Rejoice

An imagined quote of a Pastor friend: Preach to me from the Greek: from the Book of Philippians.

Here the words of Paul to a people who understood them: 4 Χαίρετε ἐν κυρίῳ πάντοτε·  πάλιν ἐρῶ, χαίρετε.[1] Paul talked to people who were giving constantly—giving, giving, giving, expecting nothing in return. And he called them to “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say rejoice.”

This call to rejoice is a command to find joy in every circumstance in which they find themselves. And he relayed this command because they found themselves in a position to rejoice in the Lord, because they gave, gave, and gave constantly.

Another thing about Joy to consider is that in the Old Testament, the Psalmist described the restoration of the fortunes of Zion (Psalm 126) and he said “Rejoice!” This was a testimony to the nations that God had done a marvelous work, and it was so that the nations would be drawn to this joy. The hands of the people of God had been emptied and then filled, and all the people could do was rejoice in God who had given them all these things.

My charge to you, dear friend, is not to seek to follow this command at first, but first to find yourself in a place where you could be commanded to do thus. This is a joy that is only known by those who know what it is to be emptied, and used up, and depleted of all that one has, except the Lord. And once a person has given up all of this for the Joy of selflessly giving, he discovers the treasure that awaits him to sustain him in his giving: “Rejoice in the Lord Always.”

This is the secret that the Psalmist knew when he spoke “There is fullness of Joy in the Presence of the Lord.” (Psalm 16) Rejoice In the Lord always. This promise of “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) This promise of “I am with you always even unto the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Is the priceless treasure of every believer. Ravi Zacharias quoted G. K. Chesterton when he said “Joy is the central feature of life for the Christian, but sorrow is peripheral; because the fundamental questions of life are answered by his faith. But for the unbeliever, sorrow is central and joy peripheral, because only the peripheral questions are answered and the central ones remain unanswered.”

While Chesterton expresses the intellectual side of Joy, I add that this centrality of Joy is because at the believer’s heart is a priceless treasure of the presence of God which is the source of rejoicing as he gives up everything else he has. This is the Pearl of Great price which Jesus compared the Kingdom of Heaven to in Matthew 13:45-46.

Now, how do I know that this is what Paul meant? By looking at the next verse. 5 τὸ ἐπιεικὲς ὑμῶν γνωσθήτω πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις.  ὁ κύριος ἐγγύς.[2] “Let your gentleness be known to all men; the Lord is near.” What I see here, is just as God bore witness to the nations of His goodness when he restored the fortunes of Zion, so He has sought that the joy of a Christian’s heart might be a light that would bless the joy-less, sorrow-full people of the world in darkness. This is why the command is to “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say Rejoice!” This is why Jesus said, “No one lights and a lamp and puts it under a basket, but does so to give light to all others who are in the house.” (Luke 8:16)

But you may ask, “What does this look like for me? Does this mean I have to walk around with a big smile plastered on my face all the time?” No. We know that when Jesus, our Joy, walked among us, he did not selfishly show off his joy. He carried his joy into people’s situations as he bore with their griefs and carried their sorrows. He was so deeply confirmed in his Joy that to weep with those who wept He did gladly. And His gentleness was demonstrated to all men “for the joy that was set before Him.” (Hebrews 12:2) And we too, are to self-lessly rejoice in God, glorifying Him as the true source of life and joy, and to do so meekly, gently, mercifully because “the Lord is near.” And He “is near to the brokenhearted.” (Psalms 34:18)

The heart of the matter, according to St. Ignatius of Loyola, “Sin is unwillingness to trust that what God wants is our deepest happiness.” We have come to disbelieve God wants our true Joy because we are unwilling to find our true Joy in Him. It is convenient to ignore His presence and seek after whatever can offer us significance, satisfaction, or contentment on our own terms. This is the problem of our pride and the false spring, dry of living water resulting in our lack of joy. The answer is much more simple. The application of the matter is,

  1. Make sure you are in a position that you can find joy in the Lord. How? By examining your life for anything you would be unwilling to give up for the Lord, to the Lord in a moment. If you hold onto anything with greater force than you hold onto Him, your joy will never be full until you relinquish it. If you are bound in any circumstance you have bound yourself chasing after Joy on your own terms, get free: addiction, ambition are a couple. This is the imitation of Christ that Paul called believers to make of himself. Consider 1 Corinthians 4:8-16. And again in this letter to the Philippians, in 3:17. Consider Philippians 3:8-18.
  2. “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Find Joy in Him by spending time with Him. By understanding Him, by Obeying Him, and following Him. By listening to His voice, by cultivating a life that is lived by the truth that His loving eyes are on you and He is very, very near to you at all times.
  3. “Again I say rejoice!” Even in the midst of the greatest tragedy, stress, unfortunate circumstance, even blessing, and enjoyment, you will turn to Him who is near you, and thank Him as the source of your Joy. Remember to stop and remember His presence with you, and cast your cares upon Him, because He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
  4. “Let your gentleness be known to all, because God is near.” Do not let your rejoicing be the cause of greater sorrow to others. Instead, do as Christ did, and love people with your Joy by even laying it down to grieve with others, and show people love by sitting with them, embracing them, empathizing with them. And discover the joy that comes through giving more of yourself to others, this joy which God finds in doing the same with us. After all Jesus said, “It is more blessed (happy) to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
  5. Finally, let this joy in your heart be bright so that those around you can see the God who is real, and who is indeed the truest source of all joy, and then be ready to give a defense for the hope that is in you. (1 Peter 3:15) As Piper said, “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.” (Desiring God)

