Dave makes some really wonderful points here about how Paul the Apostle is often taken out of context and seems to be at odds with the Apostles and Judaism with what he says.
I heard a sermon on the radio today in which the entire scope of the sermon was on how Paul was the “only” authorized Disciple to the Gentiles….it was presented that Paul was essentially the only one we as Christians needed to listen to and worry about listening to in our Bible.
Whether that was the Preacher’s intent or not…that is the message he was handing out quite passionately. He completely ignored the fact that the first person to deal with the Gentiles aside from Jesus was Peter the Apostle (Acts 10) who went to see Cornelius the Gentile and his family. Peter was called upon by the Holy Spirit to go and see Cornelius and his family, and the Holy Spirit told Cornelius to send some men to go and get Peter, whom he had never met before. Peter witnessed this important thing when he went there, that although Cornelius and his people were all Gentiles (non-Jews) God gave them the Holy Spirit also. This was an important thing when it came to the decision of the Apostles about how Gentiles could remain as they were (Gentiles) and still be included in the Salvation offered by God.
Many of our Christian Churches over the centuries and still today have doctrine that takes Paul out of context and forgets that Paul as well as the other Disciples and Jesus, himself…were all practicing Jews…they did not forsake the practice of their faith in order to accept Jesus..they still kept Sabbath and Passover, and the other Jewish Holidays….they were still Jewish until their deaths…although they had recognized and accepted the Messiah as the source of their salvation. Jesus was a devout practicing Jew…he could not have kept the law perfectly if he had not been.
So what does this mean to us? This means that Paul who was a Pharisee who was the son of a Pharisee, who was trained by a famous Pharisee (Gamaliel) was still a Pharisee even while he accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. He was still a Jew….he still honored Jewish traditions and laws, but he understood that the law is not the source of salvation. He understood that Repentance and acceptance of the Messiah, pursuing God was the source of salvation….relationship with God. As Dave says in this Video…Paul was not a rogue who was separate from the Disciples. He was under the Disciples authority…he was commissioned by them (as well as Jesus – Acts 22:21) to go and preach to the Gentiles. The Disciples understood that Paul had been authorized by Jesus as the Disciple to the Gentiles and they followed the Holy Spirit’s wishes and sent him out to them in obedience to God.
Paul tells us to be who we are…if we are Jews to be Jews who accept the Messiah, and if we are Gentiles to be Gentiles who accept the Messiah. We are to accept Jesus where ever we are and be the person that God created us to be, as we are all unique individuals and God has a plan for each and every one of us in how we are to serve him.
Dave gets a lot deeper into this idea in his video and makes some very impressive points about Paul and his Mission/Ministry. I encourage you to give it a watch.
It is interesting to look at the scripture in the context of how the Disciples would have understood things from their position as Jews.
John 1:12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—
What are you basing your identity on?
Note: Many of the ideas in this entry can be attributed to a sermon I heard preached by my Pastor last Sunday….I take notes, and so from the notes I’ve written this blog entry and added some thoughts, explanations and examples of my own. Sometimes, I tell him that I am going to use what I heard him preach on in my blog. I really enjoy Pastor Jerry’s sermons, and learn a lot from him. I hope you will enjoy this glimpse also.
Read Matthew 23:1-12
23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
5 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long;6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues;7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.
8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.11 The greatest among you will be your servant.12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Matthew 23:5That is, boxes containing Scripture verses, worn on forehead and arm
Jesus is pretty clear that his disciples should not be doing things that glorify themselves. Funny thing is that he tells them to be careful to do what the Pharisees and the teachers of the law say to do, but not to actually do the same things they themselves do.
We all know folks who do this, and at any time we are all guilty of being “hypocrites” or “actors”. Sometimes, it is unintentional, we simply get new information or change our minds about something that we felt/believed deeply in the past. Jesus is not talking about the unintentional hypocrisy that happens in those cases. For example, We have all used the phrase: “I would never do……(fill in the blank)” and then we have proceeded to condemn someone else for doing that very thing….a few years go by and maybe we have done the thing we said we would never do. Perhaps…we would “never stay out after midnight because nothing good comes of that….” then we find that we have a job which requires us to stay out after midnight. This is a very mild example, but this kind of hypocrisy happens all the time. The problem comes with the self-righteousness that comes along with those kinds of statements. The unloving and condemning/judgmental attitude that comes with the hypocrisy.
That is the very thing that Jesus was warning his disciples against…the “do what I say, but not what I do” attitude that the Pharisees and the Scribes were filled with. They were largely filled with their own righteousness, and filled with the need for gratification and glorification by mankind. They were not focused on serving God, but they were serving themselves in the pretense of “doing it all for God.”
A very unfunny joke I heard last Sunday goes like this: Hypocrites in the church? No, our church is not full of hypocrites….it is a long way from being full yet.
Yet this unfunny joke does describe many churches and the view of many people about Christian churches and the people who go to them.
