Category Archives: Holidays

Liberty

And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family. (Leviticus 25:10)

Liberty. Dictionary.com defines “liberty” as freedom from arbitrary or despotic government control, external or foreign rule, or from control, interference, obligation, restriction or hampering conditions. It is the power of right doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice.

The Webster’s Dictionary 1828 – Online Edition – published nearer the time of our nation’s founding – defines it more precisely, and its definition includes our leading verse. The 1828 Webster’s says that “liberty” is freedom from restraint and applicable to the body, or to the will, or mind. It is the power of acting as one thinks fit, without any restraint or control, except from the laws of nature. It goes on to say that this liberty is abridged by the establishment of government. This governmental abridgment is necessary and expedient for the safety and interest of the society, state or nation. However, a restraint of natural liberty not necessary or expedient for the public, is tyranny or oppression. “Civil liberty” is an exemption from the arbitrary will of others, which exemption is secured by established laws, which restrain every man from injuring or controlling another. Hence the restraints of law are essential to civil liberty. The liberty of one depends not so much on the removal of all restraint from him, as on the due restraint upon the liberty of others. “Religious liberty” is the free right of adopting and enjoying opinions on religious subjects, and of worshiping the Supreme Being according to the dictates of conscience, without external control. More follows, but for now this will suffice.

It is worth noting that the modern definition makes no mention of “natural law” or the “laws of nature.” Nor does it mention the “Supreme Being” and the “free right” to religious liberty. It is easy to see why using the modern definition to interpret our founding documents dampens the meaning to words like freedom, liberty and the laws of nature and nature’s God.

In the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, the Founders appealed to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” They affirmed that “these truths” are “self-evident that all Men are created equal … they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

From where did such a notion arise? Arguably, such ideas were adopted from enlightened philosophers of the time, who borrowed from the ancient Greek philosophers. However, it goes beyond that. These laws ultimately come from “Nature’s God.” The “Creator” created “all men” equal, and He “endowed” them with inherent rights that cannot be taken away – they are “unalienable.”[1]

God does as He pleases. “For I am the LORD: I will speak, and the word that I shall speak shall come to pass; it shall be no more prolonged: for in your days, O rebellious house, will I say the word, and will perform it, saith the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 12:25, emphasis mine). God is Creator. “For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else” (Isaiah 45:18, emphasis mine). God created man in His image (Genesis 1:27). God first gave man the “breath of life (Genesis 2:7), and “endowed” him with the attribute of autonomy that He Himself possesses. Hence, “liberty,” i.e., “freedom,” is a God-like attribute inherent to man that cannot be taken away. Therefore, those who would deprive another of “Life” (even unborn life) violate the “Law of Nature” and are called murderers, and likewise, those that would deprive another of “Liberty” (autonomy) violate the “Law of Nature’s God,” and are called tyrants.

The pursuit of happiness is a gift that comes from God. “For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee” (Psalm 128:2, emphasis mine). From the beginning, work has been both a curse and a blessing. “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19, emphasis mine). The Preacher says, “I know that there is no good in [the sons of men], but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life. And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13, emphasis mine). Because man bears the image of the Creator, he too creates, from his mind through his hands, that which brings him joy and happiness. “But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17, emphasis mine). Indeed, God views in dishonor those who will not work; the Bible calls such “sluggards.” “The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat” (Proverbs 13:4, emphasis mine). “The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing” (Proverbs 20:4, emphasis mine). Paul reminded the Thessalonians, “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10, emphasis mine).

Work is the means by which we “pursue happiness,” and by which we obtain private property. It is a gift of God. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, are the Laws of Nature that are derived from Nature’s God. They belong to all men[2] equally. The fact that ancient and modern philosophers tout these “laws” (as if conceived by their own intellect), is that they, whether they give assent to God or not, carry within themselves the image of God. We can thank God that these noble and lofty ideals found sanctuary in the founding documents of our nation. Liberty comes from God alone. “… happy is that people, whose God is the LORD (Psalm 144:15), and “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).

Notes:


[1]  This is why the Muslim religion that adheres to Sharia Law is incompatible with American Law, i.e., the Constitution of the United States of America.