Launching Questions:

  1. What has been the common attitude about Joy in the Christian churches in which you’ve been? Explain your feelings about that attitude.
  2. How have you felt pressured to put on a brave face for other people even when things aren’t going so well?
  3. Paul talked to the Philippians about rejoicing as they gave. What is something you gave that brought you great joy to give it? Or what was something you were given that you could see it was a joy to them to give it, even if it was given sacrificially?

Interpretation Questions:

  1. What do you think it means to rejoice in the Lord? What are some ways you have done this or seen this done around you?
  2. Have you ever considered that there might be certain commands in Scripture that must be followed before others can be followed?Example: “First give sacrificially of yourself, then Rejoice!” What are some of the commands that are the first steps for a believer to take before they can move on to fulfilling the next commands?
  3. Why does the presence of the Lord bring Joy?
  4. Why does the presence of the Lord cause a person to be gentle and humble?
  5. How did Jesus navigate Joy in God’s presence, and sorrow in the presence of so many hurting and suffering?
  6. What is the difference between selfless Joy and selfish Joy?
  7. Why is it important for us to rejoice in the Lord?

Application Questions:

  1. In life, there are many things that can take a place of importance next to God, and oftentimes they become more important than our relationship with Him. What are some things (even good things) that have held great importance of your life and prevented you from being fully satisfied with Just Jesus?
  2. What are some things you need to give sacrificially to others?
  3. What are some practical ways you can rejoice in the Lord?
  4. What are some ways you can let your joy help when reaching out to people who are in pain, suffering, or sorrow?

[1] NA27 Php 4:4. [2] NA27 Php 4:5.

To the Laughing Son of God’s Grace

Dearest fellow Christ seeker!
– – In my search for Christ, I discovered some clues to the significance in his life in a deeper study of Luke’s Gospel, which I thought I’d share with you, “O most excellent Theophilus.”

Mary (Mariam) was a virgin in Nazareth, and Gabriel is sent from God to her. Suddenly this one who has stood before the face of Yahweh is speaking to her!

  • Gabriel’s first word is a very common greeting in those times, “Hey! May your days be well! Great to see you! Rejoice!” all summed up in “Greetings” My that english word can be a bit of a let-down, but in the original it’s a joyful salutation. It’s like “Heyyyyyyy!!!” with a big smile.
  • Then he calls her “highly favored.” It’s like In The Matrix, Dozer greets Neo with great excitement and anticipation for what is about to take place. The common solemnity of this occasion is enough to excite some people to fear, but here, this first word from Gabriel to Mary is very a version of: “Hey, you super-special person!”
  • The Lord is with you. He is not trying to calm her down yet. He is pointing out what David recognized is the source of the fullness of Joy. “The Presence of the Lord.”

These three parts of his salutation are awesome. It’s about to be some very good news. And earlier in the chapter we got an example of what happens when people don’t believe when an angel is telling them good news. Cousin Zacharias has been silenced now for over 6 months rather inexplicably, because this same angel delivered some super special news, and he didn’t believe him. Mary’s response however is very human and humble. She is doing two things. She is deeply perplexed through and through, and she’s also pondering what kind of visit this is.

Then Gabriel unloads on her a super-duper bombshell of a lifestory.

Now, just to reveal: as I studied each verse, I wondered “What it would mean if he had just stopped there?” What was the significance of everything Gabriel told Mary. Since it was divine communication, kept treasured forever in the heart of a human concerning the salvation of all humanity and the world, I figured it be worth looking into.

  • Don’t be afraid.–Mary needed to be calm enough to hear this.
  • You have found favor with God–It always starts with God’s grace!
  • Behold you will conceive in womb–Life will start
  • And you will bill bear a son–Life will be born
  • And you will call his name Jesus–The child shall be named.
  • He will be great–this will be his quality
  • And He will be called the son of the Most High–The child shall be named again.
  • And the Lord will give him the throne of his father David.–He will inherit David’s Kingdom
  • And he will rule over the house of Israel forever–He will rule in this kingdom forever
  • And of his Kingdom there will be no end.–And there won’t be a time when he stops ruling, or when his kingdom falls apart.

These insights stand out to me from these poetic lines from Gabriel’s word.

  1. The Lord is compassionate of our frailty. He knows we can’t hear or remember anything He said if we are afraid.
  2. God’s Grace is what shone on Noah before it described him as righteous. It is His way to begin with the face of God’s gracious favor being turned in the direction of an individual through whom he would bring about His salvation. In these moments we glimpse the mirth of God who is glad at the beauty and effectiveness of His plan.
  3. Jesus’ life is outlined here from “Conceived, born, named . . . to given a throne, ruling, and never-ending. Each piece is important, and each piece speaks to something special that God is doing.
  4. The middle section is “He will be great and be called son of the Highest One.” There any many high ones, but this child will be son of the “Highest One.” Also, He is called twice, did you notice? First his name is called “Jesus” then he will be called “Son of the Most High.” A mystery, but is this just common parallelistic repeating in the scriptures or is there an intentional pattern here?

