Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Promises to Abraham, Part 2

Gal 3:28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal 3:29  And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.
Col 3:11  Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Genesis is the book of beginnings; it tells us where the material universe originates and most importantly where mankind originates.  In giving us human history it records some genealogies of Adam’s descendants but then something happens at the end of chapter 11.  From that point on the only genealogies we read of are those that came from Seth’s descendants.  It takes us to Abram and then from there the genealogies are only about Abram’s descendants.  The Gentile population is only mentioned as it relates to the Jews. 

And then once we get to the ultimate Jew, Jesus, all genealogies stop and the focus changes from the Jewish people back to the general population both Jew and Gentile.  The verses above speak of this change so that we see that the focus is not who came from Abraham or who did not but now what matters is who is in Christ. 

I think of lot of Christians have been fooled somewhat by the focus on the Jews in the OT.  It seems their theology sprang up long before they got to the NT.  They tend to forget that the point of Jewish history is not because God’s plan for the world revolved around having some sort of eternal relationship with the Jewish nation but the point of his relationship with the Jews was in order to bring about the incarnation of the Son so that he could have an eternal relationship with sinners. 

I think it is significant that not only are there no genealogies after the Lord did his redemptive work, but the Temple and all the genealogical records were destroyed as if God was saying that all that is of no consequence any more.  The old relationship he had with Israel is over because it was only temporary in order to bring about that one Jew who can take away that which separates us from the love of God.   

What all men need, both Jew and Gentile is not an arid rock over in the Middle East and certainly not a temple to make animal sacrifices on any more.  The only thing any of us need is to get right with God and live in his presence forever. 

Now I said most of this in the previous blog article but I wanted to add this: A lot of Christians don’t think the OT is particularly important and if they study it at all it is primarily to get some moral principle out of it to live by.  But it is actually a study of the Christian’s history.  It is a study of how God worked out his plan to glorify himself by redeeming a people from sin.  When we study the history of the Jews we are studying our own history and it has eternal consequences.  If this is true then we shouldn’t find it dry and remote to our lives today because everything we are and do is rooted in it. 

Today many people spend a lot of time and money trying to find their roots.  They want to understand where they came from, how they connect to the past and how that makes them who they are today.  I guess I don’t have a big problem with that as long as they realize how little any of that matters.  Unfortunately a lot of people think who they are related to in the not too distant past matters far too much.

Look, we are all related; we all came from Adam which means we all are ruined sinners.  That alone explains why we think the thoughts we do and why we act the way we act.  You don’t have a temper problem because you are Irish or have red hair; you have a temper problem because you are a human being.  And what ethnic group you belong to should not have near as much influence on your life style as whether you belong to Christ’s family or not.  Notice in Colossians above where he mentions barbarian and Scythian, slave or freeman.  Paul says that none of that is particularly important because if we are in Christ we are not who we once were and we are not headed where our kinsmen in the flesh are headed.  And certainly our lifestyle has much more to do with what we read in the Bible then what land your parents came from.

The OT explains who you are and how it was going to be fixed in the coming Messiah.  And you don’t have to pay a website online to find it out.  God had several men write it down for us so we can study it whenever we want.  Making distinctions between Jews and Gentiles causes us to lose focus on what we all have in common.  Paul points this out in the verses above.  He is telling us how to read the Bible.  Don’t read it as if the Jews have some kind of future and the NT church has a different one.  Read it as all men are one in sin and that the promise made to Abraham was not really about the Jews it was about Christ who would save us from our sins.  

Notice that the word for promise is singular.  The many promises of Gen. 12 had a lot to do with the nation of Israel but they were only to bring about the one promise which was Christ.  The OT isn’t about the Jews and the NT about the Church.  The Bible is about Christ and all those who are in him, not in Abraham.  

Friday, January 22, 2016

To Whom Were the Promises to Abraham Made?

Gal 3:8  And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed."  Gal 3:14  so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. Gal 3:19  Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made…  Gal 3:28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal 3:29  And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.

