Tag Archives: Issue 10

Zacchaeus and Public Opinion

“Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he.” I was introduced to this odd little song with accompanying gestures somewhere between my twenty-third and twenty-eighth birthday. I had never heard children’s songs like this. What a fascinating character, this wee little man.

Zacchaeus “was a chief tax collector, and he was rich” (Luke 19:2). Here was a target for public opinion to heap its scorn. He collected taxes from his countrymen for an occupying nation, the Roman Empire. He was a chief tax collector, a man with underlings to do his bidding. Being rich probably was an incentive for people to stir their scorn with envy. And, oh yes, “he was of short stature” (Luke 19:3).  When people feel powerless in the face of a grinding bureaucracy, it is tempting to seize upon any seeming advantage. Surely, it was no different in those days. A wee little man was he.

This object of public hatred had many honorable characteristics. The first one recounted in the Bible is “he sought to see who Jesus was” (Luke 19:3).  Many people are like the wayside where seed was sown. Jesus depicted this in the parable of the sower. They have no interest in Jesus. Thus, “the birds of the air came and devoured it” (Mark 4:4).  Zacchaeus, on the other hand, exerted himself to see Jesus. He compensated for being short. He climbed a tree. We can fairly say his interest in seeing Jesus was more important to him than the humiliating commentary surely generated by such a spectacle. Zacchaeus had the humility to set aside his dignity in favor of seeing Jesus. When Jesus told him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house,” Zacchaeus rejoiced. This was more than passing curiosity. He was looking for the hope of Israel.

The crowd complained about Jesus: “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner” (Luke 19:7). Zacchaeus must have felt compelled to explain himself: “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold” (Luke 19:8). Public opinion paints with a broad brushstroke. How easy it is to be blinded to the good that may exist in areas where we think that it cannot.

Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector working on behalf of an occupying nation and he was rich. On the surface, it would appear he was traitorous, rapacious, and a scoundrel. Think of the Facebook memes people would generate about him if such circumstances existed in our time. How many of us would give a “like” to such a meme? In Jesus’s time, the crowd did not acknowledge that somebody had to do the dirty work of collecting taxes for Rome. How many people were spared the iron fist of the Empire because Zacchaeus was fair? He also must have governed the collectors under him in a fair manner. The fourfold restoration he spoke about would not have been for himself alone, but also for those whom he supervised. Also, with his profit, he helped to lighten the burden of the poor. The public, on the other hand, was blinded to these things. Even if they did not have access to the details of Zacchaeus’ decency, their evil speaking made it impossible to consider anything but their own opinions.

These were voices of murmuring, discontent, reviling, and fear, malleable voices able to be bent to wicked schemes: “the chief priests stirred up the crowd, so that he (Pilate) should rather release Barabbas to them” (Mark 15:11). Undoubtedly, it was opinions like those voiced against Zacchaeus which gave strength to the future rebellion against Rome. Jerusalem was destroyed, and of the temple, not one stone was left upon another.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’” (Luke 13:34-35).

And again: “For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?” (Luke 23:31).

Jesus spoke to Zacchaeus for the sake of those who scorned: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9). Jesus began His work among His own, the Jews. Among the Jews there were those like Zacchaeus, decent and honorable, yet scorned. Probably, there were among the scorners lost sheep who, in other areas, were decent and honorable. For the sake of Zacchaeus and the crowd, Jesus concluded, “for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

It is often quoted, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Yet, this truth can be undermined by public opinion. It is a big voice of generalities playing to our sense of indignation and yes, helplessness. Public opinion can blind us to this fact:  the way of Jesus is strong, not helpless. We have been given the power and the message of overcoming the world. Through Jesus, we can become like Him, the Lamb of God. There is a bigger picture than our worldly concerns: resurrection, redemption, salvation, transformation, the judgment day, the new and heavenly Jerusalem. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

~ Louis Garbi

Save the Children

What are the chances that your children and grandchildren will remain faithful in the church? Not that good.

It’s a disturbing reality, but the facts are hard to deny. Academic studies on denominational churches show that about 70% of all young people will quit attending church within 2 years of leaving the home. In the churches of Christ, it might take a little longer and the percent loss might be a little better, but the facts are nonetheless alarming. Take a moment to consider the faithfulness of children raised in your congregation. In the congregations with which I am most familiar, about 50% of children leave the church soon after leaving the home.

What’s going wrong?

There’s no need to distribute blame, except to acknowledge that the responsibility of raising faithful children belongs to parents. Not the schools. Not the community. Not even the church.

