Hebrews 10:1-25, The Way to God, part 2

In this post, we’ll quote only from Hebrews 10:11, since we covered the first 10 verses in the last post.

[11]And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. [12]But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, [13]from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool.  [14]For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.
[15]But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after that He had said before,
[16]“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD:  I will put My laws in their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,” [17]then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”  [18]Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.
[19]Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, [20]by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, [21]and having a High Priest over the house of God,  [22]let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  [23]Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.  [24]And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, [25]not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

In the previous post, we saw that Hebrews is a book of contrasts between the First, or Old, or Mosaic, Covenant, and the New Covenant.  We saw that the First Covenant was the preparation for the New Covenant.  We noted that verses 1-25 divide into two sections:
1. Preparation for the way to God, vs. 1-18.
2. Participation in the way to God, vs. 19-25.
With reference to this preparation, three things were seen.  By way of review, they are:

Giving of the Law, vs. 1-4.
1. as the “foreshadowing of good things to come,” v. 1.  This was seen in
a. the sacrifices foreshadowing forgiveness by God, and
b. the tabernacle foreshadowing fellowship with God.
Both deal with the ultimate accomplishment of what God began in the Garden of Eden.
2. as the “failure” of human merit or effort to earn or deserve salvation.
The Law cannot take away sin.  It was given to show the sinfulness of sin and the sentence for sin, in order that we might more appreciate salvation from sin.

Generating ofa body,” vs. 5-8.  Since no OT sacrifice of an animal could take away sin, and no human sacrifice would have worked either, since no human could meet the requirements of perfection in a sacrifice, God “prepared” a human body that could meet the qualifications, the body in which the Lord Jesus was conceived in the womb of a virgin.

Giving of the Sacrifice, vs. 9, 10.  He came “to do” God’s will, perfectly satisfying once and for all both the precepts of the Law, and the penalty of the Law, in both instances serving as the Substitute for His people.  This He did by receiving as His by imputation their sin and guilt and suffering for it, and working for them a righteousness to be imputed to them, by which they could come before God without condemnation.

So much by way of review.  Now to the rest of our Scripture, which continues the discussion about sacrifices.

Finality of the Sacrifice, vs. 11-18.
This is seen in:

1. the contrast between Old and New Covenant sacrifices, vs. 11.
a. multiplicity of the OT sacrifices, v. 11a, “daily…oftentimes.”  The altar was never dry; it was always wet with blood.
b. futility of the OT sacrifices, v. 11b, “can never take away sins,” though they did in a manner of speaking “cover” them.

2. the completeness of the New Covenant sacrifice, vs. 12-14.
a. its extent, v. 12, “one sacrifice for sins, “sat down….”  In contrast to the innumerable sacrifices of the OT.  Further, the OT priest could never “sit down” in the course of his duties; his work was never done.  Our Lord “sat down” because, as He cried out on the Cross, “It is finished!”  This wasn’t the exhausted whimper of defeat, but the triumphant shout of victory!
b. its expectation, v. 13, “waiting till His enemies be made His footstool,” or as the KJV has it, “expecting.”  So, what is He waiting for, or expecting?  It is a complete victory over His enemies.  Further, we believe it deals with the realization of His rightful place as “King of kings and Lord of lords,” a phrase connected only with His Second Coming.  According to His own words in the Gospels (Matt. 8:11; 19:27-29; 20:20-23; Mark 14:24, 25; Luke 22:15-18, 29, 30, among others), He is looking for more than many are willing to grant Him.  These would rob Him of His glory by reducing His “kingdom” to a nominal Headship over a church which, because of its acceptance of infant baptism (in which the great majority of professing Christians believe), has a fair percentage of lost people, who are not, thus, under His headship at all.  We do recognize that many who are indeed the Lord’s own accept the label “Reformed” and disagree with this viewpoint.  Nevertheless, we believe that the Reformed doctrines of the church and the future have, over the centuries, done grave damage to the cause of Christ and the Gospel.
Scripture is clear that the Lord Jesus will “rule [with a rod of iron] in the midst of His enemies,” Psalm 110:2, also Psalm 2:9; Revelation 2:26, 27; 19:15.  If this is just “the church,” why is such severity necessary?  No, no, there is coming a time when Washington and London and Moscow and Tehran and every other capitol of this world will acknowledge, perhaps unwillingly, the Lordship and rule of the Lord Jesus.  That One Who hung naked on a Roman cross, and whom the world rejects and ridicules, will one day, and soon, we hope, be revealed as the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 1 Timothy 6:15.
c. its endurance, v. 14, “perfected forever”.  As we’ve said before, God’s purpose doesn’t just include the few minutes of our lives.  It includes everything that will ever happen.  This includes what will happen to us.  In fact, so certain is God’s purpose that Scripture tells us that, in the mind and purpose of God, we’ve already been “glorified,” Romans 8:30.  We only need to look in the mirror to know that that hasn’t yet happened!  But it will happen – as surely as that the Sun will rise tomorrow morning.  The one sacrifice of the Lord Jesus made it certain.

