Union Chapel Baptist Church

Dec

10

I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day

By Stephen Mitchell

In 1861, two years before writing this poem, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s personal peace was shaken when his second wife of 18 years, to whom he was very devoted, was tragically burned in a fire. After Longfellow’s wife trimmed some of the length off their seven-year-old daughter’s curls on July 10, 1861, she decided to preserve them in wax. She failed to notice that some of the wax had fallen on her dress, which caught fire.

Henry first tried to put it out with a rug. It was too small, so he threw his arms around her. She died the next day, and he had suffered such severe burns to his face, arms, and hands that he couldn’t even attend her funeral. He grew his signature beard because it was too painful to shave.

Christmas of that year, he wrote in his journal, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” On the anniversary of the tragedy he wrote, “I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.”

On Christmas 1862 he wrote, “‘A merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.” He made no journal entry at all on Christmas 1863—perhaps because his son, a lieutenant in the Union army, had recently taken a bullet that severely injured his spine.

In 1863 Longfellow’s oldest son, Charles Appleton Longfellow, had joined the Union cause as a soldier without his father’s blessing. Longfellow was informed by a letter dated March 14, 1863, after Charles had left. “I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave but I cannot any longer”, he wrote. “I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country and I would willingly lay down my life for it if it would be of any good”. Charles soon got an appointment as a lieutenant but, in November, he was severely wounded in the Battle of New Hope Church (in Virginia), during the Mine Run Campaign. Charles eventually recovered, but his time as a soldier was finished.

Longfellow wrote this poem on Christmas Day in 1863. Titled “Christmas Bells,” it was first published in February 1865, in Our Young Folks, a juvenile magazine published by Ticknor and Fields. References to the Civil War are prevalent in some of the verses but are not commonly sung.

It was not until 1872 that the poem is known to have been set to music. The English organist, John Baptiste Calkin, used the poem in a processional accompanied with a melody he previously used as early as 1848. The Calkin version of the carol was long the standard. [The above partially copied from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Heard_the_Bells_on_Christmas_Day]

The following are the original words of Longfellow’s poem:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

From Longfellow’s poem and his journal entries, there were two things that burdened his soul during the 1863 Christmas Season. These were his sense of profound loss and the burden of man’s hatred to man.

Christmas is a time of great sadness for so many. It is supposed to be a time of family gatherings and rejoicing together in the gift of God’s Son Jesus. Yet, it is also a time where losses in life are felt most intensely. That sense of separation where there should be fellowship and rejoicing is deeply felt and a sadness of heart creeps in. Longfellow felt it keenly. That first Christmas without his beloved wife, he wrote in his journal, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.”

But this Christmas of 1863, he not only felt the absence of his wife, he now sat beside the bed of his deeply wounded son as his beloved son struggled to recover. And Longfellow wrote of the sound of the cannons drowning out the sound of the bells ringing “Peace on earth, good will to me.”

Separation and cruelty. Death and evil. Longfellow hurt and mourned these circumstances of life.

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song,

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

These two things in our lives often bring us to despair, to sorrow, to a deep heartsick mourning.

This is nothing new. David, in his own song before the Lord, Psalm 18, cried out:

The cords of death encompassed me, And the torrents of ungodliness terrified me.

The cords of the grave surrounded me; The snares of death confronted me.

Cords of death, and torrents of ungodliness. Death and evil.

In another of his poems, Psalm 22, David began:

My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.

O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; And by night, but I have no rest.

The struggles we have with the losses of those we love. The heartsickness we know when we see the cruelty of evil upon the innocent, these are age old. Even from the very beginning we hear Eve’s cry at Seth’s birth from the loss of her sons Cain and Able.

God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.1

Eve lost two sons that day: Able from murder, and Cain from the punishment, for God banished him to wander the earth away from his family.

And God has not been deaf to our anguish at the empty places in our hearts because of loss. This is exactly why God sent His Son Jesus to take on humanity.

God knows very well the continuous pain of losing those we love to death. After all, it was exactly that consequence that God warned Adam would begin if Adam chose to disobey God.

Genesis 2:16-17 “The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

Adam did not grasp the enormous consequences of his act of rebellion, but God did. And God immediately began the program of bringing a solution to death.

Genesis 3:14-15 “The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you will go, And dust you will eat All the days of your life; And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

God had prepared from eternity past the solution to man’s separation at death. God had a remedy prepared.

Heb 2:9 But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.

Jesus knew intimately the pain of losing a loved one. We assume that he lost his earthly father, Joseph, when Jesus was a young man since, by the time He began His ministry, Joseph was no longer around.

And we know He knew the pain of loss when his dear friend Lazarus died. In John 11, when Jesus went to see the family of His friend after His friend had died, Lazarus’ sister Mary went to meet Jesus:

Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They *said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.

Jesus knew the pain of the separation of death. But He also knew something Lazarus’ family had not yet realized. Jesus Himself was the answer to that pain. A little earlier in chapter 11 this event happened:

So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus *said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha *said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” She *said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”

And right there is God’s solution to the pain of the separation of death. Not to bring the loved one back. But to bring us to our loved ones. If we have faith in Jesus, we will live, even if we die. Physical death cannot stop the eternal life we gain from faith in Jesus. This is why Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, in 1Thess 4:13-18:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

There is coming a resurrection day when all of God’s children will be reunited together in the presence of the risen Lord Jesus. It is this truth that is to bring us comfort in the pain of losing a loved one to death.

But what about the problem Longfellow specifically wrote about in his poem?

For hate is strong

And mocks the song

Of “Peace on earth, good will to men.”

This has troubled all of the descendants of Adam. We call this the Problem of Evil. How can a good God, who declares “Peace on earth, good will to men,” allow such evil as warfare, violence, suffering, and every other manifestation of the presence of evil in this world?

I do wish I could give you ‘Three points and a poem’ and solve the dilemma. I cannot.

This is an old dilemma with no human solution in sight. This is why we have the Book of Job.

Job lost his possessions and then his family through natural disasters and through evil done at the hands of men. And last of all he lost his health, suffering greatly physically. All of it ultimately at the hands of Satan, our great enemy and the ultimate cause of all the ills and suffering in this world. It was Satan who tempted Eve and Adam in the garden and who has been laboring to destroy mankind ever since. The Apostle Peter put it this way in 1Peter 5:8

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

But, as it is today, the opinion of society in Job’s day was that, if bad things, evil things, happened to you, it was because of evil things you yourself were doing. That is the accusation Job’s three friends, and Elihu, a younger friend of Job’s friends, brought against Job.

But Job maintained his innocence against all accusations. He knew that he lived in obedience to God, a claim that God Himself stated at the beginning of the book.

So while they accused Job of being evil, Job begged God for an explanation of why he was suffering the way he was. And God gave Job an answer in Job chapters 38-41.

Let me summarize God’s four chapter answer for you.

Job! You cannot possibly understand why evil happens to those who are good and/or innocent.’

