Category Archives: Gospel

Stiffnecked

And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: (Exodus 32:9)

Stiffnecked—now there’s a word seldom heard today outside of careful Bible study. The English word, which should be hyphenated in modern English, appears only eight times in the Old Testament of the King James Bible and is really a translation of two Hebrew words: qâsheh and ‛ôreph (the nape of the neck). The first word, qâsheh, means “churlish, cruel, severe, obstinate, or stubborn.” This goes beyond simple hard-headedness. It characterizes an incorrigible, rebellious person, and it is not an attribute one would desire. Yet, in God’s evaluation of His Chosen People, He defined them as “stiffnecked.”

This assessment was not a rush to judgment on God’s part. These people earned the moniker. Consider how God acted on their behalf to free them from Egyptian bondage. God sent ten plagues against the Egyptians that effected only the Egyptians and spared the Israelites.[1] The final plague brought death upon every firstborn of every Egyptian household including their livestock. At the end of that plague, the Egyptians were only too happy to get rid of the Israelites and even sent them off with rich booty.[2] “And the Egyptians were urgent upon the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste; for they said, We be all dead men” (Exodus 12:33). Not long after they departed, Pharaoh changed his mind and followed in pursuit to bring them back to Egypt. Penned between mountains on one side and the Red Sea on the other, the Israelites witnessed God part the waters so they could cross over on dry ground. Then He closed the waters behind them and drowned the pursuing Egyptian chariots.[3] “And Israel saw that great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD, and his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:31).

Not long after this miraculous deliverance, the Israelites arrived at a watering hole with bitter water and immediately started complaining.[4] God had Moses cast a tree into the watering hole and the waters became sweet. Then God made a conditional promise. “If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee” (Exodus 15:26, emphasis mine).

Further down the road, they came to Elim and began complaining about their perceived lack of food. So God sent them manna (what is it? bread from heaven) and quail to eat.[5] Further along the way, they once again complained about the lack of water, so God provided water out of a rock.[6] God then defeated Amalek, the first enemy they encountered.

Then they arrived at Sinai, the Mountain of God. There, in the hearing of all the people, God gave them the Ten Commandments. They all heard the voice of God and were terrified. “And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:19). Moses ascended the mountain and wrote down the rest of the Law.[7] (At this point one should note that this occurred prior to Moses’ first 40-day stent on the mountain.) “And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD, and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel … And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient” (Exodus 24:4,7 emphasis mine).

Hollywood movies have a way of distorting biblical accounts in ways that make them so memorable to the viewers that the Hollywood version supersedes the biblical narrative. In the movie, The Ten Commandments, Charlton Heston goes up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments for the first time and returns to find the Children of Israel worshipping the golden calf. The movie plot kind of takes them off the hook a bit, because they did not know better; they did not have the Law. However, the biblical record shows that they were given the Law, written down by Moses, long before the golden calf incident, and they all agreed, “All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient” (Exodus 24:7).

After all of Israel affirmed that they would abide by God’s Law, Moses ascended the mountain once more and received the Law written on stone tablets and was there 40 days and 40 nights.[8] “And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18, emphasis mine). These tables not only contained the Ten Commandments. They contained all the Law that the Children of Israel heard directly from God to which they agreed to obey. In addition, God gave Moses instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle and all of its furnishings. Great detail was given for consecrating the priests and the apparel they would wear, especially that of the high priest.

While Moses delayed, the people got antsy and went to Aaron, Moses’ brother and second in command, and asked Aaron, “make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot [know] not what is become of him” (Exodus 32:1). As one reads the account, it becomes apparent that Aaron felt no coercion to comply with the request, nor did he hesitate. “And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me” (Exodus 32:2). Aaron, who was intimately involved in the liberation of the Children of Israel, and heard the Ten Commandments directly from the voice of God, soon forgot the first two. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:3-4).

Before Moses learned of the idolatrous act, God already knew. “And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people” (Exodus 32:9). God threatened to destroy them all and start over with Moses, but Moses interceded on their behalf and the Lord relented from His anger.[9]

Moses descended the mountain and found a wild party going on around the golden calf. When Moses confronted Aaron about the idol, his answer was hilarious. “And I said unto them [the Israelites], Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf” (Exodus 32:24, emphasis mine). Imagine that!

