The Table of Showbread

“You shall also make a table of acacia wood; two cubits shall be its length, a cubit its width, and a cubit and a half its height.  And you shall overlay it with pure gold, and make a molding of gold all around.  You shall make for it a frame of a handbreadth all around, and you shall make a gold molding for the frame all around.  And you shall make for it four rings of gold, and put the rings on the four corners that are at its four legs.  The rings shall be close to the frame, as holders for the poles to bear the table.  And you shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold, that the table may be carried with them.  You shall make its dishes, its pans, its pitchers, and its bowls for pouring.  You shall make them of pure gold.  And you shall set the showbread on the table before Me always,” Exodus 25:23-30 NKJV.

And Moses spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel saying, “…gifted artisans among you shall come and make…the showbread,” Exodus 25:4,10,13, and all the other parts of the tabernacle.  There is no recipe given to us, though, for that bread.

He made the table of acacia wood; two cubits was its length, a cubit its width, and a cubit and a half its height.  And he overlaid it with pure gold, and made a molding all around it.  Also he made a frame of a handbreadth all around it, and made a molding of gold for the frame all around it.  And he cast for it four rings of gold, and put the rings on the four corners that were at its four legs.  The rings were close to the frame, as holders for the poles to bear the table.  And he made the poles of acacia wood to bear the table, and overlaid them with gold.  He made of pure gold the utensils which were on the table:  its dishes, its cups, its bowls, and its pitchers for pouring, Exodus 37:10-16 NKJV.

These are only a few of the 20 references in Scripture to the showbread.

This bread and the various offerings and sacrifices brought by the Israelites made up a large part of the food for the priests, cf. Matthew 12:4.

In John 6, that most misunderstood and controverted chapter, our Lord four times refers to Himself as “bread”:

John 6:33, “For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

John 6:35, And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to Me shall never hunger and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”

John 6:48, “I am the bread of life.”

John 6:51, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”

There has been a lot of discussion, to put it mildly, over the centuries about what our Lord meant by these statements.  It’s not our purpose to enter into that discussion in this post.

At the same time, what did our Lord mean?

I believe He Himself tells us in the Gospels.

Matthew and Mark give us an account of the Passover our Lord observed just before His crucifixion.

In Matthew 26, we read, And as they were eating , Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”
Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.  For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.  But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom,” 
vs. 26-29.

Mark 14 gives us this account:
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “Take, eat; this is My body.”
Then He took the cup and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it.  And He said to them, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many.  Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God,”
vs. 22-25.

It seems clear to me that our Lord is not saying, “This bread becomes My body,” as some religious organizations teach.  He is saying, “This bread represents My body.”

Paul had some further teaching on this.  Writing to a church which had completely missed the mark on this ordinance, he wrote,
For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.  Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, 1 Corinthians 11:26, 27.

When our Lord said that those who partake of this bread will live forever, John 6:51, was He saying that the mere eating of the bread and drinking of the cup in a church setting confers eternal life??

No, He wasn’t.

We have to remember what these elements represent, namely, the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus on the Cross, as Paul wrote.  It is His death which saves us.  Communion is merely a symbol, a picture, of that death.

In my wallet, I carry pictures of our family.  One of the women in those pictures is my wife.  But those pictures have never told me that they love me, have never held me, have never fixed a meal for me, never bore our children.

They’re just pictures.

Likewise, communion is just a picture, with no more power to save than those pictures of my wife have power to do anything for me.

I’ve been around church most of my adult life.  One thing I’ve noticed is that we like to eat:  fellowship dinners, going out after church on Sunday, and what not.  A lot of us could probably do less in that department.  The thing is, are we spiritually as well-fed?

How much time do we spend feeding our souls?  What would they look like if we could see them?  Well-fed or emaciated?

How much time do we spend in the Word?  I’m not talking about a quick read in some devotional booklet.  These might be useful, but I compare them to fast food, as opposed to a good, hearty dinner.  How much time do we spend in God’s Word itself – Genesis through Revelation?

Though I’ve tried several different ways of reading it, I suggest going through the whole Bible once and then going back through the New Testament again.  And then do it again.  And again.  And again.  Even after half-a-century of reading, I find things I never noticed before.  If the Lord were to give me another half-century, I would still find new things.

