Atonement and the Great High Priest

On the evening of Sept. 18 we gathered to commemorate one of the days God set before the people of Israel as a holy day. While Christians are not required to observe these days, we recognize their prophetic significance in God’s plan of salvation in Jesus Christ.

We have spent many years studying significance of the two goats of the Day of Atonement ceremony in Leviticus 16. Did one goat represent Jesus while the other represent Satan? Or was it more like the parable of the sheep and goats, with one representing those whose names were written in the book of life and the other those consigned to the second death? Ah, the mystery of it.

For me this may have been a case of tunnel vision – of being too interested in the mystery to look at the obvious.

The book of Leviticus is somewhat different from the other books written by Moses. Its audience was not necessarily the general population of Israel, but rather the priesthood: the family of Aaron.

Leviticus was intended to be the operational manual of the priestly work in Israel. While it is good for the general public to know what the priest is supposed to do, the instructions were intended to be carried out by the priesthood. The focus of the book is on priestly duties.

This means that the instructions in Leviticus 16 are about the duties of the High Priest in atoning for Israel. The focus is not on bulls or goats, but on the priest’s role in atoning for Israel.

The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews understood this much better than I did, which is why he concentrates on on the difference between the prophetic role of the Aaronic high priest and that of Jesus.

The Passover pictures Jesus as a Lamb of God slain for the sins of the world. The prophetic picture of the Day of Atonement features Jesus in the role of High Priest using his own blood (!) to atone for the sin of all humankind.

Of course, that can only work if he is resurrected. The writer of Hebrews seems to have picked up on that, for he notes that Jesus’ priesthood is of a whole different order of magnitude higher than Aaron’s, “through the power of an indestructible life” (7:16).

He brings his blood to the heavenly tabernacle that Moses’ tabernacle was only an inferior copy of. In this heavenly tabernacle he enters the Holy of Holies with his blood to “purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God.” (Heb. 9:14)

Jesus’ high priestly function on our behalf has already brought “good things” on our behalf (vs. 11) including the most important thing from our perspective, “eternal redemption” (vs. 12).

He also uses his blood to inaugurate a new covenant, a role that combines the prophetic roles of both Moses and Aaron (vs. 15-22, recalling the events of Ex. 24).

(Note: Remember that it was Moses who didn’t think he could do what God wanted  by himself, not God. Moses could have fulfilled both roles if he hadn’t tried to refuse God’s calling in Exodus 4:10-16. Instead, he angered God, who then appointed Aaron to help.)

The perceptive will notice that the sacrifices of Leviticus 16 are very similar to those of Exodus 24, at the ratification of the covenant with Israel. Every Atonement ceremony was a kind of refreshing of that covenant.

Jesus has done something much better. With one sacrifice on our behalf he has freed those who believe in him from sin and its eternal consequences. We are now free to come to God and worship with boldness that comes with a cleaned conscience. Jesus himself intervenes on our behalf at God’s throne as our High Priest.

Remembering who Jesus is, what he has done, what he is doing and what he has promised yet to do can help us to retain our boldness in following him.

Speaking of what he will do, there are interesting scenes in the book of Revelation that resemble the priestly function of the Day of Atonement. In Rev. 8:1-5 the Lamb gives a great quantity of incense to an angel, who burns it in the incense altar before the throne. It generates a great deal of smoke that combines with the “prayers of the saints.” It is as though Jesus is “hearing” the martyred saints asking to be avenged. (Of course at this point Jesus is on God’s side of the curtain.)

Another “priestly” scene involves Rev. 15:5-16:1. The temple/tabernacle in heaven is opened and seven angels dressed as priests prepare to send the seven last plagues on the earth. The temple/tabernacle becomes filled with the smoke of God’s glory and nobody can enter it until the final plagues are unleashed upon the unrepentant. God’s voice proceeds from the temple/tabernacle and orders them to pour out the plagues.

This highlights another role of the priest: judgment. This explains why the writer of Hebrews laces his message with several warnings about falling short of “entering” the “promise.” Some of these are found in 4:1, 6:4-6, 10:26-31 and 12:25-29.

Indeed, the “word of God” in Heb. 4:12-13 is none other than Jesus Christ, “the one to whom we must render and account.” He is sharper than the flaming sword that prevented access to the Garden of Eden. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of God.

The point is this: follow Jesus. Follow him even into the valley of the shadow of death. He will make sure you come out the other side better than you were. He will be there to pronounce blessing, not curse. Life, not death. Just follow.

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With a Blast of Trumpets

This post is based on a message given at Wascana Fellowship on September 16, 2018. This service took place on the day the NIV version of the Bible translates as “a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts.” This post also provides background that the original participants had heard on previous occasions.