This would not be the first exhibition of Israel’s stiffnecked behavior. Throughout their history, Israel chased after false gods. God would punish, Israel would repent, God would forgive, and Israel would sin again. This happened over and over. Once God banished them from the land for 70 years, and for a time, they appeared to learn their lesson. Then God sent their promised Messiah, and they rejected Him and nailed Him to a cross. Again, God banished them from the land for over 2000 years now. However, as God promised, He has restored them to the land; but the saga is not over. God is not finished with Israel.

The lesson we can learn from God’s dealings with Israel is that God is faithful. We can count on Him to do exactly what He says He will do. He keeps His promises. Before entering the Promised Land, Moses reminded the people, “The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations” (Deuteronomy 7:7-9, emphasis mine). Regardless of their stiffnecked character, God has kept and will keep His covenant with Israel. Knowing that gives us the assurance that God will be faithful in keeping His promise to us, “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). God is faithful even to the stiffnecked.

Notes:


[1]  Exodus 7-12

[2]  Exodus 12:36

[3]  Exodus 14:10-31

[4]  Exodus 15:22-27

[5]  Exodus 16

[6]  Exodus 17:1-7

[7]  Exodus 20:22-23:33

[8]  Exodus 24:12-18

[9]  Exodus 32:10-14

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Christmas Excitement

Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them. (Isaiah 42:9)

It’s that time of year once more. The places I work and worship sparkle with bright red, green, and gold decorations consistent with the colors of the Christmas season. Long before Thanksgiving Day, merchants displayed all their Christmas wares enticing shoppers to covet without first giving thanks. Television commercials attempt to instill a sense of privation so the viewer feels the need for what they are selling.

GMC™ produces two commercials that really stand out to me. They show a young couple, probably in their late twenties or early thirties, with no children, and a big fancy house. In one of the commercials, the husband buys GMC ™ vehicles for both of them. In the other, the husband gets the wife a puppy, and the wife gets him a big crew-cab pickup. Seriously, how many young people, on the average, have that kind of cash? Most young people that age, if they graduated from a college or university, are saddled with enormous school debt and are doing well to afford payments on a Honda Civic™ much less a $60,000 fully decked out pickup truck!

Regardless of how we feel about the materialism associated with the Christmas season, we cannot get away from the sense of expectation. At church, our choir and orchestra are working hard a polishing up the music for our Christmas concert. It will be wonderful, and we are excited about presenting it. Our church looks forward to our Christmas Eve services and our sharing of the Lord’s Supper, aka communion.

We celebrate the birth of our Savior. Think about what that means. The same God that created heaven and earth and all things, the same God that created human beings in His very image, is the same God that implanted Himself in the womb of a virgin girl to be born like any other human baby, live a sinless life among His creation, and give Himself as a sacrifice for humanity’s sin. That is awesome! That boggles the mind!

We anticipate with excitement the celebration of Christmas, the First Advent, but our celebration should look forward to the Second Advent yet to come. The prophets of old foretold of Jesus’ first coming. Beginning in Genesis, the Bible promises that the “seed of the woman” would crush the head of the serpent, i.e., Satan.[1] Isaiah tells us that the woman would be a virgin.[2] In Genesis, we also learn that He would come from the line of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah.[3] Isaiah foretold that Jesus would be in the line of King David[4] and the psalmist concurred.[5] The conniving Balaam unwittingly predicted that a star would announce His coming.[6] Micah pointed to Bethlehem as the place of His birth,[7] and Hosea said He would come up from Egypt.[8] These are just some of the prophecies of His First Advent. Many more prophecies foretold of His life, ministry, death, burial, and resurrection – all with 100% accuracy.

Christmastime should cause excitement as we anticipate His Second Advent. There are more prophecies concerning His second coming than there are for His first coming. Since all prophecies of His first coming came true as predicted, should we not expect the same accuracy of the prophecies predicting His second coming? Celebrating Christmas should excite us knowing that the Baby Jesus is the soon-coming King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

One of the carols we sing at Christmastime is not really a Christmas carol. In fact, “Joy to the World”[9] reminds us that Christ will return to rule the world as king.

Joy to the world the Savior reigns; let men their songs employ; while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat their sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness, and wonders of His love.