Oh, that we might follow the advice of the Psalmist in Psalm 34:8 and taste and see that the LORD is good.

The Ark of the Covenant

“And they shall make an ark of acacia wood…,” Exodus 25:10 (NKJV).

There are two main sections dealing with the construction of the tabernacle.  In Exodus 25-31, God gives instruction concerning the various parts of the tabernacle and of the priesthood that would minister there.  In Exodus 35-39, we read of the actual preparation for and construction of the tabernacle.

Though the rest of the posts will look at the tabernacle from the standpoint of an Israelite who was approaching it, this post will look at the first item God told Moses to make:  a piece of furniture called “the ark of the covenant.”

It’s interesting to me that, in these instructions, God begins with Himself, for the ark signified the place where He would “dwell” and where He would meet with Israel.

So it always is.

God begins with Himself.

It was that way with this planet:  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, Genesis 1:1.  The earth didn’t create itself, or develop from some lesser thing, in spite of the best efforts of those who would tell us otherwise.

It was that way with Abraham.  He didn’t sit down one day and decide to write down his thoughts about the possibility of “a higher power.”  Genesis 12 and Hebrews 11:8 tells us that God appeared to Abraham and told him to move to “a land that I will show you,” Genesis 12:1.

It was that way with Israel and the giving of the Law, Exodus 20.  They didn’t get together and write down some ideas for how they would govern themselves.  In Exodus 20, God called Moses to the top of a mountain and gave him The Ten Commandments, though these are only a summary of the Law, there being a lot more that God gave Israel before He was done.

And it’s that way with us.  Scripture says that God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him, Ephesians 1:4.  I can’t think of another subject that will make people angry more quickly than the idea that God chose us simply because He wanted to.  I’ve dealt with this at length elsewhere on this blog.  Let me just say here that if He hadn’t chosen us, we would never “choose” Him, would never be saved.  There are some folks who focus on “whosoever will.”  That’s alright; it’s a Biblical concept.  The problem is that, apart from the grace of God, we’re all “whosoever won’ts”.

Folks want to get around this by saying that God “looked down the corridors of time for those who would ‘accept Him’, and chose them on that basis.”  Is that how He did it?  Scripture itself uses this idea of God “looking”:
The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God,
Psalm 14:2.
If the “foreknowledge” folks were right, the Psalmist would continue that God did see some who “understand,” who “seek” Him.

Is that what the Psalmist wrote?

Not in the least.

They have all turned aside,
They have together become corrupt;

There is none who does good,
No, not one, Psalm 14:3, emphasis added.

It begins with God.

Because it would never begin with us.

The ark of the covenant was a chest of wood, covered with gold, Exodus 25:10.  It was a little less than four feet long and a little more than two feet wide and high.  Except for the high priest once a year, no one ever saw it because it was kept in the holy of holies in the tabernacle.  Even when Israel moved during its wilderness journeys, it was covered to keep it from prying eyes.  I don’t think God was “hiding,” but, rather, was impressing on Israel the seriousness of their relationship with Him.  Indeed, when an Israelite touched the ark during of these moves, God struck him dead, 2 Samuel 6:6; 1 Chronicles 13:9.  I think there might be a lesson for us with our comfortable, casual, contemporary Christianity.  I know that a suit and tie don’t guarantee spirituality, but neither do flip-flops and shorts.

There were three items kept inside the ark:  the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant, Hebrews 9:4.  Exodus 13:33 tells of the pot of manna, which was to be kept to show future generations of Israelites how God had provided for Israel during her wilderness travels.  Aaron’s rod reminded Israel that the descendants of Aaron and they alone, could perform the office of priest, Numbers 17.   The tables of the covenant were the original tablets that Moses had brought down from Mount Sinai, Exodus 20.

Lord willing, we’ll consider this “covenant” more closely in our next post.

Daniel 7:25-28, When The Time Is Right

25] ‘He shall speak pompous words against the Most High,
Shall persecute the saints of the Most High,
And shall intend to change times and law.
Then the saints shall be given into his hand
For a time and times and half a time.

26] ‘But the court shall be seated,
And they shall take away his dominion,
To consume and destroy it forever.
27] Then the kingdom and the dominion,
And the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven,
Shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High.
His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
And all dominions shall serve and obey Him.’