Another way of saying this is said by Paul the Apostle in Titus 1:16
16 They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.
So Jesus realized that people want to be known as something – he knew that this is a need that people have..so he laid out clear instructions to his disciples about this..because if you are known for something then you can be known for the wrong thing….even something harmless can become harmful if it goes to your head. The Old Testament is full of people who let their own ego take over and it ended up causing harm to themselves and others. The thing is that some of those people such as King Saul and King David, were actually people who believed in God and attempted to follow God, but because of their self centered nature they failed to be obedient to God…they made the choice to glorify themselves instead of being true to God.
In God’s eyes we are called to be loving servants to others, instead of lifting ourselves up, we should be lowering ourselves down.
Even though Jesus was God in the flesh, he emptied himself out and became obedient to the death.
So back to the question at hand…How do you identify yourself?
-by relationship? -by Education? – by position? -by skills? -by bank balance? -by residence?
The truth is that we spend a lot of time trying to figure out who we are in relation to others – “What do they think of me?” We all do this to some extent. Everyone gets a vote in who we are – even strangers – we give them smiles and politeness…or scowl at them if we are having a bad day…even the driver in the next lane forms an opinion of who we are to them….”I saw that really rude driver when I was coming home…”
People through out our lives will sometimes give us nicknames…some are very nice and some are really rude. I remember that an office I worked in had a woman with really gigantic hair…so she (rudely) became known as “the hair lady”…we have almost all of us come across a person or two known as the “snob or the grouch”…then there are more affectionate nicknames such as “shorty, or cuteness, or pet names we call our kids or spouses.” Nicknames also can come as short versions of your real name: Vicky (Victoria), Lexis (Alexis or Alexandra). Sometimes, nicknames can reveal something about us that we don’t wish to have the world know…such as “stinky” (some unthinking Mom who said that at the wrong moment and the kid was tagged with it for life!) I know that when we were going to have our first child I had a sequence of names that I really liked and it was a very nice boy’s name…however, my husband was more on the ball than I was…he said, “No we cannot name him that, if it is a boy, because the initials form the word “GAS”…that kid would be teased unmercifully for life!” I was shocked to hear the initials. (You are laughing now for sure, but this is a true tale!)
Every day we come to this path choice and our choice is determined by our core longings…do we reveal the false self, the small self or the true self?
Core Longings (Dr. Robert B. Shaw) – Belonging, Purpose, Love, Understanding, Significance and Security.
If we don’t have our core longings satisfied, then we can get into trouble by searching for ways to have these longings be satisfied. This leads to creating a “false self.”
There is also the “small self” identity which comes from living below your privilege, living without prayer, living with false humility.
We, who are believers, need to understand that in order to continue to become mature in Christ and stay on the mark as Christians…we need to understand that God is the only “legitimate” source for the satisfaction of our core longings.
We should never get our identity from something that can be taken away from us!
Have you ever met someone who spent their lives so wrapped up in their job that they did nothing else…then they retired..or lost the job..that person is usually very lost emotionally. They just don’t know what to do with themselves…it is like they lost their entire identity when they lost the job. The same thing can happen if you use your relationship to identify yourself…what happens if your only identity is “Mom” or “Dad” and the kids do what you have raised them to do…grow up and move out and get independent…again…you can become very depressed… it is hard to see this happen to a person from the outside too. It is hard to help them. It is hard to redefine yourself.
Here are some things to remember:
Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
(This tells us that God has a plan for our lives, the plan was prepared before we were created!)
Ephesians 1:5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will–
(This tells us that part of God’s plan was for us to be adopted into his family through Jesus Christ…that it is his pleasure and his will that we be added to his family of children.)
1Thessalonians 1:4-5 4 Brothers who are beloved by God, we know that He has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with great conviction—just as you know we lived among you for your sake.
(This tells us that God loves us and chose us, and he chose people to share the gospel with us, and that the Holy Spirit acts in accordance with the gospel to draw us to God.)
Philippians 4:19-20 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (NIV)
So again…I ask…who are you? Where do you get your identity from?
I am hoping that your answer will be that you are a “child of God”…that is the best and most valid identity any of us can have…and it cannot be taken away from us by anyone or anything…not even by death!
Acts 1:14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the Mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
Note Acts 1:14 demonstrates that it is important to pray together and be praying for the same things, in the same way. That is to be of one accord, or in agreement.
Read Acts 12:1-18 This is the story of Peter’s rescue by the angel of the Lord from prison.A good illustration of the power of group prayer in one accord. This is an amazing story. Peter is rescued, and then he goes to the door of the house of his fellow Christians and the woman is so shocked and happy that she doesn’t even open the door! She leaves him standing there so that she can go and tell everyone else who had been praying for him! They actually suggest it is his ghost! You can just see this in your minds eye, can’t you?!
This group of people were praying for him and God answer their prayer promptly…so promptly that they could hardly believe it. Peter went to let them know he was safe and make sure they passed the information on to others, but then he left. We go a bit further down and see that Herod was very unhappy about this situation and was probably looking for Peter. He really wanted to execute him.
