What About the Judgment?

You can listen to this sermon here.

Hebrews 9:27-28  And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,  so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Ask 10 Christians about the day of judgment and you’ll likely get more than a dozen answers. From Ancient times, God’s people have known there will be an accounting before Him, but there seems to be an ongoing lack of understanding about it – the nature, purpose, and participants of and in this great and terrible Day of the Lord.

What is the nature of this judgment? Throughout national Israel’s history, she and the pagan nations around her were subjected to God’s judgment for their actions. One example from Psalm 9:16 The LORD has made himself known; he has executed judgment; the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. Sometimes we see Israel being punished and at others it was pagan nations. When God’s name is profaned, those responsible will be disciplined.

We see in Psalm 75 that God’s judgment is not always punishment: verse 7 but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another. This was commonly associated with rulers being raised up or put down. As in the days when Israel wanted to be like the pagan nations, with a mortal man as her king, so many Christians in our day put too much hope in political leaders, forgetting the end of the ages has come upon us (1 Corinthians 10:11) and our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).

With man’s predilection of being focused on things temporal, Scripture speaks most about the doom of judgment at the end of the age, as there is no recovery from it. Speaking of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Psalm 76:7-9 But you, you are to be feared! Who can stand before you when once your anger is roused? From the heavens you uttered judgment; the earth feared and was still, when God arose to establish judgment, to save all the humble of the earth. We see similar accounts in Isaiah 66, Jeremiah 25, and Ezekiel 39. Matt 16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. The ancient preacher adds some detail to this: Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. [this first part we are familiar with; this next part is our topic] For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. This should sound familiar, as Paul said virtually the same thing in 2 Corinthians.

The Lord Jesus spoke of the day of judgment without providing detail of its operation, as if the Jews knew all about. Matthew 10:15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. The doom of Sodom and Gomorrah was legendary; this doom Christ spoke of was worse! This type of reference recurs several more times in Matthew 11 and 12. In Luke 3, John tells the Pharisees that the wrath of God is upon them and those “trees” that do not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. In Revelation 6:19ff, the other man named John reveals the terror of being found naked on judgment day: Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” God’s judgment is real. We must be ready. If the day of judgment was not certain doom, Christ would not have had to bear that dreadful curse and we would not benefit from His wondrous love!

One of the more frequent discussions touching on both the purpose and participants is focused on the “Bema Seat Judgment” of Christians. This phrase generally refers to the idea that believers must stand before God to be rewarded – separately from those who are doomed to hell. The proponents of this doctrine call this the Bema seat judgment to distinguish it from The White Throne Judgment. The latter they believe to be the Judgment that God reserves for judicial verdict against transgressions by the wicked. They may get some support from John 5:24, which uses the same word (in several translations) as verse 22. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. But the word, judgment, is kree’sis in the Greek; which can also mean damnation or condemnation; context reveals what is correct. The KJV gets this verse right: Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. We see the same two statements in verse 27 & 29. John 5:28-29 (KJV) Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. Again, KJV gets it right, ESV and others use the word “judgment.” We’ve seen that God will bring every deed into judgment – no man escapes this. But we also see that those who have passed from death unto life shall not come into condemnation! This is Paul’s point in Romans 8:1, as he tells those who were tempted to trust in works that there is NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus, He is the only refuge!

The truth about the judgment seat is a lot less complicated and much less ambiguous. The Greek word bema, which is translated seat, is from a root that means ‘base’ or the foot (and by extension, step). It is used to designate a stepped seating area for Judgment. Thus bema simply refers to the raised seating of a judge or a king. For example, the throne of a King is usually stepped seating. In other words, seating that is raised above the level of the surrounding area. Much the same as our courts today have established for judgments. In our country one must approach the raised judgment area called the bench. Likewise, the bema seat is simply the raised seating of someone sitting to judge. For example, Pilate sat on the judgment seat [bema] when Jesus was being accused of wrong doing (Matt 27:19 & John 19:13). John 19:13 So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. This is the same Greek word as found in 2 Corinthians, where the alleged “Bema seat” judgment takes place.

In both Biblical accounts of this episode (Matt 27 & John 19), the Greek word translated seat, bema, means the exalted seat of judgment. We should note very clearly that far from being a seat to hand out rewards, it is a seat of Judgment in tribunal for crimes (perceived or otherwise). Pilate sits upon this Judgment seat and he makes a Judgment to have the Lord Jesus Christ scourged, and handed over to be crucified. Quite clearly, this was a Judgment seat for judicial law. This is not only illustrated by the context, but also by the content. In both passages, Pilate sits on this bema and delivers a judicial verdict against Christ (beating and handing Him over to be crucified) which has absolutely nothing to do with rewards. Likewise, in the book of Acts we find the same scenario present with this Judgment seat (Acts 18:12 & 17). Acts 18:12 While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack against Paul and brought him to the judge’s bench. The ESV calls this a tribunal, the KJV calls it a judgment seat. The Greek word is bema.

What is the purpose and who are the participants? The parable of the talents shows believers have rewards, based on our deeds – just as we read in Psalm 75:7. The purpose of judgment day is two-fold; with punishment for evil-doers, rewards for good deeds (which the Holy Spirit equips and wills us to do), and our inheritance as joint-heirs with Christ. This inheritance is our union with Christ: being regenerated or born of God to live and reign with Him. This is taught in Ephesians 1:11, 13-14 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will. … In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. This is confirmed in Galatians 3, Colossians 1 & 3, Hebrews 9 & 11, and 1 Peter 1. The inheritance Abraham looked for was that city whose designer and builder was God, the heavenly Jerusalem which is described in Revelation 21:9-10 Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.” This is what Peter made mention of in 1 Peter 2, when he referred to the saints in Christ as living stones being built up as a spiritual house. What greater reward could one hope for than being at peace with God, abiding with Him in perfect harmony?

Matthew 25:31-33 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Two groups of people present at this judgment, when Christ returns and sits in judgment on the nations, He is on a bema; sheep at His right hand, goats at His left. No separate judgment for the saints in this passage.

Another glimpse at this judgment: Revelation 22:12-15 “Look! I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me to repay each person according to what he has done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs, the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying”. Same two groups of people, each getting judged. Those who wash their robes (KJV: keeps His commandments) are blessed; these are the people of God who have been raised up and given His Spirit Who wills and equips us to do what pleases Him. Outside are those who do not know Him.

The Bible is clear that there is one Judgment of Christ, and it takes place at the last day. It is then that man will stand before the Judgment seat of Christ to give account of what he has done on earth, whether good or evil. All those who were washed clean in the blood of Christ stand before God spotless with ‘good’ works that are faultless. The rest of the dead stand with ‘bad’ works, and are found guilty in their works of sin. 2 Timothy 4:1 [2342] I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Romans 14:10 But you, why do you criticize your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before the tribunal of God. One judgment of all flesh, the quick (alive in Christ) and the dead; at the end of the age.

2 Corinthians 5:10-11 is where many stand to defend a separate “bema seat” judgment for Christians. But does that passage teach this? For we must all appear before the judgment seat (bema) of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.  Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences. The same two groups of people, before the judgement seat of God.

This raised seat judgment Paul speaks of in this passage also describes the throne on which Herod sat when he was killed by God (Acts 12), the judgment seat Paul was dragged before Gallio (Acts 18), the place Festus sat in Acts 25, Caesar’s judgment seat in Rome, and the raised platform where Paul met his accusers (Acts 25:16-17). The Greek word does not lend itself to the narrow, single purpose definition imposed upon it by the Bema Seat proponents. Bema used to describe various judgment seats and thrones, from which men in authority render judgment.

The Great White Throne Judgment, in Revelation 20:11-15, has many of the same characteristics of these other passages we’ve read. And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. What in this passage gives the impression it’s a different scene? More detail, same two groups of people, same two eternal states. The Greek word for throne (thronos) is not bema; but one definition of bema is “throne” and one definition of thronos is “seat.” While different words, they are nearly identical in meaning.

Revelation 20 is the same basic scene as in Matthew 25, wherein Christ sits on His throne of glory, judging between sheep and goats. Here in Revelation 20, the Lord sits on a throne which is great and white – terms that ascribe glory and honor. In Matthew 25, the deeds done by each group are reviewed, have everything in common. The one thing that distinguishes between the sheep and the goats is the sheep did their works out of love for Christ and His brothers. Verse 40 “And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’ verse 34 Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. The inheritance of the saint in view once more.

In Revelation 20, the sea gave up her dead and death and hell gave up their dead. Is there any doubt that “death and hell” give up the damned, to face their Judge? These are terms commonly associated with those who are not reconciled to God. What about the sea; are its dead the same category of people or does it give up those who have died in Christ? Isaiah 60:5 sheds light on this, describing the fulfillment of what national Israel foreshadowed when all nations come to God, where the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you (God), the wealth of the nations shall come to you! This supports the idea that in Revelation 20, the sea could refer to those being called by God from every nation, tribe, and tongue. This would fit right in with the other judgment passages, which show the same two groups of people – sheep and goats.

And in this scene, it is as clear as it can be: the only thing that determines destiny has nothing to do with deeds we do here. If your name is not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, you have no life in Christ. If your name IS written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, you have eternal life in Christ. Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Whatever rewards we may gain by faithful, Spirit led service in this age, inheriting the kingdom is totally based on God’s free gift of grace poured on His sheep.

This is what YHWH meant in this snippet from Job 34:23 – For God has no need to consider a man further, that he should go before God in judgment. The judgment eternal destiny of souls is not based on deeds done in the flesh; it is wholly dependent on and based on the standing one has; is he in Christ? And when one comes to Christ Jesus in faith, which is a gift from God, he will be protected from the wrath of God on that great and terrible day when Jesus judges all nations and peoples.

In speaking about the trials we will face in this age, Peter pointed us to Christ as our example; revealing a truth about the final judgment that ought to comfort the saints. 1 Pet 2:23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. This is why we who are in Christ have no need to fear the day of judgment: He is just. The white throne is a sign of Christ’s rule and His glory: He is mighty.

 

Summary & Conclusion

The nature of this judgment is comprehensive, no mortal is excluded. The purpose of judgment day is twofold: to reward those who by patience in well-doing seek for honor and glory and to punish those who are self-seeking and unrighteous. Varying rewards and punishments. The participants in the day of judgment are two:  those who have been clothed in the righteousness of Christ and seek to bring Him honor and those who are dressed in their own rags of self-righteousness who serve themselves and mind earthly things. In these things, God is glorified in saving sinners, punishing evil doers, and bringing the age of redemption to a close for all will know Him and declare Christ to be King, whether they rejoice in their salvation or weep in their doom.

Luke 12:42-48 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. … And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.

The great day of the Lord is a frightful time for those who are not clothed in Christ. It’s a validation of all He has promised for those who wear His white robes. 2 Pet 3:13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. If you are in Christ, you can, with a clear conscience, join the saints of old and cry out, Maranatha! Come quickly, Lord Jesus! If you do not have peace in your soul as you consider the end of things and the accounting that must be made to the Creator and Judge of all things, consider His words (John 6:35 & 37): “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. … All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” There is salvation in no other name or person. Come to Jesus. He is the faithful one.

On the day of judgment, that great and terrible day when everything done in secret will be exposed (Ephesians 5:13), there is no place to hide, no safe refuge, no shield from the wrath of God – except for the very Lamb that will judge all flesh. This is why the gospel is central to mission of every church. This is why Christ Jesus is heralded as the only savior of poor sinners; He alone makes atonement for sin, He alone reconciles His enemies to His Father. He is the bread and water of eternal life; no one who comes to Him will hunger or thirst; no on who flees to Him will ever be cast out. Repent of your sin and believe on Christ – there is no other way to be at peace with God. Peace with God came at a dreadful price as the Son of God drank the cup of wrath due us. This wonderous love, that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for your soul and mine. Let us exhort one another while we have breath to always look unto Christ, for He is our great salvation and He is our life!

This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes!

Unbreakable

A book review by Stuart Brogden

If there is one foundational problem within the professing body of believers it is too low a view of God, compounded with the attending view of man which is too high. The theme of almighty God, and the implications that biblical truth has for the salvation and preservation of sinful men is woven throughout this book by Bela C. Strickland. This brother has written about the golden chain of redemption found in Romans 8:28-30, a chain that was fashioned in the blood of Christ and gives comfort to those who have been purchased by the Lamb.

Unbreakable is divided into 7 chapters which are gathered into 2 parts; plus a conclusion that takes us through verse 39. Bela’s main concern is that those who profess Christ rightly understand Who saves who so God gets the glory and the saints gain confidence in Him.