One of the ancient uses of trumpets in the Old Testament was to announce the coronation of a new king. Examples of coronations announced this way will appear below.

Many prophecies in the Bible speak of a time when God himself intervenes on behalf of his people by extending his dominion over the earth. For example, Daniel 7: 13-14 states, “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.  He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Another prophet who echoes this theme is Zechariah, who poetically describes the return of Israel’s true King, their own God, in passages like Zech 9:9-10, 14. Mixed in with the theme of God as their King is the sounding of a trumpet announcing his return, such as in verse 14, “Then the LORD will appear over them; his arrow will flash like lightning. The Sovereign LORD will sound the trumpet; he will march in the storms of the south.”

There are also many psalms depicting God’s sovereignty over the earth. They include Psalm. 2Psalm. 45, and Psalm 47 . Psalm 47 is considered an “enthronement psalm” and it joins a group of similar psalms between Psalm 93 and Psalm 99. A brief description can be found on this post. Ps. 47:6 associates God’s rule with trumpet blasts,  “God is gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.

 

According to Andre Hendricks there are 4 parts to coronation ceremony:

1)      Giving of decree – Ps. 2:6-7Gen. 49:10Heb. 1:8

2)      Ceremony of taking the throne – 2 Sam. 5:31 Ki. 1:34 (note the trumpets)

3)      Acclamation by the subjects: Long live the King! – 1 Ki. 1:392 Ki. 11:12;

4)      Subjects pledging their allegiance – Ps. 50:4-6Ps. 102:13-22.

Source: Andre Hendricks on Youtube.

 

Revelation 5 introduces the worthy heavenly candidate for rulership of the earth as the Lamb of God who was slain. Note the acclamation by everyone in heaven and earth in verses 13 and 14.

Rev. 11:15-19 appears to present a scene of coronation of Jesus in the heavens, prior to coming to earth. At the end of the ceremony, the gates of heaven are opened and the heavenly throne-room is opened up to the earth. I believe this is the preliminary to Jesus’ return to take possession of his Kingdom on earth. Chapter 19 describes Jesus’ descent and the war of conquest he wins to take over his rightful territory. This is followed by what seems to be a coronation ceremony and throne-taking (and sharing!) in Chapter 20:1-6.

[This is where the new material begins]

]In ancient times a city might face a formidable army intent on conquest and decide to surrender before the attack. A scene similar to this occurred at Jerusalem during the conquest of the world by Alexander the Great. It is described in the following excerpt from Flavius Josephus’ Jewish antiquities 11.317-345. (The quote itself comes after an introduction by the site’s historian.)

There is usually a procession out of the city, led by the leaders and elders. They have left their weapons behind, making themselves vulnerable as a sign of submission. They meet the attacking general or king and formally surrender, pledging allegiance.

This is probably the imagery of 1 Thess. 4:15-18, as all believers (dead or alive) rise to meet the descending Jesus in the air. He is returning to earth, and his followers do exactly that – follow!

A list of people who enter the “rest” of Jesus appears in Hebrews 11. Along with it the “encouraging” statement in verse 13-14, “All these died in the faith without having received the promises, but from a distance the saw them and greeted them. The confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.” [NRSV]

Of course, there will be a futile resistance by those opposed to Christ’s rule. They are quickly despatched. The mightiest fighting forces in all of human history will be swept away with virtually no effort by the true King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Jesus came to set up what the Gospels call “The Kingdom of God” and “The Kingdom of Heaven.” His return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords is essential for the redemption of the creation as Paul mentions in Romans 8:16-25.

May we be faithful, and then rise to meet him in joyful acclamation as he comes to establish his rule over the Kingdom.

 

 

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New Atheists’ Complain: “God is a Moral Monster” and the “Weird Laws of the Bible”

Most of the information in this post comes from Paul Copan’s book Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God.  It is an excellent resource for connecting the Old Testament with God’s justice and mercy in the New Testament.

The main complaint about our God by the new generation of atheists is that the God of the Old Testament is a harsh, unforgiving tyrant who is quick to anger and has a desperate need for praise and worship. He engages in genocide of the Canaanites and the Amalekites, for example, by telling Israel to wipe them out. Not only that, he even gives Israel weird, harsh and abusive laws to live by. These appear to be laws that endorse slavery and abuse women, among other things. All this to appease a God’s megalomania, believe the critics.

What that tells us is that they don’t know the Bible and they certainly don’t want to know God. Let’s leave aside for the moment the fact that God created humankind and the universe we live in and that therefore he owes us nothing.