3. Content of the New Covenant, vs. 15-17.
a. its authority, v. 15, “the Holy Spirit” – not the teaching of men, not the “consensus of scholarship.” but the very declaration of God.  There is no other way to God!  The previous reference in Hebrews to this Scripture (8:8-12) refers to the temporary nature of the First Covenant; this reference is to the finality of the New Covenant.  It has nothing to do with the church “supplanting” Israel in the promises of God, as some teach.
b. its activity, vs. 16-17.
1). renewal (regeneration), v. 16, “I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,” says the Lord.  The First (Mosaic) Covenant has no such promise.  In fact, after rehearsing all that the Lord had done for Israel in bringing her out of Egyptian bondage, Moses said, “Yet the LORD has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day,” Deuteronomy 29:4.  This is why Israel so quickly fell into sin and rebellion and why they complained so often.  They had no capacity really to understand what they were seeing and hearing.  One day, they will.
2). remission (forgiveness of sins), v. 17, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”  In our reading, my wife and I have just read Numbers 23 and 24.  We both commented on 23:21, He [God] has not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen wickedness in Israel.  Israel had nothing but “iniquity” and “wickedness.”  And God certainly knew that.  And He judged them severely for it.  At the same time, as the Psalmist put it, “God is my defense,” Psalm 7:10; 59:9, 17; 94:22.  As Paul put it later, Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?  It is God who justifies [who has declared them righteous], Romans 8:33.  God wouldn’t allow a wicked prophet like Balaam or a wicked king like Balak to talk against His people.
While it isn’t yet true of Israel – it will be – God looks at believers through His Son.  When our firstborn son was just an infant, I was someplace where there was a crying baby – not ours!  Now, I had never particularly cared for crying infants – except ours! – but as I looked at this red-faced little fellow, somehow I saw my own son, and it was alright.  So it is, when God looks at us, He sees His Son, cf. Ephesians 1:5-7.  Again, as the Psalmist put it, He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities, Psalm 103:10.  The reason for that is that He dealt with and punished Christ according to them.  He was our Substitute and our Sacrifice, to the point that, as the Psalmist continued, As far as the east is from the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us, v. 12.  We can rejoice in that truth now.  Israel will rejoice in it one day.

3. Consequences of the New Covenant, v. 18.  Once sin is forgiven and the debt paid, there is no need for another sacrifice or payment.  Christ died once.  That is all that’s necessary!  To say anything otherwise is blasphemy.

The question remains, how do we participate in the blessings of the New Covenant?  While a complete answer must wait for the next post, let me say here that we participate by faith.  The just shall live by faith, Hebrews 10:38.  This, by the way, is a quote from Habakkuk 2:3, 4.  Though it’s more clearly delineated in the NT, salvation by grace through faith was known in the OT.

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March Memories: The Thief on the Cross: A Different Way of Salvation?

Note:  In my previous post in this series, I reprinted “The Thief on the Cross” and commented at the end that I had received a lengthy response to what I said.  I mentioned that I had answered that response with another post.  This is that post.  The reason I did this, and reprint the two posts together, is because the view expressed on the other side strikes directly at how people are saved.  It diverts them from faith in the Lord Jesus and what He did on the Cross to faith in a ceremony, a ritual, namely immersion in water for salvation.  Not faith in Christ for salvation, but baptism for salvation.

Several years ago, I attended a few Bible studies led by an elder of the Boston Church of Christ.  During one of these studies, at a home, this elder baptized a young lady in the swimming pool out in the back yard.  I have no difficulty with that, but after he brought her up from the water, he commented that “her sins were now at the bottom of the pool.”  I’m afraid I didn’t appreciate the  situation.  My first reaction was, “Boy, I sure don’t want to go into that water.”

Anyway, here is the post.

On November 23 [2013], I published a post about the thief on the cross.  Some time later, I got a lengthy response.  WordPress put it into spam.  It wasn’t, but neither was it something I could “approve.”  I have no difficulty with people disagreeing with something I believe, provided they can show their viewpoint from Scripture.  The trouble is that there are many, many conflicting views, most of which appeal to Scripture.

This was the case with this gentleman’s response.  He clearly believes that there has been more than one way of salvation.  His comment was titled, “Can Men, Today, Be Saved Like Enoch?”

He starts off, “Did you ever notice that the hydrophobic believers in Jesus want to be saved like the thief on the cross?”  I suppose the term “hydrophobic” (fear of water) has to do with the fact that this gentleman believes that baptism is necessary for salvation.  His whole response is based on that supposition.  At the same time, he refers to them as “believers in Jesus.”  So, are these “hydrophobic” “believers in Jesus” saved, or not?

He continues, “Their argument is that the thief was not baptized in water, and was still saved.”  I agree.  However, he also says, “Their proponents fail to mention that the thief was also saved without being born of the Spirit.”  I disagree.  Just because the Bible doesn’t specifically mention it in this case, doesn’t mean that He wasn’t active in the heart and mind of this thief to enable him to see that Jesus wasn’t just another criminal being executed.

According to this gentleman, “the Holy Spirit of promise had not been given at that time,” so, apparently, He was nowhere to be found until Pentecost.  However, the OT is filled with references to the activity of the Holy Spirit.  Pentecost may have inaugurated a new day in God’s dealing with men, with Gentiles being granted salvation apart from becoming Jews, but it did not begin the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Then he brings in the case of Enoch, asking why men today don’t petition to be saved like Enoch.  He quotes Genesis 5:24, Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.

Having admitted that Enoch was saved, the writer then asks a series of questions about things which Enoch did not “believe.”  He didn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God, nor that God raised Him from the dead.  He wasn’t immersed in water for the forgiveness of sins.  He didn’t believe that Jesus died on the cross so that his sins could be washed away.  He wasn’t born of the Spirit, again, because the Spirit hadn’t been given.

Except for the last item, all these things are irrelevant to the case of Enoch.  Hebrews 11:5 has a comment about Enoch, By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, ‘and was not found because God had taken him’; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God.  How was Enoch saved?  BY FAITH, just like anyone else who has ever been saved, beginning with Abel.  (The Scripture nowhere reveals for certain whether Adam was ever saved.)