Chapter 1 is titled, We Must Know. If there is truth about how a sinner is reconciled to holy God, we need to know it! For us to have sure footing as in Psalms 18:33, we must have the right view of Scripture. Bela tells us, “To find such solid footing in the truth of God’s Word, even while the ground is shifting under our feet, we need to avoid slipping into two unhealthy, unbiblical extremes: to obsess over what we can’t know about God, or to be apathetic about what we can know about God.” (page 10) To know the Word rightly takes work. The Spirit of God gives understanding to those who seek earnestly. We cannot live the Christian life on auto-pilot. What we must know is God Himself; such knowledge comes through the Word by the Spirit.

What We Do Know is the second chapter, with verse 28 as the focus. Our author points out a very important but often misunderstood aspect of this verse: “Paul doesn’t say that God causes all thing for good.” (page 19) The passage says, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God.” This is not a promise to all, but only those “who love God and are called, according to His purpose.” Bela wisely counsels that this truth must be present in the minds and lives of the saints, especially in bad times. God will cause the worst thing you face to work out for good, if you are His child – trusting the faithful One to do what He has promised is a safe place, even if your world is crumbling. In our current day of hysteria, this is truth we must cling to.

Chapter 3 begins with verse 29, which opens with a statement that can only be rightly interpreted one way. God foreknew a people; it doesn’t say He foreknew everyone or things about them. Note this: in every instance in the New Testament where God’s foreknowledge is mentioned, it is a people, not events, that He foreknew. This knowledge is a personal, intimate knowledge as between a husband and wife; not the mere awareness of the existence of anyone. Certainly God knows about everyone and all that we think, say, and do; but He foreknew only some.

And those He foreknew, He predestined (chapter 4). Bela notes that many think God predestines people according to what He sees them doing or choosing during their lives. But the word, predestine, does not allow God to be influenced by history or the future; neither does His nature permit it. If God’s choosing of sinners for salvation was based on any part of the creature’s doing or choosing, the creature would be the one in charge! Strickland cites Psalm 139:16 in support of his view – God wrote in His book all the days He had ordained before David was conceived! If God is sovereign, the creature does not determine if or when he gets reconciled to God.

On page 46, Bela twice declares that the righteousness of God which is imputed to the elect is also “infused into” them, saying “We stand before God and live for God, in Christ, positionally being declared righteous and practically being made righteous.” I do agree that the Spirit works in us to sanctify us as we walk with the Lord, but I struggle with the concept of righteousness being infused to us – our flesh will not be made righteous in any degree until Jesus returns and we are glorified – our new bodies will be righteous. For now, our souls (which includes our minds) are being renewed daily and this the work of the Spirit.

In chapter 5, Bela reviews the call of God on those being saved (verse 30). He points out (page 51) how so many wrongly herald John 3:16 as a universalist passage, but he misses the opportunity to show the correct language behind the Greek, as the KJV is misunderstood and many translations use the KJV phrasing because it’s familiar to the reader – not because it’s accurate. In a nut-shell, John 3:16 reads more accurately like this: “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His one and only Son, and all who are believing on Him will not perish but have life eternal.” The Greek work behind “so” is an adverb (as in John 3:14), not an adjective; it describes the manner in which something was done, not the degree or magnitude of the action. The English word “whosoever” has no Greek equivalent. The phrase in Greek is “the believing ones.” Lastly, as Bela points out, “whosoever” does not convey ability, it merely identifies a group. He later declares, rightly, “that Jesus died for people in spite of their hatred, not in response to their love.” (page 53), citing parts of Romans 5 as evidence.

Strickland (page 58) makes an assertion that “only the New American Standard Bible and the New King James Version bring through in translation” a nuance Paul intended us to grasp. Bela says only those two translations specify “those whom [God] foreknew, He also predestined,” rightly observing that only those specific people among the masses were called. A review of translations shows the vast majority of them bring out what Bela wants us to see. It makes no sense to me to call out two translations as unique when a) the NASB specifies “those whom” while the NKJV does not include “those,” and b) the NIV, ESV, CSB, Berean Literal, NET, and others agree with the specific emphasis our author wants us to see.

Bela properly brings lots of Scripture to bear in this chapter, to make sure his readers get the message: God calls men to salvation; man can do nothing to influence this.

Justification is covered in chapter 6 and while Bela and I are in agreement here (and throughout this book), I think he brings some confusion into the topic. Again, our brother emphasizes man’s inability at do anything that can reconcile him to God. When he gets into describing the sin that afflicts mankind, Bela says, “Sin is the rebellious breaking of God’s Law” – but he give no citation for this. To break a law of God is sin, even if it’s done in ignorance. But the definition of sin is not given in Scripture as the breaking of God’s Law, rebellious or not. Many run to 1 John 3:4, which does not state, “Whoever commits sin transgresses the law; for sin is the transgression of the law.” It says, “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.” There is no reference to ‘Law’ or “transgressions’ in that verse – it was added by the Geneva Bible translators, and other translations (KJV, Jubilee 2000, American KJV) simply followed suit. The NIV, New KJV, ESV, Berean Literal, NASB, CSB, NET, NAS1977, ASV, ERV, Young’s Literal all agree: sin is lawlessness. That’s the biblical definition.

Bela’s case is further complicated in that in none of his references to “God’s Law” does he tell us what law he means. One more ambiguous mention of Law (capitalized in the book), page 82. “Having been justified, we can now live out His Law, rather than living without His Law.” Again, which law? There are many laws in Scripture that God gave to man at various times, to people in different covenants. Knowing which laws are for the saints in the New Covenant is critical, as people are just as willing today as they were in the first century to put the heavy yoke of Moses’ law on the backs of the saints.

The main point of this chapter is found on page 79; speaking of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:20: “His point was to stress the hopelessness of external self-righteousness for entry into God’s kingdom, as well as the hope of exceeding, surpassing, righteousness for entry God’s kingdom, which they could have.” If they were given ears to hear, faith to believe, that righteousness would be theirs. This is the message of the Kingdom: God predestines, calls, justifies, and glorifies.

The last chapter, 7, focuses on glorification. In this part of the book, our dear brother shines the light on Christ, contrasting the Christian’s hope with the hopelessness of other, false religions. “If you are jealous for the glory of God, that statement (“and these whom He justified, He also glorified”) should give you pause, especially in the awareness of so much man-exalting, God-diminishing doctrine.” AMEN! Contrary to those who lift up man with emotionally stimulating talks, Christians ought to see things differently: “So, with the statement that the effect of Christ’s resurrection and the end of all Christ’s redemptive work is the glorification of fallen man (and, primarily, I would add, the glorification of God Himself), you should expect a very careful, biblical, Christ-centered, Christ-exalting explanation.” AMEN!

“The hope of being raise by God comes only with the hope of being right with God. This hope of glory is only for those from whom He has removed the guilt of sin – these whom He has made perfectly righteous with the perfect righteousness of His Son – these whom He has made perfectly right with Himself, as His Son is perfectly right with Him.” This is the truth! Our union with Christ means EVERYTHING! There is no hope apart from Him; there is only sure hope if joined with Him.

Bela’s closing encourages the reader to stay focused on Christ and the truth recorded in Scripture. “There is no guarantee that you will always feel firm.” (page 117) We cannot trust our emotions or feelings – Jesus is trustworthy, He is worthy of our devotion, worship, and service. “When discouragement is threatening to crush your spirit, you must take courage in the truth of what Jesus has done for you and given to you.” (page 118) On that note, we close – thankful for the work our brother has done in this book to encourage and equip us to do just that.

The Temple of God

Was reading in 1 Corinthians 3 this week and this passage was before me:
1 Corinthians 3:16-17: Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
This should resonate for the Christian, though we are far removed from the heavily Jewish flavor of the 1st century in Palestine. Jewish Christians hearing this from Paul would likely have connected what he said here with cherished promises they had heard all their lives. But the apostle reveals that the true fulfillment of all of God’s promises are found in Christ, not in a parcel of dirt in the middle east.
Here’s what the 1st century Jews were holding onto:
Abram. Genesis 12:2 & 3: I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
Jacob. Genesis 27:29: Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!
Israel. Numbers 24:8 & 9: God brings him out of Egypt and is for him like the horns of the wild ox; he shall eat up the nations, his adversaries, and shall break their bones in pieces and pierce them through with his arrows. He crouched, he lay down like a lion and like a lioness; who will rouse him up? Blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you.
Blessing and curses. God loves His people! Yes, He does. And note: not only does Paul apply this same blessing curse to the body of Christ, he also told us that all who believe on Jesus are true children of Abraham according to the promise. And Matthew told us that when Israel was called out of Egypt (as we see in Num 24, above and in Hosea 11), that this was a shadow of Jesus coming out of Egypt (Matt 2:15).
1 Corinthians 3:11 (HCSB) For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (HCSB) 16 Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s sanctuary, God will destroy him; for God’s sanctuary is holy, and that is what you are.
Yes, God loves His people. He sent His Son to redeem us from sin and hell and death. He did this so that we would shine like lights in a dark place, heralding the gospel to a world that consuming itself. Fear not, God is giving His kingdom to His children. Go forth, now and tell people that Jesus saves sinners from a certain doom that is far worse than any “hell” they imagine.

Why then the law?

I’m sure you have run across those who claim Paul was speaking to us in the present tense in  Galatians 3:24 when he wrote that the law was our nanny until we came to faith in Christ. There is a two-fold problem with this understanding: First, the context from the middle of chapter 2 through chapter 5 aligns with the passage in chapter 3 which provides explicit language to clarify Paul’s rhetorical question in verse 19 of chapter 3: why, then, the law? Second, a misunderstanding of the answer to this question can lead to believing just what Paul argued against in this letter.

First, does verse 24 in chapter 3 tell us the law was our nanny until we came to faith in Christ? Here’s how the KJV reads: “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” In case the formatting doesn’t show up, the phrase “to bring us” is in italics, meaning it was added in by the translation team. Read the verse without that phrase: “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” The law did not, does not, bring anyone to Christ – the Spirit does that through the proclamation of the gospel! But that phrase was added to make it appear the law carried people to the Lord.

It is clear from the context that Paul is speaking of the Mosaic Law here. As is the case in all the New Covenant passages, the Mosaic Law is spoken of as a unit. We don’t read about this part or that division of the law. Simply the law. We read in Exodus that before Moses went up Mt Sinai to get the second set of tablets, he “came and told the people all the commands of the Lord and all the ordinances. … He then took the covenant scroll and read it aloud to the people.” (Ex 24:3 & 7) And in verse 12 we see YHWH telling Moses “Come up to Me on the mountain and stay there so that I may give you the stone tablets with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.” All the law and commandments, not just the Decalogue nor everything other than the Decalogue; all the law and commandments. This is what Paul was referring to.

The word interpreted “schoolmaster” is the Greek word from which we get our word “pedagogue.” While modern definitions, such as used by the KJV, claim that word means tutor, the ancient definition referred to one who was a slave guardian of his master’s child, to make sure the child was where he needed to be, when he was supposed to be there. He was NOT a tutor or schoolmaster, but one charged with the safety of his charge.

Here’s how several other translations render that verse: “The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith.” (HCSB) The law of Moses was “our guardian” – whose guardian? Go back to chapter 2 and verse 15: “We who are Jews by birth and not “Gentile sinners”” The law of Moses was a guardian for the Jews by birth – national, ethnic Israel, and not to “Gentile sinners.” Some of the folk in the assembly of saints at Galatia wanted to retreat from the milk of the gospel and embrace the heavy yoke that the council in Acts 15 would overthrow. These were called “foolish Galatians” (3:1), followed up by “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now going to be made complete by the flesh?” (vs 3) If the law brings people to Christ, why would Paul call people foolish who wanted to live under it?

This brings us to verse 19 and the question – Why, then the law? And the answer: “It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise was made would come.” Even the KJV agrees with this. The law of Moses was given because of transgressions and only until the promised Seed came. Jesus came and did His work of redemption and is with the Father on high. The law as it was given to national Israel, as a binding legal code with sanctions for violations, was only until Christ came. Paul sums up the condition of his kinsmen of the flesh in verse 23: “Before this faith came, we were confined under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith was revealed.” Some translations do not have “this” before “faith.” No matter – the apostle is restating his message from verse 19, explaining why and when the law was given.