 

“Genocide”

 Let’s find out how quick-tempered and harsh God is to the Canaanites by turning to Gen. 15:13-16. Deut. 9:5

By Abraham’s time the Amorites, the leading tribe among the inhabitants of the land known as Canaan, were already marked as great sinners. God was willing to give them an additional 400 years because their sinfulness was not sufficiently bad to do something about it. The Apostle Peter explains God’s reason for waiting before intervening in2 Pet. 3:9.

By the time Israel moved in the people of the land were so corrupt that, for example, many would burn their own babies alive as a sacrifice to a god known as Molech. I think I can see why this might irritate the God who told mankind to “be fruitful and multiply.”

Exodus 17 describes the reaction of the Amalekites to the appearance of Israel close to their border. Israel went around the Edomite lands after Edom’s leadership refused permission for entry to Israel. The Amalekites (an Edomite tribe) attacked a people who had no army without provocation. Amalekites were closely related to Israel through Esau, Jacob’s brother. The obvious undying hostility of this people to Israel so many centuries later is why God declares holy war.

 The so-called genocidal side of God is much more tempered and reasonable than the critics will allow themselves to admit. Of course, this does not make those who wish to live as though God does not exist very happy, because there is eventually a Judgment on their actions. And that judgment is based on God’s rules, not our own human ideas.

Harsh Laws?

 What about the laws of the Old Testament. Aren’t they harsh and abusive? It depends on what you are comparing them to.

We tend to look at the Old Covenant law as out-of-date, crude and morally bankrupt, but we are actually missing the point. The point is that society at large in Old Testament times was already even more morally bankrupt, and that the law was intended to point Israel from where they were toward a better way of living.

 The key is that change is hard. Imagine the Soviet Union, with all of its military might, trying to enlighten the “backward” tribes of a place like Afghanistan with Marxist doctrine, for example. Oh, right. They utterly failed and got their proverbial backsides handed to them in the process. Of course, a rapid imposition of American-style democracy is much more likely to succeed, right?

Of course not. If it happens at all, it takes time and a great deal of goodwill.

So how about Israel? How do you change an Egyptian-enculturated people to an entirely God-oriented, creationally-restored state in less than one generation?

You don’t. You try to do it incrementally – a bit at at time. You start from where they are and make improvements along the way.

For example, because of hardness of heart, God didn’t outlaw divorce. He allowed it in order to protect the life of a wife from a hard-hearted man in a society organized along patriarchal lines. He also prevented remarriage to the same man if the man had married someone else in the interim – to prevent a woman from being further abused by that man. In addition, unlike other nearby cultures he allowed the woman to remarry, since a divorced woman had few other options for making a living.

Yes, slavery was not abolished. It is important to note that Israel did not invent slavery, either. What God did in Israel was reinvent slavery – making it much more humane for Israelites who couldn’t make it on their own. You only got to “own” your slave for six years – after which you had to actually pay them out at the end of their term. (One might say that God invented the severance package.) God was subtly undermining the concept of slavery, turning into something more like our modern sense of paid employment. There was room and board for service, and payment at the end. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a lot better than what was practiced all around, and even in the American south.

 Yes, women did not own property: unless their father had no male heirs. This is an improvement over the nations around. (Women like this were highly desirable as mates, but at least one of their kids probably had to take her family’s name.) What this meant is that women had a higher standing in Israel than in other nations around.

 Yes, people, even youth, could be stoned to death for certain things, such as blasphemy, sabbath-breaking or even stubborn disobedience to parents. But there were rules to follow.

There had to be at least two witnesses and a fair trial in the case of blasphemy or murder. What the atheist fails to acknowledge is that the people had entered a covenant with God to worship, honor and obey only him. Blaspheming him certainly works counter to that covenant.

In many cases there had to be an element of blatant disobedience. Note that the context of the actual infractions immediately follows the spelling out of the command. God wanted Israel to understand that he is not to be trifled with. Blatant disregard of his instructions had to have consequences to establish a certain respect for God. Most parents understand how this works with children and youth. God was working on a national rather than individual scale. 

It is important to understand also that God wasn’t giving Israel a pass when it comes to following his rules. “Most favoured nation status” was not a “get out of jail free card” for Israel. They would have their turn at national destruction at God’s hands when disobedience and evil got to the level of the previous occupants of Canaan.

Weird Laws?

My personal favorite in the “weird laws” department is the jealousy law in Numbers 5:11-31. If a man is intensely jealous and thinks his wife is having an affair, without evidence, he must see the priest with his wife. The priest sprinkles some dust from the floor of the tabernacle into a glass of water and makes her drink it after pronouncing a curse on her if she has been unfaithful.  

If her womb shrivels up and she dies a horrible death he was right. End of problem.

 If nothing happens, he is never allowed to accuse her again and is never allowed to divorce her or abuse her in any manner.

