remember, it would be 85 years until the birth of Moses and 165 years until the Exodus.  Still, Joseph wasn’t looking at the frailty of human nature, but at the faithfulness of God.  He said, “I am dying; but God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land to the land of which He swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” Genesis 50:24.

Too often, we look to some mere human being.  And God made us that way.  He made us as social beings; very few of us are content to be by ourselves all the time.  But whatever relationships we form tend to come and go, especially as we get older ourselves.  Only God is “forever.”  His word is forever, and His promises.  And, in His faithfulness, those promises are as good as done, even though far in the future, as with Joseph.

Indeed, His word says that His people have already been “glorified,” Romans 8:30, though the mirror tells us otherwise.  My mind has a hard time sometimes believing that I’m as old as I am, but my body says, “You’d better believe it!”  Not glorified, yet, but it’s as certain as that the Sun rose this morning and is shining brightly on the covering of snow on the ground.

God has promised it.

Hebrews 11:8-12, 17-19, “The Faith of Abraham”

[8]By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would after receive as an inheritance.  And he went out, not knowing where he was going.  [9]By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; [10]for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
[11]By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who has promised.  [12]Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude – innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.
[17]By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, [18]of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” [19]concluding that God was able to raise him us, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.  (NKJV)

(We believe that vs. 13-16 refers to people other than Abraham, though he may be included.  We’ll look at them in our next post.)

Abraham is one of the most-often-mentioned people in the Bible.  Indeed, his life forms the basis for a great deal of Biblical revelation and teaching, if not the majority of it.  Except for the Lord Jesus, perhaps no other person had more influence on the content of Scripture than Abraham.
In addition to Hebrews 11, there is Romans 4:16, which also mentions the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.  The term “father” isn’t used in the sense of “generation,” but of “relationship”.  Though the Bible doesn’t clearly support the term “spiritual Israel” to describe “the church,” it does clearly teach, to coin a phrase, that we are “spiritual Isaac,” Galatians 4:28.  That is, believers aren’t the children of Abraham “naturally,” but “spiritually.”
As the child bears a certain resemblance to the parent, so does “spiritual Isaac” resemble Abraham, particularly in the matter of his “faith.”  That we might not fall into the delusion that “faith” is mere intellectual acceptance of certain facts or doctrines, or that it is simply some sort of magic formula by which we may obtain our fondest desires, let’s look at what our text says about “the faith of Abraham”.

1. His faith did the impractical, vs. 8-10.

He left his native land (and family), v. 8.
His story begins in Genesis 12.  Ur was no insignificant little town, but a major metropolis of its day.  In v. 8, the thing that gets me about this move was that he didn’t know where he was going.

Have you ever thought about this?

Abraham comes home one day and says to Sarah,”Start packing.  We’re going to move!”  And Sarah replies, “Oh?  Where?”  And Abraham says to her, “I don’t know.”  And then, when the moving camels begin to appear around their home, the neighbors ask, “Where you going?”  And they reply, “We don’t know.”

There’s something else.

He lived inas in a foreign country“, v. 9.
Though it was his by promise, he never owned any of it, except for a parcel of land where he buried Sarah and some of his descendants buried their dead, Genesis 49:29-33; 50:12, 13.
In the words of the old Gospel song, “This world is not my home,” though I think we tend to forget that.  One day, that house we spend so much time fixing up, or that car that we think so much of – all gone!  Or if they’re not, we will be.

2. His faith believed the impossible, vs. 11, 12, 19.

The story of this is found in Genesis 17 and 18.  Abraham and Sarah had been married long enough for it to become evident that she was barren.  God promised Abraham a son, Genesis 17:1-8.  In all fairness to Sarah, considering what happened with Hagar before the birth of that son, God didn’t specifically say that Abraham would have a son through Sarah. Since she was his wife, though, that might be taken for granted.  He did specifically mention her after the birth of Ishmael, Genesis 18:10, more than thirteen years later.
What Sarah did was a common practice of the day.  Indeed, later on, four of Jacob’s twelve sons were born to women in situations similar to Hagar, Genesis 29, 30.
I guess this serves a lesson to be careful about how we approach the promises of God.  Perhaps it serves to remind us that, when we can’t figure out how God is going to do something, or if it seems that He’s not doing anything, we better not try to figure out how we are going to do it.  After all, the current uproar in the Middle East is a direct result of what they did all those centuries ago.  Something common, acceptable and legal.
It’s true that Hebrews doesn’t mention all this.  God doesn’t deny the faults and failings of His people, but He doesn’t dwell on them like the world does, and He doesn’t define them by their shortcomings.  Perhaps there’s a lesson for us in this, as well.  We’re not defined by the mess we tend to make of things, but by the grace and mercy of God.  There are no “self-made” Christians.