We know historically that did not happen at His first coming. We might spiritualize those sentiments. Certainly, the Savior reigns within the hearts of all believers, albeit not perfectly. Sin and sorrow continue as always and “the curse” goes on unabated. He does not rule the world, and “the nations” care nothing about His glories or righteousness. All of these are attributes of His yet-to-come millennial reign.[10] The prophet Isaiah provides some insight into Jesus’ millennial reign on earth. That will be a time when even the animal kingdom will be at peace.[11] Knowing what is coming should make Christmas even more exciting than all the GMC™ pickups the world can afford!

Notes:


[1]  Genesis 3:15

[2]  Isaiah 7:14

[3]  Genesis 12:3; 26:4; 28:14; 49:10-11

[4]  Isaiah 11:1

[5]  Psalm 132:11

[6]  Numbers 24:17

[7]  Micah 5:2

[8]  Hosea 11:1

[9]  Carol by Isaac Watts, 1718

[10]  Revelation 20:1-7

[11]  Isaiah 11

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White As Snow

White As Snow – by Henry M. Morris, Ph.D.*

 

“I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire.” (Daniel 7:9)

In this amazing vision of the everlasting God on His fiery judgment throne, we find one of the six occurrences in the Bible of the fascinating phrase “white as snow.” As the symbol of holiness, pure white finds its clearest natural expression in the beautiful snow when it has freshly covered the ground.

Twice the phrase is used to describe the cleansing of a guilty sinner by the grace of God. David, after confessing his own sin, prayed: “Have mercy upon me, O God. . . . Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. . . . wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:1-2, 7). Then, God promises through His prophet: “Come now, and let us reason together, . . . though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). The cleansing blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, is the only substance that can turn blood-red scarlet into snowy white.

When Christ ascended the Mount of Transfiguration, “his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow” (Mark 9:3), which confirmed to the three disciples that He was the Son of God, even as the voice from heaven had said (Matthew 17:5). At the empty tomb following His resurrection, “the angel of the Lord” also had “raiment white as snow” (Matthew 28:3). Finally, when John saw Christ in His glorified body, he testified that “his head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow” (Revelation 1:14).

It is marvelous that the raiment of the angel of God, the transfigured Christ, and the Ancient of days, as well as the head of Christ in His glory, are all described with the same phrase as the soul of one whose sins are forgiven!

*From Days of Praise, December 1, 2019

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What the Law Does

Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20)

Many Christians today adopt the attitude that the Old Testament Law no longer applies because we are not under the Law but under Grace. That is certainly true. However, the fact that we are under Grace does in no way render the Law irrelevant or make it of no effect.

The Law given in the Old Testament accomplished two things. It codified what God expected of His people, Israel, and it provided specific practices for God’s people to follow that set them apart from the pagan nations among whom they lived. They were to be “holy” as their God in heaven is holy, i.e., set apart, consecrated, distinct.

The Law provided a third way for the people to relate to God through the sacrificial system which provided a way to atone for or “cover” the sins of the people. However, the sacrificial system did not provide a permanent solution to the sin problem. Sacrifices were made for all kinds of infractions of the Law, and like sin, they were a perpetual practice. The continual offering of sacrifices illustrated the insufficiency of sacrifices to fully atone for the sin of the people. Even so, the sacrifices required faith in the offering otherwise they became a ritual practice akin to pagan practices. God rejected such sacrifices.

To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. (Isaiah 1:11)

To what purpose cometh there to me incense from Sheba, and the sweet cane from a far country? your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices sweet unto me. (Jeremiah 6:20)

For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. (Hebrews 10:4)

One thing we learn from the Old Testament is that it is impossible to keep the Law, and that it is insufficient to atone for sin. Our opening verse makes it clear, “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight” (Romans 3:20). The only sacrifice sufficient to atone for sin is the one offered by God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ and the blood He shed on the cross. Sin – all sin, for all time – was paid in full when Jesus exclaimed, “It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (John 19:30). However, Jesus did not remain dead. On the third day, He rose from the dead and conquered the “last enemy”[1] giving us access to eternal life by the simple act of believing. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” The Old Testament teaches us that we are incapable of keeping God’s Law, therefore we are doomed by that standard. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23, emphasis mine). Grace is God’s gift to us. Grace is “unmerited favor.” Grace cannot be earned through any human effort because “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight” (Romans 3:20). Grace is a gift, bought and paid for by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). As with any gift, it must be accepted before it becomes one’s own possession.