In any case, dear Laughing Son of God’s Grace, there is a lot of joy packed into these verses which overuse and traditional limelight can really make hard for our eyes to see.

Merry celebration of Jesus’ Birth! Which probably happened right around this time of year btw!

😀

10. Wilderness Manual– Coming up Short? (32)

Reuben and Gad were going to settle in before crossing the Jordan with all the rest, but they assured Moses and the people, “We will build sheepfolds for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, but we ourselves will be armed ready to go before the sons of Israel until we have brought them to their place.” (Numbers 32:16-17a) This was good in the sight of Israel.

Principle: So long as Jesus hasn’t returned, we are in a wilderness where once there was a garden. There is a tension of settling in here as a pilgrim does on his journey, but then he keeps moving. The Wilderness teaches a person that he must be whole-heartedly for God, and also teaches him that even when he gets out of the wilderness, he will need to keep moving. The battle wages ever onward until the Promise of God is fully taken possession of, and the church can walk unified in Jesus name, representing God rightly in the world. Reuben and Gad both settled in, and committed to the task. This is to be our heart as we leave the wilderness stage. While we are here on earth, the question remains in all that we do, “Are we coming up short of the fullness of God’s promise?”

Application: If you have gotten this far, you have what you need: God is Enough, and He will bear His fruit in your life, and though you fail, He will bring about the zeal of heart to accomplish His work in you. This exhortation I give you. Don’t stop short of the Kingdom in all the Lord gives you to accomplish. Let God be your companion, your value, your everything. Take care of your families and your possessions, and then go forth and lay hold of the Kingdom of God, which men of violence take by force. Only stay with Him. He brought you to the wilderness, and through the wilderness. Go and be with Him as he leads you out of it.

Warning: Do not settle for less than the Kingdom, or you will lose everything. “Be sure your sin will find you out.” Numbers 32:23 There is no room in the economy of God for a partial-hearted person. As the Lord Jesus said,

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me, for whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” ~Luke 9:23-24

Grace

It comes like a meek kid
One who never flips his lid
Someone you can easily ignore.
When you’re all puffed up
You call “Who’s who, and “What’s what.”
You are blinded to his true glor’

But then in the bleakness,
That black sin of weakness,
You cry out for God to forgive,
And you realize his strength
To endure all the length
And with us despite sin choose to live.

Take heed, o sinner
Grace is the true winner
He will say, “Go and sin no more.”
And if you sin still
Bear the cross he still will
For the precious one, He does adore.

0. Wilderness Manual: Intro and Foreword

Intro: What is the Wilderness Stage?

In Israel’s life, it’s the time in between their receiving the Law, and their taking possession of the Promised Land. In Jesus’ life, it is the time directly after his baptism where the Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, right before his ministry. In the Christian’s life which comes after genuine conversion, and before commissioning to doing ministry in the world. It is a time when the believer learns how to be led by the Spirit, deny the flesh, stand against Satan, and fully enter into the power of the Holy Spirit.T

If there is a Wilderness Stage, why haven’t I heard about it?

There are a couple of reasons I consider for why many Christian’s don’t really consider the wilderness stage as a part of their Christian growth. First, is that it has not been a part of the Church’s way of life for a few hundred years. The Church in America at least has been able to give Christians access to the privileges of Christian ministry without a deep, personal, and stricturing time with God. The results today is many powerless leaders and many disillusioned followers. I am bold, but I believe I am accurate when I say, if you are a Christian and you haven’t gone through the Wilderness stage, you are not yet mature enough as a Christian to call yourself “an adult.” There is no real ripe Christian Maturity until this stage has been walked. After all, even Jesus went through the wilderness after he was baptized. How could we think we are supposed to dodge this bullet?

Second, I believe that the wilderness stage is as crucial to becoming a mature christian, as training up a teenager to become a full grown man. This is something largely lacking in American society, so it would not be any surprise that our culturally conditioned eyes would look for a training period in a believer’s life in the scripture. Many men were not trained by their fathers as I was. I see the Wilderness and its importance. Military men know that you don’t send someone into the battlefield without training. And this training is a lot deeper than just learning how to pray and read your Bible.

The third reason why the church doesn’t seem to know much about the Wilderness stage is the Bible doesn’t seem to talk about the wilderness except in vague details. There are stories of Israel, Moses, Elijah, and Jesus in the wilderness, but why should we take these as prescriptive? It’s not like there’s a book of the Bible called “Wilderness” for us to read to get an idea of how to handle this time in a believer’s life. This is a sad result of English book names being two steps away from their Hebrew originals. (First the Hebrew names, then the Latin names, then the English names.) “Now, hang on,” you might say.

There’s a book called “In the Wilderness” in the Bible?

Yes. The 4th Book of the Old Testament, the 4th book of the Torah, the 4th book of the Law, the book most of us know as Numbers has the Hebrew title, B’midthbar. Which in English translates to “In the Wilderness.” This alone would not be enough to validate such connections being drawn. The content would need to match up with the rest of Scripture.

