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Archive for November 2020

Stephen – a Piece of the Puzzle

Not long after my new birth experience, I waded into the waters of the Word of God with the apostle Paul and the Holy Spirit as my mentors. God used Paul’s words in the book of Galatians (the first of his 13 letters) to begin to put my puzzle together – one piece at a time. The first small piece of the puzzle, ultimately leading toward the big picture of the new heaven and new earth, was through the testimony of Stephen and his providential meeting with Saul of Tarsus. Stephen was said to be a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:5). He was one of the first deacons. God used Stephen in a dual role. The Lord Jesus had instructed the church to leave Jerusalem and carry the message of the gospel throughout the world. The little band of believers and the disciples had grown comfortable with home cooking. They found it difficult to let go and begin to spread the gospel.

God used Stephen in a special way to begin to motivate them to leave quickly. He also used Stephen to become a prick in the heart of this man Saul, who was to become a major grace champion. In a special sermon given by Stephen to group of religious leaders, Stephen reminded the Jewish crowd of their rebellious hearts against the living God by recapping their history. He recalled how they had persecuted and killed the prophets that God had sent to them. The sermon ended with these scorching words: “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised of heart and ears, you do always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you” (Acts 7:51).

The mob hated the truth of this message so much that they began to stone Stephen. Before they began to pick up the stones, they laid their cloaks at the feet of a young Pharisee named Saul (Acts 7:58). Saul had become a notorious religious leader who was at the top of his religious game. He was educated in the Mosaic Law. In fact, he sat under the best legal mind of his day, a Jew named Gamaliel. From Gamaliel he learned to know and love God’s law and to defend it at all cost.

Saul was aware of a small group of nobodies called simply “The Way,” who were following a strange Rabbi named Jesus Christ. To Saul this was nothing less than a religious cult set on destroying the law of his God – the law that Saul’s father had taught him to live by his whole life. Note carefully how God began to put the pieces of His puzzle together. Again, Saul was on hand to participate in the tragic murder of Stephen. Saul, the lover of God’s law and a hater of anyone that he felt stood against it, was on hand to witness the whole scene. Just before Stephen died, he saw the heavens open and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. He cried out before he died, “Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit” (Acts 7:59). Young Saul must have been amazed and emotionally moved. What did Stephen see and who is this Jesus who could motivate people to love Him so much that they would gladly die for Him? Stephen’s death worked to perfection. A great persecution broke out against the church, causing them to run for their lives, leaving their happy homes in Jerusalem, and in a most amazing way, they began to obey their Lord. This put into place God’s first way that He used Stephen’s death. The seed of the gospel was being scattered. It is interesting that during the times of the persecution the gospel seed prospers.

The second way that God used Stephen’s death was to change Saul’s life. Saul’s love for God’s law quickly plunged him back to reality, and he continued his relentless attack on the church. He had grown to hate this small band of no names so much that he attempted to kill or imprison them all, thinking he was doing God’s will. He found himself on a horse heading to the city called Damascus. Then Saul, breathing out threatenings and slander against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and received letters to go to Damascus synagogues and arrest and bring Christians to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1-2). It was through this trip to Damascus that God began to change the world.

Saul had in his possession a written indictment from the authorities to continue his demolition of this small group of antagonists. What happened next was a miracle! God in the person of Jesus Christ performed a single person flash mob right in front of Saul’s face. Christ’s glorious presence shot a blinding light right into the eyes of this arrogant Pharisee; it was a light of God’s presence and power knocking this arrogant Pharisee off his horse. The piercing words coming from the light were right on target. “‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Then the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads’” (Acts 9:4-5).

One glimpse of our Savior in His resurrected glory immediately deflated Saul, leaving him quivering and shaking to his very soul. Saul at once addressed the risen Christ as “Lord,” recognizing that he was standing in the presence of God. The Lord Jesus compassionately asked Saul why he “kicked against the goads.” A goad was a small stick used to prod livestock along. In this context, however, goads symbolized the little pricks or stabs in the conscience of Saul used by the Holy Spirit to convict him of his sin and need of grace. The stoning of Stephen along with others who had died for the cause of Christ was no doubt used by the Holy Spirit to provide the goads pricking Saul’s conscience.

