Christianity 201

March 17, 2017

Peace for Jerusalem

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This is our second visit in six months to the writing of Amy Simpson, author of Troubled Minds and Anxious. You may learn more about her books at this link. To read today’s post on her blog (with an appropriate picture) you are encouraged to click the title below:

A Prayer that Will Change Your Perspective

“I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’
And now here we are,
standing inside your gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is a well-built city;
its seamless walls cannot be breached.
All the tribes of Israel—the Lord’s people—
make their pilgrimage here.
They come to give thanks to the name of the Lord,
as the law requires of Israel.
Here stand the thrones where judgment is given,
the thrones of the dynasty of David.
Pray for peace in Jerusalem.
May all who love this city prosper.
O Jerusalem, may there be peace within your walls
and prosperity in your palaces.
For the sake of my family and friends, I will say,
‘May you have peace.’
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek what is best for you, O Jerusalem.”
Psalm 122

This psalm is one of David’s songs of ascent, probably written to be sung as God’s people ascended on their trip to Jerusalem for worship. Jerusalem, after all, is on a high hill, and there is no way to approach the city without ascending. This fact, and this psalm, never meant a whole lot to me until I actually visited Jerusalem. I had valued these pieces of Scripture, like all of God’s Word, but I had not truly understood the meaning and significance of a song meant for ascent.

On visiting Jerusalem, I came to understand so much more about that beautiful city’s significance to God’s people from before David’s time to the present. During my trip to Israel several years ago, I was looking forward to visiting Jerusalem, and I knew it would be a powerful experience. I also knew about the importance and sacredness of this city to so many around the world. But honestly, I was not prepared for the incredible experience of walking its streets. I was overwhelmed by the beauty, history, and passion present there. The sense of culture is incredibly rich; history greeted me at every turn; and nearly every corner features an expression of faith.

And at the center of it all is the site of the ancient temple: lovingly built, destroyed, rebuilt, reviled, revered, mocked, contested, and excavated for more than 3000 years. Seeing the temple within the city walls helped me understand so much about significance of this site in Scripture. The temple that stood there was high atop a mountain, towering over valleys below. It was huge, visible to everyone, and infused with the indwelling presence of God. It gave hope, guidance, purpose, a sense of unity, and faith to God’s people. A holy place, indeed!

It’s truly impossible to describe the experience of seeing the remains of that temple and the city that surrounded it. Jerusalem is a capsule of much of human history—and God’s ongoing work among people—packed into a larger dose than I could swallow at once, much less communicate. But as our group ascended the temple steps—many of which are the same steps Jesus and his disciples walked on—our devotion leader read Psalm 122. And I understood a bit of why God’s people were and are drawn to the place where his presence was made manifest. I felt small in the presence of a holy God who has reached down to people and lovingly called them to himself throughout all ages.

Turning around and looking down from that spot, I realized it’s no wonder David focused on Jerusalem in this song. All pilgrims would have passed through its gates, then its narrow streets, to reach the temple. Then, looking down from that holy place, they would have seen the city flowing around them, houses hugging the hillsides.

It’s no wonder David prayed for the peace and prosperity of Jerusalem “for the sake of the house of the Lord our God” and “for the sake of my family and friends.” The security of the city meant the security of the temple, and peace in its spiritual center meant peace for everyone in the nation.

They say that after you visit Israel, you’ll never be the same. It was true for me, and one of the many ways that visit challenged me was in hearing this Psalm of ascent as I climbed the ancient temple steps and prayed for peace in Jerusalem, this spiritual microcosm of the world. A prayer without answers, prescriptions, or solutions. A prayer without the arrogance of believing I know what is best. A simple prayer for peace and the best from God’s hand.

Do you pray a similar prayer for the well-being of our nation, our churches, and our global community? I can’t wait to see the day when God truly does bring lasting peace to Jerusalem–and to the whole world. In the meantime, we don’t always know what’s best for the world around us, and conflicting priorities can make peaceful resolution seem impossible. But as God’s people, for the sake of God’s glory and the well-being of all the people God loves, it’s always appropriate to pray for peace and desire what is best in God’s eyes.