That’s it. Not what we want to hear. Not what Longfellow wanted to hear. Not what we want to hear as we endure or see the innocent suffer. But it is all the answer we can handle.

In fact, God asked Job a very significant question right in the middle, in Job 40:1-2:

Then the LORD said to Job, “Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it.”

Do we want to find fault with God’s handling of this world? That is what God asked Job. And it is often what we do when we see evil in this world. But that is not all. God continued to confront Job and his suppositions about justice done him. Job 40:6-14

Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm and said, “Now gird up your loins like a man; I will ask you, and you instruct Me. Will you really annul My judgment? Will you condemn Me that you may be justified? Or do you have an arm like God, And can you thunder with a voice like His? Adorn yourself with eminence and dignity, And clothe yourself with honor and majesty. Pour out the overflowings of your anger, And look on everyone who is proud, and make him low. Look on everyone who is proud, and humble him, And tread down the wicked where they stand. Hide them in the dust together; Bind them in the hidden place. Then I will also confess to you, That your own right hand can save you.”

How often do we see evil and want God’s power to attack and destroy it, as if we ourselves would clothe ourselves with the majesty and power of God and strike all evildoers and bring them low.

But, if we could do that, if we even had enough knowledge to do it right, then we could provide our own deliverance, which we, of course, cannot. That arrogance has no rightful place in our hearts.

There is a truth about the Problem of Evil we rarely consider. You and I are fully as much a part of the Problem as everyone else. We often act as if we stand outside of the problem demanding that God deal with the problem. But we do not stand outside of the Problem of Evil. We are fully a part of it. Paul put it this way in Romans 2:3:

But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?

When we demand that God deal with Evil, never forget to include ourselves in that demand. Thank God that He does delay His righteous judgment of evil because that delay has given us the opportunity to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus and to escape the judgment that rightly belongs to us.

Longfellow, in the last verse, actually gave himself and us the right answer to the problem of evil.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; 
The Wrong shall fail, 
The Right prevail, 
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

God is not dead. God is not asleep. God has not lost control.

God will bring about justice. Evil will fail and be eradicated. Justice and Righteousness will win and be administered by God.

The prophet Amos wrote, looking forward to that day, “But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

It is the knowledge that God is still in control and will bring about righteousness that brings us hope in the face of evil and suffering.

The answer to our struggle with the Problem of Evil is simply faith. We cannot, in any way, shape, or form, understand God’s handling of this earth. But God never asks us to. He simply asks us to trust Him and what He is doing.

This is what God said to Habakkuk when Habakkuk struggled with what God planned to bring down on the rebellious land of Israel. “Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.

The proud one, the one who refuses to humble himself under the mighty hand of God, that soul is not right with God. There is a future promised to that one of eternal torment. But the righteous? We are to live by faith. Such a powerful statement. One so important, it is quoted four times in the New Testament. The righteous will live by his faith.

And that, my friend, is the answer to the problem of evil. Trust God that He knows what He is doing and live by that faith day-by-day, no matter what the day may bring forth. We cannot know what God is doing here on earth, but we will see when we gain Heaven.

The Apostle Paul wrote, in 1Corinthaisn 13:12: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

Accept that we cannot know fully why things happen until we gain Heaven and then we will praise Him for what He has done.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.

And what about the peace on earth of which the angels spoke to the shepherds?

The last instruction recorded in the Gospel of John that Jesus gave His disciples before His greatest confrontation with the Problem of Evil is appropriate for us to remember. Jesus said, recorded in John 16:33:

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.

Dec

6

Angels From The Realms Of Glory

By Stephen Mitchell

This hymn was written by James Montgomery (1771-1854), who was born in Scotland of Irish parents.  His father, John Montgomery, was a Moravian pastor—apparently the only Moravian pastor serving in Scotland at the time.

Montgomery’s parents felt a call to serve as missionaries on the island of Barbados, West Indies, in the Caribbean.  When James was only five years old, his parents departed for the West Indies, leaving James with a Moravian group in County Antrim, Ireland.  His parents died in the West Indies a few years later, so James never saw them again.  One wonders how well he remembered his parents—and whether he resented them for abandoning him at such an early age.

The Moravians made it possible for James to enter Fulneck Seminary in Yorkshire, but that turned out to be a bad fit.  James had the soul of a poet, and poetry was banned at Fulneck.  In 1787, he apprenticed himself to a baker, which also proved unsuitable.  He bounced from pillar to post during his late teens.

But in 1792 he began working for Joseph Gales, who published the Sheffield Register, a local newspaper.  Gales supported a number of radical causes, and in 1794 was forced to flee to Germany to avoid prosecution.  Montgomery, although still in his early 20s, was able to gain control of the newspaper, and changed its name to Sheffield Iris.  Under his leadership, the paper continued its radical bent for more than three decades—advocating such seditious causes as abolition.  Montgomery was twice imprisoned for his editorials, but his imprisonments only added to his popularity.

As a young man, Montgomery drifted from the faith, but as he matured he returned to the Moravian church and became an advocate for Christian missions.

On Christmas Eve, 1816, Montgomery was reading the second chapter of Luke, when these verses captured his attention:

And suddenly there was with the angel

a multitude of the heavenly host

praising God, and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace,

good will toward men’

(Luke 2:13-14, KJV).

Montgomery was inspired to write this hymn, which he wrote quickly and printed in the Christmas Eve edition of his newspaper.  Each verse of this hymn speaks to the nativity from the perspective of a different group of people.

• Verse 1 is about the angels, who are urged to “proclaim the Messiah’s birth.”

 

Angels from the realms of glory
Wing your flight o’er all the earth
Ye, who sang creation’s story
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth

Angels from the realms of glory: In Matthew 18, the Disciples asked Jesus who is the greatest in the Kingdom. After calling to Himself the weakest of the weak, a little child, Jesus said to the Disciples that they needed to have humility. Then, Jesus said something rather startling: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.

It is from this statement that belief in guardian angels has come “their angels.” But Jesus never said that angels follow anyone around. Rather, pay attention to what Jesus actually said: “their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” Rather than running around on earth, angels stay in the presence of God the Father waiting eagerly to be dispatched to earth on behalf of someone in need. Angels dwell in Heaven, in the presence of the Glory of God, looking directly into the face of Glory.

The Book of Job appears to tell us that angels were present when God created this earth and the Universe in which it dwells. Job 38:4-7 relates:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding,

Who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it?

On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone,

When the morning stars sang together And all the sons of God shouted for joy?

This, by-the-way, is the only place where we find angels singing. While we read in the Scriptures about the unfolding of our Salvation through history from the Garden of Eden, the angels have been on hand to watch it down through the Millennium.

And as they sang at the foundation of the earth, they are suddenly called upon to proclaim the beginning of the final chapter in providing for the Salvation of mankind and the conquering of their ancient enemy, one of their own number, the mighty Cherub Satan.