So then, what is “faith”?  According to Hebrews 11, it’s an obedient response to the Word of God.  We might add to that, the Word of God as it has been given, as it had been given to Enoch, not as it will be given, as it has been to us with the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Enoch was saved through faith in the revealed Word of God, just like you and I are.

Then the writer turns to the thief on the cross.  Again, he lists some things about the man.  The thief believed that Jesus was the Christ.  This is true.  He repented, but he did not confess that God raised Jesus from the dead.  This last is irrelevant.  Jesus hadn’t yet been raised from the dead, so the resurrection wasn’t yet an object of faith.  And, finally, he wasn’t born of the Spirit.  We believe this is inaccurate, as we mentioned above.

Then he asks, “Can men, today, be saved like the thief on the cross.  ABSOLUTELY NOT” (his emphasis.)  So, he believes that there have been at least two different ways to be saved.

He says, “men, today, can only be saved by meeting the terms of the New Covenant,” which, according to him, “started on the Day of Pentecost.”

It might be interesting to see what the Old Testament, which was written long before Pentecost, has to say about the New Covenant.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 says,

“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 (my emphasis)  – 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, My covenant which they broke, though I was an husband to them, says the LORD.  But this is the covenant which I will make with THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL (my emphasis) after those days, says the LORD:  I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be My people.  No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD.  For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.

The whole section of Jeremiah 30-33 is the context in which the above portion should be read.

Ezekiel 11:19-20; 16:60-63; 37:15-28, and 39:21-29 are just some of the OT Scriptures which refer to this promise of God to the nation of Israel.

Did all of this happen at Pentecost?  Did any of it?  To the nation?  To individuals, yes, but to the nation?

It’s commonly taught that verses like these were all fulfilled when Israel returned from the Babylonian Captivity.  Again, where is the Scriptural evidence?  It certainly isn’t in Nehemiah, Ezra, Haggai or Malachi, books written during or after the Return.

There’s not a verse in the OT about the New Covenant which includes baptism as one of its “terms of pardon.”

In a final “note,” the author refers to conversions listed in the Book of Acts.  Turning his argument around, he maintains that no one who was saved said that they did not have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that they did not have to be born of water and of the Spirit, did not have to believe in the Resurrection, did not have to be immersed in water in order to be saved, and did not have to repent in order to be saved.

Except for the two references to “water,” which we’ll look at in a moment, all the other things he lists are irrelevant.  Jesus had come, unlike the time of Enoch and even in some ways unlike the thief on the cross – as we’ve noted – and so there were things about Him, like His deity and Resurrection, which are now the objects of faith.  One cannot deny them and be saved.

So, what about “water”?

The writer refers a couple of times to John 3:5, where Jesus said to Nicodemus, “…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  There are a variety of viewpoints about what the Lord meant by “water.”  Our friend says that it has to be immersion in water in order to be saved.  Others says it refers to physical birth, and still others look to Ephesians 5:26, where Paul refers to the washing of water by the word.  However, Nicodemus probably never read Ephesians, and the idea of it simply referring to physical birth seems unlikely.  All Nicodemus had to go by was the Old Testament, where baptism is never mentioned.

In his listing of salvation experiences on Acts, there’s one incident to which our friend never refers.  It’s found in Acts 10:  the conversion of Cornelius, his family and several close friends.  We’ll start reading from v. 43, which tells us something of what Peter told those in the house:

“to Him [Jesus] all the prophets witness that through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sin.”  While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.  And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.  For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.  Then Peter answered and said, “Can anyone forbid water, THAT THESE SHOULD NOT BE BAPTIZED WHO HAVE RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT AS WE HAVE?” (emphasis added).

“Whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sin.”  If Peter had agreed with our friend, wouldn’t he have said, “Whoever believes in Him and is baptized in order to be saved will receive remission of sin”?

Cornelius and his family and friends were all saved without baptism, as witnessed by their receiving the Holy Spirit, which, in turn, was evidenced by their speaking in tongues and glorifying God.

News of this reached Jerusalem and created quite a stir.  The early church, being mainly Jewish, had a great deal of difficulty accepting the idea that Gentiles could be saved without coming through Judaism; perhaps none of them more-so than Peter.  That’s why he received the vision in the early verses of Acts 10.

Acts 11 records the argument that arose over what Peter had done.  He gives a complete account of what happened before and when he arrived at Cornelius’ house.  In vs. 15-17, he said,

“And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning.  Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’  If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”

Notice in both these instances that Peter never asked for a “decision.”  He never told people to “pray to receive the Holy Spirit.”  He just simply told them about the Lord Jesus, and God did all the rest.  These may or may not have their place elsewhere, but they had no place here.

Unless one believes that lost people can receive the Holy Spirit, and in spite of the two or three other verses proponents of baptismal salvation use, Acts 10 forever refutes the idea that baptism is necessary for salvation.
__________

(originally published December 26, 2013.) edited.

 

Voices of Christmas: Matthew.

[This is actually a reprint, somewhat edited, of a post from last March.  However, it’s certainly relevant for this time of year.  Now, it does mention Easter, but Easter would never have happened if it weren’t for Christmas.]

Matthew’s genealogy is important because it tells us that the story of Jesus doesn’t begin “once upon a time,” in spite of those who claim it should.  It’s rooted solidly in Jewish history, in the Old Testament.  However, Matthew’s purpose isn’t merely to show us that Jesus is Jewish.  His purpose is to show us as well that Jesus is closely linked to two great covenants in Jewish history:  the Davidic and the Abrahamic.  Both covenants have national and global significance.  Jesus’ life and death have national and global significance.