 (Guys, if you want to get rid of her you have to get this one right the first time.)

Unlike other cultures around, he doesn’t just get to murder her. Unlike other cultures with a similar “test to the death” the mixture she drinks isn’t poisoned, which would require the gods to intervene to save her. You can imagine how often that happens. In this case Yahweh only intervenes if she is actually guilty. A definite improvement.

There are a couple of good angles from which you can approach the food laws of Leviticus 11.

Angle 1) Keeping within the kinds: Sea, Land and Air Animals. Don’t blur the categories.

Eating animals that are that are clearly of is symbolic of not mixing true and false religion by mixing with other nations. Why not eat unclean animals? God has limited himself to only one particular people, Israel. They limit themselves to serving God.

 Angle 2) Fall, death and abnormality (Gen. 3)

Abnormality in appearance or function is a departure from God’s perfect creation. So anyone in God’s direct service and any animal offered to him as sacrifice must be without blemish in appearance and must be physically healthy and without defect in structure or senses.

Avoiding certain animals in sacrifice or for eating was not unusual. For instance,  other Ancient Near Eastern cultures considered the pig an abomination, too!

What is interesting is to analyze the differences between “clean” and “unclean” animals. Some have noticed that Israel didn’t eat predatory animals, perhaps because they eat blood. We must respect the “life in the blood.” That’s why Jesus died via shed blood. (Lev. 17:14; Gen. 9:4; Exod. 22:31)

Don’t eat fish without scales and defenseless (hoofless) animals – victims of predation because they represent the alien, the widow, the orphan, the poor and the oppressed. Holiness and predatory activity (preying on the vulnerable of humanity) don’t mix. (Deut. 14:29; 16:11; Isa. 1:17)

In Paul Copan’s words, “Vaginal blood and semen are powerful symbols of life, but their loss symbolizes death.” Menstrual blood means a potential life has been lost. Spilled semen also represents the loss of potential life. Therefore to lose one of these fluids represented moving in the direction of death.

In the same way, cooking a kid in its mother’s milk is a mixture of life-giving milk with death of the kid this milk is supposed to keep alive. When you think of it, that is kind of disgusting. (Exo. 23:19) Similarly with killing a mother sheep or cow and its young on the same day. (Lev. 22:28)

Unlike other nations, Israel had certain restrictions regarding when they could have sex with their wives (not during their time of the month). This keeps wives from being entirely possessions to be used  exclusively for male pleasure.

The law was designed to highlight the “holiness gap between Israelites and God. This placed them in a position to seek God’s grace and purification. Such was the role of animal sacrifice, which pictured an animal being sacrificed to substitute for the sinner. God, by grace, allows a substitute.

The same priciple applies in the story of Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice Isaac. They become a picture of God offering his own Son Jesus as the ultimate substitute for sin.

Copan notes that Richard Hess sees a pattern in the sequence of sacrifices in Leviticus:

  • First: purification from sin offering
  • Second: burnt offering indicating total dedication to God
  • Third: fellowship or ordination offering

Hess (and presumably Copan) sees a parallel with how one becomes a true Christian. The Christian life begins by confession of sin, then dedication to God, and then fellowship with God. Even though Christ has fulfilled this part of the law, what it teaches remains valid.

 One might even say that the New Covenant requires in reality what the Old Covenant required in symbol. That is why in Gal. 3:24-25 Paul calls the law a tutor to lead us to Christ. The law’s sacrifices, priesthood, even its holy days pointed forward to Christ as their ultimate fulfilment.

 Just as a side note: Passover and Pentecost have obvious fulfilment in the Gospels and Acts. I leave it to you to find the fulfilment of the fall festivals of Trumpets, Atonement and Tabernacles in Christ. (The book of Hebrews is a good place to start regarding Atonement. Others might not be so easy unless you are looking for Christ’s return.)

 The point of all this is that the objections of the New Atheists do not come from careful examination of the scriptures. It takes care and patience and study to understand the Old Testament and its several covenants. Yes, I said several. If you read carefully, you will see that God makes two covenants with Adam, one with Noah, at least two with Abraham (Ismael and Isaac), two with Israel, One with Aaron, one with Phinehas (Aaron’s grandson), with David, and with Solomon.

Jesus is the one that all of these covenants point to. Redemption in him is the goal they all 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Breakup and a Cooling Off Period

No, this post’s (deliberately misleading) title is not about romantic relationships.

We have lately been covering various aspects of a young earth creation by God and how a great deal of evidence points to a universe of only a few thousand years of age. That is roughly 6,000 years according to the chronology recorded in the Bible.