28] “This is the end of the account.  As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly troubled me; and my countenance changed; but I kept the matter in my heart.” (NKJV)

In our last post, we looked at several characteristics Daniel gives us of a man called, “the beast.”  We believe this is the same individual called the Antichrist in the New Testament.  Here is the rest of what Daniel says about him.

e. his power, then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time.

This is an astounding statement.  This is how the Antichrist will be able to “prevail” against the saints, but why would God give His people over into the hand of His, and their, enemies?

There are two reasons for this.  The Old Testament gives us abundant evidence of one of them:  Israel’s sin.  This will be part of the reason, as we’ll see shortly.  However, there is another reason.  In Daniel 12:10, the angel says, “Many will be purified, made white, and refined, but the wicked shall do wickedly, and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand.”

In other words, trials and trouble are intended to have a purifying and steadying effect on God’s people.  Peter put it like this in 1 Peter 4:12,

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.

This also from Peter, in 1 Peter 1:6, 7:

…though now,… if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being more precious than gold, may be found to praise, honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

One purpose of trials is to prove the genuineness of faith and to increase it, as we see that God is able in any circumstance to take care of us.  In the US, we don’t know much about the bloodshed other generations, and believers in other parts of the world, have known.  If it comes to us, it will prove who are Christians, and who are just church members….

There is one other thing, of paramount importance.  The saints will be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time (emphasis added).  This statement has caused a lot of discussion.  Though the beast may seem to have unlimited power and might be able to prevail against the saints, yet there is a limit.  His despotism will come to an end.

But what does the phrase “time and times and half a time” mean?  Since Daniel says more about this, we wait til then for further comment.

6. his punishment, But the court shall be seated, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it forever, v. 26.  Once the terror of this earth, the beast will be stripped of all his power and, in the words of Daniel, his bodydestroyed and given to the burning flame, v. 11.  There is a corresponding reference to this in Revelation:  Then the beast was captured,,,. and [was] cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone, Revelation 19:20.

There’s a lot that could be said about the fact that the body isn’t all there is to a person.  He has (is) soul and spirit, as well.  The body may die, but the soul lives on.  We read of Adam that when God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, he became a living soul.  He was more than just an animated body.  So are we.

The grave is not our final destination.

In the words of Hebrews 9:27, it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgement.  As far as this life is concerned, there is an “after”.

There is a time of judgment coming.

But that’s not all Hebrews 9 says.  Verse 28 says, Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.

We didn’t quote all of Hebrews 9:27, 28.  What these verses say is, As it is appointed for men once to die, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.  The underlined words complete the thought.

The death of Christ wasn’t just some happenstance, some measure dreamed up in a “hastily called meeting of the divine council,” as one Bible scholar” put it.  It bore a direct relation to man’s condition:  he is a sinner, and, as such, under a just condemnation.   

But God made Him who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him, 1 Corinthians 5:21.  In other words, Christ took to Himself something that wasn’t His – namely, our sins, in order that He might give to us something that wasn’t ours – namely, the righteousness of God.

This is why the Scripture says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31.

Acts 14: 13-15a, We’re Just Men

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acts 14:5-13: Miracle and Misunderstanding

5] And when a violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to abuse and stone them, 6] they became aware of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding region.  7] And they were preaching the gospel there.

8] And in Lystra a certain man without strength in his feet was sitting, a cripple from his mother’s womb, who had never walked.  9] This man heard Paul speaking.  Paul, observing him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10] said with a loud voice, “Stand up straight on your feet!”  And he leaped and walked.  11] Now when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!”  12] And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.  13] Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes.

Paul and Barnabas had escaped for their lives from those who were trying to kill them at Iconium and had come to the cities of Lystra and Derbe, where they were preaching the gospel there, v. 7.  Not even the threat of death could deter these men from doing what the Lord had called them to do.

There’s probably a great deal that happened in the lives of the early church that we’re not told.  That’s true of all the narrative portions of Scripture, not just Acts.  For this reason, we ought to pay more attention to what is told us.  It isn’t just words to fill up a quota, like a student who might have to write a paper of so many words.  It’s important.