Part of the significance of that life and death lies in connection with another covenant essential to the founding of the nation of Israel:  the Mosaic.  Moses wasn’t an ancestor of Jesus so isn’t included in the genealogy.  Nevertheless, there is a connection, though it’s spiritual, not physical.  Israel was given the Mosaic Law as a standard of righteous living, with blessings or judgment based on either Israel’s obedience or rebellion.

The Old Testament is filled with stories of Israel’s disobedience to the Mosaic Covenant, and the consequences of that rebellion.  Israel was never able to attain to the righteousness required by the Law.  Though that Covenant was never made with mankind – there is no “Dispensation of Law” for mankind – yet according to Paul in Romans 2:1-16, Gentiles, that is, the rest of mankind outside the Jewish race, understand the idea of “right” and “wrong.”  These may not agree with the Biblical definition of such things, but there is still that understanding.  The OT Jew never lived up to the Law, and we never live up even to our own understanding of right and wrong.  We can never attain the righteousness God requires if we are ever to stand in His presence uncondemned.  The Lord Jesus came to procure and provide that righteousness.  Hence, the Manger and the genealogies.

We see –

Importance of the genealogy.

1.  It established Jesus as a descendant of Abraham through Jacob (Israel).  This is important because only an Israelite could be king over the nation, Deuteronomy 17:15.

2.  It established Jesus as a descendant of King David.  Only a descendant of David could sit on his throne.  [You might want to check out my post on “The Daughters of Zelophedad” for more about this.]  I know there is a lot of discussion today, with “the kingdom” being considered only as some sort of “spiritual” entity which has nothing to do with the nation of Israel, but the Old Testament clearly requires something 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.  That’s because 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 involves a different Covenant.  The first segment involves the Abrahamic Covenant, as the promised line develops through Isaac [not Ishmael, who was rejected], Jacob [not Esau, who was also rejected], then Judah, and on 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 to sit on his throne. That the Lord Jesus ultimately fulfills this covenant is without doubt.  The question is, how and when?  The third segment introduces the New Covenant.  Though it’s commonly understood that the New Covenant concerns the Church, we only enter into its blessing because of and through the Lord Jesus.  It was actually made on behalf of the nation of Israel, Jeremiah 31:31-34; 32:36-44; Ezekiel 34:20-31; 36:16-38 and others.

3.  Each segment has something to do with the Davidic kingdom.  The first sections 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 famous.  Who could ask for more illustrious ancestors that Abraham, Isaac, David, Solomon?

b.  However, some were forgotten.  Who knows anything about Abiud, Eliakim or Azor, or many of the others in this list.  To a church proud of its accomplishments, and forgetting 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 mighty, and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things that 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 and a few friends, and when they die, so will the memory.  But those whom the world has considered 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 21:10-16.  Romans 5:8 says, God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Never make the mistake 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, considered by many to be an adulteress.  Yet each was given her own special place of responsibility and privilege in producing a link in the chain from Abraham to Jesus.

In spite of the disdain for, and disagreement with, that many have for the Biblical role of women, it wasn’t Christianity that burned a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre.  It’s not Christianity that considers women as mere chattel or that requires them to walk several paces behind their husbands.  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 this is probably the most important.

e.  Some were forgiven.  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 mine intersected a few generations back.  My daughter was Salutatorian of her class at the Christian school she attended.  After the graduation, the wife of a pastor of a Baptist church in the area came up to me and asked me if I were the speaker’s father.  I was.  It turned out that this lady and I were (very) distant cousins.  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 the truth is, it’s more important what kind of descendant my ancestors have, than what kind of ancestors their descendant has.

The thing is, and these people would have been looking forward, not backward, mere physical relationship to Jesus means nothing, as wonderful as that might have been.  Our Lord Himself taught that in Mark 3:31-35.  His ministry was still its enjoying its early enormous popularity and His family, to put it bluntly, thought He was nuts.  They came to try to talk to Him, and when Jesus was told about this, 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 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 about it, “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 Manger and a Cross, and that Cross is empty.  Many deny the Resurrection, but those who came to the tomb on that Sunday morning found it to be empty as well.

Several of my posts have mentioned Easter, and that has really 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 [remember, this is a reprint of an earlier post.  But without Christmas, there would be no Easter] – a reminder that Someone has broken the chains of sin, death and judgment that hold us all, apart from faith in Him.  That Someone has come to make a way of access into the presence of a holy, righteous and just God Who must and will punish sin.  That Someone has come and taken that punishment on behalf of those who believe on 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 and me.

There is, or was, a TV program for children called, “The Neverending Story.”  At least, I think it was for children.  There really is a “neverending” story.  With Luke and John, Matthew gives us its beginning.

Voices of Christmas: Rachel Weeping for her Children

This seems to be a strange thing to talk about during a joyful time like Christmas.  Murder and weeping.   Perhaps that’s because we don’t stop to consider all that was involved in bringing that time to us.  Not everyone was as excited as the Jews about their coming Messiah.  Not everyone understands the coming of the Lord Jesus to this earth.

Although the fulfillment of this verse is found in Matthew 2:18 and Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, as it’s called, the prophecy itself is found in Jeremiah 31:15.  The whole section of Jeremiah 30-33 should be read and studied to get a full view of the context.