First of all, which of the two titles befits the book better? Consider this list of chapters and their contents of the 4th book of the Torah, and you decide if “Numbers” or “In the Wilderness” is a better title.

  1. Census (Lots of Numbers)
  2. Arranging the Camps (Organization)
  3. Levites as Priests (Instructions)
  4. Specific Duties (More Instructions)
  5. Marriage Instructions (More Instructions)
  6. Vow Instructions; Aaronic blessing (More Instructions)
  7. Offerings of the Leaders (Lots of Numbers)
  8. Lamps, Cleansing Levites, Retirement (More Instructions)
  9. Passover and the Cloud (More Instructions and story)
  10. Silver Trumpets, and the people leave Sinai (Instructions and story)
  11. People complain; Moses gets 70 elders to help; people complain (Story)
  12. Miriam and Aaron vs. Moses (Story)
  13. Spies check out the land; 10 bring bad report, 2 bring good report. (Story)
  14. People reject God; Moses intercedes, God punishes for 40 years, Israel still tries and fails (Story)
  15. Laws of Canaan, and sojourners, and Sabbath Breaking (More Instructions)
  16. Korah’s Rebellion; more rebellion (Story)
  17. Aaron’s Rod buds (Story)
  18. Duties and portion for priests/Levites (More Instructions)
  19. Ordinance of Red Heifer (More Instructions)
  20. Death of Miriam, and Moses’ sin, Aaron dies (Story)
  21. Conquering Arad, Bronze Serpent, Sihon and Og (Story)
  22. Balak sends for Balaam (Story)
  23. Balaam’s First two prophecies (Story)
  24. Balaam’s Third prophecy (Story)
  25. Sin of Peor and Zeal of Phineas (Story)
  26. New Census (Lots of Numbers)
  27. Law of Inheritance, Joshua Succeeds Moses (More Instructions)
  28. Law of Offerings (More Instructions)
  29. Offerings of seventh Month (More Instructions)
  30. Law of Vows (More Instructions)
  31. Slaughter of Midian and Division of spoil (story and lots of numbers)
  32. Reuben and Gad Settle in Gilead (Story)
  33. Review the Journey, laws of possession (Brief Story and more instruction)
  34. Instructions for apportioning Canaan. (More Instructions)
  35. Cities of Levites, Cities of Refuge (More Instructions)
  36. Laws of Marriage and Inheritance (More Instructions)

As can be seen by this rough outline, there are 4 chapters abounding in lists of numerical values, and 19 with lots of instructions, and 15 devoted to stories. The Numbers and the Instructions are important. The word for the first 5 books of the Old Testament “Torah” means “Instruction, so of course we would expect to see lots of instructions here. And when it comes to an approach to studying the book, “In the Wilderness,” I welcome any biblical scholar to dive deep into the instructions and numbers and their fascinating insights into the character of God and history of His people. I have decided to write about some of the stories, because I desire others to see the significance of what goes on “In the Wilderness” on a principle level, while exploring ties to the rest of Scripture, and hopefully bringing to bear the importance of this stage in the believer’s life today. I have emboldened those chapters I will examine more closely in this series, which I will list here.

  1. The Cloud (9)
  2. The Elders (11)
  3. The Siblings (12)
  4. Fear of Failure (13-14)
  5. Enough (16)
  6. Fruit (17)
  7. Contention and Holiness (20)
  8. Three Victories but One Redemption (21)
  9. Sin and Zeal (25)
  10. Coming up Short? (32)

Furthermore, Deuteronomy 8:1-6 further describes what was happening in Numbers as a training time for Israel. I will devote a post to the different areas of the wilderness and the principles they teach us about our walk with the Lord, and close with some thoughts in conjunction with Deuteronomy 8. Now that I have introduced what I’m talking about and why, let me introduce some preliminary considerations.

Foreword: The Torah and the Human Heart

The [Torah] of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul; 
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple; 
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart; 
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes; 
the fear of the Lord is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether. 

More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold; 
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb. 
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults. 
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me! 
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression. 
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight, 
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. 
~Psalm 19:7-14

The purpose of the first 5 books: the Torah, containing the instructions, testimonies, precepts, commandments, fear, and rules of the LORD, is to expose and change the heart of sinful man. It points out the difference between God and Man and calls Man to return to the God who made him in His image. This is also the purpose of the Wilderness stage in a believer’s life. What better overlap of a book subject, and practical experience? What better way to really train the Believer in this new life he has just begun? May this time studying the Torah be helpful to reveal God’s heart, and your own as you come into deeper intimacy with Him.

Encouragement

If you are finding yourself in the wilderness, you are going to be made aware of things you did not really know before. I want to offer you these two immediate encouragements.

  1. You are not alone.
  2. There is reason and purpose to everything. You may not like the reasons, but I hope that Israel’s time in the wilderness will give you some insight into what is currently going on in your life.

News!