What is told us in our text is about a man, whose condition was terrible.  And that condition is emphasized.  He was a man without strength in his feet.  He was a cripple from his mother’s womb.  Because of his disability, he had never walked.  In short, he was hopeless and helpless.

Even so, he was not beyond the reach of grace and mercy.

Verse 9 says that Paul saw that he had faith to be healed.  I’m not exactly sure what to make of this.  We’re not told how Peter saw this man’s faith.  It doesn’t really matter.

In some circles much is made of “faith healing,” and it’s said that if a person isn’t healed, it’s because he didn’t have “faith.”  Now, I believe that God heals.  My own mother was told that, because of complications, she wouldn’t walk after she gave birth to me.  Well, she did.  Yet at least once in our Lord’s ministry, He healed a man who was arguing with him about it, John 5:1-8, although “arguing” is perhaps too strong a word.  And in that crowd that surrounded the man, his healing is the only one recorded.

There’s a lot of confusion in current Christianity about this matter of “faith”.  Some people seem to think it’s some sort of cosmic bell you ring so that God will come running to see what you want.  Other’s say it’s believing what you know isn’t true.  Others seem to think it’s some sort of “abracadabra” or “open sesame”.  But it’s really very simple.  According to Hebrews 11, faith is an active, obedient response to God.

Noah built a huge boat to escape a coming flood, v. 7 – when the science of that time might have said, “Noah, what are you talking about?  A flood is impossible.  It doesn’t rain.  It’s never rained.  It can’t rain!”

Abraham packed up and moved a long way simply because God told him He would show him when to stop, v. 8.   Sarah herself was enabled to become a happy mother when she was at an age where she was way beyond such things, v. 11.

The armies of Israel conquered an impregnable city by simply walking around it for seven days, v. 30, Joshua 6.

To return to Acts 14, there might be more to this healing than is seen at first glance.  Luke wrote that he leaped and walked, v. 10.  He went there from a place of inactivity and inability.  A little child has to go through several stages to learn how to walk, let alone leaping. This man made that transition all at once, with all the knowledge and balance needed.

Leaping and walking, the man was probably also exclaiming and shouting for joy, “I can walk!  I can walk!”  A natural response.  This demonstration of power electrified the crowd, who immediately acknowledged what happened as something only the “gods” could do, and they set about to give these two men the proper reception, as they saw it.  They were going to worship them.

Lord willing, we’ll see the response of Paul and Barnabas in our next post.

Acts 5:12-28: In Trouble Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acts 3:17-18, Foretold and Fulfilled.

17]  “yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers.  18] But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that Christ should suffer, He has thus fulfilled. 

In our last post, we saw that Peter refused to take credit for the healing of the lame man, but rather turned the attention of his audience to what was important, namely, that they had rejected and crucified their Messiah, probably because He didn’t “measure up” to the expectations of the rulers and the people.  They though He would come in regal splendor, destroy the Romans and all other of Israel’s enemies, and set up the Davidic kingdom promised in the Old Testament.

They didn’t understand that there was a greater enemy to be destroyed and a greater need to be fulfilled.  They didn’t understand that they, themselves, needed to be redeemed.  True, they had been “redeemed” from Egyptian slavery and made into a nation and were known as God’s people, but that didn’t do anything about their sin problem.  Even though the Old Testament foretold that Messiah would give Himself as a Sacrifice for sin, that He would “suffer,” they really hadn’t focused on the idea.  As Peter put it, they were “ignorant” of God’s purpose.

This should give us something to think about.  Especially with the rulers, here were men who were well-versed in the Old Testament, probably beyond what any of us could hope to achieve.  These men, no doubt, knew the “letter” of the law, and yet had never spelled out its message.  So when the promised Messiah came, they put Him on a Roman cross.

However, and contrary to those who believe that God is done with Israel, it was through the very means of their rejection of Messiah and His death that Israel will eventually be redeemed and restored, Romans 11:26, Jeremiah 31:1.  Their sins had to be paid for, just like yours and mine.

At the same time, let us apply this personally.  Do WE know the Word, or do we just know ABOUT it?  A very small percentage of professing Christians have ever read the Bible through, yet that Word is the only place we can learn about God, about ourselves and about this world, both now and in the future.  Does the Word bear fruit in our lives?  Does it bring us in repentance and faith to the feet of Jesus?  I’m not talking about “being saved” over and over, but rather with dealing with the fact of our inborn sinfulness, as mourned over by Paul in Romans 7.