And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Angels are God’s Messengers and God’s agents whom He uses to accomplish His will among us. They are mighty but totally devoted to God their Creator and Master. These beings are so devoted to God’s commands, that they do nothing of their own will but only carry out the will of the Father in Heaven.

This is why Jude considered it such an offense of the false teachers to “revile angelic majesties.” Why? Because what they do they do by express command of God. What have they done? Specifically, they have been God’s messengers of truth, such as when they proclaimed the arrival of the Savior, Christ the Lord. To deny the message is to revile them, declaring that they do not know what they are saying.

But we owe great debts to these spiritual beings who have stayed faithful to God, far more than we realize. They were involved in the giving of the Law. They have been locked in a battle some 6000 years long, of which we get a glimpse in Daniel. They announced the coming of the Messiah. They ministered to Jesus in the Garden. They announced the risen Lord.

Angels are God’s agents and messengers. And that still night some 2000 years ago. They scared a motley group of smelly shepherds almost out of their wits to tell them: Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.

 

• Verse 2 is about “Shepherds in the fields abiding.”

Shepherds in the fields abiding
Watching o’er your flocks by night
God with man is now residing
Yonder shines the Infant light

If Jesus was born in the winter months, then the Shepherds abiding in the fields were those specifically watching over the sheep and goats destined for sacrifice. At least, that is the assertion of Alfred Edersheim, the author of the greatest biography of Jesus outside the Gospels themselves.

They kept the sheep and goats outside away from things that could scrape against them, cause a blemish, and thus disqualify them to be used as sacrifice in the Temple.

Recall that the brightest light at night, apart from the moon, was a fire, a torch.

When I was a teenager living in Pomona, CA, I liked to go for walks at night. I recall one time I was walking through a neighborhood. Occasional dogs barked. I could hear a helicopter overhead. Suddenly, that helicopter hit me with its searchlight. I had difficulty seeing where I was walking as the light was so intense. And talk about sudden. It was a definite shock. I stopped and looked up and was completely blinded.

Now imagine you are a shepherd out at night sitting around the fire, quietly chatting, watching the sheep. “And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.” A sudden brilliance unlike anything they had ever seen? You better believe they were about scared out of their wits.

Which is why the angel first told them everything was OK. “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.” Why not? What possible thing could calm these men down?

for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

The nation had been looking for the coming of the Messiah. Jewish writers and correctly figured out it was time for Him to come. But they were looking in the wrong place and for the wrong person.

Montgomery wrote God with man is now residing.

What never entered their heads is that the Messiah had to be God in human flesh.

They completely missed the truth stated so clearly in Isaiah 7:14. “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” Immanuel – God with us.

What the shepherds did not realize at the time was that that announcement of the angel was an announcement of a loss of a job. That baby, God with Us, was to be the “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Once the perfect sacrifice was made through the broken body and shed blood of the Messiah, animal sacrifice would no longer be needed. We would have the perfect sacrifice for sins.

An what about that last phrase: Yonder shines the Infant light? That is just a cultural myth grown up through the centuries. The baby Jesus did not glow. But one day His glory did shine forth and completely scared Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration. And when Jesus returns? The glory of His holiness will shine forth and all evil will persih before Him. So I guess we can forgive a little cultural anticipation of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

 

• Verse 3 is about “Sages,” the Magi or Wise Men.

Sages leave your contemplations
Brighter visions beam afar
Seek the great Desire of nations
Ye have seen His natal star

We know the Sages, the wise men, did leave their contemplations to seek one of infinite greater wisdom, He who is born King of the Jews. They were drawn by a star. There have been many speculations and many natural phenomena have been suggested as that star. But, a star that leads to Bethlehem and then stops over a single home? That has to be of supernatural origin.

But they are seeking the Great desire of nations, as Montgomery wrote. This is a reference to Haggai 2:7 in the King James Version:

And I will shake all nations,

and the desire of all nations shall come:

and I will fill this house with glory,

saith the Lord of hosts.

While the KJV translation is not quite accurate in that verse, the sentiment is completely correct. Jesus is the Desire of nations. Only He brings forgiveness, Only He brings fellowship with God, Only He can bring genuine peace. As God told Abraham so long ago, speaking of Jesus, “In you shall all nations of the earth be blessed.” Only in Jesus do we find our deepest needs and desires satisfied.

And mankind’s contemplations, their philosophies, are mere speculation apart from the reality that God lives and He has sent His Son into the world to redeem sinners. Any worldview which ignores that truth is doomed to be empty speculation.

• Verse 4 expands the vision to “Saints”—a word that in the New Testament applies to all Christians.

Saints before the altar bending
Watching long in hope and fear
Suddenly the Lord, descending,
In His temple shall appear

Montgomery finished off in our version with the consequences of the coming of “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

The creation of Saints is owed entirely to the reality that Jesus came as Savior. He did not come as conqueror. Which is what the Jews were looking for. Mankind has always longed for a Savior, someone to deliver us from this mess of a world so polluted with sin.

Here in the US we long for political leaders who will bring about conditions that we hunger for, whatever they may be. The world loves the tales of mighty heroes who will deliver us. And Jesus is the ultimate deliverer. But, before He can deliver us politically, He must deliver us spiritually.

This is why Jesus said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” But the vast majority of people in the world refuse to recognize their hopeless condition before God. They think they can deliver themselves.

But it takes the Savior Jesus to actually make mankind Holy, Saints, who can dwell with the Holy, Righteous God for eternity.

As Saints, we bow our knee before our Savior. Montgomery is referring to Philippians 2:9-11:

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

We are truly watching for the Hope. Paul wrote of this to his fellow minister Titus:

…looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.

And we are those who, knowing our sinful condition and the holiness of God, bow before Him and walk daily with reverential fear. We do this because we know Jesus can return at any moment.

 

Montgomery referred in the lines Suddenly the Lord, descending, In His temple shall appear to one of the last promises in the Old Testament, Malachi 3:1:

Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts.

This sudden return is the reason why we are told, “Now is the day of salvation.” You may not have another opportunity to trust in Jesus as your Savior.

 

Conclusion:

Montgomery concluded each verse with the phrases:

Come and worship, come and worship
Worship Christ the newborn King

Because His coming was important enough to send a host of angels to announce it, because His coming was to provide the sacrifice that made all other sacrifices obsolete, Because His coming makes all human wisdom empty, Because His coming creates those who are holy enough to be in God’s presence, we should bow before Him and worship. He is worthy of all praise and all worship.

Even though He came as Savior, still, He was and always will be the rightful King of this world. King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Let every knee bow before the Lord of all.

Come and worship, come and worship
Worship Christ the newborn King

 

Nov

21

The Faithfulness of the Lord

By Stephen Mitchell

Lamentations 3:19-26

A. The Struggling Soul 19-20

Eliphaz the Temanite said to Job, in Job 5:7, “For man is born for trouble, As sparks fly upward

Jesus told His disciples as they walked to the Garden of Gethsemane, in John 16:33, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.

Here in Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah lamented over the destruction of the nation of Judah and the troubles he was going through.