Guess what?! The world we live in with all its problems, brokenness, wrong-doing, craziness, and bad things has a King who is in the process of fixing everything! That King is God, and He is saving the world by rebuilding His Kingdom in His World, and one day it will be the only kingdom left standing. So get on board with this Kingdom now, so you don’t lose big when the other kingdoms fall!

What is this Kingdom like? It’s a kingdom where the only rule is Love one another the same way the King’s Son Jesus has loved us. This means there is justice for all, restoration available to all who humbly ask for it, and forgiveness for any wrong thing. Have you ever done something really awful? You felt guilty for it right? You can be forgiven for it. From stealing a piece of candy from a cookie jar to molesting a child, you can be forgiven for that. But if you’re one of those guys who keeps on doing evil, watch out, cause He’s coming to bring about justice, unless you stop doing it and start doing the right things.

Also, it has the coolest King ever. Not only is he all-powerful, but He is very humble. He is willing to talk with you as His friend, even though he made the world and destroys evil. He is constantly well-managing and growing His kingdom, and no enemy will ever be able to take it from him. He has won the battle to keep it forever, and now people get a chance to rule right alongside him! Seriously, He even gives days off! He’s a great boss! He genuinely cares about you, and is willing to get to the bottom of any thing that is broken in your heart. He will fully utilize everything in your life for the purpose of the glory and goodness of this Kingdom.

What’s the catch? Thankfully, the cost has been completely paid. With all our mess-ups and sin that we keep doing, we don’t deserve this opportunity, but Jesus came and died on the cross to make it possible. What do you have to do to be a part of this kingdom? Simple but not Easy. Swear allegiance to God, obey Him, turn your back on everything that was a part of your life in the kingdom’s of this world, and live as an emissary to others to bring them into this kingdom. You can’t bring anything with you, no possessions, no positions, no prestige, even relationships and family have to be on the table of whether or not they continue. As a citizen of this new Kingdom, God calls the shots, He gives you a new Spirit to live inside you and make you a new person. The old person with his old sinful habits, and mediocre purposelessness is not going to allowed to be in this Kingdom. You go through this thing called “Dying to yourself, and living to God” where you actually learn how to be like the God who made you in his image. This is painful, and whats worse, is that most people are either going to ridicule you, misunderstand you, resist you, oppose you, threaten you, or hurt you, or kill you. There’s rewards for enduring all of that, and there’s a joy that comes from knowing that you’re a part of this Kingdom that never ends, but it’s not an easy life.

Seriously, I hope you will consider this offer. There is a lot of pain and trials in the way of being a citizen of this Kingdom, but it’s so worth it. Humans were designed to serve God, and there is a lot of power available in this Kingdom for the accomplishment of God’s purposes. It’s the side that is the winning side, but it’s going to feel like losing a lot of the time. The reward: eternal life forever with God, as co-rulers with Christ Jesus in a Heaven and Earth where there is absolutely no death, evil, or any bad things. You’ll be a new person who won’t have any of those old things broken inside you or with other people. It’s the most awesome thing ever.

How do you sign up? How do you say I do want to do this? You’ll have to address the King directly in what is called “Prayer” which is just talking to God. He’s very wise and very powerful, and he loves you a lot so be honest. You can let him know that you would like to be His citizen, and leave your old life behind. You can tell him that you need a new heart so that you can be a new person, and that for the rest of your life you will serve and love him with everything you’ve got. He knows your heart already, and He can send His Holy Spirit in to fill you up, so that you can have His presence, His love, and all kinds of amazingness that can’t really be described except “Joy” and then comes some of the harder challenges, which He will show you.

Once you let him know, you’re in! You are going to need some training in what to do with all of this, so find a Christian who is an active part of building this kingdom, especially a group of them called a “church” and get going. Follow them, they’ll show you the ropes. SUPER excited for you!!!

The Bible: The Analogy of the Three Testaments

Recently, a friend of mine told me that he believed the church should prioritize Paul’s teachings over Jesus’. Another friend told him that can’t be right. After all, if Paul learned from Jesus, we should prioritize Jesus’ teachings right? I believe this is a wonderful question and I believe the answer can be found by comparing the Old Testament Law and Prophets.

Old Testament

In seminary I learned that the Old Testament has three sections (Torah or Law, Prophets, and Writings) but the last two of those sections are exposition or explanation of the first section. One professor put it this way. “The Old Testament is the Torah and the rest of it is exposition of the Torah.” Another way to say this is that the Torah gives us the definition, the boundaries, the seed of what is to come, and the rest of the writings (The prophets and the writings, or just “the Prophets” for short) just explain how it happened in real life. Example: In Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people, “You are going to go into exile, and God is going to bring you back.” (Deuteronomy 29-31). Read 2 Kings 17. You’ll see why He sent them into exile, and read Nehemiah and you will see what happens when God brings them back. Again, I will say it. The Old Testament = Torah + Exposition of the Torah.