[2]  By “men,” I mean mankind or humankind, male and female. I reject the political correctness that has invaded the English language whereby we must overly complicate the language by such as, he/she, his/hers, men/women, etc.

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Father

Do ye thus requite the LORD, O foolish people and unwise? is not he thy father that hath bought thee? hath he not made thee, and established thee? (Deuteronomy 32:6)

On Father’s Day, we set aside a special time to honor the one who gave us life. For better or worse, without our fathers, we could not celebrate anything, especially our birthdays. Mothers get all the glory because they carried us in their bodies for nine months, but it did not stop there. Our arrival and entry into the world caused Mama unspeakable anguish and pain. After that came all the late night feedings, nursing us through illness, and nurturing us through all the bumps and bruises of life. Of course, Dad got in on some of that, but not like Mama, but let’s face it, without Dad, Mama would have missed out on all those cherished experiences.

The verse above reminds us not to minimize the importance of a father. It is obvious that the verse is speaking about the LORD as Father, but the connection is clear that God identifies Himself with human fathers. The verb “requite” is not heard in normal, everyday speech today, but it means to make a “repayment.” The Hebrew word translated “requite” is gâmal, and it means “to treat a person (well or ill).” So, the question can be stated: “Is this how you treat or repay the LORD?” In context, God gave life to the nation of Israel. Remember? He called Abraham out of the land of the Chaldeans and promised him the land of Canaan. God gave life to Isaac, and He chose Jacob (Israel). God brought the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage and established them in the land. Likewise, our earthly fathers gave us the spark of life and brought us into this world. Even if they were not the fathers that stayed around and provided for us in our childhood, they gave us the life we now enjoy. We should “requite” them with our honor and respect.

God is the model Father from which we can all learn. Granted, in our fallen condition, we cannot meet His standard, but we have a pattern to follow. We can thank our earthly fathers for “the seed” from which we sprang, but ultimately, God is Father to us all. “Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?” (Malachi 2:10, emphasis mine) “But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand” (Isaiah 64:8, emphasis mine).

King David expressed his wonder for the Father this way: “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:14-16, emphasis mine). Our Father concerns Himself with every detail of our being. Jesus said, “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:30, emphasis mine). Hairs! Someone “follically challenged” like myself might see this as insignificant, but in truth, God even counts those hairs I have lost. As earthly fathers, we may not know the hair count on our children’s heads, but we should be encouraged to pay close attention to every detail of their lives.

Knowing every detail of our children’s lives makes us aware of their needs. “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him” (Psalm 103:13). The Hebrew verb translated “pity” here is râcham, and it means “to love” or “have compassion on.” Jesus said, “your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him” (Matthew 6:8, emphasis mine). Further on He says, “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things” (Matthew 6:31-32).  “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17, emphasis mine). Fathers provide for the needs of their children.

The Father disciplines His children. “Discipline” in essence means “to teach.” “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).  Sometimes, this might include corporal punishment. “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes [in good time]” (Proverbs 13:24). “Beatings” are never appropriate, but the “board of education” properly and lovingly applied with wisdom to the “seat of understanding” is sometimes necessary. God the Father and God the Son provided the example. “Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel” (John 5:19-20, emphasis mine).

Jesus, the Son, was subjected to and endured capital punishment for our sins. “For he [the Father] hath made him [the Son] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). At first sight, it seems abhorrent for a father to put his own son to death for the offenses of another, but this is a unique case. Jesus said, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). Jesus, “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14, emphasis mine).  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3, emphasis mine). The Father, punished His own Flesh, i.e. Jesus, for His children’s sins. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not” (1 John 3:1).

Even so, we do not escape the Father’s discipline when we need it. “My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction” (Proverbs 3:11). “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” (Hebrews 12:6-7, emphasis mine) “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Hebrews 12:11). Our Father’s discipline serves to sanctify us, that is, to make us holy, i.e., set us apart from the world. If we live in sin like the world, and God does not punish us for it, that only means that we do not belong to Him, because “whom the Lord loves, He chastens.”