The law was added – had not been given before this, not to Adam, not to Abraham – to remain in place until the promised Seed came. And until faith came, for the law granted faith to nobody, Jews were in chains under the law. But when faith came, when the Messiah was glorified, verse 25 tells the good news to those who were in bondage – “we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” (verse 26)

Now back to verse 22: “But the Scripture has imprisoned everything under sin’s power, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” This verse does not say “the law has imprisoned everything under/in sin’s power” – it says Scripture has. Scripture tells us the entire creation was cursed when Adam fell. Scripture tells us there is no salvation except in Christ. Scripture tells us creation groans in anticipation of its new birth, when Christ returns to gather His saints on the new earth. We know that everything IS under sin’s power because of sin. Sickness and death stalk each of us. But the promise given to Abraham, that he would be the father of many nations, is incrementally consummated every time one of God’s elect is raised up to new life in Christ Jesus.

This message is given different views in chapters 4 & 5 but the message is the same: present day (in Paul’s day) Jerusalem represented the slavery of the Mosaic Law; freedom from sin comes only in Christ, the heavenly Jerusalem. The law was added until the promised Seed came. Hebrews tells us the religious rites given through Moses served as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things (Heb 8:5). When the fullness of time came, the promised Seed came and conquered sin and death and the shadows, those types found in the law, came to their end.

Why, then, the law? To show the nation of stiff-necked, loop-hole finding, law-loving Jews how wicked they were; to keep them as a nation to display God’s holiness to them and the pagan nations; to make sure they were around when the fullness of time came and the promised Seed arrived. The law was Israel’s guardian until faith came, because Israel could not keep itself. Their history shows that, if left themselves, they were every bit as wicked as the Syrians, or you and me before we were redeemed.

Once the promised Seed came, the guardian is no longer needed. Faith and the promise do not depend on fleshly procreation. By faith we become children of Abraham. Now that Christ has come, the Spirit keeps His people. The law fulfilled its role, its time is past. The covenant based on shadows and types, with fire and threats of punishment for violations of its law has ended. Faith has come in the person of the promised Seed. The law and all the other shadows of the Old Covenant no longer bind anyone with chains but, as the Spirit gives the light of understanding, serve to instruct us about our innate weakness and need for humility before God and fellow man. Just as we read with New Covenant clarity from Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John.

No need to “un-hitch” the Old Testament from our faith – all of it is from God for us. We belong to heavenly country which has different laws; given by the same God but intended for a people with hearts of flesh, not stone; people who, having been loved by God can and will love Him and one another. No need to tell one another, “know the Lord” for we all know Him. The Mosaic Law was chains for a people who needed to be told “know the Lord.” We in the New Covenant are not that people. We can see the law did not restrain national Israel from doing evil. So God gave His Spirit to will and equip us to do what is pleasing to Him.

Not under the yoke of law, which could not save nor can it lead us to Christ; it can only condemn. Therein is the danger of wrongly interpreting this passage.

New heart, new mediator, new priesthood, new covenant, new law from the new Lawgiver.  That’s the difference being in the New Covenant makes.

Sanctification by the law – where is that found?

I’ve looked and looked and don’t find any New Covenant context teaching telling us to go back to Moses. Everything I have found shows me otherwise.
Take Romans 12, for example. First chapter after a bunch of theology, including a bunch of “law” talk. Much encouragement for the saints to walk a certain way and not a hint of law-keeping, other than the exhortation to not take vengeance but leave that to God.
What we see is a continual teaching to live by the grace of God, be transformed by renewing your mind, be humble. In the section on body-life Paul tells us how to love one another with specific teachings – but no law-keeping.
Here’s the bottom line: The Mosaic Law and other laws like it (found in many Fundamental fellowships) are intended for those who are unregenerate. What we are taught in Romans 12 is fit only for those indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who wills and equips us to do what pleases the Father.
While all Scripture is for our edification and benefit, the law of the Old Covenant was for those in that covenant. The Law of Moses does not and never has bound people outside that covenant community.
If you are in Christ, there is a better law, fit for a spiritual people. We have a covenant built on better promises, mediated by a better priest, with a new law meant only for the saints.
Rejoice! God’s grace was sufficient to save you and by it He is sufficient to renew your mind and sanctify your soul until Christ returns or He takes you home.

Does Acts 2:39 teach inclusion of children?

When Peter was preaching during Pentecost, he told the Jewish audience that Jesus was the promised son of David, yet David’s Lord. He summed up with this “altar call”:

Acts 2:36-37 (HCSB) “Therefore let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah!” When they heard this, they came under deep conviction and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: “Brothers, what must we do?”

His answer to their anguish was not “ask Jesus into your heart.” Acts 2:38 (HCSB) “Repent,” Peter said to them, “and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Natural man cannot do this. MUST have the Holy Spirit indwelling a regenerated soul.

And note: repent and be baptized. Not, be sprinkled as a babe and later, if it be you are a true covenant child, repent. Repent then be baptized; this is the biblical practice.

Acts 2:39 (HCSB) “For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”

No matter how you interpret “the promise,” there are several views, there is no way to think the promise is to the children of Christian parents. Peter was speaking to unconverted Jews, not redeemed saints. The promise was to them – they were the ones who asked “what must we do?”

The term “brothers” in verse 37 clearly is not used in the New Covenant context, as they were at that time unconverted. Brothers in the same sense as Paul expressed agony over his “kinsmen of the flesh” – his fellow Jews. In this culture, the Jews saw themselves as the brotherhood of God against the world.

The promise to all – Jews, their children, and ALL WHO ARE FAR OFF (the Gentiles – those who, “at that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” – Eph 2:12). The promise is to the whole world, not somebody’s children – AS MANY AS THE LORD OUR GOD WILL CALL.

The promise is people in every group of people – as many as the Lord calls.

This passage no more gives support to family status in the New Covenant than it gives support to an Arminian view of salvation.

The New Covenant is really NEW!

The New Covenant is not like the Old Covenant (HEB 8).

Entry into the Old Covenant did not require faith in God; most of the people in that community were unbelievers. All they (the males) needed for entry was circumcision of their flesh. Entry into the New Covenant comes only to those who believe on the Son of God (John 10), who have been circumcised of the heart, not made with human hands (Col 2).

The mediator of the New Covenant is not another in the type of Moses – a servant in God’s house (Heb 3). He is the Son and Lord of the house!

God does not change our old stone into a new heart of flesh, He removes the heart of stone and implants a heart of flesh (Jer 31).

God does not improve the stone temple in which Israel worshiped Him, His redeemed are the temple of God! (1 Cor 3, 1 Pet 2)

The New Covenant does not have a priest after the order of Aaron but after the order of Melchizedek, who had no genealogy (Heb 7). This was not merely a change in/within the priesthood, it was a change OF priesthood; the nature of the priesthood is different (Heb 8).

The sacrifices of the Old Covenant could never take away sin, but only cover them for a season. The sacrifice of the New Covenant takes away all the sins of all the people in that covenant community, showing the weakness of the law and the superiority of the oath and promise (Heb 7). The nature of the sacrifices in the two covenant are not the same.

When the passage (Heb 7) says that a change of the priesthood mandates a change OF the law, the same nature of change is at hand. The law given to the Old Covenant community is not suited for the New Covenant community. A new type of law is required – one reflecting the priesthood as well as the community, which is 100% redeemed and dwelt by the Holy Spirit.

The law written on the flesh hearts of the saints is not the legal code with warnings and penalties, issued from the fiery mount (HEB 12). The law written on the hearts of the redeemed is the perfect law, the law of liberty (James 1), the royal law (James 2), the law of Christ (Gal 6). The law of Moses COMMANDED its people to rest from the work of providing for themselves (Ex 20). The law of Christ PROVIDES rest for the redeemed, no longer working to prove themselves to God, but serving one another, bearing burdens, loving others as Christ has loved us.

No legal code with threats and penalties for a stiff-necked and rebellious people but a new creature (Gal 6, 2 Cor 5) that loves God and others, in which the Spirit of God dwells, to equip and will His people to that which pleases Him (Phil 2).

Ill News From New England

History has not been kind to those who refuse to submit to a state-church. Even in this country, the USA, this monstrosity of a state-church ran roughshod over those who would not bow the knee.

In colonial America, three Baptists were arrested for speaking about their doctrine over supper at a boarding house near Boston. John Clark wrote his book, Ill News From New England in the mid-17th century. An edition with updated English (shorter sentences and paragraphs, word changes) is now available in paper and digital format.

You can read more at the following Amazon Link.

For God’s Glory and the Church’s Consolation

For God’s Glory and the Church’s Consolation

A book review by Stuart Brogden

The subtitle of this book, 400 years of the Synod of Dordt, reveals the content thereof – the book is a collection of messages given in 2019 at a conference celebrating the Canons of Dordt, sponsored by the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary. The seminary and the conference and the book reflect the Dutch Reformed view, which is in clear view throughout. While the truth of what is called Calvinism (God’s sovereignty in the salvation of sinners) is defined and defended, the traditional tenants of Reformed theology are presented as givens, without the pretense of providing biblical support. In the Editor’s Preface we read that “the Synod of Dordt was much more than the Canons of Dordt and the Arminian heresy. It dealt with the matter of a proper view and observance of the New Testament Sabbath, establishing principles that serve the church today.” (page viii) In the first chapter, Douglas J. Kuiper tells us “the delegates (to the synod) declared that they had reviewed the Belgic Confession and found nothing in it that conflicted with Scripture. They declared the same of the Heidelberg Catechism” shortly thereafter (page 7). These two documents have much within them to be commended, but they teach something not found in the words of Scripture: infant baptism, so-called, and they prop up the misguided notion that the Mosaic Law determines order in the New Covenant.

Kuiper goes on to say, “Reformed churches today must recognize the boundaries that the Reformed churches have previously set, and that Dordt declared to be fixed and unbending. They must love these doctrines and the confessions that contain them and be faithful to them.” (page 8) This view enshrines imperfect documents written by sinful men more than 400 years ago the magisterium for Kuiper and his fellows.

This is not to deny that the Canons of Dordt and the other referenced documents contain much rich truth that all who name Christ can embrace, such as “To go wrong in regard to these five doctrines (the substance of Dordt) will inevitably lead to error regarding many other doctrines as well.” (page 9) The current leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention, many of whom have long waged war against the Doctrines of Grace, serve as a current and graphic example of what Kuiper warned about.

In chapter 2, Angus Stewart reminds us that “main achievement of the synod … is the Canons of Dordt, which set forth the truth of the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation over against the heresies of Arminianism.” (page 23) And then we read, “Thus the five points of Calvinism, based on the Canons of Dordt, summarize the truth of God’s word, which is in accordance with the genius of John Calvin’s biblical theology.” (pages 26-27) At best this is a poorly phrased sentence; at worse it posits the Bible as subordinate to John Calvin’s theology (look up “in accordance with”). I would not have brought this up if this book were not full of deference to the Canons and other documents. No document written by man is ever worthy of such submission, but must be tested in light of Scripture at all points.

As a study on the Canons of Dordt, one would expect some examination of the theology of those who protested against the doctrines of grace. Brian Huizinga tells us, “The Arminians hated nothing more than sovereign predestination. … However, they said they believed in election, they used the term election, and they preached sermons on the doctrine of election, even as they used the terms grace and faith but gave to them different meanings.” (chapter 3, page 58) “The Arminians were so careful to sound Reformed and insisted that they believed the truth but only had different ways of expressing the truth.” (page 59) Note this last statement, see how it (claim to believe the truth but have different ways of expressing it) applies to so many who depart from the biblical truth in so many ways – including papists and Mormons.

Chapter 4 may be my favorite; Mark Shand presents a well-ordered presentation what the gospel is, combined with an equally well-ordered refutation of another error of the Arminians, one that has and still does afflict many within the wider circle of reformed/Calvinistic saints; that of the well-meant offer, so called. Shand points out the Arminians protested that, “if the atonement was not universal, there could be no general proclamation of the gospel. To call all men to repentance and faith when not all were encompassed by the atoning work of Jesus Christ was, said the Remonstrants, to render the call of the gospel insincere and hypocritical.” He answers this by rightly declaring, “The gospel at its heart is not an offer in the sense of an invitation or entreaty. It is the proclamation of a command, coupled with a promise.” (page 86) “The promise is not for all; it is only for those who believe on Jesus Christ.” (page 87) Many paedobaptists contend that the “promise” is for believers and their children, based on a faulty reading of Acts 2:39. In this passage, Peter spoke to unbelieving Jews – “men of Judah, men of Israel, all who dwell in Jerusalem.” These Jews asked Peter and the others, “Brothers (fellow Jews) what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:38-41) The command – repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins; and the promise is for you unbelieving Jews and your children and those Gentiles who are far off – everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself. This passage has nothing to support “covenant children;” as Shand rightly observed – the promise is only for those believe on Jesus!