Now if this is the case, which should we prioritize in the Old Testament? My answer is this: The Old Testament is set up in such a way that you need both of them to make sense of it. If you just prioritize the Prophets, chances are you’re not going to have much guidance to understand the plot of what’s happening. Why after all, did Elijah shut up the heavens in 1 Kings 17? (The Prophets) Because in Leviticus 26:18-20, God said he would shut up the Heavens if the people disobeyed. (The Law). If however we just prioritize the Law, then we will get lost in semantics and not know how it is rightly to be applied. Example: Leviticus 25 said you should give your land rest every 7th year. (Law) but we see in the Prophets what happened to the land when the land was NOT given rest every seventh year. (The Prophets) Within the Old Testament God does not leave us in the dark but gives us not only the seed of the tree, but also what the tree looks like when it is full grown. The seed of the Tree is God reaching out to love Israel. The Tree itself is God being faithful, and the people of God being faithless. We need both of these to rightly handle the word of Truth. We also need to use both rightly so we don’t get the cart before the horse.

New Testament

Now, this wonderfully simple pattern of understanding God’s word couldn’t possibly be the pattern for the New Testament could it? What major sections of the New Testament are there? The Gospels and the Writings (History, Epistles, and Prophecy) In essence, we have a repeated pattern of the New Law and Prophets.)

Does it work the same way? Is the New Testament, the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament exposition on the Gospels? Yet again, we find that God’s Word in the New Testament not only gives us the seed, but also the Tree. It shows us the Teachings of Jesus in their powerful demonstration and the proof of their truth, and then we are given in the writings what those teachings applied looked like in historical and instructive ways. Paul applied the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 6 during the sermon on the mount about worry when he wrote tot he Philippians, “Don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” But Jesus’ teachings about how to treat your neighbors would not make as much sense to us who are not Jewish unless Paul and Luke expounded on them for us who are the nations outside of Israel.

So then, which do you prioritize? The teachings that directly apply to the nations (The New Testament Prophets) or Jesus’ words themselves (The New Law)? I see how I would lean personally, but once again, I must keep the whole in perspective. Just as the Torah is expounded in the Prophets, and both are essential for a right understanding of God’s Word, so the Gospels are expounded in the Writings, and both are essential for a right understanding of God’s Word. Both have a relationship that must be rightly kept in humble interpretation of each other.

But still there is one more layer to peel back, which I find rather wonderful and sobering

Our Testament

Now that we have a canon of Scripture, the Church is interpreting the Scriptures to the World in every culture, tribe, tongue, people, and nation. We have, in both Testaments, the pattern of the house, and now we are responsible to enforce, to explain, to bring into reality God’s Word as it is revealed through both Testaments. The question left to us is how is this Scriptural revelation of God going to brought to full expression in the world. Or to put it in another way:

What is the Kingdom of God today? Our blueprints are established, and the writings of the Prophets both old and new have shown God’s way of bringing His word to fruition. It is the power and leading of His Holy Spirit that brings God’s kingdom here on earth among his people. And this Kingdom is going to be the final testament to the nature and character of the God we serve before He comes again.

What a tremendous privilege and responsibility!

To show it visibly, I came up with this Analogy of the Testaments. Can you solve the analogy?

What is the answer?

The rule of humor is you give two similar things one after the other, and then the third, you bend slightly to get a laugh. May the church not make God’s Kingdom the biggest cosmic joke that will make those watching to mock our God! Instead, may we be led and empowered by the Spirit to make of the church what the Spirit seeks to make of the Kingdom of God.

11. Closing Thoughts: Running the Race

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Therefore, we having around us this cloud of witnesses, every weight let us cast aside and easily ensnaring sin, with endurance let us run the “set-before us” race looking to the author and perfecter of our faith Jesus, who for the “set before him” joy endured the cross disregarding the shame, on the right hand of the throne of God has sat down. For consider the one enduring much hostility by sinners so that you may not grow fatigued in your soul giving out.
~Hebrews 12:1-3 (translation mine)

The Cloud

The heavenly company surrounding us now that we have seen their faith is numerous as the stars of heaven, just as God promised Abraham. The visible World made by the unseen word of the real God is based in an unseen reality. Abel knew it, and offered an acceptable offering to this God by giving the best of his life. Enoch knew it, and walked with the Unseen God who ruled it all. Noah knew it and obeyed God and condemned the world by his faith. Abraham knew it, and went into exile on earth so that God might give him the Unseen Promise. He also knew it when he obeyed God to offer up Isaac his son, trusting that God could even raise the dead. Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph knew it and carried this promise in their hearts. Moses knew it when he forsook his earthly pomp for persecution with God’s people. The nation of Israel knew it as they revered the God who fought for them. The servants of God have known it in their exaltation and humiliation that there was a glory that awaited them at the revelation of their Beloved’s face.

The Cross

Jesus was the beginner and the finisher of this faith, having showed us the whole path of maturity in faith from humble Birth through Ascension to God’s right hand. (see “To a Mature Man”) While Christ lived the life of faith, he also died the death of faith. He endured the cross disregarding the shame because he was aiming for what was on the other side. He has shown us that there can be no life of faith for us except through the cross– through the principle and practice of dying to self and to the world, submitting under the just judgment of God, so that other’s may know His forgiveness and love through us.

Cast aside everything that holds us back.