3. His faith did the inexplicable, vs. 17, 18.

The world has a huge amount of difficulty with this episode, recorded in Genesis 22:1-19.  I even heard a character on TV ask, “What kind of a father does that to his son?””

The answer: the kind of father that Abraham was.

You see, Genesis isn’t all that’s said about this.  Hebrews 11 gives us a look “behind the scenes,” if you will, into the mind of Abraham, though Genesis does give us a glimpse there.  When Abraham was giving instructions to the two men who accompanied him and his son, as they were being left behind while Abraham and Isaac continued on, Abraham said, “The lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back,” Genesis 22:5.  Actually, it loses a lot in translation.  The sentence shows strong determination.   What Abraham really said was, “We are determined to go, we are determined to worship, we are determined to return.”

And notice that Abraham rose early in the morning  to be obedient to God.  There was no half-hearted or reluctant response, though God hadn’t made it “easy” for him:  “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…,” Genesis 22:2.
1. He didn’t argue that this was inconsistent with or nullified the promise of a lot of descendants.
2. He believed God could do something that no one had ever yet seen – resurrect a dead body, Hebrews 11:19.  That’s how he was able to say, “We will return….”
3. Though Isaac wasn’t actually killed, he was sacrificed!

There are some misconceptions about the part Isaac played in all this.  Just yesterday, I saw a picture where he’s shown as 10 or 12 or so, with Abraham’s arm around him.  It’s a common view, if not the usual one.

For the last part of the journey, Isaac himself carried the wood, Genesis 22:6.  This wasn’t just a couple of sticks.  And when it came time for Abraham to prepare him for the sacrifice, based on the fact he was able to carry a heavy load up a mountain, Isaac would have been well able to defend himself and prevent it.  He was a willing participant.  This shows a great respect for and trust in his father.  Perhaps also for the God of his father, Genesis 22:8.  What do you suppose passed between father and son when God did indeed provide for Himself the lamb?  Do you think they had any trouble “worshiping”?  Needed any special “music”?  Do you think Isaac ever forgot those moments?

Somehow, we’ve gotten the idea that faith is “easy.”  And maybe “faith” as the world defines it is.  A few little religious formalities.  Or even a lot of them.  An ornate religious building.  Special days and seasons of the year.  But the “faith of Abraham” isn’t so easy.  Our Lord said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it,” Matthew 16:24, 25.

“Take up his cross.”  I think we misunderstand this, too.  Perhaps a long-suffering spouse with a less than ideal spouse might think this is a “cross” to bear.  Perhaps some situation in life – health problems, financial difficulties, or some other burden.  We’ve never seen a cross, at least as it was used in executions.  We’ve prettied it all up and made it respectable, but it was an ugly thing.  It wasn’t a “burden of life;” it was an instrument of death!

Picture a condemned man carrying a cross to his execution.  In the crowd watching him, he might see his wife and children.  He might pass some friends.  He might pass his place of business or where he had worked.  He might have made plans for the future.

None of this mattered.

He was carrying his cross.

At the same time, to “carry our cross” doesn’t mean that we simply abandon everything and go out into the desert somewhere.  It does mean that if there’s something preventing us from serving God as He would have us serve Him, we do have to abandon that.  We have to “deny ourselves.”

And, no, it’s not easy.

4. His faith received the immeasurable, v. 12; Romans 4:13.

Abraham gave up a great deal, and was willing to give up even more.  Did he lose?

Not in the least.

He was promised –

An innumerable family, Genesis 22:12.

God used two figures to show the number of Abraham’ posterity:
1. stars of the sky.  We’ve dealt with this in another post, so will just recap here.  Even as late as the 17th Century, men had only catalogued a little over a thousand stars.  It wasn’t until January 7, 1610, with the first telescope, that Galileo began the discovery that the stars are indeed innumerable.
I can imagine what the “science” of Abraham’s day might have said – and yes, I know I’m reading into the text here – “That’s not possible!  That’s not scientific!”  So God uses another figure.
2. sand which by the seashore.  Of course, I suppose that science and rationalism, in whatever form they might have taken back then, would exclaim, “Aha!  There are contradictions in the Bible!” – just like they do today.  “There are only a few stars!  Nothing at all like the sand of the sea!”  But now we know that God was right.  And the skeptics were wrong.