Like everyone, we are tempted to limit our vision for the good life to what would make our own lives better (or more comfortable or easier or more apparently successful). Our prayers might change if, instead of wanting just what seems best for us and to us, we were to truly seek the peace and well-being of everyone. We don’t have to know what that means. We don’t have to have all the answers or stop grieving over the fact that people can, do, and will turn their backs on God. We simply have to agree with what God wants. And he will change our hearts when we do. He will help us see the world a little more like the way he does. The closer we get to God’s holiness, the more we long for peace and well-being within the city that surrounds us.

From where we stand right now, if we open our eyes, we can see the whole world. And we are in the house of the Lord.

December 16, 2016

Priests, Kings, & Prophets: How the Old Testament Points to Christmas

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bible-story-arc

by Clarke Dixon

From the series “The Christmas Story From Beginning to End,” we have thus far seen how Creation and The Fall both point to Christmas. After two weeks we are still no further than Genesis chapter 3! To speed things up let us consider the rest of the Old Testament. The presence of three different types of people within the Old Testament point to the advent of Jesus. These are priests, kings, and prophets.

Priests point to the coming of Jesus.

Though we sometimes hear of priests in Genesis, it is really in Exodus that we have the priesthood formally established along with instructions for the Tabernacle and ritual holiness. So what was the priesthood for? Hebrews 5:1 gives a useful summary:

Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. Hebrews 5:1

Because God is holy and people are not, the priests were to be the “go-betweens” between God and His people. Through sacrifices they would point to rescue from sin. However, there were two problems. First, the priests themselves were sinful. There were all kinds of ritual regulations to help the priests be holy people, set apart from the rest. However, no matter how holy they made themselves, they could always still relate more fully to sinful humanity than to holy God. The second problem was that they kept dying. In other words, the problem of sin kept persisting through every generation. Then Jesus is born:

and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21.

Jesus can truly deal with sin in a way that no priest ever could. He had the credentials including being sinless. This was in contrast to all priests, but especially the High Priest who would be involved in his execution. Jesus also offered the only sacrifice that could be truly effective. He offered himself.

For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. Hebrews 7:26-27

The priests of the Old Testament filled many important functions, but the greatest was to point to the coming into the world of a better High Priest. And an effective sacrifice for sin.

Kings point to the coming of Jesus.

God’s people did not always have a king. But they asked for one:

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 1 Samuel 8:4-7

Up to this point, Israel had enjoyed something that no other nation could boast of; God was their king. However they wanted a king “like other nations.” This would be be like a teenager of a well-to-do family who, in wanting a flip phone like what their friends have, is willing to trade in their iPhone, MacBook Pro, Ferrari, parent’s home, and their parents to get one. It would be a ridiculous trade. God gives the go-ahead but with the warning that having a human king is not always going to be rosy. Though an imperfect man, David was a good king who was promised by God to have his descendants on the throne forever. As you look at the history of God’s people, you see that this does not go very well as so many of the kings, even when descended from David, were so incredibly awful. Perhaps the worst king of all was Herod, the king at the time of Jesus’ birth. He was ruthless and to make matters worse, was not even a legitimate king, not being a descendant of David.

You can imagine how Herod must have felt when the Magi came to him and asked  “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2) This must have stung as Herod was not legitimately born king of the Jews, but was propped up as a puppet king by the Romans. He was furious and ordered that all the infants of Bethlehem be killed. A rotten king indeed. At Christmas, God in being incarnate is effectively saying “You asked for a king, but I love you to much to leave you at the mercy of ruthless kings. I am and will be your king, a merciful king, a good king.”