One gap in our coverage has been to explore the scientific finding that there was at least one ice age on earth. Since the Bible does not seem to specifically mention an ice age, evolution-minded scientists point to this as a weakness of the young earth creation model.

As it turns out, the standard models that try to explain multiple ice ages over about 2 million years are even weaker.

If we wanted to make an ice age, what would we need? The short answer is that we need warm water and cold land. Temperate regions such as New York state would need to be cooled by an average of 24 degrees Celsius on average to allow the land to retain ice coverage to accumulate.

No non-creationist model comes even close to this kind of cooling.

While the Bible does not specifically mention an ice age (the events are all located in the Middle East, after all), we may find a clue in Job 38, specifically in verses 22-23 and 29-30. Note that in verse 30 the “surface of the deep” is frozen. This seems to mean that even some seas end up frozen.

So how would God expect Job know about that kind of snow and ice unless he had seen it nearby or had visited glaciers? We do know that glaciers covered about 30% of the land surface at their farthest extent.

Remember that Job lived a very long time – long enough for him to father a second family of 10 adult children after his first set of adult children had died. He also lived to see the fourth generation of great-grandchildren before he died (apparently 140 years after the birth of his tenth child. This suggests that he may have been born relatively shortly after the Flood, when lifespans are recorded to have been longer than our current 70-80 year average.

For this reason creationists suspected that the ice age (the one and only) must have taken place shortly after Noah’s Flood. This and other observations eventually led to a new model of the mechanism of the Flood and its aftermath.

The creationist model of Noah’s Flood known as Catastrophic Plate Tectonics provides the initial conditions needed to make an ice age happen. As the “fountains of the deeps” break open, the crust of the earth shifts, allowing hot materials from underneath to contact the sea water, heating it up.

Meanwhile, aboveground volcanic activity spews unimagineable amounts of dust into the air, causing something akin to a nuclear winter that cools the land. By blocking a significant portion of the  sunlight from reaching the ground. The whole ice age lasted about 700 years according to this model.

You can find more detail at the Creation Ministries International web article What Caused the Ice Age?.

They also have an approachable YouTube video of the same explanation.

So there we have it: a breakup of continental proportions followed by a cooling off period of geologic proportions.

So why are we bothering with this kind of repudiation of what is commonly accepted scientific theory?

We believe that the accounts in the Bible are trustworthy history recorded by people who knew the eyewitnesses or were the eyewitnesses of the events described. More than that, Jesus and his Apostles recognized that the events described in the book of Genesis are accurate history. If we are going to understand the geologic record we need to compare it with reliable historical accounts instead of merely ignoring them to assume great ages that accommodate evolutionary theory.

Why is this important to us now? The Apostle Peter, who personally knew Jesus, wrote two letters to a large number of churches near the end of his life.  I encourage you to read his closing remarks in 2 Peter 3.

Look especially at what the scoffers are deliberately ignoring and at what the consequences are. I personally find it chilling. We ignore the warnings of judgment by that same Creator God at our peril.

This God is not someone to be trifled with.

 

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Freedom

[Note: The list of scriptures below describing what our freedom requires did not originate with me, but with another writer much wiser than me. All I did was connect it with the exodus of Moses and our own Second Exodus under Jesus.]

When God miraculously freed Israel from slavery in Egypt he brought them into a land of their own and promised that each family would have an inheritance of productive land. He also gave them a remarkable set of laws when they reached Mount Sinai.

He begins to tell them his law in his own voice, but that frightens them so much that they ask Moses to take notes and get back to them with the rest. Exodus 21 continues with Moses hearing the remainder of God’s law (everything after the Ten Commandments). Chapters 21-23 cover these regulations, which were included in the tablets Moses later brings down from the mountain.

The first six verses of Chapter 21, the beginning of the laws Moses brings, covers a strange subject for a newly-freed people.

Exodus 21:1-6 Why start the laws with regulations about slavery? And why would somebody agree to lifetime servitude?

Smarter people than me suggest that this is intended to be an analogy for how we might desire to obey and worship God himself. The benefits of serving God are so far-reaching that continuing is a no-brainer.

One lesson from Israel is that true freedom is very different from the Western notion of being allowed to do anything we want whenever we want.

The God who made us has specific plans for humanity – plans that require certain kinds of action and certain kinds of self-control.

For instance, he tells Israel in Exodus 24:7-8 that he brings them out of Egypt so they may worship and obey him alone. This implies that freedom also has responsibilities.

We Christians are in the midst of a Second Exodus (Jeremiah 23:7-8).

What freedom do we have now? The following is a list of passages that tell us about our freedoms in Christ.

1) Freedom to serve one another in love.
Gal. 5:13For you have been called to live in freedom – not freedom to satisfy your sinful nature, but freedom to serve one another in love.