What good, then, is the Old Testament Law, if one cannot gain salvation, i.e., eternal life, by keeping it (not that you could if you tried)? Paul provides the following affirmation: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28). We are declared “just” when we place our “faith” in what Jesus did for us on the cross. That is a “done deal” outside the keeping (“the deeds”) of the law. Then Paul poses and responds to our question. “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law” (Romans 3:31). The Greek word translated “establish” is histēmi, and it means “to cause to stand.”

The Law still stands. It is not required to gain eternal life nor is it needed to maintain our salvation. However, it does serve as our guide to holy living which God still requires of His children. “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). Jesus tied our love for Him to the keeping of His commandments.[2] Jesus spoke these words 25-30 years before the first Gospel was written, so His commandments were the same commandments He gave to Moses, which are summarized in two great commandments: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind (your whole being), and love your neighbor as yourself.[3]

But what does that look like? Our opening verse tells us: “for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). Granted, much of the Mosaic Law had direct application to the culture of that time, however, the principles therein apply to our modern time. Take for instance the laws given to dress. The reason for those laws served to make the children of Israel distinct from the people among whom they lived. God still wants the same for us today. We shouldn’t dress and look like the lost world around us. We should be distinct. We should be holy as our Father in heaven is holy – set apart from the world. Speaking of us, Jesus said, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:16). What the law does is show us how not to live like the world.

Notes:


[1]  1 Corinthians 15:26

[2]  John 14:15, 21; 15:10

[3]  Matthew 22:36-40

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Same Old Tricks

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

We think we are so smart! We carry around in our pockets devices with more computing power than the computers that sent the first American astronaut, Alan Shepard, into space. With it, we talk or send text messages to friends and loved ones instantly. We stay in touch with current events, check the weather, watch video programs (even live TV), find answers to all of our questions with a few clicks of the tiny keyboard, just entertain ourselves with mind-numbing games. We fly across the country in a matter of hours, send probes to distant planets, or view the ends of the universe with our powerful satellite telescopes. We have developed medical devices that look inside our bodies to produce images of injured or diseased tissues. According to a 2013 report, knowledge doubled every 12 months, and the report predicted that it would soon double every 12 hours.[1] God told the Prophet Daniel that this would happen. “But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” (Daniel 12:4, emphasis mine).

However, for all our smarts, we still fall for the same old tricks[2] Satan has used since the beginning of time. Look at what transpired in the Garden of Eden. God had given man absolute freedom and dominion over the entire planet[3] and placed them in a perfect environment[4] with only one stipulation. “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17, emphasis mine).

Satan’s goal is to separate God’s supreme creation, humankind, from their Creator and he continues to employ the same strategy and tactics that he used in the Garden to cause man to fall.[5] His strategy is to cause man to doubt God and to turn to him to meet their perceived needs. His tactics are threefold. First, he instills doubt in God’s Word – “Is that really what the Bible says?”[6] Second, he declares God’s Word as untrue – “You can’t believe the Bible. It was written by man, and it is full of myths and factual errors. You can’t trust the Bible!”[7] Finally, he slanders God by accusing Him of withholding total autonomy from you – “God knows you will be like gods, and He doesn’t want competition!”[8]

Man does not need Satan to cause him to sin. Man succeeds at sinning very well on his own, and Satan uses man’s own natural bent to sin against him. The Apostle John warns us against loving the world system[9] which is really man’s system. John characterizes it in three ways: (1) the lust of the flesh, (2) the lust of the eyes, and (3) the pride of life. Look at how Satan used man’s own nature against Eve. He first executed his strategy to cause doubt in God, and then he stood back and allowed Eve’s own human nature go to work. “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food [lust of the flesh], and that it was pleasant to the eyes [lust of the eyes], and a tree to be desired to make one wise [pride of life], she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Genesis 3:6).

It seems we are not so smart after all. In almost 6000 years, Satan has not changed his methods one bit, and man’s nature has not improved through countless unlearned lessons. As the Preacher said, “there is no new thing under the sun.”

“But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons (Galatians 4:4-5). The Son of God and Son of Man accomplished what no other man could; He did not succumb to the wiles of Satan. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15, emphasis mine).