The Father gives good gifts to His children. “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:11). Fathers want to leave an inheritance for their children. Some leave great wealth; others can only leave a good name. However, the Lord gives His children the ultimate inheritance. Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1-3, emphasis mine). “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son” (Revelation 21:7, emphasis mine). “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29). “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Romans 8:17).

Reader, if you are a child of God, regardless of your earthly father, whether good or bad, your heavenly Father cares for you and deserves your gratitude, devotion and obedience. If you are not a child of God, put yourself up for adoption; the Father will not turn you away. “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, emphasis mine). If you are a father, let God the Father be your example.

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Risen Indeed!

And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.  (1 Corinthians 15:14)

It has been 1,987 years since Jesus gave His life on the cross and rose again, and many in the world today still deny the fact. This denial began with one of Jesus’ own disciples. “The other disciples therefore said unto him [Thomas], We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25, emphasis mine).

Thomas needed physical evidence in order to believe, and many today still want to see some physical manifestation. They want to see a miracle, experience a “feeling.” or suddenly speak in an unknown language in order to believe. Eight days later, Jesus granted Thomas’ request, but also lovingly reprimanded him for his lack of faith. “Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29, emphasis mine).

For those that demand evidence, God provides abundant evidence, however, “they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand” (Matthew 13:13). Let us briefly examine just some of the evidence.

First, there is the evidence of an empty tomb.  No court in the world will try someone for murder without a dead body. Where is Jesus’ body? Where are His bones? Not long ago, an ossuary was found in Jerusalem supposedly having the inscription “Jesus son of Joseph,” but that was soon proven a hoax.[1] Besides that, many fail to understand that “James, Jesus, Joseph, and Mary” were very common names in those days, so the inscriptions prove nothing. However, an inscription found on another ossuary said “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” This may indeed contain the remains of James the brother of Jesus.[2] However, the fact remains that the tomb (and there are several suspected) which temporarily held Jesus’ body remains empty.

No body means no victim, and for this reason many suggest that the crucifixion never really took place. One rumor suggests that the betrayer, Judas, was crucified in Jesus’ place and that Jesus walked away free. Those same people are the ones looking for His bones in ossuaries. Muhammad is buried in the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia. Confucius’ body rests in his home town of Qufu, Shandong Province, China. Buddha’s cremated remains (the “relics”) are distributed among several stupas. Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the Bahá’í faith, is buried in Bahji near Acre, Israel.[3] Two main tombs in Jerusalem compete as the burial place of Christ, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Garden Tomb, but both remain empty.

Second, many eyewitnesses saw Jesus alive the third day after His crucifixion and other times thereafter. The four Gospels report that the women (disciples also) that followed Jesus discovered the empty tomb first (Matthew 28:1-8; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-11; John 20:1-2, 11-18).  Luke records that Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32). Those two return to report to the eleven (Judas had taken his own life because of the guilt he felt for betraying Jesus), and while they gave their report, Jesus appeared to all of them (Luke 24:33-43). John’s account notes that Thomas missed that first appearance (John 20:19-25). All of this happened on Resurrection Day. The next Sunday, Jesus appeared to them again, but this time Thomas, the doubter, was in the group of disciples (John 20:26-29). Thomas’ doubt transformed into belief, “And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God” (John 20:28, emphasis mine).

Jesus had many “disciples” (both men and women) besides the twelve “apostles” composing His core group; so when the Gospel writers talk about disciples, they likely include the many that followed Jesus during His ministry on earth. The word “disciple” literally means “student,” so the number of eyewitnesses went beyond the core group. Following Jesus’ ascension into heaven, there were many that could testify to His resurrection. The Apostle Paul asserts “After that, he [the risen Christ] was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:6, emphasis mine). At the time of Paul’s writing the letter to the Corinthians, there remained many eyewitness that could attest to the resurrected Lord. The Law says that “at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established” (Deuteronomy 19:15), and Jesus had more than 250 times the number of witnesses required by the Law. Paul himself, never having known Jesus during His earthly ministry, met the risen Christ as he traveled toward Damascus to persecute the followers of The Way. Of all the witnesses, he says of himself, “And last of all he [the risen Christ] was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not [worthy] to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:8-9, emphasis mine). Despite the abundance of eyewitness, some hold to the silly notion that all these witnesses experienced mass hallucinations. Seriously? I will not dignify that with a response!