Yet it wasn’t Peter’s intent in Acts 3 to have the people focus on themselves, or just to beat themselves up.  His intent was to bring them to that One who had foretold the death of Christ, and then had fulfilled His Word.  As we said earlier, no power on earth or elsewhere could have put Christ on the Cross if He had not been willing to go there, and no power on earth or elsewhere could have kept Him from it once He decided to go.

It’s sometimes difficult for us to see the hand of God in the things of life among the many other “hands” with which we have to do.  Unbelievers and skeptics scoff at or deny that He exists at all.  Others seem to have the idea that He stands anxiously on the sidelines of our lives until we decide to send Him into the game.  But in this most evil of all events – the crucifixion of God incarnate, God was at work to fulfill His eternal purpose, Ephesians 3:11.  As Daniel, standing before the most powerful king of his time, said, He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth.  No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?”  Daniel 4:35.

He is faithful to His promise.

Acts 2:1-13: Pentecost…Fully Come

1] When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.  2] And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.  3] Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.  4] And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

5] And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven.  6] And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in their own language.  7] Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans?  8] And how is it that we hear, each one in our own language in which we were born?  9] Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  10] Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoing Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,  11] Cretans and Arabs – we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.”  12] So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?”

13] Others mocking said, “They are full of new wine.” 

Acts 2 records a watershed event in the history of the church:  the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.  Unlike those instances in the OT where the Spirit came upon God’s people for a limited time and a specific task, for example, 2 Chronicles 15:1, the Spirit came upon these believers to indwell them permanently.  Like the Crucifixion, it was a one-time event.  Christ doesn’t have to die for each new generation and the Spirit doesn’t have to come in such an overt way for them.  Christ has died and the Spirit has come.  He indwells each believer as a guarantee of each believer’s final arrival in heaven and as the “firstfruits” of our relationship with God as His children:

2 Corinthians 1:22, who [God] also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

2 Corinthians 5:5, Now He who has prepared us for this very thing [the victory of eternal life over mortality, vs, 1-4] is God, who also has give us the Spirit as a guarantee.

Ephesians 1:14, who [the Spirit] is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

In these three verses, the KJV has “earnest” for “guarantee.”  I think I like this word better.  An “earnest” is a down-payment on something, or at least that’s what it used to be called.  At least to me “guarantee” doesn’t really have the same impact.  When my wife and I bought our present house, we had to give the owner some money to seal the deal, as it were.  It was our “earnest.”  This was our promise to buy the house, which we did.  It was also his promise to sell us the house.  By the grace of God, we now own it free and clear.

The Holy Spirit is God’s down payment, if you will, on the eternal blessings He has promised to His people.  But, unlike our lengthy time of paying for the house, the payment for our redemption was made all at once by the Lord Jesus on Calvary.  By the grace of God, salvation is ours, free and clear.

In the case of the house, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t “upkeep”.  I need to get out and mow the yard once more before winter gets here.  We recently had the house painted.  We’ve had the roof replaced and the sewer lines cleaned out.  But the house is ours.

So it is with salvation.  There is “upkeep”.  This does NOT mean that we have to “keep” it or else we might lose it.  It’s ours, free and clear.  But, as with the house, there are things to do as Christians:  prayer, Bible study, fellowshiping with other believers, faithfulness during the week and not just on Sunday.

On this first Pentecost, what happened to the believers?  They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance, v. 4.

“Other tongues.”  What does this mean?  Was it just gibberish, or “angel tongues,” or something else?   Luke clearly tells us.  In v. 5, the crowd drawn by the sound of the “rushing mighty wind,” v. 2, heard them speak in their own language, v. 6.  Then Luke lists 17 languages understood by those who heard the disciples.

This astonished the crowd because it was evident that these disciples were Galileans, v. 7.  Galilee was in the northern part of Israel, next to Gentile territory.  In fact, it was called Galilee of the Gentiles, Isaiah 9:1; Matthew 4:15.  Galileans were considered uncouth and ignorant, without learning and speaking even their own language clumsily and without grace.  Yet here were these men, speaking foreign languages, and, we might imagine, doing so quite fluently, though Luke doesn’t specifically tell us that.