After He was baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus went into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days in preparation for His earthly ministry. Satan took advantage of His weakened condition to make his attack. Satan knew who he was facing. Jesus is the Word of God and very God indeed,[10] so there was no point in trying to cause Him to doubt God’s Word. Instead, Satan attacked His human nature. First, he went for the lust of the flesh. “And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread” (Luke 4:3). Then he attacked through the lust of the eyes. “And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it” (Luke 4:5-6). Finally, he used the pride of life to make Jesus fall into sin. “And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence: For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee: And in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone” (Luke 4:9-11).

There is nothing that you or I face that Jesus did not experience fully. Satan uses the same old tricks and we have all the same weaknesses of all who have come before us. However, as the Apostle Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). Christians, if they will take advantage of it, have the power to defend against Satan’s assaults and to combat the weaknesses of the flesh because, as the Apostle John reminds us, “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Jesus defeated the devil, and now His power is available to us, if we will only take advantage of it. We do not have to fall for the same old tricks Satan uses. The way to defeat Satan is to pray daily and often, meditate on God’s Word daily,[11] and “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25), i.e., get involved in a good church and fellowship with other believers.

Reader, if you lack the power to withstand the devil, read my page on “Securing Eternal Life.”

Notes:


[1]  http://www.industrytap.com/knowledge-doubling-every-12-months-soon-to-be-every-12-hours/3950

[2]  “Nothing Changes” – https://erniecarrasco.com/2018/04/15/nothing-changes/

[3]  Genesis 1:26

[4]  Genesis 2:8

[5]  “Why Satan?” – https://erniecarrasco.com/2014/11/02/why-satan/

[6]  Genesis 3:1

[7]  Genesis 3:4

[8]  Genesis 3:5

[9]  1 John 2:15

[10]  John 1:1

[11]  Reading the Bible is good practice, however, meditating on God’s Word requires a little more effort than just reading. One has to read and think (meditate) on what God is saying. Paul said to “Study to shew thyself approved unto God” (2 Timothy 2:15). That requires diligent effort.

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The Man Upstairs

Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. (Exodus 20:7)

I am certain that every writer experiences “writer’s block” occasionally. For me, it occurs more often than I would like. Most often it happens when I have neglected spending consistent time in the Word. Since this blog is biblically based, it is important that I remain faithful to Bible reading from which I draw my inspiration.

Those who follow this blog know that I post something every Sunday morning. I have no obligation to write. This blog does not contribute to my livelihood in any way, so if the “well is dry” no harm is done if I skip a week or two. However, when I started this blog, I committed to produce something regularly that would benefit the readers. Besides those who subscribe to this blog, I get readers from all over the world, so I take care to rightly divide the Word of truth[1] knowing that I am accountable to God for the way I handle His Word. I am also keenly aware that not everyone that reads my blog is a born-again Christian. So, I do my best and pray that God will use it for His glory.

Anyway, this was one of those weeks, and I kept praying that God would give me something for subject matter. When I find myself in an empty well, God often gives me inspiration from the most unusual sources.

This week I received it from the evening sportscast. I am not at all interested in sports. Oh, I like to watch a good game now and then, but I am not a fanatic about any sport or any team. However, as I sat in front of my TV set with my reheated Tex-Mex leftovers, paying more attention to my refried beans and enchiladas than to the programming, I caught a brief sound bite from the sportscaster that perked up my ears. As I said, I am uninterested in sports so the details eluded me. He mentioned some football player who was traded for a better deal. The sportscaster attributed the player’s windfall to divine intervention from “the big guy upstairs.” Why did he not just say “God”?

I hear similar epithets for God all the time – “the man upstairs,” “the big guy upstairs,” or just “the big guy” (spoken with eyes cast skyward), etc. It always bothers me when I hear this, but it bothers me worse when I hear it from Christians.

What! You’re embarrassed to say, “God”?

I am sure it bothers me more than it bothers God. After all, judgment day is coming, and that matter will be settled when all creation stands before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.[2] When Isaiah came face to face before God, he fell on his face and cried, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5).

Perhaps such epithets sprang up from a desire not to violate the third commandment (our verse above)[3] much like Jews avoid pronouncing the name of God, Yahweh. To avoid the infraction, they will say Adoni (“Lord”) or Ha-Shem (“The Name”). However, the intent of the commandment was for us to hold the name of God in reverence and not to cast it about carelessly.

How we use God’s name betrays how we value Him in our heart.[4] The sportscaster could have said that God intervened on behalf of the football player, and it would have been just as demeaning. The reason for this is the assumption that God had anything to do with it in the first place, and the sportscaster’s smirk indicating that he did not believe what he was saying to begin with. (I do not know that for certain as only God knows the heart.)