You can contrast this story to the one of Paul and Silas being in prison and having an earthquake hit. (Acts 16:16-40) They didn’t leave, but Peter actually thought he was having a dream, but was in fact being rescued by an angel. Similar situations, but God handled them differently. In the case of Paul, he and his companion were there to facilitate the salvation of the Jailer and his family, and their fellow prisoners. Also they were not being held by King Herod and not under threat of death, God did not have to effect a miraculous rescue for them. Now that jailer was going to kill himself if Paul and Silas and the other prisoners had escaped, but it wasn’t necessary. The Roman penalty for a jailer who let their prisoners escape was that they had to suffer the harshest penalty of the prisoners they were holding…for ex. if someone in their group of prisoners was sentenced to death, then they would be taking the place of that person if the prisoner escaped.
Peter’s death was eminent if he had not been rescued by the angel. God was not done with Peter, and there were a lot of people praying for Peter’s well being. In Paul’s case his and Silas’ arrest was less serious, and Paul had a way out because of his Roman citizenship (though it was not known at the time of the decision to release them). Paul and Silas also went to visit someone before they left town…people who were probably concerned and praying for Paul and Silas also.
One thing you can bet on in both of these situations is that God knew what situation his people were in, and was keeping and eye on it. Things went the way that God planned. Peter escaped and went on about the Lord’s work, and Paul and Silas did the Lord’s work while in jail, and when they were released they also went on about the Lord’s work continuously….preaching the Kingdom is here to everyone they met! The power of group prayer cannot be underrated. Many times when we pray for someone we tend to pray in a very specific and limiting way. Recently, it was brought to my attention through study in a group that we should actually be praying for God’s blessings to shower down into their life..that they have the fullness of all of God’s blessings!
If you think about it…having the fullness of all of God’s blessings is that they have the most “life” in their life…they would be in line with God’s plan for them, and would be a disciple of Christ who is busy making other disciples of Christ…that is what Peter and Paul and Silas and all of the other Disciples of the Lord did for the remainder of their lives….they preached the Kingdom and made Disciples who preached the Kingdom and made more Disciples…isn’t that the greatest blessing…to know that you have been an able participant in the Kingdom of Heaven and bringing others into the Kingdom also?
Peter’s Miraculous Escape From Prison
Acts Chapter 12:1-16 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them.2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.3 When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread.4 After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.
5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
6 The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance.7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.
8 Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him.9 Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision.10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.
11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.”
12 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying.13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door.14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”
15 “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”
16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,” he said, and then he left for another place.
18 In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter.19 After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed.
Psalm 35:13-28 Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth, and humbled myself with fasting. When my prayers returned to me unanswered, I went about mourning as though for my friend or brother, I bowed my head in grief as though weeping for my mother…
Read 2 Samuel 1:17-27 David laments or mourns the deaths of Saul and Jonathon, basically telling God that he thinks there should be no rain, no crops, not even dew.That this would be justified.David is basically in this and in some of the Psalms airing out his grief over something he felt shouldn’t have happened at all, or at least not in the way it did happen.The injustices of the world.
Sometimes bad things happen to good people due to other people’s sinful actions, or in the case of Saul due to his own sinful actions.David loved Jonathon like a brother, and loved Saul too, although Saul’s actions were those of a madman in later years, due to his separation from God through his sin.God is with us always, especially when we are grieving. So when I say that Saul was separated from God by his sin, it was his inability to reach out and ask for forgiveness which was separating him.
Another thing to consider is that even while Saul was worrying about his throne, and he went to the witch of Endor (not to be confused with the place in the movie “Star Wars”) to call Samuel back from the grave…it wasn’t to reunite himself with God. It was so that he could have his throne back. Saul was not asking for forgiveness. It seems that Saul was just trying to get God’s endorsement back so that he could continue to be King.
I am sure that God would have taken Saul’s heart back, and forgiven him if he had asked, but even when God forgives us there are consequences to our actions which have to be dealt with. Saul had mislead and misrepresented God to others while he was in a place of authority over those people. God takes that seriously. Instead of asking for forgiveness he continued to try to manipulate and force the situation. He didn’t bow his head to God and humbly say, “Your Will Be Done, Lord, in this matter and any other!” No, Saul kept his pride. The Bible tells us that God hates pride…not the kind of pride that goes with a sense of accomplishment where you have met a goal and you feel satisfaction from it. The kind of pride where you forget that God is the one who gave you the talents and skills to accomplish that goal, and you start getting full of yourself. God hates that kind of pride. That kind of pride causes all kinds of problems.
Any way, back to Saul…his pride caused him nothing but grief. It also caused others great grief as well. His pride quite literally cost his sons their inheritance, and their lives.
His pride also caused David all manner of pain and suffering too. Matthew 5:4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. God is the great comforter, even though he will not erase our grief, he will comfort us and make it more bearable.It is hard to pray when you are grieving, but that much more important to do, as you need comfort the most.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that all grief/suffering is due to someone’s sin. Though in a manner of speaking it is…the Garden of Eden was a perfect place, and there was no sin in it, until Satan the Serpent tempted Eve and Adam to sin. At that point the earth was cursed. It is hard to imagine the earth being cursed, but if we understand that this is why we have pain and suffering, and thorns, and bugs, and poisonous things in the world, natural disasters and such…then even though there are so many beautiful things on this earth one can also recognize the curse. Genesis 3:17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.