The church should support the work of the parents, enable parents, educate and encourage parents. However, the church should not and cannot replace the work that God gives parents to do. This idea is evident in Malachi 2:15: “But did He not make them one [in marriage], Having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one [in marriage]? He seeks godly offspring.” Procreating and raising godly children is the work of parents. We live in a world which would have you believe that raising children is everyone’s job. You’ve heard the phrase, “It takes a village.” Certainly, I appreciate the idea that everyone can make meaningful contributions to the development of children, but the village can’t take the place of parents.

The church and the community can support the work of parents but they cannot assume the responsibility of parents and cannot absolve the parents of accountability when something goes awry. An example is Nehemiah 13:23-26:

“In those days I also saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke according to the language of one or the other people. So I contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, ‘You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves…”

Who was ultimately responsible for this failure? Nehemiah didn’t blame the priests. He didn’t call out the community leaders. It wasn’t a failure of the government. The task of teaching children to serve the Lord was the responsibility of the parents. It was the parents who failed to teach them the Hebrew language and the laws of their God. The Jewish leaders deserved some blame, but still the parents were accountable.

So what should we do?

First, we must acknowledge the root of the problem. In a survey of college students who dropped out of church, about 50% said they did so because of “lack of belief.” Essentially, children leave the church because they aren’t fully persuaded in the first place. They spend 18 years in their parent’s home attending their parent’s church, but their parent’s faith never really becomes their faith.

This lack of faith manifests itself in various ways – like decreased church attendance, marrying outside of the church, and substance abuse – but the end result is the same. The child leaves the church for an alternate religious experience or just leaves religion altogether.

This is a well-defined problem and fortunately it has a biblical solution: teaching.

As a father of one young child, I’m no expert on the subtleties of successful parenting, but anyone can see the message for parents in the Bible. Raising a faithful child starts with biblical teaching in the home. Love and discipline are also essential, but teaching must be at the core. Deuteronomy 6:5-8 is a familiar passage on this topic:

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.”

Spiritual topics should be a constant conversation in your home. Help your children to understand that everything in life relates back to God. When you’re eating, talk about how God created the foods that they’re enjoying. When your child notices the trees changing colors in the fall, talk about how God made them that way just so we’d remember to think about him. Teach them that God made the child in a mother’s womb. Teach them that God put the stars in the sky. Teach them God loves them, and that he’s listening to them when they pray. As a child gets older, your spiritual conversations should mature with them. Talk with them about temptation and sin. Talk with them about love, forgiveness, and God’s plan of salvation. Talk with them about how they can glorify Jesus around their friends. Talk with them about who they should marry and where they should go to church. Talk with them about who you want them to be when you’re dead and gone.

If it doesn’t come naturally, then make plans for it. Write down questions you’ll ask your child. Plan time to read the Bible. When a child has spiritual questions, give them your undivided attention. Nothing you might be doing in life could be more important than helping them to learn about God. Whatever you do, keep on teaching.

~ Tad Morris

History and the Bible

Did the Bible writers intend to record real history? Not according to some critics. One writer says, “Some stories in the Bible were meant to be history, others fiction…”  And again, “…only some of the stories in the New Testament were meant as history.”  This is a trending perspective on the Bible that is not at all unexpected in the world, but it is still imperative that these kinds of unfounded philosophies not find any foothold in the Church.

The writers of the Bible wrote real facts and real history, and it was important to these men that their readers understood this.  The apostle Peter said in 2 Peter 1:16, “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” His fellow apostle, John, also drew attention to the reliability of his own record in 1 John 1:1-2:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life — the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us…

And Luke, of course, prefaces his writings as being especially dependable. Luke 1:1-4:

Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.

These writers’ first priority was to convey the fundamental elements of the Christian faith, but attention to accuracy and credibility was an essential element of this effort.

The New Testament writers intended for their words to be considered as dependable records of real and profoundly important events. Certainly this is equally true of the Old Testament writings where Bible events are often couched in the context of secular happenings with extensive references to specific dates, times, world leaders, and other corroborating evidences.  Not surprising, then, are the ubiquitous extra-biblical references that substantiate the inspired chronicles. David, Ahab, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Hoshea, Jehu, Jotham, and Manasseh are just a few of the dozens of biblical figures described in records other than the Bible. Some of these secular references to biblical people and places are very, very old. A 3,200 year old Egyptian monument mentions the people of Israel in the land of Canaan – a description that agrees with the Bible record. One especially interesting extra-biblical reference to an Old Testament person is the bulla of Baruch the scribe of Jeremiah. Two bullae, a scribe’s equivalent of a signet ring, have been discovered with the inscription: “Baruch son of Neriah,” the very person who worked with Jeremiah and quite possibly wrote large portions of the Old Testament. Examples like this are abundant and more are being discovered each year, but still the world wants us to read the Bible as fanatical religious fiction.