The practice of using epithets for God violates the third commandment, although not always. Referring to God in any careless way breaks the commandment. Even when one intends to be respectful by not using the name of God, the use of the epithet demeans the name of God. He is not the “man upstairs.” He is not a man at all.[5] He is the Creator of heaven and earth. He is the One who gives life and breath to all.[6] We should never refer to Him lightly or carelessly in our conversation. When we speak His name, it should only be with reverence and in a way that honors and glorifies Him, and we should never be ashamed or embarrassed to say His name. We do this when we testify what great things God has done for us. We do this when we speak of His love for us and for others, how He sent His Son to die on the cross for our sins. This is how we should use God’s name, and use it often. Do not use His name frivolously, and certainly do not demean His great character by calling Him “the man upstairs.”

Notes:


[1]  2 Timothy 2:15

[2]  1 Timothy 6:14-15

[3]  Exodus 20:7

[4]  Note: “God” is what He is, not who He is. His name is Yahweh and He has other names ascribed to Him that tell us something about His nature – like, God Almighty, God of Hosts, LORD Provider, et al.

[5]  John 4:24

[6]  Isaiah 42:5; John 6:33

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Watch!

Photo by Giovanni Triggiani

Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. (Revelation 16:15)

Situated in the middle of John’s description of the “bowl” or “vile” judgments and the final battle of Armageddon, this parenthetical verse commends those who watch and keep, i.e., “guard,” their garments. Garments cover our nakedness and offer protection against the elements. The picture here reminds us of the clothing with which Christians must be clothed. “Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13).

The Lord Jesus Christ offers this word of encouragement to the “Tribulation Saints” that, due to their prior unbelief, missed the Rapture[1] and now must endure the horrors of the Tribulation. That Jesus will come “as a thief” is not a warning for these saints who by now should know the “game plan” as laid out in Scripture. Rather, He will come suddenly and unexpectedly for those who reject Christ and “upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image” (Revelation 16:2). Jesus promises that the “Tribulation Saints” who watch, for His return will be blessed. At this point in the Tribulation, according to the Revelation account, the wait will not be long.

What about Christians today? Often pastors, Bible teachers, and other Christians discourage us from watching. They remind us that, “ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh” (Matthew 25:13). They omit the imperative phrase that precedes that statement. In context, Jesus made this statement as “the moral” to the parable of the Ten Virgins[2] who fell asleep waiting for the bridegroom to come for them. The virgins represent the Church and the bridegroom represents the Lord Jesus Christ, who has left to prepare a place[3] for His Bride, but whose return for His Bride depends on the Father’s approval of the bride chamber. At midnight, when the virgins least expected, a trumpet sounds to announce the Bridegroom is coming. Five of the virgins have prepared extra oil (representative of the Holy Spirit) for their lamps and are ready to be taken by the Bridegroom. The remaining five imprudent virgins get left behind. Jesus said, “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh” (emphasis mine).

While it is true that we cannot know the day nor the hour when the Lord will return for His Bride, the Church, we are still instructed to WATCH! For what are we to watch? Jesus gave the signs for which to watch prior to His return.[4] The admonition advises us to look for these signs coming together to let us know that the time is near.

Waiting is hard. Watching is tiring. Many have become discouraged and “leave their posts” choosing rather to invest their time on the things of this world – sports, entertainment, and all sorts of distractions and diversions. Some even become critical of those who are watching. Such scoffing and criticism should not surprise us. “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (2 Peter 3:3-4, emphasis mine). Sadly, these scoffers are “Christians.”

Sometimes these scoffers will compare the “watchers” to the “boy who cried wolf.” What they forget is that in the story, when the villagers stopped responding to the boy’s cries, the wolf did indeed come.

Jesus’ second coming is near. His return to “snatch up” His Bride is even nearer. “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6, emphasis mine). “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer” (1 Peter 4:7, emphasis mine). “Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee” (Revelation 3:3, emphasis mine). “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:36, emphasis mine).

WATCH!

Notes:


[1]  1 Corinthians 15:50-53; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18

[2]  Matthew 25:1-13

[3]  John 14:3

[4]  Matthew 24:4-44; Mark 13:5-37; Luke 21:8-38

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