Third is the matter of the radical change in the lives of all of the disciples. Immediately after Jesus’ arrest, they all went into hiding. Mark, probably writing for Peter, remembers Jesus’ arrest: “And they all forsook him, and fled” (Mark 14:50, emphasis mine). Mark probably witnessed this firsthand. Speaking of himself in third person (out of embarrassment I am sure), he says, “And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked” (Mark 14:51-52, emphasis mine). Peter, who boasted, “… If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise. Likewise also said they all” (Mark 14:31, emphasis mine) was the first disassociate himself from Jesus with a verbal denial despite Jesus’ warning. “Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice” (Matthew 26:34).  Faced with the challenge of making a public declaration of his association with Jesus, Peter succumbed to fear. “Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.” (Matthew 26:74-75, emphasis mine).

Shortly after Jesus appeared to them, the disciples maintained a low profile. They met secretly in the Upper Room and evangelism never entered their minds. At first, they must have wondered if they had all experienced a mass hallucination. The Gospels give no indication that Jesus met with them regularly following His resurrection. Indeed, some could not believe their own eyes with those brief encounters. “And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted” (Matthew 28:17, emphasis mine). Jesus was alive, but so what! The Jews would kill anyone proclaiming Jesus’ name. Not surprisingly, the disciples wanted to get things back to “normal.” “Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing” (John 21:3, emphasis mine).

These cowering, fearful men were not likely candidates to “have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) with the message of a risen Christ. Even with their firsthand encounters with the risen Lord, they dared not speak out. These (“To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3, emphasis mine)) would not put their lives on the line for the risen Christ whom they, as John put it, “… have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life” (1 John 1:1, emphasis mine). Why would they put their lives on the line for what they knew to be a lie? Yet only fifty days after the Crucifixion, at Pentecost, these same men boldly stood in Jerusalem and proclaimed the risen Savior to every tongue and nation (Acts 2:1-5). The fear of death no longer silenced them. When commanded to stop teaching in the name of Jesus, “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29, emphasis mine). What made the difference? They saw and handled the risen Christ, and they experienced His power, the Holy Spirit, indwelling their lives. Christ is risen indeed!

Reader, we cannot see or handle the risen Christ, but we have the empty tomb. We have the written testimony of hundreds of eyewitnesses. Men and women who would rather die than deny what they had witnessed firsthand. We have the continuing witness of the living body of Christ, the Church. “Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29, emphasis mine). You and I are they “that have not seen.” To us Jesus says, “… be not faithless, but believing.” (John 20:27). Christ is risen indeed. One day, very soon, He will return to reclaim His creation as King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. Be sure you are ready to meet Him.

Notes:


[1]  “Jesus’ tomb story: Does the evidence add up?” (http://www.icr.org/article/1063/386), accessed 04/14/2017.

[2]  Jackson, Wayne. “The Jesus Ossuary Inscription.” ChristianCourier.com. Access date: April 14, 2017. https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/578-jesus-ossuary-inscription-the, accessed 04/14/2017.

[3]  “Burial places of founders of world religions,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burial_places_of_founders_of_world_religions, accessed 04/14/2017.

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The King Is Coming!

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. (Zechariah 9:9)

Around 1,987 years ago on a Sunday afternoon (Mark 11:11), Jesus rode into Jerusalem as prophesied by the prophet Zechariah. The Gospel writer, Matthew, quotes Zachariah in part, “Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass” (Matthew 21:5, emphasis mine). Matthew conspicuously omits Zachariah’s description of the coming King as “just, and having salvation.” Why the omission? Matthew Henry comments on Zachariah 9:9:

“He is a righteous ruler; all his acts of government will be exactly according to the rules of equity, for he is just. 2. He is a powerful protector to all those that bear faith and true allegiance to him, for he has salvation; he has it in his power; he has it to bestow upon all his subjects. He is the God of salvation; treasures of salvation are in him. He is servatussaving himself (so some read it), rising out of the grave by his own power and so qualifying himself to be our Saviour.”[1] (Emphasis mine)

Perhaps Matthew’s omission (as directed by the Holy Spirit) was purposeful. Granted, Matthew wrote after the fact from a vantage point of hindsight, yet the omission retained the prophetic formula of immediate and future fulfillment. Jesus did something similar when He applied Isaiah’s prophecy to Himself. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19). He deliberately omitted the remainder of Isaiah’s prophecy: “and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn” (Isaiah 61:1-2).  Jesus fulfilled the first part of Isaiah’s prophecy at His first coming; “the day of vengeance of our God” will be fulfilled at His second coming when He will set up His millennial kingdom and “comfort all that mourn.”