Extra-biblical references to New Testament people and places are practically innumerable. Essentially all of the leaders, political figures, and locations are discussed by contemporary sources outside of the Bible. Because of the volumes of references to Jesus and his Apostles, no one can seriously debate whether or not they existed. At least six different non-biblical sources make reference to Jesus. None of these sources intend to validate the writings of the Bible, but that is definitely the effect.  Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius all mention Christ and his following of Christians. Notably, the Bible records several supernatural events surrounding the crucifixion of Christ, some of which continued to be a discussion outside of the Bible well into the 2nd century. This quotation comes from a man named Julius Africanus (c. 160 – c. 240) who refers to the writings of two other men.

On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun…Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth – manifestly that one of which we speak.

Secular references to biblical people and places are not essential for a Christian’s faith, but these observations are still valuable as a plurality of witnesses is always desirable.  Like Moses explained in Deuteronomy 19:15, “…by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.”

 ~ Tad Morris

Religious Cosmetics

“Do you look at things according to the outward appearance?”  (2 Corinthians 10:7).

Much of the denominational world uses the Law of Moses as a reference for its standards and practices.  Often, there is a mix of the ten commandments, buildings referred to as temples or tabernacles, rooms or places accorded a special degree of holiness, ceremonies, special days of observation, votive lights, instrumental music, tithing, and incense. There is even something akin to a priestly caste. This is reflected by terms of respect: Father, Reverend, Doctor, among other things. As members of Christ, we need to beware. We don’t want to unthinkingly absorb these things as a natural expression of faith. Rather, we need to see them for what they are – empty.

The Lord used the example of marriage to show us how the outward display of religion (works of the law), which was important in Moses’ day, is no longer incorporated into our practice of faith.

Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man (Romans 7:1-3).

The Law of Moses was like a marriage which bound God’s people to Himself. The Lord used many external, symbolic things to reinforce this union. To forsake God was a type of adultery. This was committed by worshiping idols, changing the form of worship He gave, or turning away from Him in any other way. Just as the death of the spouse ends the marriage (“she is free from that law”), killing the Son of God, the One in whom dwells the fullness of the Godhead, ended that union with God.

Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another – to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God (Romans 7:4).

The good news is that Jesus rose from the dead and offers reconciliation. The result is a people of faith, a people who have accepted responsibility for their sin and have been redeemed to a new life. Our Hebrew brethren had to learn the law did not dictate the terms of the new covenant. The law of commandments and ordinances could not transform man into perfection. The letter of the law was external to man’s spirit, symbolized by tables of stone. In God’s wisdom, the law of Moses was to prepare people for salvation. The faithful of the law were those sinners hungering and thirsting after righteousness. They were not satisfied by the law, but by Christ:

For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter (Romans 7:5-6).

Just as the widow dies to the previous marriage (thus becoming available for another marriage), so souls under the law were made free from the works of the law and its bondage of sin, to serve in the newness of the Spirit. The invitation to enjoy that freedom has been given to all, Jews and Gentiles alike. Even though the Law of Moses is over, the Spirit still convicts the world of sin, and the lost are called to repentance and a new life.

Jesus’s sacrifice did not produce a religion of externals; it produced a people alive in Christ: “we should serve in the newness of the Spirit.” Here is a sampling of other scriptures which point to this same thing:

   Romans 8:1-2:  There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.

   Romans 8:9-10: But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

   Romans 8:13-15:  For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’

   2 Corinthians 3:2-3:  You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.

   2 Corinthians 3:5-6: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

   1 John 3:24:  Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

There is a practical outcome to serving in newness of the Spirit. It is the walk of success. It begins with the courage to see what needs to be changed in ourselves. It continues in the strength of our Lord Jesus Christ to make those changes. Everything that truly will give us peace of mind and joy is found in the daily walk of faith. The Spirit, given to us through Christ, is the link between us and the Father. The law’s tables of stone impressed itself on the mind but did not change man’s nature. The letter written on our hearts by the Spirit changes our nature – conversion. This is a matter of faith. If we believe what is provided through Jesus the Messiah, then we have hope for a better day here on this earth and the glory of the world to come. The thief will learn not to steal, the adulterer will learn fidelity, the liar will become honest, and the idolater will serve God in Spirit and truth. We will learn to carry our crosses and to become more like Jesus.