6 For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:6-7

Jesus went on to be that good king, that good shepherd who, far from destroying lives like Herod, lays down his life for the sake of his sheep. The kings of Israel had a spotty history of sometimes being good and sometimes being downright atrocious. Whether good or bad, their very existence pointed to the coming into the world of a better king, the true King of kings and Lord of lords, God Himself.

Prophets point to the coming of Jesus.

You cannot read the story of Christmas in the Gospel of Matthew without noticing that Matthew really wants you to understand how Old Testament prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus.

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet (Matthew 1:22)  . . . for so it has been written by the prophet (Matthew 2:4)  . . . Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah (Matthew 2:17) . . . so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled. (Matthew 2:23)

But does Matthew just want us to think of these specific prophecies being fulfilled at Christmas? No, he mentions these as a way of alerting us that something far greater is going on. The great hope that God would keep His covenant promises, that God would intervene, is at hand. This is not just the fulfillment of a few scattered prophecies, but rather the hope of the entire Old Testament. As the writer put it in “O Little Town of Bethlehem;” “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

In conclusion:

  • The presence of priests in the Old Testament points to the need for a rescue from sin. The advent of Jesus marks the coming of the great Rescuer. Are you being rescued? Do you know Jesus as Saviour?
  • The presence of kings in the history of God’s people points to the need for godly leadership. The advent of Jesus marks the coming of the most godly leader you can think of, God Himself! Are you following Him? Do you know Jesus as Lord?
  • The prophets of the Old Testament shine a spotlight on the future. The advent of Jesus marks the beginning of that future. Does your future shine brightly?

Get Clarke’s posts as they appear on his blog before they appear here. Follow @clarkedixon for updates

November 25, 2015

Choose Life

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by Clarke Dixon

•••click here to read at source

Decisions. Decisions. What to choose? I am always glad when my wife is close at hand when I get dressed. How I knew what ties went with what shirts before I was married, I do not know. Decisions, decisions. Yet while I stress over ties, the world unravels. Decisions must be made by world leaders on how to deal with terrorism. Our current conundrum has arisen due to a complex interweaving of history, politics, economics, and yes, religion. Such complexity makes rocket science seem like a grade school project. I am glad I am not a world leader. You should be glad I am not a world leader too. Thankfully, not every decision in life is so hard to make or so mired in complexity. Let’s take a moment to think on one from Deuteronomy 30.

As God’s people stand ready to enter the Promised Land, and as Moses gets ready to say his final goodbyes, he makes a call to commitment to the Lord. He begins with this:

Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe. Deuteronomy 30:11-14

Bible scholars tell us that the expression translated “not too hard,” could be translated as “not too mysterious,” “hard to understand,” or “incomprehensible.” In other words: this is not rocket science. Nor is it kept hidden. God’s people need not go on a search in heaven or across the sea for the answers to big questions like “who is God?”, “who are we?”, and “what is expected of us?”. God has revealed it. In fact “the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart” if indeed they were listening back in Deuteronomy 6:6-7 when He said “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them.” God has revealed enough of Himself, His purposes, His covenant, and His expectations that His people ought not to be confused. As they stand ready to enter the Promised Land, it is crystal clear who God is, who they are, and what is required of them.

Moses goes on lay out the possible consequences of the decision he is calling them to:

15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Deuteronomy 30:15-19a

This ought to be an easy decision to make. Life, or death? Again, this is not rocket science. And so comes the call to make a decision:

Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Deuteronomy 30:19-20

While some translations have “for that,” i.e. the act of choosing God, loving and obeying Him, “means life to you”, another possible translation is “For the Lord is your life”, as the NIV has it. Either way, God’s people are called upon to choose the Lord, to choose to obey His law, to choose life. All these go together. Given the consequences this was an easy decision to make.