The main thing is to not get caught up in blaming someone for your grief! That is a worldly thing to do. The world is always looking to answer “why” something has happened, and looking to blame someone. One of the most often asked questions is, “why me? why did this happen to me?” The more realistic thought is, “Why not me? It has to happen to someone, right? This kind of thing happens all the time, who is to say it can’t happen to me?!!” Once you have faced your grief with that kind of questioning instead of looking for someone to blame then you can start to realize that God is there for you to lean on…he is there to comfort you and help you to get through the grief. Especially when it is the kind of grief where you get up in the morning and are praying, “God, please just help me to get through this day…that is all I can deal with…and I can’t really deal with even this day, so please just help me to get through this day…”
If you are a Christian, then you should start to see this grief/suffering experience as a “Job” experience. If you read the story of Job in the Bible in theBook of Job, then you see this man who was very Godly and went to a lot of effort to make sure that his children even were kept from sin. He made sacrifices on their behalf. Job lost his whole family, and all of his wealth, and his health, yet he never cursed God. He kept his faith throughout. Job didn’t do anything wrong..nothing to “deserve” what was happening to him.
It is heartless to say that someone deserves what is happening to them. God does not want us to have this attitude toward people….God sometimes has the attitude of someone who is giving discipline to his children, but he is never joyful at their need for discipline or their suffering! God wants us to be compassionate and loving even to the worst offenders…those whom we see as the worst of the worst….even them! God loves them too! A person can never be too bad to come back to God’s arms and have salvation…the Bible is full of people that the average person would think was beyond redemption. Yet those people were redeemed! As Paul says in his letter in 1Timothy 1:15 This is a trustworthy saying, worthy of full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.
So when I say grief/suffering is a “Job” experience, what I mean is that you are a Christian going through one of the hardest experiences of your life…you have a decision to make…either go through the experience holding on to your Christianity, your faith, your very personal relationship with God and be like Job…
OR The otheroption is to throw it all away and go through it with God next to you, but separated from you by your lack of faith in him. Your lack of faith in the goodness and mercifulness of God. In that case, what you are essentially doing, is curling up in a ball and shutting God out while wallowing in your misery.
There is a difference between wallowing (which we all do to some extent) and humbling ourselves before God and asking him for relief and comfort. We are miserable, and God gave us emotions to help us express ourselves to him and to each other.
Psalm 145:9 The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. We can trust in God to help us in times of misery and trouble and grief and suffering. There is simply no comfort as great as the comfort that God offers to us. We simply have to put our focus on him and keep it there and God is compassionate to help us through all trouble.
Psalm 34:17 When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.
The most important thing for us to remember when dealing with things that happen around us that seem unfair or unexplainable is that God is a God of Justice. Justice not the way the world gives it, but real and true justice…and God is also a God of love…not as the world loves, but real and true love that transcends our understanding. After all, he sacrificed his son for us. God is trustworthy in all things as we are told inProverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
Genesis 2:7 Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
When I was sitting in church this weekend one of the speakers made a statement that caught my attention. He said that we all have the breath of God in us. I really had not given that idea a lot of thought, but it really reminded me of all the Bible verses which talk to us about God’s breath. I looked up the word breath in all of its forms in my Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible and there are 53 lines of verses listed which use that word in some form. When I looked up the word Spirit it has more than 3 pages. My Strong’s is for the King James, so if you are reading a different version of the Bible you will get a slightly different count most likely. However, no matter which version you use, the fact remains that the idea of breath is really important…especially when you read things like Job 33:4 The Spirit of God has made me, And the breath of the Almighty gives me life. and Job 27:3-6 As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice, the Almighty, who has made my life bitter,3as long as I have life within me,the breath of God in my nostrils,4my lips will not say anything wicked,and my tongue will not utter lies.5I will never admit you are in the right;till I die, I will not deny my integrity.6I will maintain my innocence and never let go of it;my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live. (ref. NIV from Biblehub.com)
Job definitely recognized that God is the author and giver of life, right down to the breath in his body. This kind of gives new meaning to the idea that your body is a temple of the Lord, doesn’t it?!! I mean in the Old Testament God residing in the Holy of Holies so that gave man a fixed place to go and worship him…however, since God first created Adam and breathed life into his nostrils man has generation after generation been kept alive by the breath of God. Even sinners are being kept alive by the breath of God, and God loves us even when we are sinning. (Romans 5:8) However, that sin separates us from God, even while we are breathing with God’s very breath in our bodies. No wonder it is so painful to be separated from God.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
Here in the main portion of Paul’s speech to the people of Athens about the Unknown God. Paul reminds us of several things…1.) God is not made of anything that man has created, 2.) God made the world and everything in it, 3.) God doesn’t dwell in temples or buildings, 4.) God doesn’t actually need anything from us, 5.) God made all mankind from one blood, and he determines the length of everyone’s life, 6.) Once you have heard the gospel you need to take God seriously and make the decision to repent and draw closely to God, 7.) There will be a day of judgement that only God knows when it is coming.