He still is.  And they still are.

An inconceivable future, Romans 4:13.

Paul wrote that Abraham was promised that he would be heir of the world.  This isn’t the place to get into a lengthy discussion of the different views of prophecy.  I’ve done that in several other posts.
Let’s just leave it with 2 Peter 3:13, we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, [or, “is at home”].

I can’t wait!

March Memories: “The God of My Salvation.”

(another of our “March Memories.”)

Habakkuk 3:17, 18 (NKJV).

A lot of people have the idea that the Old Testament is all stern and forbidding, but it’s interesting that three of the greatest confessions of faith are found there. It’s true that there is a lot that is strange and even contradictory to our way of thinking, but there are also rays of light which are scarcely matched in the New Testament.

One of these confessions of faith is found in Job 13:15, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”   Another one is found in the actions of Abraham as he went to “sacrifice” his son:  “The lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you,” Genesis 22:5 (emphasis added).  We did a post on this.  The third confession is found in the text at the beginning of this post.

Please remember that not a single one of these confessions was made when the Sun was shining and all was well with the one making the confession.  It’s easy to praise God then.  But Job was  sitting in the shambles of what’s left of his life – children, possessions and health all gone.  All he had left was a wife with no sympathy for his outlook and integrity.  Abraham had to weigh what he was being told to do against the promise of God concerning that very son.  Habakkuk was looking at the coming destruction and dissolution of his beloved nation.  I wonder how many of us could echo their sentiments in similar circumstances.

I was reading and thinking about the verses in Habakkuk one morning, and they almost arranged themselves into verse form.  Here they are –

Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vine.
Though the harvest of the olive fail,
And food be hard to find.
Though the flock may come to nothing,
And no oxen in the stall –
Yet I’ll rejoice in Yahweh:
My joy, my God, my All.

May God bless these thoughts as He has to me.

(Originally published March 5, 2013.)

Glimpses in Genesis: The Call of Abraham, Genesis 11:31-12:20.

It’s been a while since we visited Glimpses in Genesis.  Other subjects keep popping up, even in Genesis!  (Not a bad thing!  There’s always lots in the Bible treasury!)

Our study begins with Seth: one of the three sons of Noah.  From these three have come all the nations of the world.  These three, with Noah, had experienced the Flood and its aftermath.  They knew the God of heaven, at least in this way.  Scripture doesn’t give us any real indication of their spiritual condition.

As we’ve indicated elsewhere, we believe there was a general knowledge of God long before the giving of the Law at Sinai.  Even though man continually and repeatedly rebelled against his Creator, there are indications of this general knowledge and revelation throughout Genesis.  It is here we begin, with

The background of the call, Romans 1:18-32

We believe Paul starts with a description of early man and his rebellion against God.  Even though they knew Him, not just as some sort of “doctrine,” but in reality, they didn’t want to acknowledge Him, and they weren’t thankful for His continued patience with them.  But it isn’t just about them.  Note the change between vs. 28 and 29 (ESV):  They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness….  They are full of envy, murder, strife…(emphasis added).  This isn’t just about “them” – early man; it’s about “us” – man today.

In the space of a few verses, Paul wrote three times that God gave them up or over, vs.24, 26, 28.  This doesn’t mean He gave up; He gave them up.  It means He gave them what they wanted:  He let them go.  He turned them over to the desires of their fallen natures.

From this polluted river of mankind, God drew a slender rivulet, through which He will eventually purify the whole.

Abraham.

The beginning of the call, Genesis 12:1; Acts 7:2, 3.

Stephen gives us the additional detail that the God of glory appeared to Abraham before he left his native land.

There’s an interesting Jewish tradition about Abraham.  According to this tradition, Abraham’s father Terah had a shop that sold idols.  One day, Terah came into the shop after leaving his son in charge and found all the idols except the largest lying shattered in pieces on the floor.  Terah immediately wanted to know what happened.  Abraham replied, “Well, a worshiper came in with an offering for the gods and they began to fight over it.  This one” – pointing to the survivor – “won.”  “That’s ridiculous,” scoffed Terah.  “These idols can’t do anything!”  Abraham’s quiet response:  “Why then do we worship them?”

It’s unlikely that is what happened when the true God introduced Himself to Abraham.

In Genesis 11:27-32 (NKJV), the conclusion of Shem’s genealogy beginning in v. 10, indicates that Terah took his family, including Abraham and Sarai, as far as Haran, which was more or less on the northern border of Canaan.  We have no idea why, though there is conjecture.  Regardless, it wasn’t what God told Abraham to do.