If we do not believe what the Lord has done for us, then what is left but no service to God, or the salve of external religion? There is no strengthening power in the religion of man’s invention. A candle, the smell of incense, stained glass, or a spire have no power. They cannot make us more wise, self-disciplined, informed, kind, or loving. Those things can make us religious, but that is not the same as being faithful to God. If we understand these are of no value, then why be zealous for such things? That is apostasy and antichrist.

1 John 4:2-3:  By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.

To deny that Christ has come in the flesh is to reject the redemption of Calvary in favor of worldly religion. Worldly religion has a pattern of external appearances to make us feel we are something we are not. There may be crosses abounding, but there is no redemption in these things.

To confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is to have faith that He overcame the world as one of us for our sake, that we might follow Him. There is a great deal of responsibility in this. There is also a great deal of life in being “dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another – to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God” (Romans 7:4).

~ Louis Garbi

You Follow Me

We, as the Lord’s people, are continuing to see our society spiral down into spiritual darkness in many avenues. Over the past generations we have seen our country disregard the Lord’s Word time and time again as the very fabric of our society continues to tear away in regard to common decency, morality, even marriage. We are tempted to wring our hands and cry out “Woe are we!” as we lament these serious issues. Religious people in general are tempted to march in the streets, cry out against wickedness with placards using politics to mend these issues, and even some are drawn to speaking in hatred and anger toward these ills and those that seem to be at the heart of such wickedness. While Christians need to be reminded of many things we can say in this regard, such as the importance of speaking the Lord’s truths in love and letting the light of the Lord shine from our lives in this dark world, there is another point that I think is important that will help us testify to the Lord’s truths in a right and just manner.

There are a number of passages that come to mind as I think on what our response should be to these things. These answers are not “exciting” as many long for as man’s wisdom often is, nor are they appealing to the flesh. However they do appeal to holy spirits and are indeed godly responses to these issues and can and will help us be the “World’s Bible.”

I recall the discussion Jesus had with Peter in John 21:15-22. Jesus had just spoke to Peter of his (Peter’s) death. Rather than meditate on the Lord’s words of admonition and take them to heart, Peter tried to change the subject to John, to which Jesus said, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow me.” That was the Lord’s answer to Peter’s concern: “You follow me.” That admonition will help us as we perceive seemingly troubling times. “You follow me.”

I recall a discussion Jesus had with his disciples in Matthew 20:20-28 when His disciples were arguing with each other in regard to some of their number wanting to be higher placed in the Lord’s kingdom then their brothers. Jesus’ answer to their concern/squabble was in verses 26-28. Rather than being concerned as to who was the greatest in the Kingdom they were told to serve one another! What a great answer! That will help us navigate through these troubling times.

Again, another discussion Jesus had in Luke 13:1-5 gives us a beautiful answer to observing and living in troubling times. Jesus was reminded of some Galileans whom Pilate had killed and of 18 people who were killed when the Tower of Siloam fell. Jesus’ answer to both observations was for people to “repent!” That will also help the Lord’s people in troubling times.

I am also reminded of the Holy Spirit’s observation of the coming parents of John the Immerser, Zacharias and Elizabeth in Luke 1:5-6. At a time when many of the Jewish leaders were corrupted by their own traditions rather than those of the Lord, the High Priesthood had become a political position, and many of the Jewish people had fallen away from the Lord’s will for their lives, Zacharias and Elizabeth had remained faithful to the Lord. The Holy Spirit referred to them as “both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” They did not let the wickedness of others keep them from following the Lord, nor should we!

What can help us remain faithful in these troubling times? What can give us proper spirits as we observe man’s wickedness? Consider these 4 admonitions and what they call us to do. “You follow me.” “Serve one another.” “Repent.” Be “righteous before God.” What better answers for our lives as we humbly walk in the Lord’s ways. If we heed these admonitions we will be lights in a dark world. We will have a positive effect upon others. If we are busy serving the Lord we will not have as much time to worry and complain about our society’s moral issues. And most importantly, the Lord will be pleased with us! “You follow me!”

~ Jay H. Graham

Blood Guilt

In the story of Jericho two spies were sent by Joshua, the Israelite commander, into the city before the invasion of Canaan began. In Jericho the spies found an ally in Rahab the prostitute who recognized the divine power behind the army of Israel and wanted to save her family. A simple bargain was struck in which the spies, whose lives were saved from local authorities by Rahab, agreed that Rahab’s family would be spared, but on one condition. Every person who would be saved must be in Rahab’s house. Any of them who left the house would die, and “his blood will be on his own head” (Joshua 2:19). Rahab took this arrangement to heart, and brought her family into her house to await the Israelite victory, which she and her family survived.