Acts 17:23-30 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, To The Unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;25 Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. (Bible Gateway KJV)
If we go and read Isaiah 40 we can be lifted up and comforted by the power of God, even though people are described as being like grass and their faith like flowers which wither at the breath of God. I found that statement to be rather disheartening when I first read it. It can be interpreted as mankind being delicate and temporary, easily destroyed by God. However, though grass and flowers are temporary and delicate, God still cares for them, (Luke 12:27), and when we continue reading Isaiah 40 we find that God cares for and loves his people and he is strong enough to protect them. (Besides, if you think of it the same wind or breath of God that can destroy also brings in the clouds which causes rain to fall and nourish the grass and flowers.) Going on in Isaiah 40:10 we find that we are told not to be afraid, but to shout out and proclaim God and who he is to those around us.
Isaiah 40: 1Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
3 A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
6 A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. 7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”
9 You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. 11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.
12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? 13 Who can fathom the Spiritof the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor? 14 Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding?
15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust. 16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires, nor its animals enough for burnt offerings. 17 Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing.
18 With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him? 19 As for an idol, a metalworker casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it. 20 A person too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot; they look for a skilled worker to set up an idol that will not topple.
21 Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? 22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. 23 He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. 24 No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.
25 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.
27 Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? 28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. 29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Now Isaiah 40 is a prophecy about the coming of the Messiah, but it is also a message to those of us who are living today. It tells us to be bold that God gives us the strength of his breath…we can run and not be tired, we can walk and not be faint…why? because we have the breath of God living in us…in the form of the Holy Spirit. We are literally God breathed and God supported. So when the world is running madly around and you are racing along with it…remember to fill your lungs with the breath of God and pursue with your full heart to do God’s work in your life…tell others who God is just as Paul did, and be bold about it! God will give you the words to say! As in Luke 21:15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.
God’s breath is the breath of life, and it is powerful….count on it and be faithful and bold!
Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
2Timothy 4:2-4 Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
Read Mark chapter 7
Many traditions are just man made traditions and not anything to do with a requirement of God or living as a grace covered Christian. Now to the Jews circumcision was part of a covenant that they are still keeping, and that is certainly the right thing for them; however, under the covenant of Jesus’ blood, Gentiles are not required to fulfill that circumcision requirement. In the old testament before the coming of Christ you had to be circumcised to join the Jews, I imagine that is still the case if you male and are to become Jewish. However, it is not a requirement under Christianity, it is a choice each person can make.
I have another Christian tradition that I have been struggling with that my own church and most churches deal with, that of Communion. I decided to read up on this issue in the Bible and have come to the following conclusions. There are many traditions that are man made about it. Some believe that it is the literal body and blood of Christ, others believe that it is not, but is a Holy Sacrament and must be blessed by a Priest or Minister, others don’t believe it needs to be blessed or consecrated, but each person can simply take it in communion with others with an attitude of worship, and a recognition what it represents; still others believe that only those of a certain age or only of the like denomination can partake of it.
However, in the Bible all it says is that Jesus, while sitting at a passover table with his disciples told them while lifting the passover cup that it was his blood, and that breaking the bread it was his body (Matthew 26:26), and 1Corinthians 11 talks about it extensively from the view point of Paul the Apostle. He talks about it strictly from the stand point of the attitude of the person who is partaking of communion. Paul says that the people who are partaking of the Lord’s cup and bread should be taking it with an acknowledgement of Jesus’ sacrifice for us as one of his (Christian) sheep. He also says that they should not be helping themselves and treating it as a party for just those wealthy enough to afford it. He tells us that if it is being used that way, they can eat or drink at home..it is to be taken with a proper attitude and in community with all who are present who are belonging to Christ. It is up to the person who is taking it to decide whether they are worthy (aka belonging to Christ) to take it or not.
The setting for Jesus’ meal with his disciples was a Passover meal. If we look at the requirements for passover the priest did not necessarily have to kill the passover lamb, but was required to catch the blood from the lamb and sprinkle it on the altar. That was the only requirement for a priest during passover. The rest of the meal was performed in the individual homes not at the temple. Here is an interesting site that explains the Passover practices of the Jews…though you can also read it in the Bible in Exodus 12
Another fact about Jesus’ death, is that with his death the veil between the Holy of Holy’s and the rest of the Temple was torn. The Holy of Holy’s was the place that only the High Priest could go into as it was the “place of the presence of God.” He was only allowed to go in there on the day of Atonement which was once a year. With the tearing of the veil by Jesus death there became no need for any Jew or Gentile Christian or anyone to have to go to a Priest in order to be in God’s presence. We were allowed through the death Jesus Christ to go straight to God ourselves…Jesus is the only mediator between God and Man. (1Timothy 2:5). That is why when we pray to God, we pray asking in Jesus’ name. The Holy Spirit lives in us, as Christians, therefore we are not in need of an earthly priest for anything. Not even for the blessing of the elements of communion. It is enough for Christians to pray over the elements and ask God’s presence and blessing for their act of Communion and remembrance, honoring of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.