God told Abraham to leave his family, his father’s house and his native country.  Taking Terah and Lot along wasn’t supposed to be part of it.  Terah caused a delay, perhaps of several years, till he died, and Abraham finally entered the land.  The delay was long enough for them to acquire “possessions,” and “people,” v. 5.  And Abraham allowed his nephew Lot to go with him, 12:3.  Perhaps he felt he couldn’t “abandon” his younger relative; perhaps he saw no harm in Lot’s tagging along.  Whatever the reason, these acts of partial obedience caused him trouble later on, and the inclusion of Lot plagued Israel centuries later.

The provisions of the call, Genesis 12:1-3.

1.  God would show him a land, v.1.  Cf. Hebrews 11:8, he went out, not knowing where he was going.

Have you ever thought about that?  Abraham comes home one day and says to his wife, “Sarai, start packing.  We’re moving.”

“Oh?  Where are we going?”

“I don’t know.”

He might not have known, but he knew that God knew, and that was enough.  Note also that there’s nothing said at this time about him ever owning the land.  God just said He would show it to him.

2.  God would make of him a great nation, v. 2.

By this time, Abraham and Sarah had been married long enough for it to become evident that Sarah was barren, Genesis 11:30.  This comes into play, both happily and unhappily, later on.

3.  God would make his name great, v. 2.

There was nothing special about Abraham to induce God to appear to him and give him all these promises.  As a Kentucky preacher friend used to say, “It’s all amazing grace.”  Abraham’s name is revered by three of the “world’s religions:” Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Only two of these have a legitimate claim.  The third rejects Abraham’s son Isaac in favor of Ishmael, whom God rejected.

4.  God would make him a blessing – to all the families of the earth, vs. 2, 3.

How God would do that isn’t fully revealed until the completion of the NT.  Abraham left his own family and his native country, but will gain an entirely new and much larger “family,” out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, Revelation 5:9.  Paul wrote that he would be heir of the world, Romans 4:13.  And Hebrews 11:10 says that he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.  Ur of the Chaldees, though a great city in its time, was built on a marsh.  Abraham was looking for something sure and stable.  This doesn’t mean, as some make it, that he wasn’t also expecting God to do something in this life.

Our Lord put it like this:  “…there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or sisters or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life,” Luke 18:29, 30 (emphasis added).

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean “abandon.”  Though Peter’s remark about “leaving all” in v. 28 brought about our Lord’s response, his house and his wife’s mother are mentioned in Luke 4:38, where, presumably, his wife also lived.  If it is objected that this was before Luke 18, Paul specifically refers to Peter’s wife in 1 Corinthians 9:5:  Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas [Peter)?  This was certainly years after Luke 4 and 18.

These verses simply mean that nothing, not even the closest human relationships, should be allowed to get in the way of our serving the Lord.

In the case of Abraham, God had told him to leave his family behind.  He wouldn’t be the loser for doing that.

5.  God would deal with others as they dealt with Abraham (and his descendants, natural and spiritual).

It may not be apparent, at least with believers, but God will eventually see to it that His children are blessed.  This blessing may not be what the world considers “blessing,” but God’s children will know it as that.  The same may be said of the “curse.”  It may not be in this life, which really is just the preparation for the next, but it will happen sooner or later.  Cf. Matthew 25:31-46.  (This, BTW, has nothing to do with caring for the homeless or feeding the hungry, as the social reformers teach, though that may be a part of it in some cases.  And certainly, we are commanded to take care of the poor and needy throughout Scripture.  James 1:27, Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.  I found it telling that the word processing program I use to type these posts didn’t know “undefiled” or “unspotted.”  Such concepts are altogether foreign to this world’s thinking.)

The ones to whom our Lord refers in Matthew 25 are His brethren, vs. 40, 45.  Cf. Joel 3:2, where the LORD says, “I will …gather all nations, and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; And I will enter into judgment with them there on account of My people, My heritage Israel….”  This valley is nowhere else named except in v. 12, where the LORD says, “There I will sit [cf. He will sit on the throne of His glory, Matthew 25:31] to judge all the surrounding nations,…”   This “judgment of the nations” will be part of the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham.

NOTE:  this judgment cannot be identified with the “White Throne Judgment” or “Final Judgment” though many do so.  This judgment occurs in a “valley;” that judgment occurs when heaven and the earth have disappeared, And there was found no place for them, Revelation 20:11b. 

Abraham’s imperfections and the call, 12:1-20.