One of the great debates in the church is Israel’s relationship to God and the church after the cross.  You have two basic positions I guess.  One side believes the promises made to Israel haven’t been fulfilled and so will be in the future.  The other position is that all the promises made to Israel were fulfilled either in the OT times and ultimately in Christ and so now the Jews are no different than the Gentiles and are under the same covenant as the Gentiles which is the New Covenant.  All men are under the bondage of sin and must be saved the same way and the only thing that awaits any of us is the eternal state. 

An example of the first group, and there are many variations, is John Hagee.  The following quote was taken off his website some years ago.  “I believe that every Jewish person who lives in the light of the Torah, which is the word of God, has a relationship with God and will come to redemption. As Christians, we must recognize the critical importance of the Jewish people in God’s plan for us all. We must, in direct fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecy, help bring God’s people home to Israel. We invite you to help us continue to raise funds to build a beautiful new dormitory that will house many more children who will be raised in their Jewish traditions according to the Torah. “  Some even join Judaism to be on the winning side when Christ comes back.

Now not all Dispensationalists believe that the Jews don’t need the gospel but this thinking is a result of not realizing that the covenants made with Israel were part of the redemptive plan to bring in the Messiah and are only “eternal” in relation to Christ.  The Jews were never supposed to be some sort of eternal special people above the rest of mankind. 

The above passages in Galatians are just a few that could be used to bear this out.  Notice in vss. 8 and 14 that Paul explains to us that when God made his covenant with Abraham he was preaching the gospel which is that all the nations will be blessed in his coming offspring.  In vs. 16 he says that ultimately this wasn’t about the many offsprings of Abraham in the flesh but one Offspring, Jesus, Gal 3:16  Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many, but referring to one, "And to your offspring," who is Christ

It seems to have escaped the attention of many as it did many Jews in Jesus’ day that being descended from Abraham did not necessarily mean anything.  It bought some advantages as Paul speaks about in Rom. 9, but to miss Christ means the judgment of God for the Jew just as a Gentile.  Paul also addresses this in Gal 3:24  So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. Gal 3:25  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.  Hebrews says as much in Heb 8:13  In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.  .  The physical fulfillment was how God would provide the “Offspring”.  Once he came, Israel’s purpose and the Old Covenant were served and now there is no Jew or Gentile.

There is another point in Gal. 3 to consider also.  In vs. 16 “promises” is plural as he includes some specific promises made to Israel that were needed so they could become a nation and provide a place for the Messiah and his work; these were temporary.    Through Moses, Joshua, and David.  Jos 23:14  "And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the LORD your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed.  1Ki 8:56  "Blessed be the LORD who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant.  All these physical blessings were received in the OT.

But in vs. 17 we see a change from plural to singular, Gal 3:17  This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.  It is pointing to the “big” one, the Big Promise.  The big one was Christ in which the nations shall be blessed.  All the other promises were given to bring about the “big one”.  So Galatians helps keep before us the purpose of this Abrahamic covenant and not get sidetracked by the means to the covenant which was through the Jews.  Hagee has gotten sidetracked into heresy.

With this in mind, everything that happens from Gen. 12 on must have Christ in view in order for it to make any sense.  If Israel is an end in itself then grace takes a back seat to the works of the flesh.  The whole history of Israel concerns and illustrates Christ and was never meant to be anything more than that.  They have no more meaning outside of Christ than any other people.  The highest meaning you can give to an OT passage is as it concerns Christ.  Paul says as much above when he says there is no more Jew or Gentile but all are heirs of Abraham’s promise by faith.

If we read through Galatians 3 with this in mind the passage flows very logically and makes perfect sense in relation to the cross of Christ.  God’s relationship with Israel was temporary in order that the Offspring or Seed (KJV) might be born under the law and become our “blessing” of life.  The gospel was being preached to Abraham as Galatians says, not Israel being established as God’s all time chosen people with no relation to the cross of Christ.  And so I ask you, do you rejoice in Christ today or someone else?  Union to him is all you need in this life to overcome this world.  There is safety in Christ, not Judaism or the Ten Commandments.  He is the winning side, not being Jewish.  Will we exalt Christ alone or the flesh as well?  This truth will affect how you watch the news!  You won’t be upset that the Israelis gave back some of the land that is supposedly given to them by God; who cares!  We look for a new heavens and new earth.  If my big inheritance was that rock we call Palestine, then I don’t have much to look forward to! 