Without going into a lot of detail, Jeremiah is in prison, the city is about to be captured and destroyed and the Israelites dispersed into other countries, with folks from other countries brought in to replace them.  In the midst of all this coming strife and turmoil, the Lord tells Jeremiah to buy a particular piece of land. Jeremiah was utterly confused by all this.  After all, the Lord told him that He was going to give the city and the land into the hand of Israel’s enemies – before He told Jeremiah to buy this land.  Jeremiah’s confusion is seen in Jeremiah 32:25, “And You have said to me, O LORD God, ‘Buy the field for money, and take witnesses’! – yet the city is given into the hand of the Chaldeans.”   You can almost hear his perplexity.  In chs. 32 and 33, God fully answers Jeremiah.  Though the city is indeed to be judged for her continuing sin and rebellion against God, still, there is coming a time when she will be inhabited again.

I know that these and similar verses are commonly said to have fulfilled at the return of the Jews from Babylon under Nehemiah and Ezra.  Although there might have been some partial fulfillment at that time, it’s difficult to me to see how verses like Jeremiah 31:34 were fulfilled in the records of Ezra, Nehemiah, Habakkuk and Malachi.  That verse reads, No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD.  For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.

However, in order for that to happen, something else has to happen.  It couldn’t have happened at the Return, because that “something else” hadn’t happened yet.

I’ll admit, I’ve had some trouble getting this post to come together.  It wasn’t until I remembered to whom Matthew was writing, indeed who Matthew was himself, that it began to jell.  The godly or believing Jew would have been familiar with the passage in Jeremiah.  Matthew puts it into historical context because there’s nothing in Jeremiah that really explains the significance of the verse.  Just reading it in Jeremiah might lead one to believe that it might have something to do with the bloodshed and sorrow of Israel as she was battered by her enemies and carried into captivity.  There’s so much more to it than that.  Matthew reveals that it was prophesying something that would happen when the Deliverer of Israel was born.  Without Him, the redemptive promises – the “deliverance” – in Jeremiah would never happen.

As we look at the Babe in the Manger, do we really remember who He was and why He came?  Or is it more about the Christmas festivities, the baking and cooking, the presents, the decorations, the family get-togethers, with Jesus just sort of thrown into the mix, perhaps not as an afterthought, but still not the center of attention.  That is, if He’s there at all.

I remember several years ago some lady being upset that “they” had injected religion into Christmas.  And today, witness the turning away of society even from the term “Christmas.”  It’s no longer politically correct even to say “Merry Christmas.”  We must now say “Happy Holidays,” lest we offend unbelievers.  Never mind that we offend God in the process.  Nativity scenes are no longer permitted in civic displays because that’s “establishing religion.”  Better, apparently, to establish non-religion.

Rachel “wept” because some in her day thought so, too.  The murder of infants and toddlers occurred because God dared to “interfere” in human affairs.  We’ll talk about this some more in another post.

For now, remember “the reason for the season.”  It has nothing to do with our joy, but with our sin.  The Babe reminds us that, though we need saving from our sins, there’s not a single thing we can do to make that happen.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ…, 2 Corinthians 8:9.

Infant Baptism, part 3: The Commonwealth , The Church, and the Covenants

In the first two studies, we looked at how the apostles and disciples understood our Lord’s instruction in the Great Commission.  We looked at examples of who they baptized, even where there were “households” baptized.  In this latter case, the Biblical evidence is clear that those who were baptized heard the word and received it. In other words, they believed.  There is no evidence that the disciples ever baptized infants.

We examined the OT practices of circumcision and the Passover to see if they were replaced with the corresponding practices of infant baptism and Communion in the NT.  We learned that these OT symbols weren’t just replaced with other symbols, but were fulfilled in the realities they expressed.  Circumcision is fulfilled in regeneration, and the Passover was fulfilled in the death of Christ.  NT baptism is the profession of faith in that death, and communion, or the Lord’s Supper, is the memorial of that death.  Without faith, neither of those ordinances are of any benefit, and, in the case of the Lord’s Supper, may even bring judgment, 1 Corinthians 11:28-31.

In this final post, we want to look at any correlation there may be between Israel and the Church, as well as take a look at the three covenants which affect them directly:  the Abrahamic, the Mosaic and the New.

– The Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:12) and the Church. 

We noted in our second post the view of R.B. Kuiper that “the church of the new dispensation is the continuation of the church of the old dispensation.”

However, there are enormous differences between the Israel of the Old Testament and the church of the New Testament.

The nation of Israel was just that – a nation.  As such, it was composed of people of all ages, from newborn infants to the elderly on their death beds, and included all of them.  As  such, the relationship was corporate.  Circumcision of 8-day old males was the sign that such infants were indeed part of the nation by virtue of their birth in a Jewish family.  Thus, genealogy played a huge role in determining the certainty of a person’s right to belong to the nation.  Hence, the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles, as well as other lengthy listings of father to son.  This “family” orientation obscured the original meaning of the sign, namely that of the faith of Abraham, through which he was declared righteous.

Further, Israel was the only nation so blessed as to have a relationship with God.  Beginning his remarks to the people before the giving of the Law, Moses told them, “The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all peoples on the face of the earth,” Deuteronomy 7:6.  The Psalmist rejoiced in this truth centuries later, For the LORD has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel for His special treasure, Psalm 135:4.

As a nation, children were necessarily part of it.  They were the means of its continuation.  Circumcision simply demonstrated that the males were truly part of it .

The relationship of the Israelite to God was national, based only on his physical relationship to Abraham.  Hence, again, the importance of genealogies.  This does not automatically mean that there was a spiritual relationship with God.  If anything, as time wore on, this became obscured and people assumed they were right with God simply because they were part of the nation.  Yet it was to one who was fully vested in all the privileges of being Jewish that the Lord Jesus said, “You must be born again.”  Physical relationship is not enough.