The Bible never covers over the imperfections and sins of its “heroes.”  Never does it “glorify” them as better than they really are.  It just simply shows them, warts and all!

Regardless of what thoughts may have gone through Abraham’s mind as he approached Egypt, when he apparently was concerned that he might be killed by the Egyptians over his beautiful wife [who, by then, was in her late 60s], though he didn’t know it, he was endangering the very one through whom all the promised blessings would come.  When Abraham trusted God, he did well; when he looked at his “situation” or circumstances, he messed up, sometimes royally.  In this case, except for God’s intervention, Genesis 12:17, who knows what tragedy might have happened?

It’s not without reason that the Lord taught His disciples to pray, “Lead us not into temptation [that is, circumstances which test us and make us fail, or even sin], Matthew 6:13.  This does not mean that God tempts us to sin, James 1:13.  It means that there is no situation in life which the devil or our own inherent sinfulness cannot turn into a temptation to sin.  I wonder if we will ever know how the Lord has intervened to keep us from making tragic mistakes.  We mess up enough as it is.  What are we kept from?

The Bible emphasizes the faith of Abraham.  This wasn’t just some academic thing.  It wasn’t just about “religion” or “church.”  [Yes, we know.  He didn’t have “church.”]  His whole life was centered on obedience to God, expecting Him to fulfill what He had promised.  While he saw the beginnings of that fulfillment and experienced several miraculous things, he never received a complete fulfillment of what God promised.  Writing of him and his descendants, the writer to the Hebrews put it like this:  And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us, Hebrews 11:39, 40.

Part of the Abrahamic Covenant was that through him all nations of the earth would be blessed.  Though the Old Testament never specifically spells out how this would be accomplished, the New Testament gives additional details.  Part of this is the fact, as we just read, that the Old Testament saints will not “be made perfect apart from us.”  The word translated “perfect” refers to a goal, an objective.  God’s objective in all this is to have a pure, righteous world, cf. 2 Peter 3:13.  We’re going to be part of that.  When God made His promises to Abraham, He had us in mind as well.

It doesn’t mean, as some teach, that the NT church somehow replaces the nation of Israel as God’s covenant people and takes over her blessings.  The curses, of course, remain hers.  It means that we are a complement to her, that from these two entities the Lord Jesus will make one new man, Ephesians 2:15, having reconciled them both to God in one body through the cross, v. 16.  We are fellow-citizens with them and members of the household of God, not they with us.  We Gentiles have no claim on God, having been given up in the judgment of God because of our depravity, Romans 1.  It’s only by the grace of God through the Lord Jesus that we have the blessings of salvation.  But it all goes back to God’s promise to bless all nations through Abraham.

I think Hebrews 11:13-16 might also speak of these “faith-worthies:”  These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland.  And truly if they had been mindful of that country from which they had come, they would have had opportunity to return.  But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country.  Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

This imperfect, fallen world is not the final chapter in human history.  Though there might be, and are, multiplied blessings along the way, as the song goes, “this world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through.”

I’m homesick.  Are you?

What’s With All The Names? Matthew’s Genealogy

One of the difficulties in reading the Bible through is wading through all the names in genealogies – strange names, unpronounceable names.  While they may be stumbling blocks to us, they were vitally important to the Old Testament Jew.  Since inclusion in the nation was mainly by parentage, although there were converts from other nations, knowing your family tree was essential.  There were even cases where men were excluded from the priesthood because they couldn’t prove their lineage, Nehemiah 7:61-65.

In the case of Matthew’s genealogy, it’s important because it tells us that the story of Jesus doesn’t begin, “Once upon a time,….”  It’s rooted solidly in Jewish history, in the Old Testament.  However, Matthew’s purpose isn’t just to show us that Jesus is Jewish.  He connects Jesus immediately to two great Old Testament covenants: the Davidic and the Abrahamic.  Both covenants have national and global significance.  Jesus’ life and death has national and global significance.

Part of that significance, perhaps all of it, lies in another covenant essential to the founding of the nation of Israel: the Mosaic.  Moses wasn’t an ancestor of Jesus, so obviously isn’t included in the genealogy.  Nevertheless, there is a connection, not physically, but spiritually.  Israel was given the Law as a standard of righteous living, with blessings or judgment promised as a result either of obedience or rebellion.