People sometimes refer to the afterlife as “The Promised Land” and of death as “crossing the river” which of course alludes back to the Jordan river which lay between God’s people and the Promised Land. There is a decision that needs to be made by every person before making that journey, before crossing that river, crossing over from this life to the next. Just as God’s revelation was clear to His people in Deuteronomy, so too it is clear today. There is a clarity to the Gospel, of the good news of right relationship with God. In fact this is part of what Paul is getting at when he refers to our passage from Deuteronomy:

. . . the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven? ’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss? ’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:5-9

In other words, salvation is not something impossible for us to attain, like going up “into heaven . . .to bring Christ down” or going down “into the abyss . . .to bring Christ up from the dead.” Those are examples of things we of course can not do. In fact salvation is not even something we do. It is something God does for us in and through Jesus Christ. God “is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” (Romans 10:12-13 NRSV) Our part is to call upon God, to trust Him, to repent from our sins and turn to Him in Christ. It was for us that Jesus chose death. Our part is to choose life.

The consequence of our decision is clear:

11 Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. 13 And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; 15 and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:11-15

It is not hard to figure out what to do when confronted with the consequence of God. It is not hard to figure out what to do when confronted with the love of God. It is not hard to figure out what to do when confronted with the grace of God, the holiness of God, the justice of God, the power of God, the reality of God, the evidence for God, the Word of God, the Son of God, the Spirit of God. We have the opportunity, one we don’t even deserve, to make a decision: to choose life.

Did you notice when the call to decision was made for God’s people in the days of Moses? It was before they crossed over the Jordan. Did you notice from God’s Word in Revelation that the book of life is opened to be read from rather than written in? No angel will stand with pen in hand waiting for you to make your choice. Now is the time to make that decision. Now is the time to choose life.

Unless stated otherwise all scripture references are taken from the NRSV


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian Baptist pastor who blogs a sermon summary weekly at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

October 21, 2015

Commit Before You Step Out

Life and God. Before You Take Another Step . . .

by Clarke Dixon

There is a God, but religion is for those who are into that kind of thing. Or so would say many people who go through life believing in God without much of an understanding of who God is. They believe that God exists with a kind of “there is Someone out there watching over us,” but as for being able to describe God, they would rather leave that for the fanatics. It is a bit like those who own a car, but leave the tinkering to the mechanic, or own a home, but leave the renovations to the handyman. As for knowing much about God, leave it to the pastors and Jesus-freaks. Leave it to the people who are “into” that kind of thing. But is this enough? Is wise to go through life with such an ambiguous sense of who God is and what God is like?

Following forty years of wandering in the desert, the people of God stand ready to enter the promised land. This is to be their next step, yet they are not quite ready just yet. Before they take this big step they must prepare their hearts and minds spiritually, which is why Moses gives a series of addresses, or sermons, which are collected together as the book of Deuteronomy. Part of what they need to hear is the following:

1 Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that the LORD your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy . . . You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:1,5 emphasis mine)

Before God’s people can take the next big step, they must commit to loving God with all they’ve got and with all that they are. The first thing to note is that it is very difficult to love someone in such a way if you don’t know them. And we should note that in this very verse, God has already made clear who it is they must love. It is “The LORD” that is to be loved. Whenever we encounter “The LORD” all in capitals in our English Bible translations we must understand that this is standing in place of the name God has given for Himself. This name is considered so holy that God’s people, especially among our friends in Jewish circles, do not dare pronounce it. So we say “the LORD” instead. The point is that this is not God in some generic sense that is to be loved. This is a very personal God who has revealed Himself, making Himself known, even by name. God’s people will not be taking another step without committing to loving this very God they are in relationship with. There is no ambiguity at all here about who God is.

Furthermore, this call to love is introduced with an emphasis on the identity of God:

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 emphasis mine)

In order to love the LORD, you must know the LORD. Notice that Moses does not say, “There is a God” which ends up being a rather vague statement, but rather and more specifically, “The LORD is our God.” And it is “the LORD alone” who is our God, not some other god. The identity of God is not in question for God’s people as they prepare for their next step. There is no ambiguity at all here about Who God is.