Douglas J. Kuiper returns in chapter 5 to discuss the view of covenant theology found in the Canons of Dordt. He asserts that these topics which are other than the answer to the 5 points of the Arminians are not secondary, but serve to support the doctrines of grace (page 99). Kuiper presents the mono-covenant so common in Reformed theology (“Inherent in the Canons’ use of the familiar Old Testament and New Testament is the unity of the covenant: it is one covenant” page 105). He asserts that the death of Jesus fulfilled “the Old Testament ceremonial laws” (page 102); while Scripture never says this (He fulfilled “the law”) nor splits up the Mosaic Law into Aquinas’ tripartite view. He wrote, “the covenant to which the Canons refer is the covenant of grace that God has established with elect sinners, with Adam after the fall, and with everyone who is included in the see of the woman (Gen 3:15)” This makes it appear that Kuiper thinks everyone in history is in the “covenant of grace” – making one wonder why such a covenant is needed, if everyone gets in. Later, Kuiper rightly sees the promise of salvation not given to “all the children that are born under the historical dispensation of the covenant, that is, not upon all that are baptized, but only upon the spiritual seed” (page 125). It appears our speaker was a bit sloppy in describing this extra-biblical covenant; one would think sticking with those covenants mentioned in Scripture would reduce this ambiguity.

Here is the danger of ignoring the biblical data on the Old and New Covenants, resting in and trusting in this ephemeral “covenant of grace” – “Because God continues his covenant with godly believers in the line of generations, “godly parents have no reason to doubt of the election and salvation of their children whom it pleaseth God to call out of this life in their infancy.”” (ending with a quote from Confessions and Church Order, page 106) The Old Covenant was established along line of human generations but those people were not required to believe on the promised seed. The New Covenant is, as Kuiper admits on page 125, made only with spiritual children, those who believe. The Bible explicitly teaches not to trust in human generations: And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. (Matthew 3:9) Jesus came to bring division to earthly families as those who not His sheep would rise up against those who are (Matthew 10:34-37). This mythical mono-covenant conflates the old and new covenants and gives false cover to this specious notion of “covenant children.”

Note the confusion about the New Covenant in this system. Dordt declares, “being in the covenant, we do not doubt the election of infants of believing parents. This is not because the covenant determines who are elect, but because election determines who are in the covenant.” (page 109) He is emphatic that only elect (I would say only the redeemed) are in the New Covenant, yet he is just as emphatic that offspring of believers are in the covenant – while admitting not all of them are elect! Rather than be presumptuous that our children are elect, we ought to be diligent to teach our children the ways of God, preach the gospel to them, and pray for and with them in hopes that God would save them. In this chapter, Kuiper brings out some of the errors the Arminians presented regarding the New Covenant; our Dutch Reformed brothers have some things to work out themselves.

In chapter 6, William A. Langerak spoke on the polity contained in the Canons of Dordt, further revealing that the Dutch Reformed rest on their traditions and documents as much or more than they rest on Scripture for some doctrines. He declares, “the polity of Dordt is not just good; it is magnificent.” (page 128) He spends several pages summarizing the historical development of Dordt’s polity, saying “the Church Order of Dordt (1619) is basically that of The Hague (1586), which in turn is derived from church orders revised and adopted by two national synods …” (page 134-135) This run-on sentence fills up a paragraph of citations of the foundation of their polity but contains no references to Scripture, only to men and conventions of men. Langerak established their view of tight control over the local assembly of saints by ecclesiastical levels the Bible knows nothing about (pages 138-156), including dictating what songs may be sung, what holy-days are to be observed, what offices (they see three: ministers, elders, deacons; the Bible reveals two: elders and deacons) are to be the council of the church, how frequently the Lord’s Supper should be observed; all the while claiming “Article 30 of the Belgic Confession also establishes the principle of the autonomy of the local congregation as a self-governing church in its own right, apart from any federation with other Reformed churches in a denomination.” (page 146) These controls over the local congregation by the ecclesiastical hierarchy is needed, Langerak says, because they want to avoid “the lawlessness of the Anabaptists” (page 150). Those radicals had the notion that no mortal had authority aver the local assembly of saints; that each congregation answered to Christ. These men were obviously “lawless” – they did not submit to the law of man. One excellent practice embraced by our Dutch Reformed brothers is equality among the men holding each office (page 148); far too many of my fellow Baptists have drifted into serious error by having only one elder or singling out one elder as higher ranking than the others. This should not be! In all the discussion about church polity, not one word about the condition of membership – regeneration. Herein is a danger far beyond any “lawlessness” of refusing ecclesiastical hierarchy.

The last two chapters are very good, the 7th full of Scripture defending election and the flip-side thereof, reprobation, written by Ronald L. Cammenga. Many Calvinists deny this doctrine, but if you hold to God’s sovereign election of a limited number of people He chose, then He has also chosen those who will not be saved. Those He has rejected are the subjects of reprobation. This doctrine is seen in YHWH’s choosing of Israel (a nation He built up) and rejecting all other nations. Proverbs 16:4 and Romans 9:11-13; 21-22 all speak to His power and authority to do with His creatures as He wills. He accepted Jacob and rejected Esau; election and reprobation. God sends a strong delusion to some of those He has not chosen unto salvation to insure they will not come to a knowledge of the truth (2 Thess 2:11-12). The Bible is full of the good news that countless numbers from every nation, tongue, and tribe are His sheep. The only way to accept His choosing some is to recognize His rejection of others. The Bible tells us none seek God, so it’s not as though He rejects those who search for Him; He choose who He would save and the rest of mankind was “chosen” by being rejected. The gospel message is the good news of salvation by grace; there is no need to tell people they might be reprobates (a biblical word describing the subjects of reprobation!) and there is no biblical warrant to do so. But we also have no reason to claim God does not reject anyone, but merely allows them to go their own way. Man is, by nature, an enemy of God and will go to hell unless He intervenes; but the Bible also tells us God gives the reprobates a shove along their way – He gives them over to their sin (Romans 1:24). Reprobation is the bad news from Romans 8:1 implicit for all who are not in Christ Jesus – they are condemned.

In chapter 8, Barret Gritters shows us from Scripture how and why saints can enjoy assurance of the salvation. “Election is not merely God’s choice of certain persons to be saved but his choice to place them in the security of, and into organic connection with, the body of his Son Jesus Christ.” (page 206) Barret also rightly sees our nature – “I am “by nature neither better not more deserving than others.”” (page 207, quoting from Dordt) “The same God who elects, redeems, justifies, and preserves also assures his people of this. By his Spirit and word, God convinces me that of his love for me.” (page 212) Anyone struggling with assurance of salvation would be encouraged to read this chapter – it rests on bedrock: the nature and character of our Redeemer.

If you are like me, you’ve been familiar with the 5 points (commonly called Calvinism) which were drawn up to answer the 5 points put forth by the Arminians but maybe not as familiar with the other doctrines established or restated in the Canons. As a Baptist, I am informed by historic documents of the faith but I am not bound by them if I cannot find their doctrines in Scripture. So it is with much of the other things taught by Dordt. This is an interesting book, providing an in-depth look at what our Dutch Reformed brothers and sisters hold to.

 

Note: I was asked by the publisher, Reformed Free Publishing, if I would be interested in reviewing this book, which was generously provided by them to me.

What is New Covenant Theology?

New Covenant Theology is not new theology about the covenants; it is theology about the New Covenant.

In this podcast, I was interviewed for the purpose of explaining what New Covenant Theology is to a brother who is exploring it to see if it aligns with Scripture.

Give it a listen, here.

 

Elders and Deacons

You Can Listen to This Sermon Here.

1 Timothy 3:1-13 This saying is trustworthy: “If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work.” An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not addicted to wine, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy – one who manages his own household competently, having his children under control with all dignity. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a new convert, or he might become conceited and fall into the condemnation of the Devil. Furthermore, he must have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he does not fall into disgrace and the Devil’s trap.

Deacons, likewise, should be worthy of respect, not hypocritical, not drinking a lot of wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And they must also be tested first; if they prove blameless, then they can serve as deacons. Wives, too, must be worthy of respect, not slanderers, self-controlled, faithful in everything. Deacons must be husbands of one wife, managing their children and their own households competently. For those who have served well as deacons acquire a good standing for themselves, and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

Paul begins and ends this passage with commendations for those who aspire to serve as elders or has served well as deacons; it is a privilege to serve in either role. He describes these two roles within the local fellowship of saints, both having very similar qualifications, but very different roles (which are explained elsewhere in Scripture). Both are described as servants with responsibility, not rulers with authority. The Bible has authority in the church; the men do not.

The Apostles, forerunner of church elders, were to devote themselves to prayer and the preaching of the Word; deacons are to tend to the physical needs of the dynamic and diverse body of Christ. In Acts 6 the people did not vote for who would serve as deacons; they nominated seven godly men to the Apostles, who appointed the men to serve. This passage does not show a democracy in action as many Baptists falsely believe. It shows the active participation of the members, recognizing the role of those God had appointed to lead them. As the church matured, the Scripture shows us that elders had oversight on all the church did and deacons provided much more service than “waiting tables.” As there are spiritual issues behind every temporal matter a deacon might be called upon to help with, these men must be qualified and there must be a good rapport between the deacons and elders, so the body of Christ gets the best care possible.

Deacon. The Greek (diaconos) and English words refer both to one who serves the local church in this capacity as well as those who are simply known for being servants to the body of Christ. Deacons are not required to be spiritual guides, feeders of the flock, or teachers; they are required to be trustworthy and of moral character as they deal with matters of temporal importance and the related spiritual foundations. The health of the church depends on deacons functioning well, which requires the cooperation of the elders and the people. It is painfully apparent that many of us have lost sight of the completeness of the wisdom our Lord has provided us and the reason for it. How we serve Him and one another is be to the glory of His name and the good of His people.

Robert Boyt C. Howell laments “much confusion and division of sentiment regarding the nature of the office”; and he points out how so many miss the Scriptural teachings that describe the role of those who hold the office of deacon.

Nearly all the churches have made them ministers of the gospel. In the Roman Catholic church he is an inferior ecclesiastic, the second in the sacred order, who, with the permission of the bishop, has authority to preach and baptize. In the English church the Deacons are clergymen, but of the lowest grade; who can perform all the offices of priests, except the consecration of the sacred elements and the pronouncing of the absolution. In the German Protestant churches, when more ministers than one in the same congregation are necessary, the second, or assistant minister, is called the Deacon; and if there are two assistants the first is called the Arch-Deacon. In the Presbyterian church, the office is commonly merged with that of ruling elder, and, therefore, mostly disused. Where it is still retained, it embraces, as among Congregationalists and others, merely the distribution of alms. The Methodist and Episcopal churches in this country adopt, substantially, the practice of the English church, of which they are descendants. In the Baptist churches, the Deacons are not ministers who preach, on the one hand, nor mere distributors of alms on the other, but serve in a different capacity. They are a board of directors, and have charge of all the secular affairs in the kingdom of Christ

It is not unusual for Baptist deacons to have hire & fire authority over elders (a corollary error in this circumstance is the absence of a plurality of elders). In the end, nobody escapes unscathed! This all-too-common Baptist practice is blatantly taken from the modern business world, and puts the lower office of deacon as overseers of those called of God to be overseers, turning Scripture on its head.

We need to ask, is the Bible so unclear on the nature and duties of the office of deacon? Brothers, this is not the case! It is sin that keeps God’s people from seeing clearly, not a lack of clarity in God’s Holy Word. We must abide by what the Book reveals, and guard against traditions not found therein. If Scripture is not our guide, we are adrift on the sea of man’s wisdom; and that is dangerous.

The qualifications of deacons differ from those of elders on the single requirement of elders, but not deacons, being able to teach the Word of God. Deacons are to be men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit, holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These bedrock character traits often neglected when selecting deacons, as people focus on the man’s record of financial giving, business acumen, and abstinence from alcohol. While those traits can be easily measured, they cannot be found in the Bible as qualification for this office. The traits found in Scripture are not so easily quantified. It takes serious thought and hard work to determine if a man has a good reputation among his neighbors and work colleagues. It takes time and discernment to see if there be evidence of the Holy Spirit in a man. Who wants to put a man on the spot and see if he holds the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience? Can you even explain this requirement, much less investigate it? Installing men to serve the local church as deacons is sober work, not to be taken lightly or without serious prayer and reflection.

A deacon must be the husband of one wife. The literal meaning of the text is “a one woman man” – which means that if there was a biblical divorce and subsequent marriage, the man is not disqualified. If one holds that no divorce is biblical, the on-going sin in a second marriage becomes an on-going problem within the body. I see 2 reasons in Scripture wherein YHWH permits divorce, for unrepentant adultery or for abandonment by an unbelieving spouse. The goal of marriage is for each to last until death parts the couple. But even redeemed saints can fall into sin and be stiff-necked for a season; and the One Who knows our frailty has provided a narrow window – much narrower than in the Mosaic Covenant.