The Holy Spirit still uses the testimony of faithful believers today as goads to convict lost sheep of their need of His wonderful grace. The Lord Jesus changed Saul’s life and the mystery of the church began to unfold. From this one meeting, the truth of the gospel began to spread all over the world. The Lord Jesus Christ led Saul into the desert and there met with him. He began to teach Paul the message of grace, face to face. Later, Paul would simply write, “And called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me that I might preach Him among the Gentiles” (Gal. 1:16a). Now for a meeting with a man named Ananias.

Blessings!

 

Two Brothers; Two Offerings

Death spread to all, yet the way to life is clearly made known (Rom. 5:12-14). Cain and Abel became prototypes, marking the way to life and the way of death, the way of darkness and the way of light. Their lives put into place two large pieces into the new heaven and new earth puzzle. The brothers, through their offerings to God, launched a vivid “can’t miss” contrast of the result of corrupt human seed. They were brothers. They were the product of the same home. They were both made in God’s image. This was made evident by the fact that they instinctively knew the value of bringing a sacrifice to Him. They had no doubt heard many times how their fallen parents had hidden their guilt from the face of God by covering themselves with fig leaves.

God had countered by covering them with animal skins, thus making a vivid can’t miss contrast – God requires a blood offering. They both understood the meaning behind the animal skins and clearly knew what God demanded. But the two men were different – very different. Now it was time to expose the difference. So how did the sacrificial service to God go? When the time came, Abel by faith followed the clear path of blood, but Cain rebelled! It’s that simple. Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord (Gen. 4:3). I catch here a small glimpse of the strong bent in sinful man toward “the worship of the earth” that would surface later through a man named Nimrod. Cain was saying, “God, I remember that You covered my parents with animal skins. You obviously demand a blood sacrifice, but I will do my own thing; I will approach you my way. I will bring my own offering.” It is just a thought! The “I will,” corruption may have been pulsating in his brain. Sound familiar! Satan’s venom of pride and power was clearly within him.

Abel, on the other hand, was different. He knew beyond question what God required. By faith, he brought a blood sacrifice to God. He knew and he followed through. Unlike Cain, he made the right choice. God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s. No surprise. “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks” (Heb. 11:4).

Cain became furious. This is what I want the reader to understand. God gave Cain every opportunity to make things right, to bring the right sacrifice. God told Cain that sin was crouching at the door ready to consume him (Gen. 4:6-7). All he had to do to prevent that from happening was bring the right sacrifice, bring a blood offering to God. Cain then knew without any doubt what God required. He already knew but God was making this plain to us. God told Cain that it was not too late to bring to Him the right sacrifice. Go do it! Cain, however, wanted his own way, and he seized it. Evidently filled with pride and power – he seized it. He rebelled! He clearly and knowingly sinned against God. And as always, sin leads to death. He hated his brother, and he killed him. And why did Cain murder Abel? Because Cain’s works were evil and his brother’s righteous (1 Jn. 3:12).

Rebellion and murder were already in his heart; his offering and actions just expressed it. The apostle John pulled off Cain’s mask and revealed his true identity. He said that Cain rebelled against God and killed his brother because he was from the source of the evil one (1 John 3:12, NASB). John’s words are clear, powerful, and cannot be misunderstood. John clearly spelled out the major difference between the brothers. Jesus, on the other hand, called Abel a prophet.

“Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar” (Matt. 23:34-35).

A prophet is one who speaks for God. It was never recorded that Abel ever said anything. Yet, remember the words of the writer of Hebrews: “And through it [the blood offering] he, being dead, still speaks” (Heb. 11:4). He spoke by his action. In fact, he shouted! He brought the right sacrifice – a blood sacrifice.

This is a can’t miss illustration pointing to the shed blood of Jesus Christ as payment for our sin. But Cain was from the source of Satan, the seed of Satan, and Abel was of God. Jesus confirmed the truth that Satan’s seed is alive and well on this planet. He spoke these powerful words to the Pharisees. “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him” (John 8:44). As astonishing as this must sound, every human being comes into this world under the power of darkness – born into Satan’s kingdom through Adam’s corrupt seed. In order to live with God forever, one must be removed from the kingdom of darkness into God’s kingdom of light. This can only happen through a new birth. God “has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14)

Blessings

 

Two Births

Each of us is born into Satan’s kingdom of darkness with Adam’s sin stamped indelibly on us (1 Cor. 15:22). We are born fleshly people, and we must be reborn into God’s kingdom of light to become spiritual people. Paul clearly divides all of humanity into these two categories: soulish people and spiritual people. He calls the soulish person a “natural man,” or unsaved.  This natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:14). Why? He can’t. He cannot know them! Can’t implies ability! He does not have the ability to know the things of God because spiritual things are foolishness to him, or moronic. But could not this soulish man study and struggle and finally understand God’s truth? No! The fleshly person may study the Bible endlessly, dissecting every noun, verb, adjective and adverb, unendingly pondering over it, reading and rereading it, and still it would make no sense. It would remain folly or foolishness. Why? Because God’s truths can only be spiritually discerned or understood.