Furthermore, in knowing the Lord God’s people will fear the Lord:

1 Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that the LORD your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, 2 so that you and your children and your children’s children may fear the LORD your God all the days of your life. (Deuteronomy 6:1-2 emphasis mine)

You cannot fear, or give the highest reverence and honour to, God if you have an ambiguous idea of who God is. As they stood ready to enter the promised land, God’s people knew exactly whom they were to fear.

Furthermore, in fearing the LORD God’s people will obey the LORD:

1 Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that the Lord your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, 2 so that you and your children and your children’s children may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long. 3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you. (Deuteronomy 6:1-3 emphasis mine)

You cannot obey God if you have a vary vague notion of who God is. As they stood ready to enter the promised land God’s people knew exactly whom they were to obey, and what laws He had given.

Furthermore, in loving, knowing, fearing, and obeying the LORD, God’s people will commit to always readying the next generation for the same:

6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)

You will be of no help to the next generation in learning to love, know, fear, and obey God if your knowledge of Him is very vague. As they stood ready to enter the promised land, God’s people knew exactly whom they were to nurture their children’s faith in.

As they stood ready for the next step, God’s people had a very specific knowledge of God. He is the One who rescued them from Egypt, He is the One who led them these last forty years, He is the One who revealed His name to them, He is the One who revealed His law to them, He is the One who is keeping His covenant promises. He is the One who will go with them into the promised land. He is the Creator. No ambiguous knowledge of God here.

And we know even more about God today. He is the One who came to us in Jesus Christ to teach us how to live, to show us how to love, to redeem us through His death, to give us hope through His resurrection, and to call us through His Spirit. There is so much more we could say about the identity of God, but I will just refer you to the entire Bible to find out more. For now, let me encourage you to not take another step in life without first taking a leap into the arms of Jesus. There is no need to go forward with an ambiguous sense of who God is. You can forward in relationship. You might leave fixing cars to mechanics and renovations to a handyman, but don’t leave knowledge of God to those who are “into that kind of thing.” You are the car in need of repairs, you are the renovation project. God is the mechanic, God is the handyman. Don’t take another step without leaping into His arms. You can face each step ahead, even if that step is forward into death, with God’s presence, with a knowledge of God, knowing and experiencing His power and love.

All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Clarke Dixon 10 21 15

November 18, 2014

Obey: Benefits. Disobey: Consequences

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Today’s devotional comes from the website Daily Manna, a ministry of Deeper Life Bible Church, which originated in Africa with Pastor W. F. Kumuyi, but now has churches around the world including branches in the U.S. and Canada.  As always, click the title below to read the devotional at source.

The God Of Justice

TEXT: 2 KINGS 17:9-23

Key Verse: “…So was Israel carried away out of their own land to Assyria unto this day” (2 Kings 17:23).

The dealings of God with the children of Israel reveals a lot of paradoxes: Israel, without deserving the love of God, enjoyed a unique favor and blessing from Him. Apart from that, the original purpose of God for Israel was that they would honor Him and be a light to the world. That is, through them the blessings of God and the word of God would flow to the whole world. What God expected from Israel in return was to be wholly devoted to Him and obey His commandments.

But while God is faithful, Israel demonstrated fickleness of character and unfaithfulness to the covenant of God with them. In Exodus 19:8, the children of Israel solemnly promised: “… all that the Lord hath spoken, we will do.” Yet, in Jeremiah 44:16, they defiantly recanted: “… as for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken unto thee.” Such betrayal cannot be tolerated by men, let alone God.

In the passage today, we see one of the examples of the treacheries of the children of Israel. They practiced the evil customs of the surrounding nations, worshiping false gods, accommodating pagan customs and following their own desires. Israel had forgotten the importance and benefits of obeying God’s word. The King and the people had become mired in wickedness. Time and again, God warned them of the danger of turning away from Him and calling them to return.

Eventually, Israel was swept away just as God’s prophets had warned (Jeremiah 25). Sometimes, obeying God’s precepts is difficult and painful but better if we consider the consequences of disobedience. We need to determine to be God’s people and ask for grace to do what He says, regardless of the cost.