The concept of personal responsibility for our choices in life is pervasive in the Bible. When Solomon became king of Israel he warned a man, Shimei, who had been an adversary of King David that he would be safe and secure as long as he remained in Jerusalem, but if he ever left the city “you can be sure you will die; your blood will be on your own head” (1 Kings 2:37). This was not a complicated arrangement, but the man who had been warned and fully informed did make a trip out of the city after 3 years to retrieve runaway slaves from the Philistine city of Gath. Shortly after his return to Jerusalem he was reminded of the terms of his parole, and Shimei was executed shortly afterward. His blood was on his own head. He chose to do what he did despite knowing the cost.

The prophet Ezekiel was told in broad terms that every person is responsible for their own behavior, whether good or evil, and that one who persists in doing evil will be punished for his own sins, not son for father, and not father for son, but each person is responsible for their own behavior. After listing several kinds of sinful behavior, the Lord said, “Because he has done these detestable things, he will surely be put to death and his blood will be on his own head” (Ezekiel 18:13). No one but the sinner is responsible for the consequence of the sins.

Ezekiel himself was warned that while he wasn’t responsible for what people do, he was responsible for warning people about what they did. He was like a watchman for Israel, God said, and if a watchman saw enemy forces approaching and warned the people, he had done his job. If the people who were warned listened and thus saved their own lives, well and good. If anyone did not listen to the warning, then “his blood will be on his own head” (Ezekiel 33:4-5). On the other hand, if the appointed watchman gave no warning then when disaster came “I will hold the watchman accountable for his blood” (33:6). This was the position Ezekiel was in. He had to warn people of their wrong doing, whether they listened or not. In order for Ezekiel to save himself from blood guilt, he had to warn the sinners, whether they listened or not. Sinners who listened and changed would be saved, but each sinner would be responsible for his own sins, his own repentance. Ezekiel must warn them with God’s words, or else God would “hold you accountable for his blood” (Ezekiel 33:7-9). The reaction to the warning was up to those who heard.

Several times in Leviticus 20 this idea of personal responsibility for sin, lawbreaking, is emphasized in the sexual sins and rejection of authority listed there. Capitol crimes included cursing father or mother, adultery, incest with close relatives, homosexual acts, bestiality, and acting as a medium or spiritist, with the reminder over and over, “their blood will be on their own heads” (Leviticus 20:9-16. 27). This again is a basic and vital concept: the lawbreaker is justly responsible for the known outcome of breaking the law. None of these things listed as unlawful are needs, none of them are required behaviors, none of them are unavoidable, none of them are beneficial, but rather each is a voluntary act, an appetite pursued, a will surrendered. To know the law (and Israel was required to know the law and rehearse the commandments on a regular basis) and choose to voluntarily violate the law, no matter how attractive or rewarding that violation might seem, “their blood will be on their own heads.”

If people choose to do what leads to death, they are responsible for their own death. The follower of God, on the other hand, is responsible like Moses, or the spies, or Solomon, or Ezekiel, to give warning, to make clear what leads to life, and what causes death.

~ Charles Fry

Lost In Harmony with God

There is reason to fear God. What we think of ourselves may not stand. No one can escape the truth. The beauty and goodness of what God has done will not be lost on anyone, and many will awaken to the unpleasant realization of failure. We are fashioned by the Heavenly Creator to understand and respond to the truth. Whether we admit it or not, we know this is a good thing. God has given us a high order of life. “God stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods. . . I said, “You are gods, And all of you are children of the Most High” (Psalm 82:1, 6). All are called gods and all will ultimately agree with Him. There is harmony in this even in the sorrow of condemnation.

The eighty-second psalm was written as an admonition to Israel. The psalmist wrote of Israel’s past and future failures, as well as their potential to fulfill the good of God’s design. Man has divine origin not only because he is a part of God’s creation, but because man was given a share in God’s divinity. “You are gods.”

When man was created, he was made like God. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:27). God creating an image of Himself would be similar to man making a statue of himself. This is a feeble comparison but the idea of making an image is true. The very best of artistic talent among us can fashion a shape which may evoke some attitude or feeling but that is all the farther it goes. The image has no life. On God’s plane of wisdom and love, the image He made was not done in futility, conceit, or artistic reverie. He created an image of Himself that is true, beings who might live in the glory of our Father’s goodness. We are designed to be His children, not in a figure of speech but in the reality of His creation.