The idea behind communion that Jesus gave his disciples is a remembrance of his sacrifice. It is a reminder to us, that we are sinful and that we needed this selfless sacrifice to redeem us, and reunite us with God. A reminder that Jesus willingly sacrificed himself for us. Just as the Passover was a reminder to the Jews that God had “passed over” their houses in Egypt and spared the lives of their first born. God told them to celebrate passover in “remembrance” of that event in Egypt.
Different denominations have many different beliefs about Communion, Baptism and many other issues….what to wear, how to wear your hair if you are man or woman, etc. A lot of those beliefs are traditions of the denominations, and not necessarily Biblical. Many times, those beliefs have grown from someone taking one statement out of context, or out of misunderstanding of the circumstances and/or group to whom the speaker was speaking or what was going in that society. Many traditions are used by Satan to separate the people of God and cause them to fight amongst themselves instead of being unified through our Savior. While we can enjoy traditions we need to be aware of what is traditional and what is Biblical and not allow man’s traditions to separate us from our fellow believers.
For instance, if someone were on their death bed and had just accepted Christ, and you were the only Christian around and they wanted Communion or Baptism…would you deny them and say, “Let me go find a minister or a priest, I’m not qualified?”
Each person reading John 14:12-14 should be able to answer that. Jesus who is our ultimate high priest everlasting told us that whoever believes in Him will be able to do whatever he does and even greater things than he. We know that his disciples had the gifts of the Spirit, and the fruits of the Spirit and did healing, and baptism, and had communion in Jesus’ name. Jesus was not out to create a new priesthood with the Disciples that elevated them above those whom they were bringing to Christ. He wanted each and every one of us as Christians to be priests and serve others around us in Jesus’ name. (1Peter 2:9)
Now I recognize that not everyone will feel comfortable with the idea of administering Baptism or Communion to another, and maybe they never will. Traditions have a strong hold on people. Like getting a hair cut….just be aware, that sometimes a tradition which is not correctly Biblically based can be a separator and not a unifier. Be gentle and loving and it is okay to question a tradition, but question it in the context of “what does the Bible have to say about it? What does God’s Word have to say about it?” Is it hurting someone or is it something that helps you to connect with God more fully? Respect traditions, but evaluate them against the word of God and the character of God. That is what the Disciples did! They always went back to the word of God, and took it in the context that the words were spoken!
Galatians 5:4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ, you have fallen from grace.
ReadGalatians 5:4, Hebrews 12:15,Hebrews 13:9, 1Peter 1:13You can fall away from God’s grace, if you embrace your culture too much.We are to live a separate kind of existence than our culture, as a demonstration of God’s grace in our lives.We are to be in the world, but not be worldly.Don’t try to earn your way to heaven, if you do, then you are no longer under grace, you are under the law, and you are condemned.
Read Galatians 2: This is about Paul and Barnabas receiving the right hand of fellowship of James, Cephas, and John who were spreading the word of Jesus to the Jews (who were called the Circumcision in the bible), the Gentiles were the uncircumcised.Paul condemns Peter’s action of preaching grace, but then telling the people that they must under the law be circumcised.He tells Peter that if he is living under grace, that he cannot then require circumcision of people (the gentiles) before they come to Jesus.That this would be a legal requirement, and that this requirement is not of grace, that they are accepted to Jesus by grace and faith, not by works.That sin is justified by grace and not by their own work.Otherwise if righteousness comes by law, then Christ died in vain.
It is really funny how an issue can cause people to get into a dither, isn’t it? I have several brothers, and in my family although we are not Jewish and as far as I know my Mother has not yet found anyone Jewish in our background through all of her mountains of research into our family genealogy, but despite what the Bible says about Gentiles not needing to be circumcised my brothers were, as were most boys born in the time period that I was born in. I don’t believe that much consideration, if any, was given to the contrary. If any consideration was given it was probably that Christians are circumcised too. That is a general Judeo-Christian consensus, but as you can find from reading the Bible that is not a requirement of Gentile Christians. Now, in the generation of my children, I have heard discussion on doing that or not doing that, and some are very defensive about not circumcising if they have boy children. They are expecting criticism from parents who chose to circumcise.
As Christians we need to know exactly what the Bible is saying about this subject, and other subjects like it, so that we can lovingly discuss it with those who are feeling very uptight about it, or any subject that is a tradition. The Bible tells us not to trouble our children and the children not to trouble us. (Colossians 3:21, Ephesians 6:1-4) If we don’t know what the Bible says about these things, then it does cause trouble between us and our children and between us and others who are in their Christian walk also.
Proverbs 4:18 The Path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter until the full light of day.
Galatians 2:9 James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, when they recognized the grace given to me.They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the Jews.