The Cross is how we do this. By the cross the world is crucified to us, and us to the world. (Galatians 6:14) The weight of the world represents the cares and investments we make for any reason other than the pleasure and glory of God. They are snares to us, and they strengthen our unbelief against God. That unbelief is the achilles heel to any runner. We run because we know that we are going somewhere we cannot see, and it is not too far for us to reach. Let us keep Jesus in mind so that any difficulties we face from the world or within us may not cause our breath to give out. We must have endurance to finish strong, and there is something at the end of the race that we can have right now in the midst of the race to keep us going.

“Set before”

The author of Hebrews wrote in Greek the same world for “set before” us about the race and “set before” Jesus the Joy. The Master of this race has hidden in the fabric of the race itself this secret: The Race that is set before us, the same race Jesus ran, is the Race of Joy. This is the invitation of faith: Leave the fruitless pursuits of this age and pursue the eternal promise with God, and through that pursuit enter into the Joy of your salvation.

This is the Invitation set before you right here on this screen. Will you accept it?

10. The Servants of God–The Visible Reality (32-40)

– – “And what yet will I say? For time will let me down to describe concerning Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David and Samuel and the Prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, extinguished the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong from weakness, became mighty in battle, put hostile camps to flight, women received their dead from resurrection.
– – “Others were tortured not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection, others received the experience of mocking and lashes, and in addition bonds and imprisonment, being stoned, sawn in two, in murder died by sword, wandering about in sheepskins, in goatskins, needy, oppressed, mistreated– of whom the world was not worthy, wandering about in the wilderness, mountains, and caves, and holes in the ground.
– – “And all these bearing witness by faith did not receive the promise, God foresaw to something better for us, that they not be made complete without us.”
~ Hebrews 11:32-40 (translation mine)

The author of Hebrews makes one final point about faith with these examples. The visible reality is a two-sided coin: Victory and Martyrdom.

Victory

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When someone lives the life of exile, walking with God, pleasing God, and obedient under judgment they will find themselves in the midst of God’s miraculous works. The power available to the believer in faith is all of God’s miraculous power to heal, to conquer, to restore, to gain, and even to extinguish mighty powers. Faith strengthens the weak, and makes mighty in battle, and makes entire fortified camps flee. Here are a list of stories in which we see each of these things happening.

  • Conquered Kingdoms (Deuteronomy 2:24-36)
  • Performed acts of Righteousness (2 Samuel 8:15)
  • Obtained promises (Genesis 21:1-3)
  • Shut the mouths of lions (Daniel 6:16-27)
  • Extinguished the power of fire (Daniel 3)
  • Escaped the edge of the sword (Psalm 144:9-11)
  • Were made strong from weakness (1 Samuel 30:1-18
  • Became mighty in battle (2 Samuel 8:1-6)
  • Put fortified camps to flight (2 Kings 6:24-7:20)
  • Women received their dead by resurrection (2 Kings 4:8-37)

The power of faith is attested in ways the author of Hebrews could only begin to paint with broad strokes to describe here. But while these strokes may indicate a striped pattern, the next section shows that it is more plaid.

Martyrdom

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Faith is not just the victory that happens through our exaltation, but also the victory achieved by our humiliation. That humiliation would ever be considered a victory is the offense of the Cross. It smacks the face of all human decency and dignity by being utterly stripped of its glory.

Still, anybody can tell you that there is a glory associated with martyrdom. The church has long been nourished by the glory of God seen in the faith of those recorded in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. But Martyrdom is only effective when it is the final step in living for God faithfully. Consider these examples:

  • Tortured (2 Corinthians 11:23)
  • Mocking and lashes (2 Corinthians 11:24-28)
  • Bonds and imprisonment (Genesis 39)
  • Being stoned (Acts 7)
  • Sawn in two (Isaiah according to Babylonian Talmud)
  • Murdered by sword (1 Kings 19:10)
  • Wandering about in sheepskins and goatskins (2 Kings 1:8)
  • Needy (Isaiah 20)
  • Oppressed (Exodus 2:23)
  • Mistreated (Jeremiah 38:1-6)

“Not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection.” Truly “The world was not worthy of them.” They lived out of a different reality entirely: one based on eternity rather than the transient and passing plays for power by humanity. This reality, to the world’s way of doing things, was not worthy to be compared to the glory that was and is opposed by the evil one, and the glory still to come in full strength through faith.

Us

Faith is a reality of the eternal past and eternal future shaping the momentary present. We who live right now are on a cosmic strand of faith beneath the beads of the kingdoms of this world clashing together like so many pearls. And one day those pearls will fall off and a new more glorious value will replace it. And our goal is not to cast off this reality entirely, but rather to bring it into alignment with the past and the future eternity of God’s rule. So simple: live now according to the eternity of God forever! That is what it means to live by faith. For some in the past it meant conquering kingdoms; for others in the past it meant being utterly humbled.

For us today, we are part of something better. Jesus has finished the work, and now we are His fruit. We are a part of the promise that is being fully grown from the seed of Jesus Christ. Apart from us, these faithful witnesses of God are not made complete. Now the work of Christ is made real in the body of Christ in the world. The Servants of God, those who walk by faith for the glory of His Kingdom now represent the Invisible Reality of God in the world now made visible for those who are blind. In short, our faith gives others eyes to see the invisible reality of God’s eternal rule in us.