 

It takes a spiritual person, guided by the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit, to begin to mine the treasures of God’s Word. In fact, the spiritual person rightly judges all things. Paul says the spiritual man – the pneumatikos man, the person having a living spirit – has the correct judgment of everything. He has a spiritual equilibrium. He has what I call the divine viewpoint – God’s viewpoint of looking at the world through the lens of God’s eyes. For this reason, this spiritual person cannot be understood or judged by fleshly people. Spiritual people do not fit in Satan’s world. To the fleshly person, the spiritual person appears to be a spiritual schizophrenic – sick, even from another world, which is absolutely true. We belong to Jesus Christ, who said to a religious crowd, “You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. Therefore, I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He,you will die in your sins” (John 8:23-24).

 

It’s extremely clear! The spiritual person is not of this world. This is why the fleshly person cannot understand the spiritual person. To the earthly eyes of the fleshly person, the spiritual person is just weird, from another planet. They become even more divided as the spiritual person grows in their understanding of scripture. Said simply, the spiritual person and the fleshly person live in the same world, but the spiritual person looks at it through the eyes of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul said, “We (spiritual people) have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:15).

 

Notice that Paul called Adam a type of Him who was to come (Rom. 5:14) The Greek word “type” is tupos, meaning imprint. It would be like a hammer striking a wooden board. Though the hammer may not be visible, its imprint is there. The imprint reveals that the unseen hammer exists. The truth that the first Adam is a “type of Christ” is hidden in plain sight! The Bible speaks of two Adam’s, not just one (1 Cor. 15:45-49). What makes the first Adam an imprint of the last? They are both progenitors of a civilization of people: one physical, the other spiritual. They produce two different peoples through two different seeds – Adam the first, a corrupt spiritually dead people through his corrupt seed; Adam the Last, a spiritually living people through an incredible miraculous incorrupt seed called the gospel. “Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible by means of the word of God which lives and abides forever. By this word is the gospel preached unto you (1 Pet. 1:23-25). God is the ultimate Genius, is He not? 

 

Through the seminally corrupt seed of the first man, a sinful people are being birthed – called the children of wrath, children of darkness (Eph. 2:1-4; 5:8; 1 Thess. 5:5). Adam’s corrupt seed is being passed family to family, generation to generation. Physical death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over all who had not sinned like Adam (Rom. 5:14). This means that death became the indicator that people are spiritually dead. Tombstones remind us! Later, God mercifully added His law through Moses in order that sin might be taken into account before death comes (Rom. 5:13). 

 

This is a horribly terrifying thought, but we actually live in a sea of living dead people. It sounds like an oxymoron, a self-contradiction, but I assure you it is not! This truth is written into the fine print of an incredible meeting of some wanna-be disciples and Jesus Christ. A zealous young man told Jesus that he would follow Him anywhere. The Lord reminded him that though animals had homes, he didn’t. It would not be comfortable to follow Him: no hotels, or hospitals, or restaurants, no comforts at all. The young man – seemingly interested, asked Jesus what sounded like a very compassionate request. He said, “First let me go bury my father, then I will follow you.)  Christ’s answer is absolutely jaw-dropping. He said to the young man, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:19-22). This does not mean that this man’s father was dead or even at the point of death. The disciple was wanting to return home until his father died and he received his inheritance, and then he would return and follow Christ with a bigger bank account. He was thinking about material concerns instead of his dedication to the Lord Jesus.