The people of God, the Jews, have been attacked. The people have been killed. Vast numbers have been taken captive as slaves. Why?

Read Lamentations 1:3-7 Notice again verse 5, “For the LORD has caused her grief Because of the multitude of her transgressions

Hundreds of years before, God had warned them of what He would do to them if they followed the evil of the godless nations around them. They refused to listen, rebelled against God, and God had finally brought His judgment upon the land. The Temple was destroyed, the nation destroyed, and the land became the property of another nation. Many people were slaughtered and many of the rest taken as slaves and torn from their homes and resettled in a strange land.

And Jeremiah, writing as if he is the nation of Judah, wrote, “Look and see if there is any pain like my pain Which was severely dealt out to me, Which the LORD inflicted on the day of His fierce anger.1:12

But what about the prophet Jeremiah? He, too, suffered, as a citizen of that land. Listen to his groaning.

Lamentations 3:1-18

If you read the book of Jeremiah, and the book of II Chronicles, you will find that all the ways Jeremiah felt under attack was actually done by his fellow Jews. But Jeremiah, as we often do as well, laid the blame for all his troubles on the LORD, on God. When we get to verse 18 Jeremiah wrote “So I say, “My strength has perished, And so has my hope from the LORD.”” Jeremiah told God, ‘It’s your fault.’

So when we get to verse 19 of chapter 3, Jeremiah described himself as remembering all the bitterness of his experiences as Babylon captured Judah, destroyed the Temple, killed the king, his family, and many of the prominent men of the land, and took many thousands captive.

He described himself as afflicted: a state of pain due to the circumstances.
He described himself as wandering: unsettled.
He described his life as one of wormwood, a bitter plant, and bitterness, without any sweetness in life.

Then he wrote that his soul surely remembers and is bowed down within him.

Surely remembers” is actually the word “remember” twice. It stresses the abundance of the memory.
Remembering, he remembers some more. The sense seems to be that Jeremiah’s memories of his affliction and troubles kept repeating themselves over and over in his mind.

The result of this is that his soul is bowed down within him.

He is depressed. His heart is bowed down with the weight of his troubles. He is depressed with the recurring memories of his troubles. They run over and over and over in his mind. He cannot escape them.

B. The Hoping Soul 21

How does Jeremiah escape this vicious cycle of bad memories flooding his mind over and over and over again. He wrote how he escaped it in verse 21.

Remember, these are Jeremiah’s own words. He recorded this. He wrote down how he escaped the vicious cycle of bad memories.

This I recall to my mind.

The word translated “recall” is a word usually used in the OT in regards to salvation.

The Bible is rich in idioms describing man’s responsibility in the process of repentance. Such phrases would include the following: “incline your heart unto the Lord your God” (Joshua 24:23): “circumcise yourselves to the Lord” (Jeremiah 4:4); “wash your heart from wickedness” (Jeremiah 4:14); “break up your fallow ground” (Hosea 10:12) and so forth. All these expressions of man’s penitential activity, however, are subsumed and summarized by this one verb šûb. For better than any other verb it combines in itself the two requisites of repentance: to turn from evil and to turn to the good.1

In this context, Jeremiah used it to express a conscious turning of his mind away from the depressing thoughts and turning his mind to new thoughts. Jeremiah intentionally and deliberately, began to think about something else. He changed his thought life.

Therefore I have hope.

This changing what he thought about brought him the hope he was completely lacking. Hope is a confident expectation. Jeremiah went from seeing himself and his condition as hopeless, to having hope in his life.

Jeremiah intentionally changed his thoughts from his afflictions to … what?

C. The Faithful LORD 22-23

The very next word Jeremiah wrote is the word “Mercies / Lovingkindnesses.”

Jeremiah forced his thoughts away from his very difficult circumstances to thoughts of the Mercies of the LORD. What exactly is God’s Lovingkindness, His Mercy? It is His commitment to His covenant obligations.

God has sworn by His own Self, that He would do good to Israel. That He would redeem her. That He would not let her perish from the earth. This never meant she would not be punished for her sins, but it did mean she would not be completely destroyed.

God said, in Malachi 3:6, “For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.

But what about God’s Mercies for the individual such as Jeremiah?

God said, in Isaiah 21:10, “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

So Jeremiah tore his thoughts from his circumstances to His God and to the reality that God had not, was not, and would not forsake Jeremiah. The LORD had strength available for Jeremiah to go through his troubles. The Lord was ready to hold up Jeremiah so he would not fall in his affliction. The LORD had not forsaken Jeremiah, in spite of the affliction he was going through.

And Jeremiah knew this truth. This is why he wrote “The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease.” God’s Mercies / Lovingkindnesses never stop. He is always merciful and kind to His children, even when they go through difficult times. We were never promised a trouble-free life. But we were promised that our LORD would walk with us through those heartaches and struggles, caring for us and giving us the needed strength and encouragement for the day.

Jeremiah stressed this when he wrote next, “For His compassions never fail.”

Compassion” describes the feeling of seeing a helpless person in distress. Seeing an infant hungry or hurting. Seeing a child suffering. Seeing these precious little ones struggling with serious illnesses or disease. Our hearts go out to them. We have Compassion.

God sees us exactly that way but, of course, with a far greater compassion than we have. He knows our struggles. He has Compassion on us. And His compassions never fail. The word “Fail” is actually a word that means ‘to bring to completion.’ Such as when we finish a project, maybe finishing fixing the brakes on the car, or completing a delicious dessert for the Carry-in. God’s compassions on us are never like that. He is never done with us. He never says to us, ‘Okay. I’m done. Now you take it from here.’

God’s compassions never reach their end, They are new every morning. God’s compassion on us is always as if we had just seen a baby suffering. That great tug on our hearts is, in a small way, what God feels about us. While we can become jaded walking through sufferings with someone, almost becoming indifferent to the constant struggle, God never does. His compassions on us are fresh every day of our lives.

Which is why Jeremiah, overcome with the wonder of God’s love and care for him, burst out:

Great is Your Faithfulness!

King David knew that, which is why he wrote, in Psalm 31:19How great is Your goodness, Which You have stored up for those who fear You, Which You have wrought for those who take refuge in You, Before the sons of men!

God’s faithfulness to us is so vast we cannot even begin to comprehend. The Apostle Paul knew that, which is why he wrote, in Romans 8:38-39

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Great is Your Faithfulness. God’s total dependability is unmeasurable. He is always faithful to those who love Him, to those who walk with Him in obedience.

B’. The Hoping Soul 24

In light of that the truth, Jeremiah turned back to his soul and his hope.

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,

What does that mean? Ever since God gave the Jews the land of Israel some 3,400 years ago, each Israelite, each Jew, took great delight in his or her portion of the land. It was their inheritance. But what about when the land is taken from them? What about in Jeremiah’s time when God allowed another nation to take possession of Israel? What then?

Jeremiah wrote that he has taken the LORD Himself as his portion. The land no longer mattered to him. He had the LORD. The LORD was his portion, his inheritance, his future.