This brings us to what they were talking about: the wonderful works of God, v. 11.

“The wonderful works of God.”

We’re not told which of these works are included, but I think there’s a lesson here, nonetheless.  Our world and culture is awash with skepticism and unbelief.  We’re told that this world just happened, that it evolved from nothing into the wonder we see all around us.  There is no God, no rhyme or reason for anything, it just happens.  The Bible is just another religious book, subject to human wisdom and scholarship.  There are no absolutes (except that one!), everything is just what culture and society say and accept.  We see the results of that teaching in the degeneracy and violence all around us.

We need to return to a Biblically-based preaching and teaching.  This world didn’t just happen; in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, Genesis 1:1.  Man didn’t “evolve” from lesser creatures; he was created as a direct and unique act of God, Genesis 1:26, 27.  Death entered for no other reason than man sinned, Romans 5:12.  There are absolutes; man is accountable.  There are a heaven and a hell, and there’s only one way to enter the one and to escape the other:  faith in the Lord Jesus, Acts 4:12.

Some received the message, others mocked, saying, “These men are drunk!”

Lord willing, we’ll see Peter’s response to this jibe in our next post.  Continue reading

Acts 1:12-26, In The Upper Room

12] Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey.  13] And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying:  Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot.  14] These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

15] And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty), and said, 16] “Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus; 17] for he was numbered with us and had obtained a part in this ministry.”

18] (Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out; 19] And it became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem; so that field is called in their own language, Akel Dama, that is, Field of Blood.)

20] “For it is written in the Book of Psalms:

‘Let his dwelling place be desolate,
And let no one live in it’;

and ‘let another take his office.’

21] “Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22] beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”

23] And they proposed two:  Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.  24] And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen 25] to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.”  26] And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias.  And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

Our Lord’s earthly ministry had ended.  He told His disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they received the Promise of the Father, v. 4.  There had been a question about the re-establishing of the Davidic kingdom, and He had replied that it wasn’t time for that, such was up to the Father, and that in the meantime there were things for them to do, namely being His witnesses world-wide, vs. 6-8.  Then He ascended, but not with sending an angel with the wonderful promise that He would return in like manner as you saw Him go into Heaven.”  He didn’t tell them to look for signs or wonders, to check the news for evidence that “the end” was near, or to expect that folks would listen to them.  He simply told them to wait, after which they would be busy.

“To wait.”  That didn’t mean to be idle.  The eleven along with some women, Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers, continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, v. 14.  It’s interesting that nothing is said about them praying to Mary or through her.  She held no place of importance among them.  There was no “veneration” of her.  She was just there as one of them.  And, evidently, His brothers had been converted after first rejecting Him, cf John 7:1-5.

It’s a shame prayer doesn’t have a greater place in our lives.  I’m guilty, too.  We get so busy with lesser things that we forget the important thing.  And I don’t mean just some repetitive formula,  or a few words hastily uttered before bedtime, but real communication with and intercession before God.  And it isn’t just about “asking and receiving,” as one author wrote.  That is certainly part of it, but God is not some heavenly Concierge just waiting around to tell Him what to do.  No, no, if we are believers, we are His children and as children love to be with their father – if he’s the right kind of father – so God’s children love to be around Him.  God is the right “kind” of Father!  If we remember who He is and what He has done and is doing and will do, we have a lot to thank and praise Him for.

There was something to be done while they waited.  One of their number had perished.  Now we don’t exactly what was going through Peter’s mind at this time.  He does say in v. 22 that someone must be chosen to “become a witness with us of His resurrection.”  Again, the importance of our Lord’s resurrection.  If Peter had been a modern preacher, he probably would have talked about witnessing of His love.  But the early church in the book of Acts never once mentioned the love of God.  In fact, the one occurrence of any Greek word for “love” is found in Acts 28:2, where the inhabitants of the island the shipwrecked survivors landed on showed them “unusual kindness.”

Perhaps Peter had in mind the Lord’s promise that the time was coming when the apostles would “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel,” Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30.  Since there were only eleven apostles at the time, one more was necessary.

Some have criticized Peter for not praying before making this statement.  However, those in the room had been in constant prayer, and it is possible, though not stated, that the lack of an apostle was part of that prayer.