Note: In Galatians 2:9When God’s grace is within you it shines through you and others can see it readily, just as James, Peter and John could see that God’s grace was within Paul and Barnabas.
Read Judges Chapter 7: This is the story of Gideon’s obedience to God, and God showing his grace to Israel by giving the Midianites over to them in battle.God told Gideon that he needed to use only 300 men so that Israel would know that God did this for them, and that they didn’t do it themselves by their own hands.Evidentially the Israelites must have recognized that God was with Gideon because there were 32 thousand Israelites at that time, and there were numberless Midianites so the Israelites were outnumbered with 32 thousand people, and yet they accepted that Gideon only need 300 people to take the Midianites with God’s plan.This indicates their recognition of God being with Gideon.So God’s grace shined through Gideon.
Just as in these two cases in the Bible of Paul and Gideon as a person’s walk with God grows closer and the Holy Spirit is more prevalent in their lives it is easier to recognize the same Holy Spirit in someone else that you meet. It is also very thrilling to be in fellowship with that person even if they are in other ways a perfect stranger to you because you have just met. The Holy Spirit’s presence just shines through them to you and from you to them.
1Cor 16:23 The Grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.
1Cor. 16:23It is always appropriate to pray that God’s grace will be with someone and guide them in all their life’s activities. The apostles frequently said this prayer in either greeting someone, or in sending them out on a mission.We are to pray for others regularly. Ex. 2Cor.1:2, Romans 1:7
Read Galatians 1:15-16Sometimes knowledge is given to us through God’s grace, that we don’t get from man’s knowledge.For example, Paul was given knowledge of Jesus Christ through God himself, and not through the preaching of any living human being.God demonstrated his grace to Paul on the road to Damascus. Paul was actually on his way to Damascus to imprison and kill off Christians. This was actually after Jesus had been crucified and raised from the dead and ascended into heaven. He was stopped in his tracks by Jesus who asked him why he was persecuting his people. This was a great conversion experience for Saul and he was renamed Paul. He was always working for God as much as he knew how, even when he was killing Christians, but God corrected him, and he went on to be someone who truly spent the rest of his life doing God’s work and spreading the gospel through the world to the Gentiles. The Gentiles are anyone who is not a Jew, just to be clear on this.
Colossians 4:6 Season your words with God’s grace, so that you will always know how to answer someone correctly.
Read Ephesians Chapter 3Note that this is a letter from Paul to the Ephesians, in which he outlines how he prays for their well being, and guidance, and understanding of God’s love/grace for them.Although the word grace is not used in the prayer part of verses 15-21 Paul does use the word grace in verse 7 along with the same wording about God’s power working in him.This indicates that in the prayer portion he is talking about Grace to the Ephesians.This letter is thought to have been written by Paul at the same time approximately as Colossians, AD 60, while Paul was imprisoned under house arrest in Rome.
When I think of Paul I think of someone who was a fire and brimstone kind of guy. He was a “no gray area” type of person. He believed in what he believed and he followed through on his beliefs to the best of his ability. When he believed that Christians were heretics and were distorting the word of God he wholeheartedly went all out to eliminate as many of them as possible. Once he met with Jesus on the road to Damascus he found (much to his surprise, I am sure!) that he was entirely wrong about his approach and his beliefs about the Christians. I find it interesting that he was blinded physically even while he “saw the light” spiritually! His physical blinding was temporary, but I am sure that helplessness he experienced really was convincing to him that he was dealing with God. It was also a form of justice to those whom Paul had made to feel helpless while he was persecuting them. After all, who else could do something like that, and who else would speak to him like that?!! Paul was not allowed to stay in his comfort zone either….God thrust him forward to the preach to the gentiles…we know that Paul was both a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28/Philippians 3:4-5) and a Jew, his father was a Pharisee and he was also a well educated Pharisee.
Paul seems to have been a somewhat inflexible person who was unforgiving of others who were not as committed to his mission as he was. We know this from his refusal to take Mark with him on the second missionary journey. (Acts 15) This was because Mark started off with he and Barnabas on the first journey and then left them and went back home. (Acts 13) It ended up that Barnabas took Mark on a second journey of his own, and Paul teamed up with Silas and they went on Paul’s second missionary journey. Later on, we find that Paul has come to appreciate Mark because he says in a letter that Mark has been of help to him. (2Timothy 4:11). Paul has come to see that sometimes people can change and become committed whole heartedly.
Another thing we know about Paul is that he was bold. He walked into Athens and informed them all that he had seen a monument to the “unknown God” and he would make that God known to them. (Acts 17:16-34).
Paul also didn’t go about flaunting his background unless he needed to do so. He didn’t announce that he was a Roman citizen unless he needed to do so, even though announcing it would have opened doors all over the cities he was being a missionary in. I can only believe that this was so people did not listen to him out of duress or obligation, simply because of his Roman citizenship. After all, there was a Roman law that said if a Roman soldier asked you to carry his stuff you had to carry it for up to a mile outside of the city before you were free to give it back to him and go about your business. Can you imagine how hard it would have been for him to actually, genuinely, share the gospel with a group of people who were in fear of him as a Roman citizen? How would he have been able to tell if they were actually being converted? Would they have had the nerve to ask him questions at all or engage him in conversation?