We see, in God’s conversation with Cain, that Cain possessed a measure of awareness and capability similar to God. It is the core of accountability.

“So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (Genesis 4:6-7).

Cain was accountable for doing well. This implies he understood God’s will. It further indicates that God made known His will. Cain and his sacrifice were rejected because he failed to do well. God reasoned with Cain in the aftermath of this failure. This at once denotes God’s desire for Cain’s reform. Cain could have repented and done the right thing. Being accountable, able to understand and able to respond, having the capacity to learn and the capacity to repent, are markers of being made in the image of God.

Jesus taught of a certain rich man who died and was in torment: “he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame” (Luke 16:24). There was no talking back, no hiding his guilt, trying to offset it by whining. He didn’t argue that there would be no comfort forthcoming. He accepted his situation. He knew the righteousness of God. This was amplified by a fervent desire that his brothers should be saved. (This shows the condemned want the gospel to be preached.) “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, ‘for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment’” (Luke 16:27-28). Abraham told him that his brothers had Moses and the Prophets. This tormented man could appreciate the truth. What God had established through Moses and the prophets (the Bible) was enough. They (as well as we) did not need a resurrected neighbor to bring proof. This former rich man was in harmony with God because he understood and learned something in his state of torment. He was not forced into this awareness. He came to it because this was the only thing left – the truth.

As shown by Jesus, the brothers of the rich man could have learned. Jesus didn’t tell us their outcome. However, there is a warning for us. We can put a veil over our ability to know and walk with God. We can give in to deception. We can live a lie if that is what we want. We can choose the truth or the lie. In the grave and beyond we will wear the outcome of our choice in harmony with our Creator. We are gods, and we will appreciate the truth and know that God is right.

One might argue; “We didn’t ask to be created. It would have been better not to have been born. If God is so good then why did . . .?” This evasion might seem to shield us for a little while, but it won’t last. In the end, every soul, whether rebellious or just, will tender their agreement that God is good, that the prospects of life were desirable, and that He is fair and just. Therefore “every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).

~ Louis Garbi

Hallelujah, Christ Rose From The Grave

Perhaps the seven greatest events of this world are the creation, the flood, the birth of Christ, the crucifixion of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, the ascension of Christ, and finally the end of this world when Christ comes again. The first six of these events have already transpired. The seventh is in the future. These seven acts of God are of primary impact concerning our being and the eternal destiny of our souls. The remaining factor in our salvation is our submission to God, through faith and obedience. We dare not minimize any of the other events listed, but in this lesson let us focus on the resurrection of Christ.

Roman soldiers were known for their hardness, but the morning of the Lord’s resurrection they were perhaps as scared as any mortal man can be. The record does not tell us who these soldiers were or how many there were. Could it be that the soldiers who were placed at the tomb were the same men that were at the crucifixion, and said, “Truly this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54)? We do not know.

Nor do we know how large an area was affected by the earthquake when Christ died (Matthew 27:51, 54) or by the one when He rose from the dead (Matthew 28:2), but these certainly were evidence of who He was.

Neither does the record tell us how much the guards actually saw. We know that they had been assigned to guard the tomb because the chief priests and Pharisees remembered that Jesus had said He would rise after three days. Whether they feared it would happen, or actually feared (as they said) that His disciples might come and steal the body and then claim He had risen, they requested of Pilate that the tomb be guarded, and their request was granted. It must have been the providence of God that they went to such lengths to make the tomb secure. All of their efforts came to naught, and made the resurrection even more sensational.

There was a “large stone” rolled against the door of the tomb and the stone was sealed. We cannot now say exactly the details of that seal. It may have included clay or some other substance smeared around the outer edges of the stone sealing it to the wall behind it. It may have been a cord stretched across the stone with a mass of clay or wax at each end adhering to the wall, or maybe one glob of clay or wax at one edge of the stone with a certain Roman mark on it designating that it was against the Roman law to break that seal. Pilate had told the Jews, “Make it as secure as you know how” (Matthew 27:65). But no efforts of mortal men could prevent the resurrection of the Son of God.

We are not told the thinking of the soldiers as they were assigned to guard the tomb or during the long night hours. Did they think this was all a bunch of nonsense? Were they bored during the night? Regardless of what had been on their minds, their attention was suddenly on the earthquake and the appearance of the angel. Yes, they were assigned to guard the tomb, but the bright light of this heavenly being kept them at their distance and they shook with fear and were helpless to intervene. Men have questioned whether the guards actually saw the Lord come forth from the tomb. The record does tell us that“some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened” (Matthew 28:11). So they must have been fully aware of His resurrection. We are not told why only some of the guards came. Where were the others?