In the same way, Jesus entered into Jerusalem as the coming King, “lowly [meek], and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (Zechariah 9:9). “He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11). In a matter of days, the adoring crowd crying, “Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord” (John 12:13) would turn into a raging mob shouting, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him … We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). They took the King and nailed Him to a cross.

Three days later, He conquered death and once again walked on earth. After forty days (Acts 1:3), He ascended to His throne having “purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). However, He is not done. There remains prophecy yet unfulfilled. Many still mourn. Injustice still reigns. The Lord has not executed His vengeance and His creation still needs salvation. There is yet more to come.

The prophets spoke of God reigning on the earth. His Messiah will rule the world from the throne of David in Jerusalem. Jesus promised to return. “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2-3, emphasis mine). This same Gospel writer was granted the great privilege of seeing things to come. “And after these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God … And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God … And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:1, 11-13, 15-16, emphasis mine).

He will once again enter the gates of Jerusalem, this time on a white horse as a conquering king. “And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south” (Zechariah 14:4, emphasis mine). What an awesome sight to behold!

Lately, I have been hearing many modern prophets suggesting that this year, 2017, will be the year that Christ will return to rescue His people from “the wrath of God” that is to come upon the earth. Their reasoning, from a biblical standpoint, is sound. All the ones I listen to are quick to issue the disclaimer that they are not setting dates. Jesus clearly stated, “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Matthew 24:36); so I respect that note of caution by these prognosticators. However, I sense, because of what I observe happening all around the world, that what they are predicting may be true. For the Church, the return of Christ has always been imminent, but it is truer today than ever before in the history of the Church. The King is coming! Jesus is coming very soon. Personally, I am looking for and anxiously awaiting His return.

Reader, you will meet Jesus very soon. The best way to meet Him is to be one of His own. Very soon, Jesus will return for His Bride, the Church, the collective body of all who have placed their trust in Him. When that day comes, all the powers of hell will be unleashed upon the world. No place will escape or be immune. You will still have the opportunity to repent when that time comes, but you will suffer tremendously for it. Why not give your life to Jesus now and avoid the horrors that are to come. All you need to do is confess your sin and recognize your need for Him. Ask Him to save you. Invite Him into your heart. Give Him first place in your life; make Him the Lord (the “Boss”) of your life, and trust that He will keep His promise. The King is coming, but this time He will not be meek and lowly. Are you ready to meet Him?

Notes:


[1] Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, note on Zechariah 9:9.

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A New Thing

2017-future-road

Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:18-19)

Whew! Got by that one! We dodged a bullet in 2016! While I remain skeptical of a Donald Trump presidency, I believe God granted us a reprieve by saving us from Hillary Clinton. Even so, the current administration continues to do its best to inflict as much damage to this nation, while in the death throes of its waning days.

Who knows what lies ahead in 2017? The stock market has taken an upward turn with the prospect of “President” Donald Trump. If he follows through on half of his promises, there is hope for better days ahead. However, the best of intentions must still deal with reality, and the reality is that we live in a very unstable and volatile world. The future is future. We can look to the past. We exist in the present, but the future is opaque at best, and dark and obscure for the most part. We cannot know what will come to pass. We can plan and hope for the best, but there is no guarantee of a calamity-free future. We can sound the waters, but sometimes there are hidden shoals that can sink our ship.

When navigating unfamiliar waters, an experienced pilot can help the captain guide the ship through safe waterways. A wise captain will turn the ship over to the pilot who knows the way. William Ernest Henley said, “I am the captain of my soul.” That foolish boast failed to avert his bout with tuberculosis, and did not stay the death angel when Henley succumbed to the disease at the age of 53.