The requirement that deacons be tested first gives us a hint that we should invest the time and energy in examining would-be deacons; and not merely assuming these traits be theirs. This testing also provides the opportunity to see if his wife is sober minded and faithful, if his children are “managed well”. We must exercise the full measure of the biblical text to prove the men who would serve as deacons; they are care-takers of God’s sheep and co-laborers with His under-shepherds. This is a high calling (those who serve well gain a good standing) and we cannot allow our lazy human minds to rest on our own wisdom, or the taking of shortcuts or reliance on the traditions handed to us by other men. Finding men who tithe and do not frequent bars is wrong-headed and too low a bar for the office our Lord established for the temporal care of His redeemed.

As we desire our men to provide for their families, spiritually as well as physically, our deacons are to help families in each arena, with boundaries in both. Neither the church nor either office therein can unreasonably meddle with a family. God has established three spheres in this age, with specific roles and limits. It’s been said that to the state God gave the sword, to the church He gave the keys to the kingdom, and to the family He gave the rod of correction. We should not cross these boundaries without a clear biblical basis. Wisdom and care is needed if we are to tend to God’s people without ruling over them as “Gentiles” tend to do.

Healthy church members let their deacons know ahead of time when they will miss, and explain why. They will be more inclined to assemble with another local body while away if they properly understand church membership. This exercise of membership responsibilities is representative of any number of other earthly matters that deacons are likely to get involved with, each of which most often reflects the spiritual condition of the person. Lack of attendance and interest in church life, neglecting to worship in giving money, and many other concerns can be prompted by earthly things: illness, loss of work, death in the family, etc. In order to be wise stewards of the office, deacons must not presume to know the cause without investigating it, learning from Job who investigated the cause of what he did not know (Job 29:16). This keeps us from the sin of presumption and all that tends to follow closely behind.

As we examine men who would and do serve in our churches as deacons; as we consider how we determine the role of the office and how we select these men, let us humbly petition our God for wisdom and grace to do what is right in His sight – aligned with His scriptures and not resting on our own wisdom.

Elder. This role can only be fulfilled by a qualified man who is called and equipped by God for this service. There is no possible interpretation that allows self-identified or unconverted men, or women to serve in this capacity; and yet many churches do just this. This latter error is always the first big step to total apostasy for a church, preferring fallen man’s view of order over creator God’s declared view.

As mentioned earlier, the only different qualification for this role is that an elder must be able to teach. In our English Bibles we see the words Elder/Presbyter, Overseer/Bishop, Shepherd/Pastor. Each pair of these words comes from one Greek word; Elder/Presbyter is from presbyteros; Overseer/Bishop from episkope; and Shepherd/Pastor from poimen. They are used interchangeably and they all refer to a single office in the church which has several important functions, each of which is designed by the Lord to insure the health of each local church. The terms elder and presbyter refer to a man’s experience; in the Word and in the church. Overseer and bishop convey the act of being a spiritual guardian or protector, while pastor and shepherd refer to the spiritual care and feeding of God’s flock. We see overlap among these three functions in 1 Peter 5:1-5, where elders are exhorted by the Apostle Peter to shepherd God’s people with the right motive and attitude, serving as examples for the less mature Christians. In Acts 20:28, elders are instructed by the Apostle Paul to pay careful attention to themselves and the flock of God, in which the Holy Spirit made you overseers, to care for the church. One aspect of being a faithful elder that is implicit in these passages is that of being among the saints, knowing them as a shepherd knows his flock and being known as the shepherd is by the sheep. A man who does not live among his church members, who lives at a higher station of life, who spends all his time with other preachers is not faithful to his call. The elder must be an able teacher of the Word (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 3:1-8) and a diligent servant of God’s people (1 Timothy 5:17 & 18).  He must also be able and willing to rebuke those who contradict the Word of God within the local church (Titus 1:7-9), and he must be about training others to work alongside him as under-shepherds of Christ (2 Timothy 2:1-3). One who would hold this office must lead the church, serving as a proper example (2 Thessalonians 2:11 & 12; 2 Timothy 2:15), and the saints are commanded to submit to them, not being burdensome for them (Hebrews 13:17). Elders were given to the church, by God, to equip the saints for the work of the church, bringing them to maturity and the fullness of Christ so they would not be vulnerable to the deceptive schemes of the enemy (Ephesians 4:11-14). This means the biblical elder must feed God’s sheep the whole counsel of His Word, not trusting his opinion or theirs as to what is true nor picking some Scriptures from which to teach and ignoring others. His teaching is to be tested in light of Scripture; not accepted nor rejected by personal whimsy or blind friendship. All of these responsibilities of elders are beyond any man’s abilities, so the Bible reminds us that elders, like the Apostles who preceded them, must be men of prayer (Acts 6:4).

There is another requirement of the man who would serve as an elder. While some read 1 Timothy 3:2 to mean a single man cannot serve as an elder, the view most compatible with Scripture is that an elder who is married must be in a biblical marriage and work at keeping it. Elders must be one-woman men, and they must lead their churches to defend marriage in the face of reprobates. 1 Timothy 3 goes on to say the elder must be sober minded and not quarrelsome; all the more so in defending God’s people from unrighteous men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Romans 1:18).

Being God’s spokesman is no job for a new convert, one who is unsure of God’s Word, unwilling to proclaim God’s Word, unable to rebuke those who contradict God’s Word, or unworthy of being followed as God’s servant. The times in which we live are treacherous, with many professing Christians embracing abominable sin in order to be well thought of by those outside the camp of Christ. Christians are never to compromise God’s truth for the applause of men (Galatians 1:10) and elders must be held to a high standard so that the Lord’s name not be disgraced among the pagans and the local church not be led astray.

Ezekiel 33 & 34 describes watchman appointed by God with responsibilities to warn, guard, and care for the people of God. In these two chapters we see a contrast of the watchman with the shepherd: the watchman warns, the shepherd tends. In each passage, unfaithful watchmen and shepherds are contrasted with those who are faithful. Ezekiel 34:1-10 describes the failures of the leaders of Israel, showing what shepherds are supposed to fulfill. Shepherds are supposed to care for the flock. These men were feeding on the sheep; fleecing the sheep. These men had all the appearance of shepherds, but they were wolves. Pastoral ministry is hard work, not glamorous. Those who pose as celebrities, living the high life, are not pastors. Pastors should smell like sheep, walking in the mud and mess, scarred by the teeth of biting sheep. This is difficult but rewarding work. Every man should aspire to be a commendable man who leads his family as a shepherd leads the flock. He must diagnose and treat appropriately – you don’t strengthen the stray, you strengthen the weak; you don’t bind up the lost – you search for the lost. Each spiritual condition requires the correct spiritual remedy. The pastor must know illnesses and the people, else he cannot properly treat the sheep. Verse 10 in Ezekiel 34 shows the omnipotent hand of God rescuing His sheep from the teeth of the wolves. A true pastor will watch the flock like a man who must give an account to the God who has purchased the sheep with the blood of His own son. Because that is what God’s Word tells us the truth about those who would call themselves “pastor”.

Even with the best of intentions, we can go astray from the narrow path of biblical truth. Over time, man has developed unbiblical structures, imagining that Bishop is more honorific and must carry more responsibility (by which they mean fame). Most men who preach call themselves “pastor” regardless of whether they shepherd the flock God has gathered there or not. One who preaches but does not work to know and care for the saints the Lord has put under his watch cannot rightly call himself pastor; he is merely a preacher. These words are not titles by which the men who serve are to be called, but descriptions of service they provide within the local church. Because God has given these terms to describe the roles of men He calls to the office, we must be careful to use them correctly.

Plurality of elders. Most churches in every denomination and across the spectrum of Baptists miss the point of Scripture on this point. The Bible repeatedly shows us that even the early churches that met in houses had two or more men serving as elders, a plurality of elders.

Acts 14:22&23 – Paul and Barnabas had traveled to Antioch, Derbe, Iconium, & Lystra, where they strengthened the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

Acts 20:17 – Paul passed by Ephesus to Miletus. Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.

James – Was written to the churches resulting from Saul’s scattering of the saints (1:1), this letter shows elders in the local church (5:14).

Philippians is addressed (1:1) to overseers (elders) and deacons in that church, in addition to the entire congregation.

Hebrews recognizes leaders (elders) in that congregation (13:7, 17, 24).

1 Tim – Timothy was recognized by the elders of his church for his calling as an elder (1 Tim 4:14) and a plurality of elders is seen again in 5:17.

In large and small fellowships, having only one elder can lead to a kind of “cult of personality” as a solitary man is seen as the public face and voice of that church. One man alone, coping with a job, his family, and the ministry is vulnerable to being drawn aside by pragmatism in what may start as an innocent desire to do all things well and unto the Lord but which soon go astray. If the saints YHWH has gathered and gifted in the local church (1 Corinthians 12:4-11) are encouraged to serve the body, those serving as elders and deacons will have a much lighter load and the local church will marvel to see the Lord working in their midst!

Having two or more men who preach and teach provides several benefits, in addition to aligning with the examples and teachings from Scripture (Acts 11:27-30; 14:21-23; 20:7; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; et. al.). Two or more men can sharpen one another and hold each other accountable, while the church sees the true Shepherd more clearly when they see Him work through more than one man. The church will see strengths and weaknesses in each man and those men will have the opportunity to be examples of how to serve in unity without letting egos derail the ministry. As they seek to identify others and train them for this service, more men will have opportunity to serve the saints in myriad ways. This is part of life in the body of Christ that is vital and often undervalued. It is not, as one man said to me, a matter of money. It’s a matter of caring for the people of God as He has shown us.

Baptists used to be known as “people of the Book.” This topic of deacons and elders is one where many Baptists discard the Book and cling to traditions handed down by men. Brothers, this should not be so! We are servants with responsibility. The Bible is our only authority for life and godliness. We are to seek His will, revealed in Scripture, and not rely on our own wisdom or traditions.

Do you anticipate your Jubilee?

You Can Listen to this Sermon Here.

Much of the on-going theological debate about the Sabbath is focused on the weekly day of rest given to national Israel and whether or not it was changed in day, scope, and application in the New Covenant. But the idea of Sabbath is much greater and more significant than this, though mostly overlooked. This neglect actually ends up making too much of the day and too little of the One Who gives rest. Consider how YHWH commanded national Israel to give the land which He had given them a Sabbath rest every 7th year:

Leviticus 25:1-7 The LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai: “Speak to the Israelites and tell them: When you enter the land I am giving you, the land will observe a Sabbath to the LORD. You may sow your field for six years, and you may prune your vineyard and gather its produce for six years. But there will be a Sabbath of complete rest for the land in the seventh year, a Sabbath to the LORD: you are not to sow your field or prune your vineyard. You are not to reap what grows by itself from your crop, or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. It must be a year of complete rest for the land. Whatever the land produces during the Sabbath year can be food for you—for yourself, your male or female slave, and the hired hand or foreigner who stays with you. All of its growth may serve as food for your livestock and the wild animals in your land.

Note that, during the Sabbath year, the people of Israel could not take anything that was produced by plants that they had cultivated BUT they would live off the produce from those plants they had NOT cultivated – those that YHWH had provided. This reflects the same doctrine as the weekly Sabbath – rest from working to provide sustenance and trust God; the same message Jesus spoke in the Sermon on the Mount, wherein He was describing life in the New Covenant and told people that those therein should not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? (Matt 6:25) This last sentence reveals that He was speaking of the New Covenant, where life is spiritual and eternal and IS more than food and drink and clothing. Certainly life in this age requires food and drink and clothing, and even these the Father provides richly.

So the nation of Israel was to work the land for 6 years, then give it a Sabbath rest, following the pattern and purpose of the weekly Sabbath. Throughout their history they failed to obey either of these commanded rests and their exile was directly related to this:

2 Chronicles 36:11-21 Zedekiah was 21 years old when he became king and reigned 11 years in Jerusalem.  He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD his God and did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet at the LORD’s command. He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar who had made him swear allegiance by God. He became obstinate and hardened his heart against returning to Yahweh, the God of Israel. All the leaders of the priests and the people multiplied their unfaithful deeds, imitating all the detestable practices of the nations, and they defiled the LORD’s temple that He had consecrated in Jerusalem. But Yahweh, the God of their ancestors sent word against them by the hand of His messengers, sending them time and time again, for He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they kept ridiculing God’s messengers, despising His words, and scoffing at His prophets, until the LORD’s wrath was so stirred up against His people that there was no remedy. So He brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their choice young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary. He had no pity on young men or young women, elderly or aged; He handed them all over to him. He took everything to Babylon—all the articles of God’s temple, large and small, the treasures of the LORD’s temple, and the treasures of the king and his officials. Then the Chaldeans burned God’s temple. They tore down Jerusalem’s wall, burned down all its palaces, and destroyed all its valuable articles. He deported those who escaped from the sword to Babylon, and they became servants to him and his sons until the rise of the Persian kingdom. This fulfilled the word of the LORD through Jeremiah and the land enjoyed its Sabbath rest all the days of the desolation until 70 years were fulfilled.