 

But what did Jesus mean by “Let the dead bury their own dead”? How is it possible for dead people to bury dead people? It’s sounds harsh, but it is real. The spiritually dead continue to bury the physically dead all over the world and will continue to do so. Satan is attached to the fallen seed of Adam because he was the culprit who made this death happen. Satan is now using Adam’s fallen seed to erect his kingdom – the kingdom of darkness. Through the seed of the last Adam – the antitype, which is the spiritual seed of the gospel – God is regenerating a new people, a people born dead in sin but who are being reborn spiritually alive. These become the part of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of light, the kingdom of life, real life.

 

Blessings!

 

Corrupt Seed

Spiritual death is one of the most difficult Bible truths to understand. It truly boggles the human mind. It is truth that human ears have never heard. To begin to understand we have to go back to the way that God created Adam – technically. I picture this special creation this way. God the Son was the Creator of all things (Col. 1:16). He made everything. He spoke everything into being (Psa. 33:6-9). He made Adam from the dust of the ground. I picture in my mind the Lord Jesus Christ in His preincarnate form working as the divine Potter, beautifully shaping the man – taking care of every detail: his head, torso, arms, and legs, and then the critical part. He bent down over the man and breathed into him the breath of life (Gen. 2:7). It is at this point that God gives another amazing glimpse. The Hebrew words should not have been translated “the breath of life.” That would have been the singular, nephesh chayah. This is the phrase that God used when He created the air-breathing animals (Gen. 1:20). The Hebrew Bible, in a crucial but silent contrast, uses neshima chayyim in reference to Adam. To make an English word plural, you add an “s” or “es.” If you sought to make a Hebrew masculine noun plural, you would add an “im.” For example, one cherub, two cherubim; one seraph, two seraphim, etc.

So, the Lord Jesus breathed into Adam literally breaths of lives – one breath for the soul, connecting Adam to the earth (earthy), and the other breath for the human spirit, connecting Adam to God (heavenly). The Lord Jesus breathed His image into us! This is the major truth that makes human beings different from animals. God equipped people to worship Him. God made man a trichotomy: body, soul, and human spirit. This fact is reflected in Paul’s words to the Thessalonian believers when he prayed that their whole spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 5:23). The soul and spirit are also divided in the book of Hebrews. The writer says that God’s Word has the ability to separate the soul (earthy) from the spirit (heavenly), “even to the division of the soul and spirit” (Heb. 4:12). Though soul and spirit are often interchanged in the Bible, there is a difference – a critical difference. The point? When Adam sinned, both he and the woman died twice – they died spiritually and they began to die physically. All of God’s created order that was attached to Adam began to die. And this death continued because all seed – human, plant, and animal – became corrupt, stained with death.

At the moment Adam sinned, the Bible says that “all sinned.” How was that possible? Remember, every word in the Bible matters. And every word is placed in just the correct order. There are no mistakes. Death passed upon all because all sinned (Rom. 5:12). There are many who want this part of the passage to say “all have sinned.” But the word “have” is not there. All sinned means that all sinned and died in Adam the very moment that he sinned. Being the original father of the human race, everyone’s DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid, the stuff of physical life) was in him seminally the moment he sinned. Thus, we were all there – in the garden – in Adam’s loins. We were all a part of him. The moment he sinned, everyone who would ever live became sinners too. Amazing! Repetition! All humanity was in Adam’s loins: every family, clan, nation, and tongue that would ever live would come from him. Everyone was in his genes, his DNA, at the very instant he chose to rebel against God. If Adam and Eve were truly our first parents – and they were – then we had to be in them. In a rightly mysterious but in a physical way, we were all involved in Adam’s act.

Adam, Eve, and the serpent were not the only ones present. And this death began to spread! At that moment his seed became corruptible seed, stained with death. In fact, all seed of all creation became stained with death. This is how sin and death passed down through the plant world, the animal world, and through us: plants die, animals die, people die. Death was built into Adam’s corrupt seed. This humanly corrupt seed passed from Adam to Cain, to Abel, to Seth, to Enoch, through Noah, through Shem, through Abraham, etc. This would be the seed that – generation after generation – would produce the rest of us. This corrupt seed continues its journey, generation after generation.

But hold it! This is what makes the virgin birth of Christ shout to us. Jesus missed this stain of the sin and the death seed. He was not born a sinner. He knew no sin! This is why He could die for sin. This truth of people being in the loins of another is not strange to the Bible. The Scripture clearly says that all of God’s high priestly line of Levi was in Abram’s loins (his seed, his DNA) when he met and submitted himself to a strange king/priest named Melchizedek. Abraham submitted himself to Melchizedek, symbolized by the giving of an offering.

Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him (Heb. 7:10).

The entire Levitical priesthood, though years from being born, were all in the loins of Abraham when he met Melchizedek. Amazing!

Blessings!

 

Sin and Death

A most difficult part of putting the initial pieces of the puzzle of God’s Word together, in my way of thinking, is a correct understanding of sin. Being born physically alive but spiritually dead is very difficult to comprehend. The fact is we do not become sinners if, when, or because we sin, but we will all choose to sin because we are sinners. We are born into this world as sinners. We are born as slaves into a slave market of sinners. This slave market began with the first man, Adam. 

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come” (Rom. 5:12-14).

Through a simple act of disobedience, sin and death entered this world. God gave Adam and Eve all that their hearts could ever desire. He gave the man just one simple “don’t,” just one simple “but this tree is forbidden.” It was not an ugly tree with slimy fruit hanging from it. It was really no different than any other tree. It was probably very beautiful, and its fruit looked delicious. But this was true of all the other trees.  The only difference was the fact that God said “No.” God said, “You eat, you die” (Gen. 2:17). It appears that Eve was mystifyingly drawn to that tree. She may have found herself often standing by it – pondering! Adam may have walked up and stood beside her as she gazed at it – observing her and then the tree. 

Satan did not just appear from nowhere. This was happening in his back yard. He had already failed God and had been cast into the fallen, cursed earth (Gen. 1:2). God had said to him, “You were perfect in your ways [you were innocent] until iniquity was found to be in you” (Ezek. 28:15). This sin was in the form of simple, silent, private thoughts. “I will ascend into heaven. I will exalt my throne above the stars of God. I will sit upon the mountain of God. I will ascend above the height of the clouds. I will be like the Most High God” (Isa. 14:12-14).  Hard to miss the repeated phrase “I will.” That is the beginning of sin: pride. Pride became mixed with power: ascend into heaven; exalt my throne; sit upon God’s mountain; ascend above the clouds; be like god. Pride mixed with power is a lethal combination – the measure of sin.

Satan knew that God had created Adam and Eve for a righteous purpose. He realized that if they succeeded, it would further seal his doom. Adam must fail and, like Satan himself, fail of his own free will – no deceit, no enticement, and no excuse before God. He probably observed the couple staring at the tree and conceived his evil plan. Satan’s plan was simple: deceive the woman and let her do the rest. It was masterfully wise!

Satan slithered up to the woman as she looked longingly at the forbidden tree and said: “Has God told you that you cannot eat or every tree in the garden?” Eve responded, “Every tree but this one. God said that if we eat from this tree, or even touch it, we will die.” God did not use the word “touch.” She added to God’s word; she lied! Satan seized the moment. “You will not die!” It is impossible to know what the creature was thinking or the woman. But he realized that she lied. He seized on this and called God a liar. In fact, he said that God knows the moment you eat from this tree you will receive true understanding. You will be like God, knowing the difference between good and evil.

Satan used the phrase “you will” three times. This was very similar to Satan’s sin. The woman then saw; she really saw for the first time. Her sight was then mixed with the lust of the flesh; she desired the fruit. It was pleasing to look at and appeared delicious.  Here is the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life running amuck. She finally gave in. She ate from the fruit and handed it to her husband, and he ate. The difference is clear. She was deceived; he was not! The woman was legitimately deceived, allowing her womb to remain sterile. No corrupt seed invaded it. This left God a toe in the door to come into a fallen world at a later date.

But Adam’s sin became a conduit to bring Satan’s sin/death mixture into this present world. At the moment of Adam’s sin, death passed from Satan to the man, and then to the woman, and into the world. The result is that they instantly knew that they were naked. They had been naked all along, but there was no negative thought about it. Suddenly, nakedness became bad – something wrong. Sin entered the world and along with sin came death. Sin and death always go together. Shame slammed into their heart, and they stitched themselves clothing from fig leaves to hide this strange sensation from their eyes. 

The couple instantly died twice! Twice? This truth was couched in the command from God when He told them, “If you eat of this fruit, dying, you will surely most positively die” (Gen. 2:17). Two deaths were in view. The couple would first die spiritually. They would become separated from God. They would also begin to die physically. In time, their bodies would be separated from their soul and spirit and would go back to dust. How do we absolutely know this is the case?

Blessings!