The Old Testament is replete with stories of Israel’s rebellion against that standard, and the consequent judgments which befell her.  Israel was never able to attain to the righteousness required by the Mosaic Law.  Though that Law was never given to Gentiles – there was no “dispensation of law” for mankind –  yet, according to Paul in Romans 2:1-16, Gentiles, and that includes you and me, for the most part (there may be some Jewish folks who read this blog), Gentiles understand that there are things which are right and things which are wrong.  These may not agree with the Bible’s definition of “right” and “wrong,” but there is still that understanding.  The OT Jew never lived up to the Law, and we never live up even to our own imperfect understanding of right and wrong.  We can never attain the righteousness God requires if we are ever going to stand in His presence uncondemned.  The Lord Jesus came to procure and provide that righteousness.  So we see

Importance of the genealogy.

1.  It established Jesus as a descendant of Abraham.  This was important in that only an Israelite could be king over the nation, Deuteronomy 17:15.

2.  It established Jesus as a descendant of David.  Only a descendant of David could sit on his throne.  I know this is much debated today, with “the kingdom” being considered only as some sort of a “spiritual” entity which has nothing to do with the nation of Israel, or this world, but the Old Testament clearly prophesies something which requires more than an invisible reign of the Son of David.  Jeremiah 23:5, 6 says, “Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “that I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute righteousness and judgment in the earth.  In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely.  Now this is the name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”

Interesting things in the genealogy.

The genealogy is obviously incomplete.  It’s designed to show connection, not chronology. Several names are left out, and the ones included are arranged in three sections of 14.  Perhaps Matthew did this to make it easier to remember these 42 names.  Perhaps there is also a connection with David’s name.  In Hebrew, the numeric value of the letters in his name is “14”.

1.  Each segment ends with a decisive event: the rise of the monarchy, the Captivity, the coming of the Messiah.

2.  Each segment also involves a difference covenant.  The first segment includes the Abrahamic Covenant, as the promised line develops through Isaac [not Ishmael, who was rejected], then Jacob [not Esau, who was also rejected], then Judah, and down to the Lord Jesus.  The second segment has to do with the Davidic Covenant, a covenant in which the Lord promised David that he would always have a son on the throne.  That Christ Himself ultimately fulfills this is without doubt.  The question is, how and when?  The third segment introduces the New Covenant.  Even though it’s commonly understood that the New Covenant concerns the Church, we only come under its blessing because of and through the Lord Jesus.  It was actually and originally made on behalf of the nation of Israel, Jeremiah 31:31-34, 32:36-44; Ezekiel 34:20-31, 36:16-38, among others.

3.  Each segment has something to do with the Davidic kingdom.  The first segment tells of its establishment.  The second refers to its dissolution.  The third has to do with its re-establishment.

4.  The genealogy is a microcosm of grace.  Consider the names listed in it.

a.  Some were indeed famous.  Who could ask for more illustrious ancestors than Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon?

b.  On the other hand, some were forgotten.  Who knows anything about Abiud, Eliakim, or Azor, or some of the others listed in these verses?  To a church which had forgotten its roots, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, “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.”

For most of us, any memory of us will die with us, except maybe for family or a few friends, and when they die, so will the memory.  But those whom the world considers worthy to be forgotten, God has remembered in His grace.

c.  Some were foul.  Consider Manasseh, for example.  Though son to a godly father, he himself was so wicked that he single-handedly brought on the judgments which later happened to Judah, 2 Kings 21:1-17.  Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrated His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that God saved you because you were so wonderful, or that you had done something that impressed Him, or obligated Him.  What is wonderful about it is that God saved you, and me!

d.   Some were feminine.  Women were seldom included in genealogies.  What is even more amazing in this genealogy are the women who were included in it!  One had been a harlot; one had played the harlot.  Two were outsiders, members of races under God’s judgment (aren’t we all?)  One brought with her the scandal of adultery and murder.  One was placed in a situation where she was, and is, by many, considered to be an adulteress.  Yet each was given her own place of responsibility, and privilege, in producing a link in the chain that led from Abraham to Jesus.

In spite of the disdain many feel for the Biblical role of women, it isn’t Christianity that burned a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre.  It’s not Christianity that considered women as mere chattel, or that requires her to walk several paces behind her husband, or reduces her to a life of drudgery and misery.  It is Christianity that commands husbands to love their wives as themselves, or, even more, to love them as Christ loves us, willingly, sacrificially and for their benefit.

There is one final thing, and perhaps this is the most important.

e.  Some were forgiven.  Only some, not all.  Some people are very interested in their ancestors.  Someone was kind enough to trace my own family back to the Old Country.  There were five families he was tracing and his and my families intersected several generations back.  My younger daughter was salutatorian for her class at the Christian school she attended.  After the graduation, the wife of the pastor of a Baptist church in the area came up to me and asked if I were the speaker’s father.  I was.  It turned out this lady and I were (very) distant cousins.  I looked in my genealogy, and, sure enough, there was her family.  I guess it is a small world, after all. 