Our Lord intimated this at other times during His ministry.  Early on, His mother and brothers came to try to talk to Him, perhaps because they didn’t understand what He was doing and thought He was acting strangely.  When told of their desire to see Him, He responded, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?”  And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother,” Matthew 12:48-50.  See also Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21.  In other words, He was implying that physical relationship to Him meant nothing when it came to spiritual relationship.  In all three of the Gospels, His reply was, in the words of Luke, “My mother and My brother are these who hear the word of God and do it.”   On one occasion, when some lady rejoiced in how blessed His mother had been, …He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Luke 3:27, 28.  Once, He was asked, Then they said to Him, “What shall we do that we may work the works of God?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent,” John 6:28, 29.

Mere physical relationship was no longer going to be enough.

In Matthew 16:18, our Lord said, “I will build My church (emphasis added) to distinguish His assembly (the meaning of the word, ekklesia) from any other assembly in the world, including Israel (see Acts 7:28).

The church, on the other hand, is not “national.”  Citizenship in a nation does not mean membership in the church.  Indeed, the Apostle Paul warned against giving heed…to endless genealogies, 1 Timothy 1:4.

In Acts 2:41, after Peter’s sermon, Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them, that is, to the young church.

People seldom, if ever, stop to think about the fact that, at Sinai and during most of the nation’s history, the majority of the people did not know the Lord and so were lost.  Even at Sinai, at the very founding of their nation, even then in their hearts they turned back to Egypt, saying to Aaron, “Make us calves to go before us”  …And they made a calf in those days, offered sacrifices, and rejoiced in the work of their own hands, Acts 7:39-40.  This is why it was so easy for the Israelites to fall into the ways of the Canaanites, why they were so obstinate and why they continually rebelled against the Lord, cf. Deuteronomy 31:24-29.

If we may use the term, the religion of the Old Testament is the religion of the natural man.  That is, all the ceremonies and rituals, the sacrifices and feasts, even the very giving of the Law itself with its attendant natural and supernatural  displays of thick clouds, thunder, lightning, fire, smoke, the blast of a trumpet growing louder and louder, etc., Exodus 19:16-24; 20:18, these were all designed to impress upon the people the reality and importance of what they were seeing and hearing,.Yet Moses wasn’t even down from the mountain where this tremendous display happened before the people were yearning to return to their old ways and persuaded Aaron into making them the calf of gold, which they then began to worship in a drunken orgy.

Israel was God’s people as a nation, but that didn’t guarantee any individual, to use the modern term, a “relationship” with God.  Indeed, they were shut out from God and had to go through a priest.  Further, in Deuteronomy 29:4, after he had spent a considerable time repeating all that God had done on their behalf, Moses said, “Yet the LORD has not given you a heart  to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day.”  Circumcision might have shown that there was a national relationship with God which no other nation enjoyed, but it didn’t guarantee anything to the individual.

This isn’t to say that it wasn’t a distinct advantage and blessing to be a Jew in the Old Testament, as Paul testifies in Romans 3:1, 2 and 9:4, 5.  Nevertheless, “the Old Testament church” doesn’t merge so seamlessly into the New Testament church as some would like, unless they are prepared to admit that their church, too, is made up for the most part of lost people.

For four hundred years after the close of the Old Testament, there was silence from God.  All of a sudden, like the crashing of thunder, came a voice of one crying in the wilderness…, Matthew 3:2; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23.  The news spread like wildfire through the quiet countryside:  “There is a prophet!”  But what a message!  He was requiring that they repent! …that they be baptized!  Why, that’s what Gentile dogs had to do if they were converted to the truth!  “We are the children of Abraham!  We’re already ‘members of the covenant community’!”  John had an answer for that, too:  “Do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones,” Matthew 3:9.  He wasn’t done.  So far from having nothing to worry about because they had “the seal of the covenant” in their flesh, John went on to tell the Pharisees and Sadducees, “And even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.  Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cast down and thrown into the fire, v. 10.  Jesus tangled with  this same attitude and spirit Himself, John 8:30-39.  This section starts out, many believed in Him and ends then they took up stones to throw at Him.

While there might be be some similarities between Israel and the church, there are also critical differences.  As we’ve seen, “membership” in Israel had nothing to do with spiritual condition.  It was only and simply a matter of proper descent from Abraham.  An inescapable and entirely natural  consequence of that was that children were considered part of “the nation.”  They were its next generation and the means of its continuation. On the other hand, membership in the church has nothing to do with who your parents are.  Undoubtedly, it’s a great advantage and blessing to have Christian parents and a great disadvantage to have ungodly parents, but the one is not ultimately a requirement for nor the other a hindrance to becoming a Christian oneself.  Remember, it was to one fully vested in the nation of Israel that our Lord said, “You must be born again,” going on to explain that “that which is born of the flesh is flesh,” John 3:3, 6.

Israel was favored above all the nations of the world, 2 Samuel 7:23, 24.  She had a national relationship with God, though it is also true that her prosperity or adversity depended on individual obedience or disobedience.  A “nation” can’t exist apart from individuals.  The church, considered as a whole, is “called out” of every nation, and most certainly is not to be considered as co-extensive with any nation or region and all the people in that area members, as in the Reformed view of a “state-church”.

Israel was highly organized, as befitting a nation.  The NT church is both an organization and an organism, something never said of Israel.  The “organism” is “the body of Christ,” to which every believer belongs, regardless of location.  It is expressed and functions through the “organization,” that is, the local church, separate and distinct from every other local church.  It is this local church, or assembly, which is in view in the great majority of NT appearances of the word.  These local assemblies may cooperate in various matters, but there is no NT authority for the huge denominations or monolithic religious structures that we see today.