God’s patience and mercy are beyond our ability to understand. He will pursue us until we either respond to Him; or, by our own choice and hardness of heart make ourselves unreachable. Then, God’s judgment will be swift and sure.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Man is free to obey God and reap the benefits; or disobey Him and face the consequences.

October 9, 2013

To Know What it Means to be Israel

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Jacob Wrestles with God

I’ve been reading through Romans for the past several days and this verse stuck out yesterday:

NIV 9:6 It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.

Those of us who are non-Jews (ie Goyim) often believe that Judiasm is a wonderful combination of both ethnic and spiritual heritage; that to be a Jew constitutes both ancestry and ‘membership’ in the Jewish ‘church.’ But in an interesting turn of phrase, this verse points out otherwise.

The Reformation Study Bible states:

In the Old Testament era, natural descent did not automatically guarantee inheritance of the promise. God chose who should inherit it. This principle is evident in the families of Abraham and Isaac.

Matthew Henry wrote on this:

Many that descended from the loins of Abraham and Jacob, and were of that people who were surnamed by the name of Israel, yet were very far from being Israelites indeed, interested in the saving benefits of the new covenant. They are not all really Israel that are so in name and profession. It does not follow that, because they are the seed of Abraham, therefore they must needs be the children of God, though they themselves fancied so, boasted much of, and built much upon, their relation to Abraham, Matt. 3:9; John 8:38, 39. But it does not follow. Grace does not run in the blood; nor are saving benefits inseparably annexed to external church privileges, though it is common for people thus to stretch the meaning of God’s promise, to bolster themselves up in a vain hope.

Theology Online states:

Paul comes quickly to the heart of the matter: the reason God’s word will achieve its purpose, is that its scope with regard to Israel of the flesh was never universal in the first place: it is implied to us here that only some of those who are of Israel of the flesh will also be members of the Israel with which God is ultimately concerned and to which therefore the word of God was actually directed.

Given then that the only alternative to a determination along fleshly lines is a determination along spiritual lines, we understand that the Israel with which God is ultimately concerned is delineated solely by the spirits within it and not at all by the flesh within which those spirits reside. Thus the implication in Jesus’ words to the Jews:

“And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” Mt 3:9

and in the more doctrinal:

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” John 3:6

What is incidental then but nevertheless worth stating, is that given that there can be no fleshly criteria by which one who calls upon the name of the Lord might be excluded from the Israel with which God is ultimately concerned, such Israel will highly likely be far greater in number than Israel of the flesh.

…As I read this, I couldn’t help but think of a Christian parallel: Being born into a Christian family doesn’t make you a Christian. Or: Being a member of a local church doesn’t mean you are a Christian. (Note: I’m just considering a small aspect of this verse, there is a lot more going on here. See the closing paragraph for a link to the verse’s context.)

However, at the outset, when I first saw this verse, I thought about various nuances of meaning as to what it might mean to be Israel.  Genesis 35 tells us of the first time that name is used, given to Jacob after his wrestling match in Genesis 32 with God:

AMP 35:10 Again God said to him, Your name is Jacob [supplanter]; you shall not be called Jacob any longer, but Israel shall be your name. So He called him Israel [contender with God].

MSG 35:10 “Your name is Jacob (Heel); but that’s your name no longer. From now on your name is Israel (God-Wrestler).”

NIV Footnote Israel probably means he struggles with God.

So now, to mash it up a little: Not all who are Israel by heritage wrestle with God.

For the Christian who considers himself/herself to be spiritually Israel, the parallel is that not everyone who claims to be a Christ-follower truly wrestles with God. Yet this is exactly what God wants. He wants you to get on the mat and wrestle with him in every respect: his commandments, his ways, his truths; engaged, considered and then owned; all of this not in a detached, or sterile academic sense, but in community with him.

For further study, read the whole chapter, Romans 9.