There is a solemn thought in all this.  For three years, Judas had been an active member of The Twelve.  They had no inkling that he was any different from them; indeed they made him the treasurer.  True, Scripture tells us he was a thief and stole from their treasury, but they didn’t know that until afterward.  There was nothing outwardly to mark him as different.  As Peter put it, Judas had obtained a part in this ministry.”

But he was lost.

In Matthew 7, our Lord made a sobering statement:

“Many will say to Me in that day [the Day of Judgment], ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?”  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ “ vs. 22, 23.

It’s a solemn thought.  Many in our time “prophesy” or “cast out demons” or do “wonders” or make much of “the Lord’s name.”  But our Lord rejects such things!  Why??  Read Matthew 7 again.  It’s all about what they have done!  Nothing about what He has done.  Cf. Paul in Romans 15:18, For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me…, emphasis added.  Not once did Paul take the credit for his ministry.  Christ used him, yes, and He uses others, but it is God who gives the increase, 1 Corinthians 3:7.

Oh, that we would remember this.  No one praises the paint brush of a great artist or the chisel and hammer of a sculptor.

We are only tools in the hand of that One who designed the ages and brings His work to pass.  After all, He doesn’t need us.  He simply spoke the worlds into existence.  But He’s pleased to use us, imperfect though we are, not because of us, but because of His great mercy.

Thank you, Lord.

Revelation 21:9-27: The Eternal City.

9] Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.  10] And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, 11] having the glory of God.  Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.  12] Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelves tribes of the children of Israel:  13] three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west.

14] Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.  15] And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall.  16] The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth.  And he measure the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs.  Its length, breadth, and height are equal.  17] Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel.  18]The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass.  19] The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones:  the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, 20] the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst.  21] The twelve gates were twelve pearls:  each individual gate was one pearl.  And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

22] But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  23]  The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it.  The Lamb is its light.  24] And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it.  25] Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there).  26] And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it.  27] But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes and abomination or a life, but only those are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. (NKJV)

There is a city on this earth which claims to be eternal.  As we’ve seen in earlier posts, this claim will be shown to be incorrect.  Though it’s in a different context, something God said in the last part of Jeremiah 44:28 might apply here:  [They] shall know whose words will stand, Mine or theirs.  There is only one city which will endure into eternity.  That city is described in our text.

The city is almost beyond description, certainly beyond our ability to picture it.  The most important thing about it, though, is said right away.  It’s not it’s impressive size nor its unbelievable beauty.  The most important thing is – it has the glory of God, v. 11.  This is implied in the fact that the it’s called the holy Jerusalem, v. 10, but not everything that called holy in this world has the glory of God, and maybe not anything.  This city is not of this world.

John says her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.  This is also the description of the wall surrounding the city, v. 18.  There’s some discussion about what this “jasper stone” is.  Some think it might have been green like an emerald, others think it is a diamond.  Whatever it is, the Shekinah glory of God shining through its crystalline structure will be breathtaking.  We’ve seen the beauty of light refracted through a diamond, or, for that matter, the beauty of light refracted through drops of rain in a rainbow.  I used to drive for a living.  One day, a storm had just passed and there was a rainbow, one end of which was right there on the hood of my truck.  It’s the only time I’ve experienced it, but that rainbow so close up was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.  I can’t even begin to describe it.  I don’t know exactly what the city will look like, but earthly examples will pale into nothing compared to what we will see in the New Jerusalem.

In v. 16, John tells us the city is laid out as a square, 1500 miles to a side, and 1500 miles high.  This is certainly like no earthly city!  It appears to be a cube, though Ironside envisioned it as a triangle, with the apex being at the throne of God.  Others see it as a circle.  It’s surrounded by a wall 216 feet high, with three gates on each side attended by an angel, though it’s unclear what their function will be in a holy and righteous environment, v. 12.

The really interesting thing about these gates in v. 12 is that each gate is named after one of the twelve tribes of Israel.  We’ll come back to this in a moment.

In v. 14, John tells us that this wall had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. Cf. Ephesians 2:20.

Let me turn aside for just a minute.  The Lord Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb” 26 times in Revelation.  I think there’s something here that we need to remember.  It’s so easy to get all wrapped up in the splendor of this city and of the prospect of streets of gold and of pearly gates that we forget one vital fact.  In 5:6, the first reference to Him, John saw a Lamb as it had been slain.