The point I make is that there are many details regarding the resurrection of our Lord that we do not know, but we know He rose just as He said He would, and that He fulfilled all the prophecies regarding His resurrection. There are so many of these prophetic statements, but let us consider a few of the more obvious ones.

Psalm 16:10, quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:27), gave assurance that Christ would not be left in Hades, nor would His body see corruption. In Matthew 12:40 and 16:4 Jesus used the sign of Jonah being in the belly of the great fish as being the likeness of His being in the heart of the earth.

Many times He told His disciples of His death and resurrection, but they did not comprehend those things that would actually transpire. “And while they were staying in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up’” (Matthew 17:22-23).

“Behold we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock Him and scourge Him and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again” (Matthew 20:18-19).

Even the night before the crucifixion He told them, “But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee” (Matthew 26:32). (Other references are in Mark, Luke and John, but some are repetitious with these in Matthew). It is obvious that Jesus knew exactly what He must endure, but that He would rise victoriously over death.

Under the Old Law two or three witnesses were required to substantiate a claim. Consider the number of witnesses we have regarding the resurrection of our Lord. From the writings of the apostle Paul:

“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles, then last of all He was seen by me, as one born out of due time” (1 Cor. 15:3-8).

And Paul does not mention that He was seen first by Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9), or by the women as they were returning from the empty tomb (Matthew 28:9-10), or by the two men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-31). Paul does not mention Thomas’ doubt until he saw the nail prints in the hands of the Lord (John 20:24-28). Nor does he mention the sea side breakfast of Jesus with the seven disciples (John 21:1-12).

Acts 1:3 says “He presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” And then after that forty day period, “while they watched He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9) Jesus ascended on high and is now set down at the Father’s right hand. He had fulfilled His Father’s will and the mission for which He came to earth.

Each Lord’s Day, believers assemble together and partake of the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of the Christ. We eat of the bread which symbolizes His body broken for us (1 Corinthians 11:24), and drink of the fruit of the vine symbolic of His blood shed for the remission of our sins (Matthew 26:28), and in so doing we proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes (1 Corinthians 11:26). Let us never let other things overshadow the fact that “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3), but it was His resurrection that was the absolutely conclusive proof for all time that He really is who He said He was, and therefore we know that His Word is true and that we who have believed and obeyed Him will also rise from the dead (John 5:28-29) and be caught up in the clouds to meet Him in the air when He comes again. And thus we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17) in the heavenly home that He has gone to prepare for us (John 14:3). Had He not risen from the dead, after the many times that He said He would, there would have forever been question as to whether He was truly the promised Messiah and Son of God, but Hallelujah, Christ rose, and we know the record given us in the Scriptures is true.

~ Thomas D. Dennis

More Time

In 2 Kings 20:1-6, God tells us about a king by the name of Hezekiah. He had become so sick that he knew his death was approaching. God sends the prophet Isaiah to tell him to put his house in order and make preparations for the country to go on without him. Hezekiah begins to fervently pray to God. He lists all the good he has done and how he led the people to God. Without saying the words, it is obvious that he is asking God for more time. As he is praying and Isaiah is leaving the palace, God tells Isaiah to return to the king and tell him he has been given 15 extra years to live.

What a gift! How many people over the years have found themselves on the brink of death and wished they had more time. Many have probably asked God for this gift. Perhaps they have listed all the good they have accomplished and the added things they could do. Maybe, because of the way they chose to live their life, they did not have a list of good things, but made promises to do better. Hezekiah is given a gift that many have desired.

However, he does not repay the Lord with kindness. 2 Chronicles 32:24-25 tell us that he was filled with pride. Isaiah records the actions this proud man takes following his recovery. In Isaiah 39, we learn that the king of Babylon sent letters and a gift to Hezekiah to congratulate him on his recovery. Hezekiah brings the messengers into his house and shows them the riches he possesses. He shows them his armory of weapons. He brags about all that he owns and controls.

God is not happy and sends Isaiah back. Isaiah tells him that everything Hezekiah has accumulated will be captured and taken to Babylon. His sons will become servants to the king of Babylon. God will honor his promise of 15 more years, but Hezekiah’s kingdom will come to an end with his death. Most would take this as bad news. There is nothing good, positive or happy about what Isaiah is saying God will do. However we see Hezekiah’s attitude in his response: “The word of the Lord which you have spoken is good!” (verse 8). All Hezekiah heard or cares about is that there will be peace while he is alive. He cares nothing for what will happen after his death. His is an attitude of selfishness and greed.