2) Freedom to live to bring God glory
Eph. 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.

3) Freedom to reflect God’s glory
2 Cor. 3:17 Now, the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, he gives freedom. 18 And all of us have had that veil removed so that we can be mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. And as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him and reflect his glory even more.

4) Freedom to start fresh
Col. 2:9 For in Christ the fullness of God lives in a human body, 10 and you are complete through your union with Christ. He is the Lord over every ruler and authority in the universe. 11 When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. It was a spiritual procedure – the cutting away of your sinful nature. 12 For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to a new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.

13 You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ. He forgave all our sins. 14 He canceled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ’s cross. 15 In this way, God disarmed the evil rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross of Christ.

5) Freedom to live a higher life in Christ
Col 3.1 Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits at God’s right hand in the place of honor and power. 2 Let heaven fill your thoughts. Do not think only about things down here on earth. 3 For you died when Christ died, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 And when Christ, who is your  real life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.
5 So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual sin, impurity, lust, and shameful desires. Don’t be greedy for the good things of this life, for that is idolatry. 6 God’s terrible anger will come upon those who do such things. 7 You used to do them when your life was still part of this world.
8 But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. 9 Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old evil nature and all its wicked deeds. 10 In its place you have clothed yourselves with a brand-new nature that is continually being renewed as you learn more and more about Christ, who created this new nature within you. 11 In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile,  circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized,  slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.

6) Freedom to pursue peace and forgiveness
12 Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love. Love is what binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are all called to live in peace. And always be thankful.

7) Freedom to minister to one another
16 Let the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in your hearts and make you wise. Use his words to teach and counsel each other. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 17 And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.

8) Freedom to participate in freeing the world
Col. 4:3 Don’t forget to pray for us, too, that God will give us many opportunities to preach about his secret plan – that Christ is also for you Gentiles. That is why I am here in chains. 4 Pray that I will proclaim this message as clearly as I should.
5 Live wisely among those who are not Christians, and make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be gracious and effective so that you will have the right answer for everyone.

2 Cor.5:16 – 6:12 In this passage the Apostle Paul calls us “Christ’s ambassadors,” which certainly suggests we have citizenship of an other-worldly superpower and are called to invite people to a sort of defection to Jesus’ Kingdom.

1 Timothy 2:1 I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. As you make your requests, plead for God’s mercy upon them, and give thanks. 2 Pray this way for kings and all others who are in authority, so that we can live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4 for he wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. 5 For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and people. He is the man Christ Jesus. 6 He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message that God gave to the world at the proper time. 7 And I have been chosen – this is the absolute truth – as a preacher and apostle to teach the Gentiles about faith and truth.

9) Freedom to suffer unjustly in the world for the sake of Christ
1 Pet 2:12 Be careful how you live among your unbelieving neighbors. Even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will believe and give honor to God when he comes to judge the world.

13 For the Lord’s sake, accept all authority – the king as head of state, 14 and the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish all who do wrong and to honor those who do right. 15 It is God’s will that your good lives should silence those who make foolish accusations against you. 16 You are not slaves; you are free. But your freedom is not an excuse to do evil. You are free to live as God’s slaves. 17 Show respect for everyone. Love your Christian brothers and sisters. Fear God. Show respect for the king. 18 You who are slaves must accept the authority of your masters. Do whatever they tell you – not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are harsh. 19 For God is pleased with you when, for the sake of your conscience, you patiently endure unfair treatment. 20 Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing right and are patient beneath the blows, God is pleased with you. 21 This suffering is all part of what God has called you to. Christ, who suffered for you, is your example. Follow in his steps. 22 He never sinned, and he never deceived anyone. 23 He did not retaliate when he was insulted. When he suffered, he did not threaten to get even. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. 24 He personally carried away our sins in his own body on the cross so we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. You have been healed by his wounds! 25 Once you were wandering like lost sheep. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.

As you can see, there is a great deal of responsibility within our freedom. Let us live freely in Jesus Christ as we follow him to our “Promised Land,” the Kingdom of God.

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Signs and Wonder

I am reminded when I look up at the sky during the day and the moon and stars at night that God placed them there to be for marking times: days, nights, and months. He also placed them there to be for seasons and signs (Genesis 1:14)

One of the “signs” is that they are a sign of God’s creative genius that cannot be overturned by speculations about a non-created origin of the universe. The example that comes to mind is the fact that we can see comets as they approach the sun.

Why do I mention that as evidence of recent design?

I’m glad you asked.

Every time a comet passes near the sun and becomes visible from Earth it is because it is venting some of its water and frozen gasses into its tail (which is always pushed away from the sun by solar wind). This means that they lose some of their material every time they approach the sun. Scientists who have measured the loss have noted that up to 3% of their material that can evaporate may be lost on each pass.