What we need is salvation from sin, not being relocated to Palestine.  Even Abraham knew that Canaan wasn’t what God was talking about.  Heb 11:8  By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. Heb 11:9  By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. Heb 11:10  For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.  Let’s not make the Bible complicated when the NT clears it up for us.  Jesus is Abraham’s offspring and no one else is unless they are united to Christ; born form above.

Friday, January 8, 2016

When Should We Stop Praying?

2Co 12:7  So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.
2Co 12:8  Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.
2Co 12:9  But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2Co 12:10  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Of course, this is one of the most well-known and loved passages in the Bible as it explains some of the whys and hows of suffering for saints.  I want to focus on verse 8 for the moment.  Paul has been taught that what he thinks of as a weakness and as something that would therefore hinder his service is actually how the Lord is going to use him and at the same time be the one who receives the glory for what Paul does.  His enemies were saying that his suffering and seeming inability to speak as well as they do and whatever thorn in the flesh he is speaking of in these verses were signs of God’s displeasure but the Lord told Paul that his sufferings and physical weaknesses were actually a sign that he was being used by the Lord. 

He also says that he asked the Lord three times for him to remove this supposed hindrance but that the Lord told him no because it is working great things in Paul.  I was reading someone who was speculating as to why Paul only asked three times.  He thought perhaps Paul was following the Lord’s example in the Garden of Gethsemane when he asked for the cup to be removed three times and then asked no more.  Perhaps, but let me speculate some as well.  There is no doubt that after the third prayer Jesus perfectly accepts the Father’s will and moves on to the cross.

As far as Paul is concerned it is quite possible that it wasn’t until after the third time that the Lord gave his answer to Paul thus making any more prayers for deliverance to be sinful rebellion.  To continue to ask for it to be removed when the Lord told him plainly that he was not going to do so and why would be to refuse to be content in the Lord’s will.  Certainly Paul gives us an example of full acceptance of God’s will even in trials.

I would imagine that Paul prayed more than three times about this but these three “pleadings” were perhaps special times of prayer and fasting, but we don’t know that.  What I find significant is that there were a specific number of times that he prays and then he no longer needs to pray.

Afflictions, embarrassments, troubles are unpleasant and there is nothing wrong with asking for relief.  But there is a much greater thing to be concerned about other than relief and that is usefulness.  The Bible speaks about being able to accept suffering when the Lord doesn’t see fit to take it away soon, if at all.  Here we see Paul learning this lesson.  I don’t think we must assume that because Jesus prayed only three times and Paul did as well that the Bible is teaching us that we can only pray three times for something and if we don’t get it then we shouldn’t ask anymore because the answer is final.  I think all that goes beyond the main purpose of the passage.

But in both cases it was a short time before they realized it was time to focus on serving and not relief.  Prayer might continue but the willingness to accept the situation and see what the Lord will do with it became the focus, 9-10.  Whether Paul ever prayed for relief or not after these three times isn’t as important as him rejoicing in his weaknesses and being content in them because they made him an effective servant in the Kingdom of God. 

And so the practical application is that too often we might spend years and years and much time and money trying to get out of an affliction.  We might spend much time in prayer and asking others to pray for us but we don’t spend nearly as much time and energy looking for ways to use the affliction for the Lord’s glory.  In other words, the three prayers of Paul and only three prayers lets me know that he had learned to move on and accept the situation and make the best of it and not assume that it wasn’t the Lord’s will and so focus on relief and not service.  He doesn’t tell the Corinthians that he continues to pray for relief and ask them to pray as well; he is rejoicing that his suffering has a glorious purpose even if it continues until death. 

I think about the health and wealth “ministries” that spend all their time trying to alleviate suffering and actually telling the gullible that the Lord doesn’t want you to suffer when Paul was told the exact opposite.  Afflictions are painful and we are told to come to Christ for relief but very often the “relief” will be strength to endure the trial, not the end of the trial.  Pray for relief and help but very soon pray for opportunities to use the pain for the glory of our Lord.