And because of this, he wrote, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” Jeremiah did not just have hope. His hope was in the LORD Himself. The land can come and go. We can lose property, or never have it. We can lose finances, or health, or all the other things this world values and holds dear. But we can never lose the LORD. He is our true portion, our true hope in this world.

A’. The Patient Soul 25-26

So Jeremiah, after looking at his affliction and troubles, had struggled greatly in his soul. The memories of what he had and was going through ran over and over and over in his mind. Then he tore his mind away from his struggles to thoughts of God Himself. What was the effect upon Jeremiah?

The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him.

The word “Good” has the sense of ‘a practical benefit.’ To the person who seeks the LORD, to the person who waits for the LORD to do His work, the LORD is a practical benefit. It greatly benefitted Jeremiah to tear his thoughts away from his circumstances and put them upon the LORD. Jeremiah began to experience peace in his soul. Instead of distress, focusing on God brought Jeremiah hope.

And it brought Jeremiah from a struggling soul to a soul who patiently waited for God to do His work.

It is good that he waits silently For the salvation of the LORD.

As we wait quietly for our LORD to do His work in this world, we can have hope. We can have peace. We can have souls that are at quiet rest in the hand of the Lord.

As we focus on God and His goodness, His faithfulness, His compassion, we can have souls that are settled and secure in our hope for God’s deliverance, His “Salvation” from the distresses of living in such a sinful land and among the rebellious, wicked people of this land.

We know God’s judgment is going to fall on this world because of the great wickedness, because of the slaughter of innocent blood, because of the rebellion against His rule.

But while we are here, we can, like Jeremiah, speak God’s Word to a rebellious and disobedient people. And we can rest secure in the hope of God’s deliverance from all suffering and sin.

We can rest at peace because we focus our hearts upon God Himself and His great Faithfulness.

1. Victor P. Hamilton, “2340 שׁוּב,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 909.

Nov

5

What Does it Mean to be Human?

By Stephen Mitchell

Genesis 1:26-31

The cultural battles we face here in our society, our culture, center primarily around this question of identity: Who are we? Or, rather, What are we?

We know what our culture thinks we are.

Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind. He was not planned. He is a state of matter, a form of life, a sort of an animal, and a species of the Order Primates, akin nearly or remotely to all of life and indeed to all that is material.” George Gaylord Simpson, The Meaning of Evolution, 1971, p. 345.

What are the consequences of this view of what and who we are? What does it mean to simply be “a sort of an animal … akin nearly or remotely to all of life and indeed to all that is material.” Let me illustrate with a deservedly infamous quote from the former medical director for Planned Parenthood, Dr. Mary S. Calderone, recorded in the Medical Moral Newsletter of February-March, 1968:

We have yet to beat our public health drums for birth control in the way we beat them for polio vaccine; we are still unable to put babies in the class of dangerous epidemics, even though that is the exact truth.

Notice that, in spite of the Abortion position that the baby in the womb is just tissue, Dr. Calderone, in 1968, stated very clearly that they are babies. But, in her view, babies are a dangerous epidemic. What does one do when faced with an epidemic? Why, eradicate it, of course. And so we have, in this country, Planned Parenthood.

James Rachels, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Alabama, wrote in his 1990 book Created From Animals, p. 245,

Darwinism [evolution] undermines both the idea that man is made in the image of God and the idea that man is a uniquely rational being. Furthermore, if Darwinism is correct, it is unlikely that any other support for the idea of human dignity will be found.

Robert Reilly, in the Fall 1988 Intercollegiate Review, wrote an article titled “Atheism and Arms Control: How Spiritual Pathology Afflicts Public Policy.” Listen to his words:

The problem is that, by denying the possibility of a relationship between God and man, atheism also denies the possibility of a just relationship between men. In other words, atheism removes the grounds for the recognition of, and therefore respect for, another person as a fellow human being. … Human life is sacred only if there is a God to sanctify it. Otherwise, man is just another collection of atoms and can be treated as such.

In contrast to the world’s view, listen to the majesty granted to man in these ancient words.

Ge 1:26-28 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

So, in contrast to the world’s godless and hopeless view of mankind, What are we? What does it mean to be Human?

It Means to be Spiritual.

God created us physically, with a physical body, with physical needs, with physical supply. He also created us with a soul. Man is a body – soul duality. We have both a physical part and a spiritual part. It was only mankind that God created to exist “in the image of God.”

What does it mean to exist in the image of God? Scripture does not tell us exactly, but it gives a few details.

First, the image of God involves being able to know the truth. Turn to Ephesians 4:17-24 and read or listen to these words of contrast between the world’s philosophy and the image of God.

So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.

But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

In some way, the image of God involves being able to know the Truth. We can know the truth about God, the Truth about Jesus, the Truth that is both righteous and holy. God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the Garden. He did not walk and talk with the animals. Adam and Eve could know God experientially, know Him in His righteousness and holiness. We know this because, when they sinned, they hid themselves from Him. They knew they were no longer holy and could no longer commune with God as they had done before. They knew the truth about the holiness of God in His character.

Then, in Colossians 3:9-10, Paul wrote:

Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.

So secondly, the image of God also involves a true knowledge. Elsewhere the Scriptures tell us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. A true knowledge is knowledge based upon truth. That truth begins, most fundamentally, with the reality of God being God, Someone to fear and reverence. We were made different than all other creatures. We were made to know God in His holiness and to give Him the reverence due Him as our God and Creator. We were made to relate beyond the physical. We were made to find our greatest answers in the spiritual realm, not in the physical. We were made to see beyond the daily grind of food and shelter to God for all the answers to our deepest needs. Something no other physical creature has or can have. We were made to be spiritual beings in a physical world.

It Means to be Moral

The ultimate outcome of this world’s godless philosophy is Might Makes Right. If you have the power to do it, it must be right. There is no over-riding moral philosophy. There is no ultimate moral standard. There is no right and wrong. In the 1980 book Humanist Ethics, edited by Morris Storer, the humanist Max Hocutt wrote:

The nonexistence of God makes more difference to some of us than to others. To me it means that there is no absolute morality, that moralities are sets of social conventions devised by humans to satisfy their need.

That these “needs” really mean “desires,” note the tens of millions of babies slaughtered to the refrain of reproductive “rights.” Rights of whom? Certainly not the rights of the babies in the womb. No. They are the weakest of the weak. The stronger slaughter them and call it a “right.” Whatever the stronger can impose on the weaker is justified as a “right.” Their moral philosophy always degenerates into “Might Makes Right.”

But why would Hocutt, speaking of Humanists, write that “the nonexistence of God makes more difference to some of us than to others?” Because all can see a universal moral standard in the hearts of mankind. That must be explained, or explained away. So the Humanists argue among themselves about morality.

But listen to what the Scriptures tell us, in Romans 2:14-15:

For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.