For short-period comets (with an orbit of less than 200 years) that has to make one wonder about the age of the solar system. If the solar system is billions of years old it makes no sense for us to be able to still see these comets. All of the material that can evaporate to form the tail would have dissipated within less than 10,000 years.

A while back scientists who believe in an old universe came up with a clever theory to cover this inconvenient observation: the Oort Cloud theory.

This is the idea that comets and asteroids can come from a region of space beyond the orbit of Pluto. This region encompasses the entire solar system with debris left over from the process of stellar and planetary formation. Pieces of rock and ice are occasionally somehow knocked out of their regular orbit by other passing objects and are captured as comets or short-period asteroids by the sun when their inward trajectory is modified by a close pass by a planetary body.

Unfortunately the Oort Cloud is too far away and our telescopes (which can apparently see galaxies on the other side of the universe) do not have the resolution to see relatively small bodies at that long range.

Translation: We can’t see it or measure it or perform experiments on it, but we know it is out there.

Why do we know? Because there are short-period comets that still emit gasses and we already know the universe is too old, Therefore they must be relatively newly captured. Therefore they came from a region that we cannot see clearly yet, but is close enough to send new comets.

In other words, the only reason to believe in an Oort cloud is to maintain belief in a billions-of-years-old solar system.

And the only reason to believe in an old solar system is to give the theory of evolution some small shred of credibility, because a millennia-old universe would give it no chance at all.

My conclusion: The Oort Cloud story is an entertaining tale, but it still takes faith to believe in something for which there is no actual physical evidence.

Oh, wait! That’s supposed to be the case for those foolish enough to believe in the Creator God of the Bible. We are the ones who supposedly believe in something we cannot prove.

I see the signs and can’t help but wonder why anybody believes in a universe that is uncreated and exists by mere chance.

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These Are the Days that the Lord Has Made

Back in the late 1990’s I was attending Canadian Bible College in a program that included music. I was involved in a choral group that was touring churches in Canada.

Naturally we also attended church services and participated in the praise and worship of different styles of churches. After one such service one of the choir members asked me if I knew what Robin Mark’s song “Days of Elijah” meant when it referred to the present as the “days of Elijah” and the “days of Moses,” etc. At the time it seemed to me to be a bunch of phrases thrown together, and I said as much.

I was later embarrassed when I overheard him speaking to our music director, Dr. Eugene Rivard, telling him my uninformed opinion. The professor explained in brief  the depth of theology involved in the song and about how Jesus fulfils the prophesies named in the song. I remembered this as I was preparing to sing the song in our worship service early in the summer. At that point I thought I would try to share some of this godly man’s insights into God’s promises and Jesus’ fulfilment. I will flesh it out with a bit of Israel’s historical context.

The story begins with the people God called out of Egypt: Israel.

The people of Israel are a people with a unique relationship with their God. Initially called to be a light reflecting God’s glory to the world, they turned away from him and were punished by being defeated by Babylon and scattered throughout the nations of the world.

Even in exile God was keeping his promise to make life dangerous and their position tenuous wherever they settled. Even after their return to the land in the time of the Persian Empire they remained under Gentile rule, with a brief period of independence under the Maccabees. That ended with Roman occupation and continued under Muslim rule until its present period of fragile independence.

Even that independence is highly dependent on Gentile assistance from nations such as the United States of America.

What is not present is the kind of theocratic government that characterized Israel’s early state under Moses and King David.

Fortunately for Israel, God promises to eventually deliver them from foreign domination and bring them back into a close relationship with them. Ezekiel notes that it is because of God’s promise and certainly not because of their obedience to God’s will for them.

The title of the song that prompted this post is based on Malachi 4:5-6 (literally the last two verses in the Old Testament) where the prophet Malachi tells the people of Judea that God would send “Elijah” before the “great and dreadful day of the Lord.” He would come to turn the hearts of the children to their parents and vice versa or else God would strike the land with a curse.

Jesus identifies this “Elijah” as John the Baptist (Matthew 11:13-14 and 17:11-13).

John the Baptist is the one who identifies Jesus as the one sent by God to redeem Israel. In Mark 1:8 he claims, “I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (For those who don’t already know, baptism in this context is a ritual cleansing by immersion in water. Baptism in the Holy Spirit will become clearer later in the post.)

Moses identifies a prophet who would be like him, who would restore righteousness in Deuteronomy 18:15-19. How would a prophet be like Moses? Perhaps he might if he were to lead Israel out of captivity.