Israel had disregarded nearly ever commandment given them, had mistreated the poor, and worshipped the demonic idols of the pagan nations – which they were commanded NOT to do. Law incites people to sin by telling you what you may not do.

Did you catch this one thing in that prophecy: the Chaldeans burned God’s temple. They tore down Jerusalem’s wallWhen Jesus spoke of every stone in the temple being overthrown, this scene where the Chaldeans burned God’s temple and tore down Jerusalem’s wall must have been playing in the minds of the Jews who heard Him. Even though YHWH had never commanded Israel to build a stone temple, He condescended to use it and honor it. Yet the stone temple, just as the stone tablets, were not super-spiritual and not everlasting; they and everything else in the Levitical religion pointed to One Who was greater than all and would make all things new.

The length of their exile was pegged to the yearly Sabbath they had forsaken. Jeremiah prophesied this, as we read in Jer. 25:11-12; 29:10-14 This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. ‘Then it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,’ declares the LORD, ‘for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it an everlasting desolation… “For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. ‘Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. ‘You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. ‘I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’

This was the declaration of God – national Israel will be punished for disobedience, the land will be left without human cultivation, and God’s time-table would determine when and how restoration would take place. When the 70 years were up, Daniel prayed to God and confessed the sins of his people, knowing God would be faithful to keep His promise and return the Jews to Jerusalem. What Daniel didn’t see clearly was that the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophesy would not be fulfilled until David’s Son and Lord would complete His redemptive work. Acts 15:12-18 shows how Amos’ prophecy about the rebuilding of David’s tent was actually about inclusion of Gentiles in the kingdom of God. All of which was told to Abram but forgotten by national Israel.

Lev 25 reveals the ultimate expression of Sabbath blessings for national Israel. Release of debt, freedom of slaves, etc. I will read much of this chapter to give us a sense of the weight of the laws governing Sabbaths and the relief this year of Jubilee promised.

Leviticus 25:8-22 You are to count seven sabbatical years, seven times seven years, so that the time period of the seven sabbatical years amounts to 49. Then you are to sound a trumpet loudly in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month; you will sound it throughout your land on the Day of Atonement. You are to consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim freedom in the land for all its inhabitants. It will be your Jubilee, when each of you is to return to his property and each of you to his clan. The fiftieth year will be your Jubilee; you are not to sow, reap what grows by itself, or harvest its untended vines. It is to be holy to you because it is the Jubilee; you may only eat its produce directly from the field. “In this Year of Jubilee, each of you will return to his property. If you make a sale to your neighbor or a purchase from him, do not cheat one another. You are to make the purchase from your neighbor based on the number of years since the last Jubilee. He is to sell to you based on the number of remaining harvest years. You are to increase its price in proportion to a greater amount of years, and decrease its price in proportion to a lesser amount of years, because what he is selling to you is a number of harvests. You are not to cheat one another, but fear your God, for I am Yahweh your God. “You are to keep My statutes and ordinances and carefully observe them, so that you may live securely in the land. Then the land will yield its fruit, so that you can eat, be satisfied, and live securely in the land. If you wonder: ‘What will we eat in the seventh year if we don’t sow or gather our produce?’ I will appoint My blessing for you in the sixth year, so that it will produce a crop sufficient for three years. When you sow in the eighth year, you will be eating from the previous harvest. You will be eating this until the ninth year when its harvest comes in.

Leviticus 25:39-43 If your brother among you becomes destitute and sells himself to you, you must not force him to do slave labor. Let him stay with you as a hired hand or temporary resident; he may work for you until the Year of Jubilee. Then he and his children are to be released from you, and he may return to his clan and his ancestral property. They are not to be sold as slaves, because they are My slaves that I brought out of the land of Egypt. You are not to rule over them harshly but fear your God.

Leviticus 25:47-55 “If a foreigner or temporary resident living among you prospers, but your brother living near him becomes destitute and sells himself to the foreigner living among you, or to a member of the foreigner’s clan, he has the right of redemption after he has been sold. One of his brothers may redeem him. His uncle or cousin may redeem him, or any of his close relatives from his clan may redeem him. If he prospers, he may redeem himself. The one who purchased him is to calculate the time from the year he sold himself to him until the Year of Jubilee. The price of his sale will be determined by the number of years. It will be set for him like the daily wages of a hired hand. If many years are still left, he must pay his redemption price in proportion to them based on his purchase price. If only a few years remain until the Year of Jubilee, he will calculate and pay the price of his redemption in proportion to his remaining years. He will stay with him like a man hired year by year. A foreign owner is not to rule over him harshly in your sight. If he is not redeemed in any of these ways, he and his children are to be released at the Year of Jubilee. For the Israelites are My slaves. They are My slaves that I brought out of the land of Egypt; I am Yahweh your God.

Those who are down and out, poor and vulnerable, are not to be mistreated – because they belong to YHWH. They could be forced to work for wages but not treated as slaves. At the appointed time, the year of Jubilee, they were to be released. Jews who sell themselves as slaves to Gentiles were to be redeemed, calculating the price based on the year of Jubilee. Twice they were reminded of how YHWH brought His people out of slavery in Egypt with a mighty hand, how they are to treat people right because of their fear of YHWH their God. This was to keep them from thinking too highly of themselves and too little of one another.

Numbers 36:1-4 The family leaders from the clan of the descendants of Gilead—the son of Machir, son of Manasseh—who were from the clans of the sons of Joseph, approached and addressed Moses and the leaders who were over the Israelite families. They said, “Yahweh commanded my lord to give the land as an inheritance by lot to the Israelites. My lord was further commanded by Yahweh to give our brother Zelophehad’s inheritance to his daughters. If they marry any of the men from the other Israelite tribes, their inheritance will be taken away from our fathers’ inheritance and added to that of the tribe into which they marry. Therefore, part of our allotted inheritance would be taken away. When the Jubilee comes for the Israelites, their inheritance will be added to that of the tribe into which they marry, and their inheritance will be taken away from the inheritance of our ancestral tribe.

Jubilee meant return of inheritance, land that had been surrendered according to the law of the nation. It was the year of the Lord’s favor! The nation had been given a weekly Sabbath, a 7th year Sabbath, and a 50th year Sabbath; the entire Sabbath structure was to teach them to trust YHWH for the things of this world that we need. One thing you might not know: until the early 20th century, mortgages in this country ran 7 years – because of the Sabbath land law given Israel. As part of the human reaction against everything of God, bankers thought it was smart to extend mortgages and see the size of loans grow accordingly. Houses got larger, more expensive, and took 30 years rather than 7 years to pay off. Look at how many people live over their heads in debt because they pay 30 years on a house, 7 years on a car, and 15 years on credit cards. Cars are not sold much on price any more, but on monthly payments. These terms are evidence of fleshly desires to have stuff and not to count the cost – only the ability, today, to pay for it each month. This is slavery.

Jubilee was the promise of being set free from these debts, set free from the laws that regulated Israel. Yet whether it was a mortgage that was refinanced, a car that was replaced, or another cycle of hard work until the next Sabbath, the temporal Jubilee could only whet one’s appetite for the spiritual, eternal Jubilee that would mean true freedom for the souls of the saints. When you read Leviticus, does your soul ache for Christ? The Spirit intends that!

But did Jesus say or do anything that established Himself as our Jubilee, or is this idea a theological fabrication?

You recall, right after He was baptized by John, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit to the wilderness, where He was tempted by Satan. Almost immediately after the temptation, Jesus was teaching in their synagogues, being acclaimed by everyone (Luke 4:15). Then He entered into the synagogue, as was His custom, in Nazareth – the city of His birth.

He walked in and stood up, indicating He was ready to read. (Luke 4:17) The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him, and unrolling the scroll, He found the place where it was written, in Isaiah 61, which details these Jubilee blessings and declared that His coming had fulfilled those promises! Isaiah 61:1-2 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor. Jesus stopped quoting Isaiah at the point wherein prophecy was fulfilled at that time. The latter part of verse 2 will be fulfilled when He returns to judge the nations, gather His people, and make all things new: and the day of our God’s vengeance; to comfort all who mourn.

Luke 4:20-21 He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on Him. He began by saying to them, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled.”

Luke 4:22-23 They were all speaking well of Him and were amazed by the gracious words that came from His mouth, yet they said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Then He said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me: ‘Doctor, heal yourself. So all we’ve heard that took place in Capernaum, do here in Your hometown also.’” Jesus was not seeking to impress or please these people who were amazed at His words; He was rather abrupt with them. He went on to recite two incidents from their history. The first was where the widow of Sidon was taken care of because Elijah was sent to her, but not to any in Israel who were in great need. Secondly was the occasion of the Syrian leper, Naaman, who was cured of leprosy while many lepers in Israel were not cured. In both cases, God had miraculously cared for Gentiles while not doing so for many in Israel.

The point was not glorification of Israel; it was the glorious redemptive plan of YHWH that Jesus was beginning to unveil before them. All the jubilee promises from Leviticus 25 meant nothing to them. This man, by His very presence, threatened their plush lives and positions of influence. And for this they wanted to kill Him.

Luke 4:28-30 When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They got up, drove Him out of town, and brought Him to the edge of the hill that their town was built on, intending to hurl Him over the cliff. But He passed right through the crowd and went on His way. Again, we see Jesus focused on a mission that is not focused on the creature. Not only did He not try to impress the home crowd, He drew two incidents from Israel’s history to show them YHWH had people from among the Gentiles, that national Israel was not the end-game for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Jews hated the thought – remember how Jonah reacted when YHWH told him to go to Nineveh? And so they tried to kill Jesus. But it was not His time – His work had only begun.

When John’s disciples asked if Jesus was the promised one (while John was in jail), Luke 7:22-23 (HCSB) He replied to them, “Go and report to John the things you have seen and heard: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news. And anyone who is not offended because of Me is blessed.”

Jesus did send John reassurance but not in the way we might expect, not with words of fleshly comfort. He declared Himself as Lord of the Sabbath as His witness. He brought the age of the true Sabbath, the day of the Lord’s favor! All who are weary and heavy laden can come to Him for rest! Lord of the Sabbath – not merely Lord of the weakly Sabbath, as if that one day a week were a worthy type of rest, in and of itself. The Sabbath rest given national Israel was much more than the weekly day of rest. Even as that day has eschatological meaning, unless we see and grasp the heavy weight lifted by the entire system of the Sabbath – 7th day, 7th year, 50th year – we won’t appreciate what Jesus meant when He said He would set us free. Be not earthly minded, but set your affections on the heavenlies, wherein Christ is.

Jesus was crucified on a high Sabbath (John 19:31), emphasizing His role as the Lord who provides Sabbath/rest for His people. The rest promised in Canaan was a shadow of the rest we have when we come to Christ in faith. The relief promised in the Jubilee Sabbath was nothing more than a shadow of the rest we have when the Spirit of God raises us up from spiritual death to new life in Christ!

At the transfiguration, Peter was, in essence, recognizing Moses and Elijah as Jesus’ equals – tabernacles for each! But God the Father shut Peter up and, with Jesus all by Himself – as the One Who had fulfilled the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah) – told the apostles to listen to Him! When Jesus had finished the work He had been sent to do, the Old Covenant Law and the Old Covenant prophets had finished their course and were not worthy to have tabernacles built for them along-side of Jesus. If we have a right view of Christ, we will not want anyone or anything – such as undue focus on the Decalogue – to obscure our view of Him. This is the mystery of the Christian life – we are His and He is ours!