Ideally, the local assembly is composed only of regenerate, that is, saved persons, but since we can’t see the heart of an individual, it’s true that there are lost church members.  This is certainly so in churches which baptize persons, e.g., infants, apart from a personal profession of faith, or which are careless in their adherence to the NT.  On the other hand, the church considered as an organism is composed only of regenerate persons.  Even the Reformed Study Bible agrees with this.  In a note on “The Local Church,” it says, “Each local church is the manifestation of the one universal church, and will embody the nature of that church as the Father’s regenerate family,” p. 1850.  Unless the Reformed consider their baptized infants to be regenerate, there seems to be a disconnect between this definition and the practice of infant baptism.  The church as an “organism,” i.e., “the body of Christ,” cannot have any “dead” members.

In the title to this section, we referenced Ephesians 2:12.  In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul reminds the Ephesian believers of their condition prior to being saved:  they were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world, v. 12, then goes on to show them what had happened to them when they came to Christ.  In v. 13, he says, But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.   He continues, For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation…so as to create in Himself one new man from the two…that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the Cross, vs. 14-16.

Notice what Paul said.  Christ made “one new man” from them both, that is, Jew and Gentile.  He doesn’t say anything about Gentiles being some sort of spiritual “continuation” of the Jew, but that together they will form a new body “through the cross.”  That is, as redeemed individuals they will enter into a new relationship with God and with each other that has nothing to do with their ethnicity.  Cf. Galatians 3:28.

Regardless of how Israel and the church may be linked in the future, Hebrews 11:39, 40; Revelation 21:12, 14, they will still have their separate and distinct identities.  One is not and never will become the other.

– The Commonwealth, The Church and The Covenants.  

The Reformed view is that there is only one covenant and that it’s simply administered in different ways.  Because of this, the Reformers did their very best to pattern the New Testament church after the Old Testament.  As a result, we have state-churches with nation-wide membership, a priesthood separate from the people, elaborate ritual and liturgy, civil power exercised by the church.  This latter led to the terrible excesses under Romanism, which had the same view, e.g., the Inquisition, and with the Reformers and their persecution and slaughter of tens of thousands of Anabaptists and other “nonconformists” for wishing to follow the Scripture itself and not what the church said.

These excesses form the basis for the so-called “separation of church and state” found in the US Constitution.  Many of our Founders had experienced these excesses first-hand, even in this country under British rule.  They wanted nothing to do with the iron fist of the church in their new country.  It has nothing to do, as currently claimed, with the idea that Christian beliefs have no place in government.  In passing, it’s a shame that the phrases in the Constitution designed to prevent the iron fist of the state from crushing its citizens are progressively being ignored in this country.  But I digress….

There are three covenants in the Bible which directly affect Israel.  In passing, note in Ephesians 2:12 and Romans 9:3  that Paul refers to “covenants” – plural.  He thought there was more than one.  These covenants are the Abrahamic, the Mosaic and the New Covenants.

The Abrahamic Covenant. 

 The basic terms of the covenant God made with Abraham are found in Genesis 12:1-3.  Without going into great detail, they included a given land, a great nation, a good reputation and a gracious blessing “to all the families of the earth.”  This covenant is repeated and somewhat enlarged in the rest of Genesis.  The “land” is specifically identified as the land of Canaan, and its borders and inhabitants are listed more than once.  This is the only land so identified in Scripture.

David rejoiced in this covenant which He made with Abraham, and His oath to Isaac, and confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, to Israel for an everlasting covenant, saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan as the allotment of your inheritance.” 1 Chronicles 16:16, 17. 

The provision for the blessing of “all the families of the earth” had to wait for the New Testament for the explanation as to how that would happen.  “The church” is part of it, but there is much more to it than that.  Paul wrote in Romans 4:13 that Abraham would be the heir of the world.  Space prevents us from entering into that thought.

This covenant is unconditional, that is, it isn’t dependent on Abraham for its fulfillment.  God said, “I will do this.”  The vision Abraham saw meant that God took it on Himself, under pain of dismemberment, to fulfill His promise to Abraham.

The Mosaic Covenant 

God is holy, righteous and just.  The expression of His character toward His creation is called the Moral Law.  The Mosaic Covenant is a specific embodiment of that Law to a specific people in a specific situation.  It was the constitution and by-laws, if you will, of the nation of Israel.

This covenant was conditional.  Obedience to it would result in Israel being greatly blessed and continuing to live in the land.  Disobedience would mean that Israel would be judged and ultimately would be kicked out of the land.

Furthermore, Israel was on its own with this law.  Moses told the people this in Deuteronomy 29:4 when he told them that they had experienced all the things God had done for them in bringing them out of Egypt and sustaining them for forty years, yet He hadn’t given them eyes to see or hearts to understand what they experienced.  There were no provisions in it to enable the Israelite to keep it, no provisions in it to do anything about the innate sinfulness of the Israelite.

Jesus was born under that Law and fulfilled its righteous requirements.  The Book of Acts shows the transition period from a Jewish emphasis to a Gentile emphasis.  The early church had a hard time accepting this and it took a special vision from God to convince Peter of it.  The writings of Paul after Acts are embodiments of the Moral Law, not mere repetitions of the Mosaic Covenant, even though perhaps expressed in similar words.  This is why the 4th Commandment is never repeated after the death and resurrection of our Lord.  It is no longer in force.