Compare that with the words of Asaph from Psalm 78:1-8. He speaks of communicating the laws and wonders of God to the next generation: “telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord” (verse 4). His wish is that the next generation will know God’s commands and tell them to their children. He wants them to set their hope in the Lord. He is not concerned just with his lifetime or even just the next generation. He is encouraging his readers to think multiple generations down the line. To prepare, not just for their future or their children’s future, but for their grandchildren’s future.

Hezekiah was only concerned with how things were going for him. We, too, can become equally caught up with our current lives. We, too, can become so focused on what is happening right now to us that we lose sight of how it impacts future generations. We should not only be preparing ourselves to meet God, but also preparing our children to meet him. And don’t forget, we should also be preparing them to prepare their children.

Asaph put this an interesting way. He said that children “may not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that did not set its heart aright, and whose spirit was not faithful to God” (verse 8). Hezekiah wanted to build himself up to be something great. He told of all the great things he had done for the Lord and His people. We must be careful that we do not follow that same path. We can begin to think more highly of ourselves than we ought (Romans 12:3). Ultimately, we should desire that our children are more faithful to God than we are. We should train them so they know the commands of the Lord better than we do. We should help their hearts and spirits be more aligned to God than we are. This requires us to recognize our own failures and sins.

Preparing future generations is not the only good thing we can do with our time. There are souls that need saving. There are people that need help. We still have the poor, the sick, the hungry, the naked and the imprisoned with us. Peter talked about changing our focus in 1 Peter 4:1-3. He said, “We have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles” and encouraged us to “no longer live the rest of our time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” So many times and in so many ways God tells us, warns us and encourages us to put our old deeds and ways to death and live in newness of life. In 2 Peter 1:5-11, he gives us the process for making this change. Little by little we add God’s virtues to our lives and our old ways and attitudes leave us.

Even though many make that request to God for more time, not many get an answer like Hezekiah. Some do receive more time from the Lord, but they don’t know how much. We can never know how long we have. Because of that, we should keep in mind that every moment we have is a gift from God. Every day is a blessing he has granted us. We should make sure we are using it properly. If we use our remaining time to boast in our accomplishments and bask in the glory of men, we are being selfish and greedy. We are not thinking of the generation to come, the generation after that or succeeding generations. We are only thinking of ourselves. It is time that we lived for the future, not the past or present. What are we going to do with more time?

~ Doug Twaddell

Is Your Daughter Really a Princess?

Some of our little girls are quite attracted to the idea of being “princesses” — showing off their shiny tiaras, scepters, and colorful robes while pretending to rule over others. Parents often encourage this type of thinking in their adorable daughters as they see them play the role convincingly, relishing the power and dignity of their royal position. While most parents don’t really expect the little ones to grow up to reign over an earthly kingdom, could it be that God really does want our daughters to be princesses?

We know from the Bible that God always wanted a royal people who would not allow sin to reign over them like the rest of the nations.

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5, 6).

Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy (1 Peter 2:4, 5, 9 ,10.).

By using this description of being “royal,” He intended for us to reign over the sin that knocks at the door of the heart every day (Genesis 4:6,7). Instead of taking the easy road of spiritual slavery like “everybody else does,” we take the road less-traveled where we do not allow sin to rule over us because we are able to reign with Jesus in spiritual places over sin. It is a tragedy when a person can no longer control what he sees with his eyes or what he puts up to his mouth with his hands. Our children were meant for the royal life of victory over the Enemy, not the way of slavery because sin got in the front door and took over the entire life!

In order for our daughters (as well as our sons- Proverbs 31:1-9) to learn to be real princesses and princes, we must teach them non-conformity – “My son, if sinners entice you, do NOT consent” (Proverbs 1:10). No one becomes a princess by following the peasants. We must “be not conformed to this world, but be TRANSFORMED by the renewing of our minds so that we may prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2). The road to reigning over sin is the way of humility and service to others, just as Jesus has already shown us how He lived here victoriously to return to Heaven triumphant over sin!

Yes, after looking at God’s plan for us and our children, you will see that it is the Will of God that our daughters and sons rule over sin in their lives. May our daughters be able to trade the little plastic tiara for the eternal and incorruptible crown of life and a place at the Right Hand of God in Heaven with Jesus! May our boys trade in their toys for strength over sin and a voice to help others! Friends, let us be sure that we exemplify the royal life of a child of the King so that our children can follow in the footsteps of eternal victory in Christ Jesus!

Thomas W. Woody
~ P.O. Box 148, Brighton, IL  62012-0148