Application

  1. Internally take stock of your inner life: purpose, fulfillment, thoughts, emotions, cares, self-identity, and align all of it with the gospel of God’s love that has transformed you into one who is like Jesus.
  2. Close to you, set your life in order according to the Word of God. Relationships, possessions, goals– let nothing go to waste or be a mockery of the Kingdom of God, but rather let the invisible reality of God at work in your heart manifest itself close to you.
  3. Stand in the community of faith– as people who will not live according to the world’s rules, or compromising with the world’s values, but as those who either in humiliation or exaltation give glory to God as the True King.
  4. Show God’s love to the world by serving and meeting the needs of others.
  5. Show God’s sacrificial justice by taking a stand to fight for the rights of the poor and afflicted against those who refuse to acknowledge God’s rule over them.
  6. Give glory to God and thank Him for the victory by which we overcome the world: our faith.

3. Enoch: A Pleasing Walk with God.

Hebrews 11:5-6– By faith, Enoch was taken up not seeing death, and was not found because God took him, for before he was taken up he had been proven that he had been pleasing to God. Now without faith it is impossible to be pleasing, for the one coming after God must believe that He is, and He becomes the rewarder of those who seek Him out.

The notion that Faith can cause a person to escape death is not uncommon. Is it not the faith-healings which revive the terminally ill and set them on the path to wellness again? My father, a chaplain for Hospice has seen many a peaceful transition from this life to eternal life as people “fall asleep” when they die. The point of this post however is not faith’s power in the face of death, but rather what entails for the living.

Proven to be Pleasing

What kind of proof is this? We are not told, but we are given the application for what it means concerning faith in the life of the Believer. Without this faith it is impossible to be pleasing:

“The one coming after God must believe that He is and He becomes the rewarder of those who seek Him out.”

The 3 things in this phrase I want to note are:
1. Following God
2. Belief that God exists
3. The rewarder of those who seek Him out

Following God

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Jesus said, “Follow me.” and when he picked his twelve disciples he picked them “that they might be with him.” The awesome privilege of faith is first and foremost getting to be with God, to walk with him, to be in His presence, to know the pleasantness of His company. But He keeps moving, and so you must keep moving to go with him, and let no care of the world slow you down or keep you back.

“Enoch walked with God.” (Genesis 5) That means He kept step with God, and God was with him. Both were glad to be with one another. Enoch did not have anything written about him except he had a son named Methuselah, and he walked with God. This walking with God, is seen in the Greek verb “to come after, to come toward, to go after.” This is less intense than a pursuit, but it is as complete as a living relationship in the world. This is the life of faith.

The Belief that God Exists

The agnostic and the atheist are really alike in this respect: they lack faith in God’s existence. One may say that God doesn’t exist and they’re sure, the other just says they are not sure that God is. Both are the lack of faith of one who does not trust God enough to go after him. Usually, it is in response to the way their world has been presented, or things in their world that seem too big or unthinkable to believe that an Unseen God could exist, and many still more believe that the God who is presented by those who claim to know Him is not a God worth believing in.

Now, if even demons believe God exists, (James 2:19) then I won’t belabor God’s existence with those who doubt, but I will say that what we learn about faith here in Hebrews is not merely a superfluous qualifier that God has to exist in order for you to look for him. It’s something far more personal than that. Faith maintains the belief that God is real despite all evidence or 
difficulty the visible tangilbe reality entails. This takes such a trust, such a surrender of one’s own right to judge God, such a willingness to obey the Good King against whom all of Humanity has set its rebellion and hold visible reality with an open hand for God to make clear.

He is the Rewarder of those Seeking Him out.

I have spoken to some who have said “I’ve looked for God and not found him.” Or others, “I’ve tried Jesus, and he didn’t work for me.” There are two wrong beliefs behind a search for God that ends up fruitless. 1. You have not yet accepted the reality that God is real. Any search for God starts with this. 2. You doubt your capacity or your worthiness to be rewarded by God if you seek him out. This one is harder to shake, because it is usually based in what other people have said to you, or things you have said to yourself that you have accepted about yourself as truth. If you remain in a state where you will choose to listen to yourself or other human beings before you will listen to God, then your present faith will not save you. You have already made your choice to listen to someone else, and have settled for your cell in Satan’s dungeon.

Furthermore, keep in mind if you want to seek God out, you must know what it will cost you. No one going after God can get there with an eye to get human recognition or reward. In the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, this is written about the concept of Reward as far as following Jesus is concerned.

“The distinctiveness of the divine reward is so radical, however, that if a man seeks human recognition and earthly gain for his acts he thereby forfeits the acceptance which God wills to grant him in the [reward].” ~TDNT p 699.

The path to finding God is a glory-less one as far as the eyes of man are concerned. The only way to live a life of faith is free from the sought rewards of man: fame, wealth, achievement, power, self-actualization. The reward is God Himself, friendship with Him is the sweetest reward that God gives to the one who walks with him.

Application

  1. Ask for the privilege to walk with God.
  2. Wait for Him
  3. Make it your ambition to please Him.~ (See 2 Corinthians 5:9)
  4. Believe He is right next to you working, and ask Him to show you what He’s doing
  5. Join Him in His work.