We cannot know what 2017 will bring, nor can we avert the adversities that may come upon us. Like Henley, we may prefer to “captain” our own soul, but if we are wise, we will turn the helm over to The Pilot that knows the way. “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isaiah 46:9-10, emphasis mine).

No matter what 2017 may bring, God promises to give us “a new thing” and to “make a way in the wilderness, and in rivers in the desert.” If God is your Pilot, you will do fine!

Happy New Year!

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Jesus’ Birthday

DF-09134 Nativity , May 18, 2006 Photo by Jaimie Trueblood/newline.wireimage.com To license this image (9139053), contact NewLine: U.S. +1-212-686-8900 / U.K. +44-207 659 2815 / Australia +61-2-8262-9222 / Japan: +81-3-5464-7020 +1 212-686-8901 (fax) info@wireimage.com (e-mail) NewLine.wireimage.com (web site)

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)

In 1992, Carol Cymbala published a song, which brings a tear to my eyes when I hear the sweet, tender voice of a child sing, “Happy Birthday, Jesus.” The words are simple and true, and when intoned by a puerile melody, they grip the heart and focus the mind on the real meaning of Christmas.

happy-b-day-jesus

Everyone, I assume, knows that Jesus was not born on December 25. The Bible does not give us a date. Was it Kislev 25, the first day of Chanukah? If that were the case, the date on the western calendar would fluctuate within the months of mid-November to mid-December. Luke recorded the events around the time of His birth thus providing an approximate year for Jesus’ arrival to earth. Augustus was emperor of Rome, and he issued an order for a census “that all the world should be taxed” (Luke 2:1), and “Cyrenius was governor of Syria” (Luke 2:2).

From Matthew’s account, we know that Herod the Great was “king” in Judah (Matthew 2:1). If secular history records accurately (and the record is dubious[1]), Herod the Great died in 4 B.C. Matthew reports that Herod, upon hearing of Jesus’ birth and not receiving word from the magi, ordered all the babies in Bethlehem, two years and under, slaughtered (Matthew 2:16). After the magi left, an angel warned Joseph to take the family and flee to Egypt, and Matthew says that they remained there until after the death of Herod. Given that we have no record of the time that elapsed between the family’s flight into Egypt and the death of Herod, Jesus’ birth could have occurred in 6 B.C. or earlier. That creates other chronological problems that distract from the point I am trying to make. (I find it strangely humorous that Jesus would be born “Before Christ.”)

The “time” of year also presents a problem. Luke records that “shepherds [were] abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:8). Late December would not be a good time for shepherds to be out in the field by night. It gets cold in Jerusalem/Bethlehem in December at night! Some attempt to rationalize December 25 by suggesting that it may have been the actual time of the conception, making the delivery sometime around mid-September to mid-October, the Jewish month of Tishri. That is certainly plausible. Some suggest the conception may have been in the Jewish month of Tishri (September-October), and the birth in the Jewish month of Tammuz (June-July), and that the magi arrived on December 25, after the family had moved into a house as recorded by Matthew 2:11. That is also feasible.

Who cares! The point is that the Creator God took human form and presented Himself to His creation as fully one of them – Son of God, Son of Man; fully God, fully man. He came to us because that was the ONLY way He could save us from our sins. God took extreme measures[2] to rescue His fallen creation. That is worthy of commemoration and celebration.

December 25 seems to be a fitting time in other respects. During this time, Chanukah, the “Festival of Lights,” is celebrated. By this time, the winter solstice is past and the days start getting longer. The prophet exhorts, “Arise, shine; for thy light [speaking of Jesus] is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising” (Isaiah 60:1-3). Jesus also said, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12, emphasis mine). With all the talk about “light,” December 25 makes as much sense as any other day to celebrate Jesus’ birthday.  Happy Birthday, Jesus!

Notes:


[1] It is very probable, and more in line with the biblical account that Herod died in 1 B.C. http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/herods-death-jesus-birth-and-a-lunar-eclipse/

[2] “Extreme Measures” https://erniecarrasco.com/2016/12/11/extreme-measures/

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Extreme Measures

nativity-scene

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The baby in the feeding trough, surrounded by smelly farm animals and adored by a small crowd including a soft-faced young mother, strong bewildered father, common shepherds and majestic kings makes for a sweet, albeit often overlooked, tableau. If noticed at all, its significance evaporates in clouds of sentimentality. How precious!