Lincoln is quoted as saying that people who are always talking about their ancestors are like potatoes.  The only good thing about them is underground.  That’s a little cold, but it is more important about what kind of descendant my ancestors have than about what kind of ancestors their descendant has.

The thing is, and these people in the genealogy would have been looking forward, not backward, physical relationship to Jesus means nothing, as wonderful as that might have been.  Our Lord Himself taught this in Mark 3:31-35.  His ministry was still enjoying its early enormous popularity, and His family thought He was nuts, to put it bluntly.  They came to Him to try to talk to Him, and when Jesus was told they wanted to talk to Him, He said, “‘Who is My mother, or my brothers?’  And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and My mother!'”

Now, Jesus wasn’t disavowing His mother and family.  One of the last things He did on the Cross was to provide for His mother, John 19:25-27.  He was simply saying that physical relationship isn’t what gets it done spiritually.  He mentioned “the will of God,” and in John 6:40, He said, “…this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life;….”  Then, lest someone object, “How can we see Him?  He’s not here!?” He said to Thomas after the Resurrection and Thomas’ doubts on the subject, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” John 20:29.

There is only one religion (my, how I dislike that word!) in the world that has a Cross, and that Cross is empty.  Many deny the Resurrection, but those coming to the tomb that Sunday morning found it to be empty, as well.

Several of my posts have mentioned Easter, and that really has been unintentional on my part.  Even when I started this post 1700+ words ago, I wasn’t thinking about it.  But it’s a week from this coming Sunday – a reminder that Someone has broken the chains of sin, judgment and death that hold us all, apart from faith in Him.  That Someone has come and made a way of access into the presence of a holy, righteous and just God, a God Who must and will punish sin.  That Someone has come and taken that punishment on behalf of those who believe in Him, not an academic or formal or “religious” faith, but an absolute reliance on Who He was and what He did for sinners, to the point that if He failed, and He cannot! there is no other way of salvation, no other hope for you or me.

There is a TV program for children called “The Neverending Story.”  At least, I think it’s for children.  There really is a “neverending” story.  Matthew and Luke and John give us it’s beginning.

Abraham and Isaac

This is about one of the more “difficult” passages of Scripture.

Genesis 22:2 (NKJV), “Then [God] said, ‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

This is perhaps one of the most controversial chapters in the Bible.  “What kind of God would demand that you sacrifice your son?”  I heard this or something like it a few years ago on a popular TV show.  I’ve mentioned that I spend a lot of time on Yahoo Answers’ Religion and Spiritual section.  Two or three times, I’ve seen the question, “What would you do if God asked you to kill your son?”  You can imagine some of the answers.

It is a perplexing thing to many.  Why DID God require this of Abraham?  Without going into a lot of speculation. let’s see if we can make some sense of all this.  Note that there are three main characters in this scenario: God, Abraham, and Isaac.

God.  What was God doing, asking such a thing of a devoted believer?  Genesis 22:1 says that all this was a “test”.  There are some who use this verse and others like it to claim that God isn’t omniscient, that is, all-knowing.  He was testing Abraham, so these folks say, so He could find out what Abraham would do, what kind of faith he had.  I submit that this test was so that Abraham could find out what kind of faith he had.  It’s easy enough to say, “I believe God” when the Sun’s shining, but not so easy when things go South.

And God didn’t make it “easy.”  Notice the language: “Take now – your son – your only son Isaac – whom you love….”  Making sure that Abraham understood what he was doing.  Besides all that, Isaac was the channel through whom blessings were to flow to humanity.  Yet God said, “Take him and sacrifice him.”  It’s true that God had no real intention that Isaac should die, but Abraham didn’t know that.

Abraham.  Genesis 22:3 has got to be one of the most amazing verses in the Bible: “So Abraham rose early in the morning….”  I wish I could underline this:  “early in the morning.”  No hesitation, no questions, just got up to go and do what God had told him to do.  Four men on a three-day journey.  I can’t help wondering what thoughts went through Abraham’s mind.  

Isaac.  I’ve seen pictures showing Isaac as a young boy accompanying his father on this journey.  Some have pictured him as such, helpless and unable to defend himself from a cruel and heartless father.  However, v. 6 tells us that he was able to carry the wood for the sacrifice.  This was more than just a couple of sticks.  Isaac would have been well able to refuse and prevent his father from laying him on the altar when the time came.  His father was probably 115, or older.  Isaac was probably at least an older teenager; I heard one preacher say that Isaac was 33 years old, like Jesus going to the Cross, but there’s no way to know that for sure.  He was, however, old enough that he had to be willing to go along with his father.