Speaking to those who wanted to live as Jews, under the Law of Moses, Paul wrote: Galatians 3:22-26 But the Scripture has imprisoned everything under sin’s powerso that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Before this faith came, we were confined under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith was revealed. The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith. But since that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Everything in creation is under sin’s power; the earth was cursed because of Adam’s sin. This was to preclude any boasting by any flesh, to make salvation by grace through faith all the more evident. Before Christ came, Jews were kept by the law which served as a guardian – it kept the promised seed secure and pointed them to their Scriptures and the One Who was to come. When He came, the Mosaic Law had finished its course, the type had served its purpose, and the covenant in which that law functioned was swept away as the antitype came and ushered in the New Covenant with its new mediator, new priesthood, and new law. Gentiles, who were never under the Mosaic Law, are a law unto themselves, and do not escape the wrath of God. There is no refuge for man other than Christ Jesus! No matter which law binds up the soul of man, there is only One who can free him. Call upon Jesus – He is the Lamb of God Who takes away sin! Look unto Him, trust your weary soul to Him, believe on Him. He is the Jubilee for your weary soul.

Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched

Weak and wounded, sick and sore

Jesus, ready, stands to save you

Full of pity, joined with power

He is able, He is able

He is willing; doubt no more

 

Come ye needy, come, and welcome

God’s free bounty glorify

True belief and true repentance

Every grace that brings you nigh

Without money, without money

Come to Jesus Christ and buy

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,

 

Bruised and broken by the fall

If you tarry ’til you’re better

You will never come at all

Not the righteous, not the righteous

Sinners Jesus came to call

 

Let not conscience make you linger

Nor of fitness fondly dream

All the fitness He requires

Is to feel your need of Him

This He gives you, this He gives you

‘Tis the Spirit’s rising beam

 

Lo! The Incarnate God, ascended

Pleads the merit of His blood

Venture on Him, venture wholly

Let no other trust intrude

None but Jesus, none but Jesus

Can do helpless sinners good

Who are the Lost?

It’s common, in the world of evangelical Christianity, to call everyone who is not redeemed, lost. Is that how the Bible uses the word “lost?” This word is found 14 times in the HCSB New Testament and three of them have nothing to do with being separated from God: Mark 2:22 is talking about mixing old covenant theology with new covenant theology, using wineskins as metaphors. Luke 22:18 shows the care of God in preserving His saints during trials. 1 Corinthian 3:15 reveals that some work done in this life by the saints will be burned up (lost) in the judgment.

What of the other 11 uses? They show up in 10 verses, each providing insight into who is “lost.”

 

Matthew uses this term three times, referring to those to whom Jesus was sent; no reference to those left to themselves. Jesus’ initial ministry was to national Israel, as these passages reflect. But God’s plan of redemption has always included people from every nation and tongue, as many passages reveal.

Matthew 10:5-6 Jesus sent out these 12 after giving them instructions: “Don’t take the road leading to other nations, and don’t enter any Samaritan town.  Instead, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Matthew 15:24 He replied, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Matthew 18:11 For the Son of Man has come to save the lost.

 

Luke uses the word 6 times in 5 places; in each case, the person or thing described as lost is that which was searched for and found. The parables of the lost sheep, coin, and the prodigal son all get summed up in the last passage. Salvation has come because Jesus had come to seek and save the lost! No mention of that which was lost staying lost.

Luke 15:3-7 So He told them this parable: “What man among you, who has 100 sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it?  When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’  I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who don’t need repentance.

Luke 15:8-10 “Or what woman who has 10 silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?  When she finds it, she calls her women friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found the silver coin I lost!’  I tell you, in the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.”

Luke 15:24 because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate.

Luke 15:31-32 “‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Luke 19:9-10 “Today salvation has come to this house,” Jesus told him, “because he too is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.”

 

In John’s gospel we find this word two times, including the one use of “lost” to describe someone that was not sought out and saved; Judas was lost. As the Pulpit Commentary points out, Judas was a specific exception, having been appointed by God to serve his role as the son of destruction or perdition. Rather than having been lost then found, Judas was seemingly found and then lost. But as the second passage shows, Judas was not given to Jesus to be kept, because Jesus claims to have lost none – not even one – of those given Him by the Father. This is why the Pulpit Commentary is right and it explains why Judas does not provide grounds to call all the unbelievers “lost.”

John 17:12 While I was with them, I was protecting them by Your name that You have given Me. I guarded them and not one of them is lost, except the son of destruction, so that the Scripture may be fulfilled.  The Pulpit Commentary: And I guarded (them) – ἐτήρουν signifies watchful observation; ἐφύλαξα, guardianship as behind the walls of a fortress – and not one perished – went to destruction – except that the son of perdition (has perished). Christ does not say that the son of perdition was given him by the Father and guarded from the evil one, and yet had gone to his own place; the exception refers simply to the “not one perished.”

John 18:8-9 “I told you I am ⌊He⌋,” Jesus replied. “So if you’re looking for Me, let these men go.”  This was to fulfill the words He had said: “I have not lost one of those You have given Me.”

 

Summary. This last passage does not use “lost” but it shows two things: First, Jesus came to do the Father’s will, which was stated Matthew 18:11 and in Luke 19:10: For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost. Second, He will lose none of those given to Him by the Father. Every person who is lost will be saved; none who are saved will be lost. This does not say everybody will be saved, for not everyone is “lost” – only the unconverted elect are. Everyone who is not, today, a child of God is unconverted. Some of them are lost and will be found; the rest will face judgment without a refuge.

John 6:37-39 Everyone the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me: that I should lose none of those He has given Me but should raise them up on the last day.

The Man in Romans 7

The Man in Romans 7

In order to rightly understand what Paul taught in the latter part of Romans 7, we need to understand how he described two groups of people earlier in this epistle.

In Rom 3 & 4, Paul is teaching his kinsmen of the flesh why being Jewish is not enough, how children of promise are true Jews. In Rom 5:1-5 he is teaching – again – how those Jewish Christians were reconciled to God: righteous in faith, rejoicing in Christ and our afflictions, grounded in love, and possessed by the Holy Spirit.

In what follows in chapter 5 is an ongoing contrast between unconverted Jews and converted Jews, with an abbreviated history of sin – contrasting the first and last Adams. Throughout this chapter, the redeemed are described as righteous, justified, full of grace, saved from wrath, reconciled to God, having eternal life. The unconverted are described as helpless, ungodly, enemies of God, dead in sin, under judgment, condemned. Quite a difference – worth noting.

Chapter 6 is a continuation of Paul’s argument from the previous chapters, where he encourages the redeemed Jews (this is still his primary audience) are exhorted to walk in grace, not sin. These people are called dead to sin, joined with Christ, crucified with Christ, free from sin, alive to God, under grace, slaves of obedience and righteousness. He tells them – and us – not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies, for, he says, “sin will not rule over you because you are not under law but under grace.” (vs 14) We have new fruit resulting in sanctification and eternal life; we have a new master, grace – no longer slaves to master sin.

The unconverted man in Romans 6 has everything in common with his counterpart in chapter 5; he is in bondage and domination of sin, a slave to sin, ruled by death, obedient to sin, unrighteous, and ruled by sin; under law. This man is obedient to sin, under law not grace, a slave to sin – leading to death, weak in the flesh, morally impure, lawless, producing the fruit of death. Sin is his master, not grace.

The contrast between the unconverted sinner and the redeemed sinner is striking and it’s consistent: the one man is fleshly and full of sin, under the law and breaking the law; the other man is full of the Holy Spirit, rejoicing in all things, dead to sin and the law, producing good fruit unto eternal life.

A couple of observations: contextually, Paul has been describing his kinsmen of the flesh. The man in Romans 7 is a Jew, even though all people can identify with the spiritual struggle portrayed. The pious Jew  would see God’s law, instructions, Scriptures as good and holy even while he would be unable to comply with them.

When we then read about the man in Romans 7:13-24, who does he sound like? Let’s look at a list:

vs 13: dead, sinful

vs 14: of flesh, sold into sin’s power

vs 15 & 16: double minded

vs 17: full of sin

vs 18: no ability to do good

vs 19 -21: captive to evil

vs 22: he agrees, he knows the law of God is good

vs 23: he is a prisoner of sin

vs 24: he is a wretched man

While you and I see some of our Christian life in what Paul wrote about in this passage, it’s clear that this man has nothing in common with the redeemed man Paul described in chapter 5 & 6; but he has everything in common with the unconverted man in those chapters.  The context of the epistle indicates Paul is describing a Jew, not a Gentile, and a Jew that is struggling under a law he knows is good but without the ability to obey from the heart and produce good fruit unto eternal life. The man in Romans 7 does not have the Holy Spirit, but he is of the flesh, captive to evil, a slave to sin, producing fruit unto death.

The change to present tense does not mandate the view that Paul has changed course and began talking about himself as a Christian. It may very well be nothing more than a literary device to make the plight of the man all the more gripping. He is in a very dangerous condition! Present tense does not mandate the view that this man is Paul as a Christian. The description of the man and the larger context of the epistle provide a more sure guide to interpret this passage.

As with all Scripture, we learn from this passage. But we have no more reason to insert ourselves into this passage than we do with Jeremiah 29:11.

What About Suffering?

What should be our attitude toward suffering trials and tribulations? Let us look into the Word.

Twice in the book of Job, YHWH taunts Satan, asking if he has considered His servant. Here’s the first one:

Job 1:6-8 (HCSB) One day the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. The LORD asked Satan, “Where have you come from?” “From roaming through the earth,” Satan answered Him, “and walking around on it.” Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? No one else on earth is like him, a man of perfect integrity, who fears God and turns away from evil.”

In all his suffering Job did not sin – God held him in His hand, sustaining Job through the trial; not removing him from it.

Much later in redemptive history, YHWH tells one of His servants that Satan wants another shot.

Luke 22:31-32 (HCSB) “Simon, Simon, look out! Satan has asked to sift you like wheat.  But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

The faithful Son follows the path of His Father and holds His servant and sustains him through the trial, not removing him from it.

When we read of tribulation in the Bible, we are promised we’ll have them if we are walking as children of the light. Rather than looking to be removed from trials, we should have much confidence that God will sustain us through them. For our good and His glory. He has saved us from the wrath to come – what is it to suffer a little while in the flesh?

Judgment is Coming

We are familiar with the parable of the ten minas and 10 servants. This parable is told by Jesus following His encounter with Zacchaeus and begins, Luke 19:11-12 (HCSB) “As they were listening to this, He went on to tell a parable because He was near Jerusalem, and they thought the kingdom of God was going to appear right away. Therefore He said: “A nobleman traveled to a far country to receive for himself authority to be king and then return.”

Note this – those closest to Him still thought the kingdom of God was a response to the Roman occupation of their homeland. He tells them this parable to show them the truth about the kingdom and begins by telling them He is going away to receive authority to be King of kings and then return. That’s the point of this parable – Jesus was going to His Father to receive all authority and then return. He told His servants to engage in business until He came back. Luke 19:14 (HCSB) “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We don’t want this man to rule over us!’”

Luke 19:15 (ESV) “When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business.”

When Christ returns, it will be as King of kings. He will judge the nations, gather His people, and make all things new. In this parable, He rewards those who were diligent and punishes those who were lazy. Luke 19:27 (ESV) “But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’”

Here, then, is the bad news. Those who, in this age, do not want this man to rule over them will suffer His judgment upon His return. They are His enemies and they will pay, eternally, for their rebellion.

If you hear the call of God, turn and look upon Christ in all His glory. Do not fear man, who can only kill the body. Fear Him who can throw body and soul into hell. Look unto Christ, believe on Him; for you do not know what tomorrow will bring.

Better than the Passover

Better than Passover

You can listen to this sermon here.

This evening, we will compare and contrast the Lord’s Supper with the Passover given to national Israel. So many things given to the Old Covenant people point to partial or final fulfillment in what has been given to New Covenant people – they are there to teach about and point us to Christ. They are intended to give us a richer understanding of how the Bible fits all things together and has a deeper meaning than a superficial read can provide.

The Lord’s Supper is given to God’s people in the New Covenant as the sign of that covenant (Luke 22:19-20), just as the weekly Sabbath was given to God’s people in the Mosaic Covenant as the sign of that covenant (Exod. 31:12-18; Ezek. 20:11-20). In Ex 31, national Israel was commanded to keep the weekly Sabbath for it was a sign between Him and them. In 1 Cor 11 we are told that the Lord’s Supper is a declaration of His victorious death, whereby He conquered sin on our behalf. While the sign of the Old Covenant could be seen and practiced by anyone, the sign of the New Covenant cannot be understood or practiced by anyone unless they have been born again by God.

The Lord’s Supper is connected to the last Passover (Matt 26:17-30), observed in conjunction with weekly fellowship meal (Acts 2:42; 20:7) Just as the Passover meal signified the passing-over of the angel of death, so the Lord’s Supper signifies the passing through death of our Savior.