We can learn a lot from this look at Paul’s development as an Apostle of God. Ultimately, we find that Paul was humble and loving toward others, and concerned about their well-being and their walk with God. He acknowledged that people around him were praying for him and that he appreciated it, and he attempted to comfort them about his coming death. (Philippians 1:21) He wrote many many letters to the different churches he had set up so that he could continue to guide them even if he couldn’t be there in person. Many of these letters he wrote while he was being imprisoned in Rome. He was actually waiting to be judged and it is traditionally held that he was executed by Emperor Nero around 64 AD by beheading, though that is not written in the Bible.
Ultimately, Paul was a man of great faith who consistently looked for opportunities to serve God and to spread the gospel and uphold the faith of others, no matter what situation he found himself in. We can really learn a lot from how Paul allowed the Spirit of God’s grace to lead him in life!
Acts 4:33 And with great power gave the Apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and great grace was upon them all.
Read Acts 9:1-20Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, and was converted to Christianity, and God’s grace was upon him because he accepted Jesus, and was humbled before God.Then Saul set out to be obedient to God’s wishes for his life, and continued to live under God’s grace and forgiveness.Although Saul who became known as Paul after his conversion, was a known persecutor of Christians, and held the cloak of the people who stoned Stephen, the first martyr. You know the funny (ironic) thing about Paul is that the whole time he was killing Christians he was doing it for God. He thought that they were heretics and that as a honorable, faithful Jew he should do all in his power to stamp out those of the new religion who were causing so many of his fellow Jews to convert to Christianity and believe in this Jesus as their Messiah. Paul who was trained really well from childhood as a Pharisee, and knew his scriptures extremely well. He was trained by a well known Pharisee/scholar named Gamaliel. Being trained by Gamaliel would probably be the equivalent of being taught about Einstein’s theory of relativity by Einstein himself. Gamaliel was probably just about as famous in scholarly circles in Paul’s time as Einstein is in scientific circles today. This just goes to show that even if you are taught the truth, of the scriptures, you can miss the main point. Paul had the message of the Messiah right there in the scriptures, yet he did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah until Jesus showed up in front of him on the road to Damascus. There are more than 400 prophecies about the Messiah throughout the Old Testament of the Bible and Jesus fulfilled every single one of them without exception.
Now there are some people who might say, “Well, Jesus probably knew what they were and he just set out to fulfill them all….”
Well, I am here to tell you, that even if a person tried to do so, they could never have enough control over their own circumstances to fulfill all of those prophecies even if they set out to do so.
I know, the next question is, “Why not?!!” Well, the thing is a lot of those prophecies had to do with the circumstances, time and place of Jesus’ birth, and with his death and resurrection, and with the performing of miracles. No one can control where they are born, or who their parents are related to, no one can control whether or not they rise from the dead. Also here is a really concrete couple of examples of prophecies about Messiah, the casting of lots for his clothes, the rejection and persecution by his people (the Jews), and that he would die without having any broken bones, and that water would run out of his side. These are just a few prophecies that would be uncontrollable by a person setting out to prove to people that they were the Messiah. Psalm 22 is full of prophecy descriptions of the Messiah’s death. Isaiah 53:9 talks about a sinless person who was put to death with the wicked, yet buried with the rich. There are many many verses about the Messiah in the Old Testament. I won’t overburden you with them here. If you care to look them up, they are easily available on the web, you can search through them yourself. I believe that I have made my point at any rate. Jesus could never have chosen to fulfill all of the prophecies about the Messiah because a large number of them are not controllable by man. Only God with his infinite power could control the timing of and the person in whom those prophecies were fulfilled. That person was none other that Jesus the Christ.
God actually made it so that anyone who knows the scriptures should be able to recognize the truth of Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Yet, we have Saul of Tarsus, who was a well trained person who willfully refused to accept what was right in front of his nose and locked in his head because he was probably afraid to closely examine what he had been taught, and to go against his elders who were telling him that the Christians were a bad lot…who were heretics. Jesus had to show up right in front of him to get his attention, and even when he did, he just asked Saul (Paul) why he was persecuting his children; oh yeah, and he blinded Saul/Paul to get his attention completely on him. I find the blinding to be another dose of irony…knowing Paul’s intelligence he no doubt would have noticed this irony also. The irony that the person who was spiritually blind, yet thought they were acting in a very spiritual way on God’s behalf, was now physically blinded in order to be made able to see things in a spiritually clear manner, and truly start acting as God’s servant in bringing more people to know God through testifying about his son, Jesus Christ. Isn’t God awesome?!!
I noticed a long time ago, that God really has an awesome sense of humor at times when he is trying to get your attention, or test your faith (really what he is doing is teaching you about the amount of faith you have and helping you to have stronger faith.)