“as it had been slain.”

You see, much of this would not be possible, at least as far as we’re concerned, if the Lord Jesus had never been born of the virgin, lived a perfect and sinless life, died a substitutionary and atoning death on the Cross, and rose from the dead.  Heaven would still be heaven; we just wouldn’t be there.  We get so wrapped up in the blessings He bought for us that we tend to forget the price He paid for them.  But throughout eternity, He will be worshiped as the Lamb.

We should be doing that now.

John mentions our Lord’s twelve apostles as each being named on one of the city’s twelve foundations.  In v. 12, he mentions the twelve tribes of Israel.

What’s the significance of this?

There are a couple of major views of the place of Israel in God’s redemptive plan.  One view says that God is finished with Israel; she has no further place in God’s purpose.  When she crucified the Lord, she shut the door in His face – and in hers.  She’s done.  “The church” has taken her place and her blessings, though in a “spiritual” sense.  The OT prophecies will not be fulfilled “literally,” but spiritually, in the church.  A second view is that when Israel crucified her Messiah, God’s original plan was frustrated, and so He instituted “Plan B”: the church.  This is the view I was brought up with and held in the days of my youth.

Since then, though, I’ve come to look at this a different way.  The church is no “plan B”; how can a believer even have such a low view of God?  Sadly, too many do.  I don’t know about you, but if God had to change His plan every time I mess something up, He’d be way beyond plan B.  I know I’ve said that before, but it’s still true.  No wonder Christianity is in the mess it’s in!  Who wants to follow and serve such a feeble god?

No, no.  The Church is not some “Plan B”.  She is “Part B”.

The death of Christ didn’t catch God by surprise.  It didn’t throw a monkey wrench into the works.  That’s why our Lord came into the world in the first place – not just to live, but to die.  Israel’s rejection was just the means of accomplishing that.  And it’s through that death that she will ultimately be reconciled to her Lord, Zechariah 12:10; Romans 11:26.

In Ephesians 3:6, Paul wrote that Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel.  The early church had a lot of trouble with the idea that Gentiles could come to the Lord Jesus on their own without having to become Jews first.  This is what Acts 10 and 11 are all about: the extension of the Gospel and salvation to Gentiles.

In Ephesians 2:12, 13, Paul reminded the Christians at Ephesus, who were Gentile, about their pre-conversion state:  that at time you 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.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ, emphasis added.  In 2:14, he wrote that it was God’s purpose through the Lord Jesus, who Himself is our peace, then in v. 15, 16, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two,…and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, emphasis added.

The church isn’t a replacement for Israel.  She isn’t some spiritual version of Israel.  She is a “new man”, a new thing:  a body composed of both Jew and Gentile.  Ethnicity counts for nothing in the church – or it’s not supposed to – where there is neither Jew nor Greek, Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11.  I suppose in our day he might have written, “there is neither black nor white nor brown.”  He doesn’t deny our ethnicity or our gender or our economic status; it’s just that at the foot of the Cross, none of that matters.  It’s a shame that so much of our thinking even in the church is shaped by politics rather than by the plain teaching of the Word of God.

Though united in the holy city, Israel and the Church will never lose their distinctive identities.

Having said all that John has, still the wonder of the New Jerusalem isn’t its physical beauty or size.  As he mentioned in v. 3, where he said that God would dwell with men and do away with sorrow and suffering, here in vs. 22-26, he elaborates a little on that thought.  We won’t get into that so much because we have nothing to compare it with.  Our history and culture as a world has nothing like it.  It may be that things will be somewhat like they might have been had our first parents never sinned.  The important thing is that God will be there.  All else is insignificant.

In v. 27, John closes on a solemn note.  God will be there, but not every person will be there.  There are some who will be excluded, some things not permitted.  There shall by no means enter into anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. 

Once again, we get into this idea of being saved.  Oh, that we might understand this.  Not everyone is going to “a better place.”  The truth is, not a single one of us deserves to go to such a place.  We’re all sinners by birth and too often by choice.  Apart from the Lord Jesus, we live under God’s wrath and condemnation, John 3:18, 36.  Only through Him is there salvation from our sin and our condemnation.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, Acts16:31.