The first Passover anticipated the redemption of ethnic Israel from the bondage of Egypt (Deut 16:1). The first Lord’s Supper anticipated the redemption of spiritual Israel from the bondage of sin (1 Cor 11:23-26). The annual Passover reminded ethnic Israel of the freedom from Egypt their God had given them. The regular observance of the Lord’s Supper reminds spiritual Israel of the freedom from sin their Savior has given them.

The Passover was the covenant meal of the Old Covenant (Ex 12:17). The Lord’s Supper is the covenant meal of the New Covenant. The Passover was a mostly bitter meal, reminding the Jews of their time of want and the faithful provision of their God. The Lord’s Supper was usually observed after a fellowship meal, reminding the children of God of His provision of food for the body and the soul and the faithfulness of the One Who said He would return.

The Passover was observed with family or close friends within the covenant community (Exod 12:43-49). The Lord’s Supper is observed with all who are in Christ, within the local fellowship of saints.

The Old Covenant required observance of certain religious rites for membership: make circumcision, weekly rest from work, the Passover, occasional monthly and annual feast days. Faith in God, belief in the promised seed was not required for membership – only observance of a few religious rites. Those who fail to observe these rites were cut off from the covenant community. This is termed “formalism” and it is a sign of dead religion and must be guarded against within the local fellowship of saints.

The New Covenant requires the application of one truth: you must be born again by the Spirit of God; you must be circumcised of the heart, done without human hands (Col 2:11). Faith in the promised seed is required for membership – no one can enter the wedding feast of the Lamb without the required clothes (Matt 22:12) – the righteousness of Christ! Failure to participate in the fellowship of the saints and the observation of the Lord’s Supper neglect the care of their own souls and could be cut off from the New Covenant community until such time repentance might be granted.

Jewish parents used the Passover to teach their children about YHWH and their physical redemption. Christian parents should use the Lord’s Supper to teach their children about the redemptive death of Jesus and the need to believe on Him to be delivered from sin. Belief in God and the promised seed was not a requirement to eat the Passover. Belief on the promised Seed is a requirement to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Great teaching opportunity.

If people did not prepare for the initial Passover as directed, they would die (Ex 12:12-13). If Christians take the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner, they may die (1 Cor 11:27-30). This is the most graphic reminder that only believers are permitted to take this ordinance seriously. As the people in the Old Covenant taught their children about the need for YHWH’s redemption from Egypt and His faithful provision thereof, so parents in the New Covenant should teach their children about their need for redemption from sin and Jesus’ faithful provision to save. Both ordinances given the New Covenant community are great teaching opportunities for those who have not been brought near by the blood of Christ; and they are great teaching opportunities for all who have been redeemed, as we each need to be reminded of what He has done on our behalf, lest we drift into thinking little of sin and of His payment for it.

See Luke 24:35 – He opened their eyes when He broke the bread. He vanished from their presence after opening their eyes of faith. This served the same purpose for these two as His ascension does for all the saints – He departed from this world to send the Spirit as we learn to walk by faith and not by sight. Pagan religions require a god they can see and handle, because they walk by sight and not faith.

Paul tells us that Jesus was our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7), showing us the Passover is not a continuing observance, but a ceremonial shadow or type that pointed God’s people to the promised seed who would save His people from their sin. The Lord’s Supper has connections to the Passover but is itself the sign of a better covenant (Luke 22:20 & Hebrews 8:6).

Jesus is our (believers’) Passover (1 Cor 5:7): Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast permeates the whole batch of dough? Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch. You are indeed unleavened, for Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us observe the feast, not with old yeast or with the yeast of malice and evil but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. The call is to remember our need of salvation, the spiritual application of the temporal redemption given national Israel on their first Passover. No room for boasting within the New Covenant except for the cross of Christ. We are called to not tolerate the mixing of Old Covenant bondage or unbelievers (those infected with malice and evil) within the body of Christ; but welcome only those who are possessed by sincerity and truth.

This ordinance belongs exclusively to the gospel age, being typified in several Old Testament passages, such as when Melchizedek brought wine and bread to refresh Abram and his warriors who had just defeated several pagan kings (Genesis 14:17-20). Even so, we who are born again by the will of God are immediately at war with our flesh, the system of the world and its present ruler. Christ gives us spiritual nourishment with this simple symbol, the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, of His victory over sin and death and hell and Satan. ‘Tis a far, far better respite than what Melchizedek gave Abram. We see another reference to this church ordinance in Proverbs 9:1-6, as lady wisdom bids God’s people come to the table she has set, bread and wine, for refreshment and refuge from lure of the culture which wars against our souls.

And read the prophet Isaiah on this topic: On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:6-9)

This is the message of the Lord’s Table: “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

This is just one aspect of how the OT points to spiritual things. Think about how rich the entire OT is in its revelation of Christ; that was the Scripture from which Jesus and the apostles preached the gospel to the first century world.

While the Bible does not explicitly command us on the frequency, we do see a narrative showing it was an important part of their weekly gatherings, some 30 to 40 years after Pentacost. Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight (Acts 20:7). One author (Terrance O’Hare) observed: “Most commentators agree that this was a Sunday evening meeting, at a recurring gathering of Christians on the first day of the week following their normal activities and work. [Note: this was before Christianity was legal and before Sunday was a regular day off for workers.] They came together in order to break bread. This does not mean that preaching was secondary, but when they came together, they purposed to commune in the symbolism of the covenant meal as the Lord had commended and as the apostles has established by tradition.” We should no more neglect the Lord’s Supper than the Israelites did their Passover.

While Scripture does not tell us how frequently to observe this ordinance, it does command us to take it, revealing that it is nourishing to our souls, enhances our fellowship. This puts a new light on this question about frequency; perhaps the question for some should be, why don’t we take this ordinance more frequently? The commonly discussed down-side to observing this ordinance regularly is that it can (they often mean will) become routine, dull, meaningless. That was my first thought when I served in a church that took the Lord’s Table weekly. My time at that church showed me that, properly handled, the weekly observance of this ordinance is not routine, dull, or meaningless. If Christ be rightly presented, if we are put in our place of coming to Him with gratitude, in humility, aware of our not-yet status of being conformed to Him, then this simple ordinance is what God intended it to be, bringing glory to the Father through the Son and building up His people spiritually.

The beloved Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, declared, “Shame on the Christian Church that she should put it off to once a month, and mar the first day of the week by depriving it of its glory in the meeting together for fellowship and breaking of bread, and showing forth the death of Christ til He comes.” Throughout the history of the church, weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper has been the traditional practice, ably supported by the Word of God.

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16)

When we take the cup of the Lord’s Supper, we should remember the cup of wrath He took on our behalf. The cup we hold is a symbol of the glorious benefit of being redeemed by His sacrifice, so we thank our God for His grace while we also soberly remember the price that was paid. No small price; He drank the cup of wrath and shed His blood to secure our redemption. As we drink the cup of His peace, the New Covenant, we do drink vicariously the cup of wrath. When we eat the bread or cracker, which is broken in remembrance of His atoning death, we participate vicariously in the death He died. This is why Paul said Galatians 2:19-20: For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. This is what is real – our spiritual life. It is what is eternal.

Whenever we take this ordinance, let us seek out those within this fellowship whom we have sinned against or who has sinned against us and seek true reconciliation as the Lord’s Supper represents unity that can only exist by those indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

No Compromise!

As Jesus went through the countryside, preaching and healing people, His fame spread and crowds often followed Him – including religious leaders who saw Him as a threat, rather than the possible Messiah.

When the men lowered their crippled friend on a matt through the roof, so he might get close to Jesus and perhaps healed, the Scribes and Pharisees were watching very closely, to see if they could catch Jesus violating their law.

When Jesus healed the cripple, these religious leaders began to formulate a plan.

But they didn’t see Jesus rightly; He knew their thoughts and, rather than seek to sooth their suspicions, He looked them in the eyes and said, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God.

So it is with us. When people of the world suspect you are in Christ, they will want to influence you to “not make waves.” This is why we are told not to talk about politics or religion in family gatherings or at work.

Know this: No one will be saved by Christians “playing nice” and avoiding the plain speech of the gospel. Men are by nature children of wrath and wrath they will face unless Christ save them. He – alone – is the Savior of sinners. Preach and declare Him, don’t get intimidated to play nice.

Better Than Moses

Better than Moses, Matt 5:17ff

You can listen to this sermon here. 

The Sermon on the Mount covers chapters 5 – 7 in Matthew’s gospel. The context is shortly after His temptation and the very beginning of His public ministry. Large crowds had begun to follow Him. Matthew 5:1-2 When He saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. Then He began to teach them. “Disciples” in this setting refers to the large crowds that followed Jesus from time to time; these people were not His 12 that we read of later.

After telling them about the characteristics of the people in His kingdom (the beatitudes, salt and light, city on a hill), Jesus abruptly shifts gears. He begins to transition into His main point: He is not just a prophet, He is greater than the greatest prophet YHWH had ever raised up. Here’s how He is compared in Hebrews 3:5-6 Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s household, as a testimony to what would be said in the future. But Christ was faithful as a Son over His household. And we are that household if we hold on to the courage and the confidence of our hope. To be that household mean we are sons. Paul tells us we are no longer servants but sons of God; and since we are sons, we are heirs (Gal 4:7). What a contrast! Moses is described as faithful servant; Jesus is termed the faithful Son over the household of God. And we are sons of God through faith in Christ. This is the hinge-point of the Sermon on the Mount: Jesus unveiling Himself to pious Jews who desired to see the Messiah.

Matthew 5:17-20 (HCSB) “Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Is the gospel an offer?

Is the gospel an offer?

 

First, what is an offer? From Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:

OF’FER, verb transitive [Latin offero; ob and fero, to bring.]

  1. Literally, to bring to or before; hence, to present for acceptance or rejection; to exhibit something that may be taken or received or not. He offered me a sum of money. He offered me his umbrella to defend me from the rain.

 

Does that sound like what the Bible describes as the gospel, something He offers up to be accepted or rejected?

 

After condemning the Pharisees with the parable of the tenants, Jesus tells them, (Matthew 21:43) Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing its fruit. The kingdom of God will be TAKEN from national Israel and GIVEN to spiritual Israel; God takes from one and gives to another.

Many people who claim the gospel is an offer turn to any of several places where God calls people to come to Him. In the first place, the English word, come, is an imperative – a command. When a mother tells her toddler “come here,” she is not inviting him, she’s not offering him the option; she’s commanding him. When the queen of England bids an entertainer to sing for her, everybody calls it a “command performance” because the queen issued the “invitation.” So many who call God sovereign posit Him as someone who offers and invites His creatures to come into His kingdom – as if He were less than the queen of England, less than a mother of small children.

How much more greater and grander and beyond our ability to comprehend is the Creator and Judge of all flesh? When the Lord of glory tells His chosen ones, “Come!” it is, as everyone who embraces the doctrines of grace knows, an irresistible call.  When you and I preach the gospel, we try to persuade men – the general call we give (not knowing who the elect are) can be resisted or accepted. Yet our words, our persuasive speech is not what saves anyone. The Spirit of God moves as does the wind – no man controls nor is able to know for sure where He goes. And He gives life to that which was dead, and those called by God to come are no more able to say no than Lazarus was, being 4 days dead in the tomb. Jesus did not invite Lazarus to come forth, didn’t offer him another few years in the flesh. He commanded Lazarus to come forth; and Lazarus did so.

Preach the gospel to every creature, we are told. Nothing about offering the kingdom to anyone. Nothing about inviting them – compel them to come, the master of the wedding feast said. How do we compel people to come to Christ? By being faithful with our proclamation of His gospel. It is the power of God unto salvation for those who are being saved. He compels His chosen ones to come to the wedding feast.

Throughout Acts, we read of the kingdom being preached and proclaimed, not one instance of the kingdom being offered. We read in Revelation that God has made us a kingdom of priest unto Him.  Of 158 occurrences of “kingdom” in the HCSB new testament, not one of them can be portrayed as being offered to anyone.

A similar survey of “gospel” shows us the same results. Of 78 occurrences, we see much about proclaiming and preaching and announcing the gospel. People hear the gospel; the gospel is confessed and presented and it is preserved. The gospel is veiled to those who are perishing (2 Cor 4:3). The gospel is established and advanced. People are called by God through the gospel. No occurrence of the gospel being offered.

Why does this matter?

If the gospel and the kingdom are offered to sinners, God is put in the position of “the anxious seller,” hoping people will accept Him. The Bible does not give any hint of God in this light. He commands the clouds where to go and drop rain, He gives life to that which was dead, He calls into existence things that do not exist.

While none of us is able to describe God comprehensively, each of us who name Christ as Lord should seek to never reduce Him in any of His attributes. God speaks and His sheep hear His voice. He needs not offer His kingdom to anyone – He gives it to whom He pleases.