However, even as Israel was being led out of Egypt by Moses it quickly becomes clear that their hearts are still captive to Egypt. And the root of the problem is something that plagues all human beings: an unwillingness to follow God’s direction in our lives. The old-fashioned word for that is “sin.” It prevented that first adult generation from even entering the promised land, and eventually led to the nation’s exile from the land.

It would seem that the first step in repatriation would be to deal with sin. How could that be accomplished?

That is where the “days of Ezekiel” come in.

God makes many prophecies in the book of Ezekiel about Israel’s redemption. among them is a promise in Ezek. 36:26-28. First, God needs to give Israel a new heart. In fact, he promises to place in them his own spirit! (This is what is meant by “baptism with the Holy Spirit.”) This will clean them up from the inside. They will then be motivated to follow God in everything he tells them.

Just to make sure, Ezekiel even repeats the promise in Ezek. 39:28-29.

He even dramatically speaks of lifting them out of the grave, breathing life into them and breathing his spirit into them (Ezek. 37:12-14).

Ezekiel continues in the very same chapter to promise that “David” will be king over all of Israel (which had been divided since the time of Solomon’s son Rehoboam). Assuming that the resurrection of the first part of the chapter is literal, King David would come back to life to be king.

 One would, of course, need to be confident that such a resurrection is even a possibility. One clue is the resurrection of Jesus’ friend Lazarus after being dead four days. The ultimate clue is the resurrection of Jesus, which gave the Apostle Paul confidence that resurrection in Jesus Christ is not only possible, but a certainty.

Of course, some commentators do not see this passage as depicting a literal resurrection, but rather as a figurative rebuilding of the nationhood of Israel. In that case, “David” would be a reference to a “Son of David” who would rebuild Israel and liberate it from foreign domination.

If the latter turns out to be the case then Jesus can be seen as one who rebuilds Israel as a spiritual people out of a combination of Israelite and Gentile converts.

Personally, I do not see why both cannot be true on different levels.

In John 14:15-31 (Esp. the end of v. 17) Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit to guide and inspire his disciples in the difficult days ahead, of his death, resurrection and his physical absence from earth until a later return.  

Notice that Jesus promises them that if he is resurrected, the same will happen to his disciples. The promise of the Spirit and that of resurrection are to be separated in time: the Spirit first, and the resurrection when Jesus returns after ascending to heaven.

After Jesus’ resurrection and before his ascension to heaven Jesus taught and ate with his disciples. One day as he is eating with them he spoke the following:

“So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21)

 Acts 2 Is the story of the receiving of the Holy Spirit by the disciples. A powerful proclamation of Jesus as Lord follows not only the original disciples, but also among those convicted by the message and believing, who also receive the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit (also known as the Spirit of God) changes how we perceive and interact with the world. The Apostle Paul, after a few years of experience, writes to different churches and explains some of the differences.

“for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”(Romans 14:17)

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Tim. 1:7)                          

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. (Col. 1:24-29)

The Holy Spirit changes the way we live with one another as well.

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesha ; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”b

15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whateverc you want.

18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.   (Gal. 5:13-26)

 Just as importantly, the Holy Spirit in us changes our nature and our stature with God. We become, as written in 1 Pet. 2:4-10, living stones in the Temple of God – priests and kings of his Kingdom.

 One Christian writer (sorry, I have lost track of the reference) sums up the implications of the in the following:

1. God lives in me! “Christ in me, the hope of glory! Father and Son dwell in me by the indwelling of God’s own Spirit. (Gal. 2:20)

2. God’s power to live a Christian life is in me! (Eph. 3:20)

3. God’s Spirit is meant to overflow into the lives of those around me! (John 7:38-39)

4. God’s Spirit is in every believer, so we are to live in unity. (Eph. 4:3)

5. God’s Spirit is holy, therefore live a holy life to be in accord. (1 Pet. 1:13-16)

6. God’s Spirit produces fruit that brings peace and joy. (Gal. 5:22-26)

7. God’s Spirit distributes gifts that benefit all, and even reach out to non-believers. (1 Cor. 14)

8. No matter how bad things look, “He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world.” (1 Jn. 4:4)

9. This means that God himself is experiencing and sharing all of your pain. He is present with you! (Romans 8:26-27)

 

Look, we know that a dark age is coming, probably in our lifetime. There will be a time when we must stand up for Jesus Christ in the face of death, whether it be by natural causes, illness or in opposition to an evil regime that seeks to destroy all knowledge of Jesus Christ.

 Jesus Christ has supplied his own Spirit to give us power, love and self-control in the face of everything this life can throw at us. If we let Him, we can grow in love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

While the prophecies will not be complete until Jesus returns we see enough to know that these are indeed the “days of Elijah, Ezekiel, Moses and David.”

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