Jacob and God

The first image, no doubt from The Brick Bible, is from the blog Stonewritten; click the picture to link. The second, which could well be one of the most accurate online, is from the blog Living The Gospel; click the picture to link. The reference is to the story in Genesis 32.

October 1, 2010

Two Headlines, Two Choices

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Although today’s post is a little longer, I want to introduce you to Cindy, who lives in the Hawaiian Islands and blogs as Cindy By The Sea.   Romantic, huh?   Her blogs posts feature a mix of politics and current events combined with scripture.    This one was posted last month under the title The Dividing Line.

In the early morning hours of September 4, a powerful earthquake shook residents awake in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand. At an estimated 7.1, it was the most powerful earthquake to strike the region in many years.  I find it interesting that the epicenter for this earthquake should be a city called Christchurch on the day following two very significant headlines making news on September 2.

On the day prior to the New Zealand quake, two headlines (among others) competed for attention.  One was the Mid-East peace talks taking place in Washington DC and the other was the announcement by world-renowned scientist Stephen Hawking that the universe was not created by God, but, was rather a spontaneous event related to the law of gravity.  For these two headlines to share space on the same day can hardly be called coincidence.

The Bible tells us of course, that the heavens declare the glory of God and the reality of his existence. It doesn’t take the mind of a Stephen Hawking, a powerful telescope or a degree in physics to tell us this. All it takes is a look in to the night skies for the simplest of people to understand.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands, Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.”   Psalm 19: 1-3

Through the heavens God has made himself known; through Israel, God has made himself knowable.

Chosen for a purpose

In Isaiah 43:10, speaking of Israel, God says:

“You are my witnesses saith the Lord, my servant whom I have chosen that you may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.”

In other words, it is Israel who bears witness to a knowable God.  A God who has made himself known, a God who loves us so much that he sent his only Son, a God who has a plan for our future and knows the beginning from the end. A God who chose Israel to be his instrument of grace (specifically fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah). I believe the headlines of Sept 2 clearly outline the choices we face today, whether people realize it or not.

Do we choose a Stephen Hawking world and the humanistic philosophy which naturally follows or do we stand with the God of the Bible in support of Israel?

Choose this day whom you will serve!

Lines are being drawn now and in the not too distant future, it will become increasingly difficult to have a foot in each camp – in fact, it will become impossible.

I thought it was interesting that the James Lee, Discovery Channel hostage situation occurred the same day as the Hocking announcement.  A clear indication to anyone paying attention of the natural outcome (tragedy and death) of a humanistic, self-centered, ”no-God” society.  Mr. Lee, a deranged individual (or perhaps just a strong proponent of the earth first propaganda that has been force-fed to us by the humanistic environmentalists) who believed with such fervor that humans and the birth of new babies are the scourge of the earth; so much so, that he was willing to take up arms to prove his point.

When the walls crumbled in Christchurch, it may have been a warning for the church of Laodicea, that you can only straddle the fence so long before you will fall.  Like the house built on the sand, without the firm foundation of Christ; collapse is certain.  Sadly, the humanistic philosophy of the culture has infiltrated the teachings of the church which bears his name.  And, among the many heresies which have crept into the body, none is more insidious and sinister than that of doubting the truth and infallibility of his word. Evidenced by a number of things such as – the acceptance of the gay agenda, support of abortion rights, denial of creation as outlined in Genesis, denial of the miracles of the Bible, denial of Jesus as the only way and denial of God’s calling and purpose for Israel, among a whole host of other things.

In these last days, God has brought Israel to the forefront and what happens with Israel is instrumental to the return of Jesus.  In Matthew 25:31-46, we read of the judgment of the sheep and goats -in this passage, the sheep and goats are separated.  And, the basis on which they are separated is this: how the brethern of Christ (Israel – the Jews) have been treated.  Take note Quartet and all others who doubt God’s word and who seek the division and destruction of Jerusalem, this is the dividing line for nations and it is on this basis, by which you shall be judged.

~ cindybythesea