This Covenant was given only to the nation of Israel.  In Exodus 20:2, God started with “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”  This historical reminder is only applicable to Israel, in spite of the “spiritual” applications that might be made about being delivered from the bondage of sin.  Contrary to a popular viewpoint, there was no “dispensation of the Law” for mankind.  The Law at Sinai was given only to Israel, to make her a nation.

In Deuteronomy 4:6-8, Moses exhorts the nation because of this singular blessing, “Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’  For what nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we call upon Him?  And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?”  See also Jeremiah 11:2-4; 34:13.

The New Covenant. 

We find this covenant given in Jeremiah 31:31-34, “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 Judahnot according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD:  I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD.  For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more (emphasis added).

It’s interesting that this tremendous prophecy came to Jeremiah when he was in prison for disagreeing with the leaders of his day about the danger of the Babylonian invasion, Jeremiah 33:1.  Further, in v. 8, God repeats the promise to pardon Israel He gave in 31:34:  “I will cleanse them from all their iniquity by which they sinned and by which they have transgressed against Me.”

This covenant is also unconditional.  God again says, “I will….”  When one reads Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi, it’s difficult to see how all this was fulfilled at the return from Babylon, as commonly taught about all the prophecies about “the return” by those who deny any further blessing of Israel is possible.

Israel’s rejection and crucifixion of her Messiah did not and will not nullify the provisions of this covenant.  In fact, it’s through that very rejection and the death of Christ that God will forgive Israel of her sin and believers in the New Testament of their sin.  Paul speaks of a time when all Israel will be saved, Romans 11:26, and goes on to verify that with a quote from Isaiah 59:20, 21:  The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” This doesn’t mean, as some have suggested who differ from us, that every Jew who ever lived will be saved, but only those who are alive at the time when these prophecies will be fulfilled.

There were never any promises given directly to Gentiles in the Old Testament.  The only reason we have any hope at all is because the Lord Jesus came and revealed how it is that Abraham was to be a blessing to “all the families of the earth.”   It is through Him, and Him alone, that we Gentiles enter into the covenant blessings of Israel.

– The downside of infant baptism. 

1.  It deviates from Scripture.  As we’ve seen, even the Reformed admit the absence of clear NT instruction for the baptism of infants
2.  It derives from a faulty view of Scripture.  This is seem in the Reformed identification of Israel and the church, and the supposition that what was symbolic in the one (i.e., circumcision and the Passover) must find corresponding symbols in the other (i.e., infant baptism and the Lord’s Supper).
3.  It demand another baptism beside the one clearly commanded by our Lord in Scripture.  He commanded the baptism of believers upon their profession of faith; nothing is said about the baptism of infants on the profession of faith of others.  The Reformed make much of the fact that infant baptism isn’t forbidden in Scripture.  Why this makes its practice okay remains unclear.  There is a very simple, very good, reason why infant baptism is neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture.  Because of the clear command of our Lord, infant baptism is excluded from consideration.  Nothing else need be said about it. There is no room in Scripture for the baptism of any but professing believers.
4.  It distorts the Gospel.  In spite of Reformed disclaimers to the contrary, there is a natural tendency to look to what we have done for assurance of salvation.  If a child is told that, because he or she was sprinkled as an infant, his or her name was written in the Lamb’s Book of Life and as long as he or she doesn’t “erase” it, presumably by rejecting the Catechism, they’re all right, then what is their assurance of salvation?  Will they be led to trusting in the finished work and atoning blood of the Lord Jesus or in the actions of a minister and a drop or two or water?  As a corollary,
5.  It deceives its participants.  A few drops of water on their unaware and unknowing foreheads as infants, as well as their Confirmation a few years later (for which there is also no Scripture), is all the “salvation” many people have, but they expect to go to heaven.  I fear there will be multitudes who discover to their eternal dismay and loss that the entrance to Hell has been through the front door of a church by way of the baptismal font.
6.  It dilutes the church.  Instead of the ideal of the Reformed of a regenerated church membership, unless they do really believe in baptismal regeneration, the baptism of infants who are neither believers nor unbelievers adds those to the church who are not regenerated, and, as such, have no interest in or understanding of, spiritual matters.  This doesn’t mean they can’t be “religious.”  Israel had all kinds of “religion.”

Conclusion 

We believe the Reformation was the work of God, and we have the greatest respect for what the Reformers went through.  Even though we don’t agree with everything Calvin, Luther and the others taught or did, we believe that they were used of God to recover much of Europe out of the darkness of Romanism.  We only wish they had returned all the way to the New Testament.  Still, considering their starting point and the times in which they lived, it’s amazing they accomplished as much as they did.  At the same time, the retention of infant baptism sowed the seeds for the undoing of all their efforts.

The purpose of these posts isn’t to attack people, but what we believe to be an erroneous and unScriptural practice, widespread though it may be.  In the NT, baptism is commanded by our Lord to be administered only to believers, who make an informed profession of faith in the Lord Jesus.  None of the things said about baptism in the NT include the idea that infants who are baptized are “members of the covenant community.”

Hundreds of books and thousands of words have been written defending infant baptism.  The few words of these posts (though over 9,000) will not answer everything written in that defense.  Still, we hope you’ve been given something to think about and that, like the Bereans, Acts 17:11, you will search the Scriptures to see if these things are so.

Finally, what is your hope of eternal life?  Are you trusting in the finished work of the Lord Jesus?  Is His righteousness imputed to you by faith and His payment for sins on your behalf the basis of your hope, or is it a few drops of water sprinkled on your forehead when you were an infant?  If you are truly a believer in the Lord and haven’t been baptized on your profession of faith in him, even if you have infant baptism, then you need to be obedient to Him and follow Him into the waters of baptism.

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.