If you want to see the knowledge of right and wrong on the heart of every one, just do something against another and immediately, they will declare themselves slighted, wronged, sinned against. That shows the presence of the moral law engraved on their heart. The Scriptures explain the existence of this universal Moral Law, the Natural Law.

And that moral law has a very powerful judge adjudicating that law. Listen as the Apostle Paul records this truth for us in Romans 2:3-8.

But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.

We were made to be moral beings accountable to the ultimate Moral Judge for every deed.

It Means to be Rational and Emotional

Animals can have some traits of rationality and emotion. But animals are incapable of rationality anywhere close to the level that we approach as creatures made in the image of God. Do you recall the quote I gave you by James Rachels?

Darwinism [evolution] undermines both the idea that man is made in the image of God and the idea that man is a uniquely rational being.” Why does the belief in Evolution undermine the idea of man being a uniquely rational being? It is because, if everything has arisen from random, purposeless processes, we have no justification for rational thought. Rational thought implies a Universe formulated upon rational principles and that demands a rational Designer. If everything is random and purposeless, we could have no basis on which to think we were rational beings. Jason Lisle noted this in his book The Ultimate Proof of Creation.

Evolutionists must assume the preconditions of imtelligibility in order to make any argument whatsoever; they must assume things like the laws of logic and uniformity of nature. But these preconditions of intelligibility do not comport with an evolutionary worldview. They only make sense if creation is true.

So notice what God calls Israel to do in Isaiah 1:18: “’Come now, and let us reason together’ says the LORD.” And, in Psalm 50, after castigating the wicked for their evil, the LORD stated to them, “I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes.” God certainly expects even the wicked to be able to use rational thought. God deals with us rationally.

And emotion? Look at the beautiful works artists have created, pouring their emotions into their creative abilities in art, words, construction, and all the many ways mankind expresses their emotions in their creative ways.

This is what God also did. If we look at the majestic beauty of His creation we stand in awe of His abilities.

The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Psalm 19:1

O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth, Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens! Psalm 8:1

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. Luke 12:27

God has made us to be both Rational and Emotional Beings as He is Himself.

It Means to be Relational

In “An Interview with Robert Rimmer on Premarital Communes and Group Marriages,” The Humanist (March/April 1974), this statement was made:

Marriage and family life have been largely responsible … for today’s prevailing neurotic climate, with its pervasive insecurity, and it is precisely this climate that makes so difficult the acceptance of a different, healthier way of life.

The creeping destruction of family relationships is a stark reality of today’s culture. Marriage has become essentially meaningless. Procreation is regarded as a burden. Family roles are regarded as tyranny. Men and women are portrayed as enemies with men being ridiculed for being male and women criticized for not acting aggressively as men.

The pathological behavior of children from dysfunctional homes screams this truth from every location that children inhabit. The neurotic behavior of our culture is seen when studies constantly show how serious are the effects upon children of fatherlessness yet the culture continues to cut the natural ties of families.

Yet God made us to be relational. As soon as He had made Adam, God showed Adam that he needed a mate. And after God made sure Adam understood that none of the animals that God had made could satisfy Adam’s hunger for a partner, God made Eve, beautiful to Adam in every way and perfectly suited to be his partner for eternity. After all, without the entrance of sin, and death by sin, Adam and Eve would still be partners together in marriage to this day.

And God showed Adam that Adam needed a relationship with God Himself as well. He showed him this by God’s presence walking and talking with Adam in the cool of the day. And this relationship need continues to this day. This is why Job said, “I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.” 23:12. This from a man suffering greatly. Yet, even in his suffering, time with God through God’s Word was a greater need than eating.

And what about kids? Are they a burden? Are they a disease? Joking aside, not according to God Who gives us our children.

Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; They will not be ashamed When they speak with their enemies in the gate. Psalm 127:3-5

Being human means being relational.

It Means to be Volitional

Volitional means to have the ability to make free choices, to have free will. Animals act by instinct. Animals, for the most part, lack free will. A Monarch butterfly cannot choose to winter in Barbados rather than in Mexico. Sharks cannot choose to make friends with their prey, in spite of Disney cartoons.

The behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner wrote that all human behavior is determined by behavioral and genetic factors. This is why we must be soft on criminals. It is not their fault. They could not help their behavior. It is all society’s fault. It is their parents’ fault. It is the environment’s fault. Anything to avoid free will. Since we are simply more evolved animals, everything can be attributed to instinct.

But how do the Scriptures see us? From the beginning God has given us choices and demanded that we make the right choice. If we do not, we are held accountable.

God told Adam about eating the fruit of the garden, all except one type. Then God told Adam that there would be consequences if he disobeyed. And God held him accountable when Adam disobeyed.

When Cain was angry, God told Cain he needed to make the right choice and, if not, there would be consequences. All through Scripture, God holds mankind responsible for the choices we make. God treats us as if we are Volitional beings, people who have free will. We are not like the brute beasts. We do not act by instinct. We exercise our free will. In Ezekiel 18:30-32, God discussed this with Israel. Listen to the discussion:

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct,” declares the Lord GOD. “Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord GOD. “Therefore, repent and live.”

Do you hear it? Being Human means being able to make choices, to have free will, to be volitional.

It Means to be a Ruler

Carl Amery, quoted in the 2003 book Environmental Mafia: The Enemy is Us, stated:

We, in the Green movement, aspire to a cultural model in which the killing of a forest will be considered more contemptible and more criminal than the sale of 6 year old children to Asian brothels.

Our current culture has turned God’s intent for human rulership on its head. No longer are we the rightful rulers of this planet. We have become the lowest of the low. We are denigrated as the cause of all earth’s troubles. We have become the creature with the lowest value. As I pointed out two weeks ago, look at how much we spend on protecting the life of beasts while we slaughter people by the tens of millions. The forests have greater value than 6 year old children. California struggles to supply sufficient water for their population while releasing vast amounts of potential drinking water to save a few small fish.

When we lived in California the Stormy Complex Fire swept through the area in which we lived. After the fire we toured a logging operation that was reclaiming trees killed by the fire. There were potentially millions of board feet available to be logged that were killed in the fire. Many, many homes could have been built from that available lumber. But the logging operation was stopped and those tens of thousands of trees left to be a further fire hazard because the logging operation might have harmed a small flower. Human needs subservient to a small flower.

That is not a problem. As rulers, we have the right to protect the flora and fauna of this planet. But we must never confuse rulership with value. And that is the error of our culture. Every person is of infinitely greater value than any creature or plant. We want to be good stewards of this planet put into our keeping, but not by devaluing the souls for whom Christ died.

Notice the difference of value Jesus used to encourage his followers in Matthew 6:26.

Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?

Then, in Luke 12:6-7,

Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.

And at the very beginning, in Genesis 1:27-28, God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Being human means that you have the right to rule over this earth. We share the rule with all other people.

Conclusion:

God’s view of us is radically different than the current views of our culture. God’s view of us exalts us above the creatures, the plants, and even the earth itself.

Psalm 8:3-9

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen, And also the beasts of the field, The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, Whatever passes through the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth!