Do you not see! The Creator of heaven and earth reduced to a helpless, needy, human infant boy. The Owner and Master of all Creation presented to the world through the birth canal of a young virgin girl. The conception itself made an object of ridicule and shame; conceived outside the “knowledge” of a poor carpenter willing to accept the ridicule of the town’s people, and adopt someone else’s child. The engineer and designer of a finely tuned universe born in a dirty cave allotted to animals rather than a fine palace suitable for the King of the Universe. Rather than a reception by kings, dignitaries, and nobles, the first to greet Him were the low-class, detestable shepherds that kept the sheep for the Temple sacrifices.

This was “God With Us,” Emmanuel. God wrapped up in human flesh. Who could conceive of such a thing! The Jews expected a Messiah to turn Israel into a superpower; but Messiah was a man, not God in the flesh even though Isaiah had predicted, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). “And he shall pass through Judah; he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel” (Isaiah 8:8).

No religion in the world envisions a god condescending to the level of mankind. The Greek gods occasionally mated with humans to produce demigods, yet they remained aloof from humanity. Islam has a god that demands absolute submission of his creation and even perfection (if that were possible) is subject to rejection according to his whim. Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism picture god as some nebulous ether of which all the universe is made and of which we are all part, and the human must achieve an unknowable level of perfection in order to be joined to that undefinable “oneness.”

Only the Bible – both Old and New Testaments – brings the Creator down to the lowest level of humankind in order to elevate humanity to a place near equal to God Himself. (The created thing can NEVER be equal to its creator.) The thought is incomprehensible. The method seems too extreme. If God is so great – omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, etc. – could He not come up with a more sensible plan? Surely, some kind of merit system to earn a place at His side would be more appropriate. At least, that is what every other world religion offers. Man must do certain things – pray five times a day while facing Mecca, crawl ten miles over sharp rocks to light a candle for a saint, disassociate oneself from all worldly things, etc. – to appease the gods. However, that is not what the God of the Bible does (or did). He took extreme measures to rescue His fallen creation.

Man severed the intimate bond he had with his Creator at the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:6-7). Love is an act of the will. It is always an act of the will. It cannot be imposed. It cannot be coerced. It must be offered and accepted freely and willingly, otherwise it is not love. Therefore, God placed only one stipulation on the man He created. “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). The man chose wrongly, and all of mankind, along with the whole of creation, suffered the curse of that choice. God introduced temporary measures to cover for human shortcomings – He shed the blood of innocent animals to cover (atone) their nakedness (Genesis 3:21), He accepted the sacrifice of innocent animals for the sins of man (Genesis 4:4; 8:20-21), and He institutionalized the sacrificial system shedding innocent animal blood to atone for sins (Exodus 12) – but this was insufficient. “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). Animals, while innocent of any wrongdoing, are not responsible for the fall of man. The sentence for the infraction was death for the guilty party – the man. Therefore, the only reasonable and adequate sacrifice must be that of an innocent man, but there are none. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

What then! God took extreme measures to resolve the problem. God, Himself, put on human flesh. Through an act possible only for the omniscient, omnipotent, Creator God created a single-cell human zygote, in the pure virgin womb of a young Jewish maiden that developed as a normal human embryo. “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law” (Galatians 4:4). God was born like any normal human baby. “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). “Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5-8, emphasis mine).

Only the blood of a perfectly sinless, innocent man could suffice to pay the “wages of sin” (Romans 6:23). God took extreme measures to buy back His fallen creation. There was no other way to solve the sin problem. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6, emphasis mine).

The next time you view a nativity scene, look beyond the sweet baby in the manger and see the cross. Two trees still grow in God’s garden, the Tree of Life, i.e. the Cross of Christ, and the worldly tree of man’s perverted “knowledge of good and evil.” One tree gives eternal life, the other eternal death, i.e. eternal separation from the Creator. The choice is yours.

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