He was also an observant young man.  In verse 7, we read of his asking his father, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”    This brings us back to Abraham.

Abraham, v. 8.  We mentioned a moment ago the thoughts that must have gone through Abraham’s head.  I think that by morning Abraham had already settled his mind on this matter.  Note what he told the two young men who accompanied him and Isaac on this journey.  When they got within sight of their destination, “Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you’,” v. 5.

 “WE will come back to you….”  The Hebrew text is even stronger: “We are determined to go, we are determined to worship, we are determined to return.”  Was this just something Abraham said to cover a bad situation, or did he really mean it?  Or, perhaps he was  delusional, an old man overwhelmed by a tragic situation?  

We can’t be sure of the exact sequence of Abraham’s thoughts, but the New Testament gives us some insight into them.  Hebrews 11:17-19 says, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ concluding that God was able to raise him even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.”

In other words, Abraham knew God, he trusted God.  Now, the rationalists of his day, like those of our day, might have said, “Now, wait a minute, Abraham.  Show us tangible, verifiable evidence that God can raise anyone from the dead.  No one has ever come back from the dead.  It’s not scientifically possible.  When you’re dead, you’re dead.”  Granted, in Abraham’s case, he could have pointed to Isaac, who had been born miraculously, and said, “Here’s my evidence.”  The point is, in this case, Abraham trusted God in spite of “the evidence,” that is, that he was going to have to kill his son, so far as he knew, and no one had ever, up to that time, been raised from the dead.  He knew that God had promised great blessing through Isaac.  Indeed, he was to be the continuation of the Abrahamic line.  Perhaps Abraham reasoned something like this:  if God were to be faithful to that promise, then He would have to raise Isaac from the dead.

Abraham didn’t look at the situation; He looked at God.  God knows what He is doing, even if we don’t.  In fact, when it comes right down to it, how can we know – really know – what God is doing?

But that’s not the focus of this story; it’s on Abraham’s answer to his son’s question; his response to the query about a lamb:  Abraham answered, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering,” v. 8.  This brings us back to God.

God.  God stopped Abraham at the last possible moment, humanly speaking.  He doesn’t always act when, or how, we think He should.  Leaving aside what God told him about his obedience, there was “a ram caught in a thicket by its horns,” v. 13.  God had indeed “provided”.

Centuries later, John the Baptist cried out concerning the Lord Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world,” John 1:29.  The incident of Abraham and Isaac is a foreshadowing, a “type”, of the Lord Jesus.  This is how Paul, in Galatians 3:8, could say that “God preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand.”  Granted, Paul doesn’t specifically mention the death and resurrection of Christ, but it’s only through that death and resurrection that “all nations of the earth shall be blessed,” Galatians 3:8; Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4, where the promise is repeated and verified to Isaac himself.

As that ram became a substitute for Isaac, so the Lord Jesus became a substitute for sinners.  As the ram was sacrificed in the place of Isaac, so the Lord Jesus was sacrificed in the place of sinners.  The Gospel isn’t, “Smile, God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”  The Gospel is that God has provided a substitute and a sacrifice for those who believe on Him.  He has given the answer to our sin problem.  God imputed the sins of those who would believe to Christ.  As it were, those sins became His, even though He was sinless and perfect and holy.  Christ suffered the punishment due those sins.  Conversely, God imputed the righteousness of Christ to believers, though we are anything but righteous.  God looks at believers as being as righteous as Christ, because His righteousness has been credited to them.

When my firstborn son was just an infant, I was someplace where there was a crying baby.  He was having a fit about something, as babies know how to do! I had never liked crying babies, but as I looked at this red-faced little fellow, somehow I saw my own son – and it was alright.  God looks at believers and, instead of seeing our failings, sins, stubbornness and general all-around unworthiness, He sees His Son, in Whom He is well-pleased.  And it’s alright.  Not that we can live as we like, as some charge, or that we don’t have responsibility to live holy lives by the grace of God.  It’s that we’re accepted because of the Lord Jesus Christ, not because of what we do.  God has provided for Himself – and for us – a Lamb.

As I said at the beginning, this is a controversial passage.  I’ve tried to explain it Scripturally.  I hope it’s been a blessing to you.  If you still have any questions, I’d be glad to try to answer them.

“To the praise of the glory of His grace.”