Do not let anyone tell you you have no value and are of less worth than the creation. We are Human Beings whom God created to fellowship with Him and for whom God’s Son shed His blood on Calvary. Remember who you are as our culture continues to deny our worth and uniqueness. Rather than just being a little higher than the apes, God has made us just a little lower than God Himself.

 

Mar

2

A Mind with True Tranquility

By Stephen Mitchell

The Roman Senator, Seneca the Younger, in an essay titled “On Tranquility of Mind,” section 12, wrote of those whose lives are full of activity but no real purpose. Rushing here and there, being involved in everyone’s business, their lives are full but without purpose. And the busyness can often lead to disaster due to the fickleness of the Roman goddess Fortuna (Fortune). She may bless or bring calamity.

“For if a man engages in many affairs, he often puts himself in the power of Fortuna, while his safest course is rarely to tempt her, always to be mindful of her, and never to put any trust in her promises.”

Though Seneca noted, in section 10, that “All of us are chained to Fortuna,” he advised that the less we do the less we tempt capricious Fortuna. Continuing the discussion in section 12, Seneca recommended that individuals always have an acceptance that their plans may fail. This failure, of course, is due to the fickleness of the goddess.

“Say, ‘I will set sail unless something happens,’ and ‘I shall become praetor unless something hinders me,’ and ‘My enterprise will be successful unless something interferes.’ This is why we say that nothing happens to a wise man contrary to his expectations — we release him, not from the accidents, but from the blunders of mankind, nor do all things turn out as he has wished, but as he has thought; but his first thought has been that something might obstruct his plans. Then, too, the suffering that comes to the mind from the abandonment of desire must necessarily be much lighter if you have not certainly promised it success. We ought also to make ourselves adaptable lest we become too fond of the plans we have formed, and we should pass readily to the condition to which chance has led us, and not dread shifting either purpose or positions — provided that fickleness, a vice most hostile to repose, does not get hold of us. For obstinacy, from which Fortuna often wrests some concession, must needs be anxious and unhappy, and much more grievous must be a fickleness that nowhere shows self-restraint.”

The Scriptures say some very similar things. For example, Jesus spoke of a man who unwisely left God out of his plans.

And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”‘ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. (Luke 12:16-21)

The half-brother of our Lord, James, wrote something very similar in chapter 4, verses 13 through 16.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.

The fundamental difference between Seneca’s attitude and that of the Scriptures is the attitudes seen in the respective deities. For Seneca, the decisions of Fortuna are one moment beneficial and the next, injurious. “[W]e ought at least to reduce our possessions, so as to be less exposed to the injuries of Fortune.”

But in the Scriptures, God’s plans for us always have a purpose and are never capricious. In Jesus’ parable, the rich man left God completely out of his plans, not considering what God desired for him, not even behaving as if God existed. Jesus gave this parable as an example of the effects of greed and of not trusting in the Lord’s ability to provide for us.

James gave his instructions in the context of God’s place as the Lawgiver and Judge. One must always consider God and His desires when planning one’s own future.

In both cases, God’s permission or restraint is governed by His plans for mankind as Lawgiver, Judge, and Provider. The Scriptures never present God as permitting something one day and stopping it the next. He is never capricious. In fact, earlier James wrote of God that “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

So one can follow Seneca’s advice and refrain from doing much so as to not give fickle Fortuna more opportunities to harm you, or one can follow the Scriptures and go out to do much, confident that what God allows or restrains, He always does for a good purpose.

Living Jesus’ and James’ way makes for a much more peaceful and confident life: a mind with true tranquility.

Aug

30

Your Highest Praise is a Quiet People

By Stephen Mitchell

Dove of PeaceThe Western Roman Emperor Theodoric, in a letter to his Praefectus Urbis, the official in charge of the needs of the city of Rome and it’s environs, on the occasion of some disquiet caused by public insults, wrote, by the hand of the Christian civil-servant Cassiodorus, “Your highest praise is a quiet people.” [Book 1, letter 32] Theodoric exemplified this belief in his various letters of instruction, writing to keep officials from oppressing the citizens by injustice, oppressive taxes, undue burdens, and so on. Citizens who are content give rulers little cause for alarm and demonstrate their just sovereignty.

From the viewpoint of the governed, Christians in general are commanded to pray for their governing officials in order that the Christians may be able to live quiet lives. This is contained in the Apostle Paul’s instructions in his first letter to his young protege Timothy.

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity (1Timothy 2:1-2).

The Church took this to heart in it’s various writings. For example, in the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, twice in prayers in Book VIII, Section II, this passage is referenced. Once, so that the quietness might enable Believers to glorify God through Jesus Christ (p. 489), and once, that the rulers themselves might be peaceable towards the Believers (p. 490). It is also present, in the same volume, in an early liturgy prayer to God on behalf of the king that the king may subdue all his adversaries and enemies so that there may be peace for his subjects to enjoy “a calm and tranquil life in all reverence and godly fear …” (p. 551). Of course, this carries the assumption that Christians are not among the adversaries and enemies. We are to “submit [ourselves] for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right” (1Peter 2:13-14).

Athenagorus, writing A Plea for the Christians to the Roman emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus, also referenced Paul’s instructions in his concluding plea for Believers to be fairly judged.

For who are more deserving to obtain the things they ask, than those who, like us, pray for your government, that you may, as is most equitable, receive the kingdom, son from father, and that your empire may receive increase and addition, all men becoming subject to your sway? And this is also for our advantage, that we may lead a peaceable and quiet life, and may ourselves readily perform all that is commanded us (p. 148).

In each case, the just actions of the ruler is desired so that the governed are able to lead “a tranquil and quiet life.” This, in turn, reflects favorably on the ruler. His or her just rule brings the citizens to praise their ruler. The justice meted out restrains evil. The fairness of taxes enables the laborers to enjoy the fruit of their labors. The fair treatment of all demonstrates that all have equal value and worth.

And for Believers, this enables them to focus on obedience, not only to their earthly sovereign, but also to their ultimate sovereign, God. For Christians, this quietness is also important in our dealings with our fellow man. The Apostle Paul instructed the Christians at Rome, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). In regards to Believers with Believers, Paul also wrote “Live in peace with one another” (1Thessalonians 5:13). If we want peace, we must ourselves be peaceable.

But, if Theodoric’s statement is true about a governing official, would it not also be true about the ultimate official, God Himself? As citizens of a heavenly Kingdom, we Christians serve under a holy God. He has given us a handbook of behavior to which He has asked us to voluntarily submit. The question for us is, do we regard these instructions as onerous, too difficult to live by? Are we at peace with the way our Sovereign governs? Is it too difficult to be loving towards all? Is it unreasonable to ask us to live at peace with all men? Are we at peace with God when He allows things into our lives which are difficult to bear? Have we, like Paul, “learned to be content in whatever circumstances” we are. Do we “know how to get along with humble means, and … how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance” have we “learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (Philippians 4:11-12)? After all, didn’t Paul write “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (4:13)? Is that true of us with our sovereign? Are we truly at peace with how He governs our lives? Does our attitude under our Sovereign reflect favorably upon His rule? Are we at peace with God? For those outside the Kingdom looking in, does our attitude towards our Sovereign cause them to want to become citizens as well? In regards to God Himself and our attitude towards the way He governs our lives, is it not perfectly true that His highest praise is His quiet people? Do we truly believe what one author wrote?

For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside. I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God Than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.

O LORD of hosts, How blessed is the man who trusts in You! (Psalm 84:10-12)

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves if our attitude in any and all circumstances does reflect favorably on our Sovereign’s rule. Do we glorify our King by our peaceable and quiet behavior, by our contentment with His rule?

 

Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians (Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325, vol. 2) Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Revised by A. Cleveland Coxe. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2012

Bible, New American Standard, 1995 ed. La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus, The Letters of Cassiodorus. Teddington, Middlesex, England: The Echo Library, 2006.

Constitutions of the Holy Apostles (Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325, vol. 7) Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Revised by A. Cleveland Coxe. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2012

Aug

9

A Question of Days

By Stephen Mitchell

It has become quite a common thing in Evangelical circles to reinterpret Genesis one to include deep time. This enables them to then introduce evolution into Genesis one since they have now injected Genesis with long ages.

For example, in commenting on the language of Genesis 1:11-12, Derek Kidner wrote, “If this language seems well suited to the hypothesis of creation by evolution (as the present writer thinks), …” (p. 48) A little later on, in general comments about the entire first chapter of Genesis, he wrote,

The view that the chapter is intended to reveal the general sequence of creation as it affected this earth, is based on the apparent character of the writing. But it is reinforced, one may think, by the remarkable degree of correspondence that can be found between this sequence and the one implied by current science. (p. 55)

While it would be difficult to sustain Kidner’s phrase “the general sequence of creation” due to the specificDay 4 way each day is described and its place in the sequence of days is delineated, one can understand his describing the sequence as “general.” This is because there is one glaring difference between the sequence given in Genesis and that “implied by current science.” This is the creation of the plants prior to the creation of the sun, moon, and stars. Modern science declares the stars existed prior to the earth. This would mean, of course, that they existed prior to the plants.

One common way to avoid the force of plants before the stars is to create an artificial symmetry between days. Gordon Wenham does this in his commentary on Genesis, diagramming the days in two different ways, thus allowing the sequential nature of the text to be taken non-literally. In his “Explanation” section on chapter one of Genesis, Wenham wrote,

It has been unfortunate that one device which our narrative uses to express the coherence and purposiveness of the creator’s work, namely, the distribution of the various creative acts to six days, has been seized on and interpreted over-literalistically, with the result that science and Scripture have been pitted against each other instead of being seen as complementary. Properly understood, Genesis justifies the scientific experience of unity and order in nature. The six-day schema is but one of several means employed in this chapter to stress the system and order that has been built into creation. Other devices include the use of repeating formulae, the tendency to group words and phrases into tens and sevens, literary techniques such as chiasm and inclusio, the arrangement of creative acts into matching groups, and so on. (p. 39)

As can be seen, the proposed symmetry and stylistic features allows Wenham to object to the meaning of the precise order given by the text. But the symmetry Wenham proposes is superficial. Here are his first of two diagrams of the days from page 7:

Day 1     Light                          Day 4     Luminaries

Day 2     Sky                            Day 5     Birds and Fish

Day 3     Land  (plants)            Day 6     Animals and Man  (plants for food)

Now, this looks significant, until one looks at the text. On Day 1, Light is created, but so are the Heavens and the Earth which was composed of a vast ball of water. On Day 2, the Sky is created in which birds fly, but birds also need land, which did not appear until Day 3, and fish need water, which is created on Day 1. So a true symmetry would have fish created on Day 4 and Birds created on the same day as animals and Man with the Sky created on the same day as the land appears. As the text stands, the symmetry only works broadly for Days 3 and 6, and only slightly for Days 1 and 4. Then there is the issue of the creation of water, which is necessary for all life, created on Day 1 and air, assumed to have been created on Day 2, also necessary for all life. So the supposed symmetry given by Wenham collapses under its own weight.

Here is the second symmetry of the Days given by Wenham:

Day 1     heaven

Day 2     heaven

Day 3                  earth

Day 4     heaven

Day 5                 earth

Day 6                 earth

However, this too is not quite accurate since Day 1 includes the Earth, Day 2 also includes the ball of water below the expanse which is the Earth.

Thus the proposed symmetries in the text which Wenham uses to allow himself the luxury of ignoring the obvious sequential nature of the text and, by this, to declare belief in a literal six days as “over-literalistic,” fails. The creation of plants prior to the creation of the stars remains a barrier to all schemes which man has created to destroy the obvious declaration of the text that God created the entire Universe and everything which it contains in six literal Days.

But this was noted over 1800 years ago. Theophilus, a pastor in the city of Antioch, writing about A.D. 180 to convince a friend, Autolycus, of the truth of Christianity, discussed the Days of creation. This is what he wrote about Day 4:

On the fourth day the luminaries were made; because God, who possesses foreknowledge, knew the follies of the vain philosophers, that they were going to say, that the things which grow on the earth are produced from the heavenly bodies, so as to exclude God. In order, therefore, that the truth might be obvious, the plants and seeds were produced prior to the heavenly bodies, for what is posterior cannot produce that which is prior. (Book 2, chapter 15)

One can see he anticipated Carl Sagan’s statement, that we are all “made of star-stuff,” by over 1800 years. As noted above, the creation of the stars and moon on Day 4 stands as a barrier to all schemes designed to ignore the truth that Moses wrote in Exodus 20, verse 11, “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them.”

 

F. Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries) Edited by D. J. Wiseman, Madison, WI: Inter-Varsity Press 1982.

Carl Sagan, The Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective. Anchor Press, 1973.

Theophilus, Theophilus to Autolycus (Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325, vol. 2) Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Revised by A. Cleveland Coxe. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2012

Wenham, Gordon John. Genesis 1-15, Volume 1 (Word Biblical Commentary). Edited by David Allen Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker. Waco, TX: Zondervan, 2014.

Jul

22

Some thoughts on Transgender demands in light of the Church Father, Justin Martyr

By Stephen Mitchell

Early in his letter to the Church in Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote: “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts.”

In a similar vein, in chapter 93 of his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin wrote,

For [God] sets before every race of mankind that which is always and universally just, as well as all righteousness; and every race knows that adultery, and fornication, and homicide, and such like, are sinful; and though they all commit such practices, yet they do not escape from the knowledge that they act unrighteously whenever they so do1

We can see this in the ancient laws, such as Hamurrabi’s, or the Sumerian Law Code, that have been recovered through archaeology. They all have very similar restrictions on the behavior of mankind in regards to those they consider ‘citizens,’ those that are not considered as the lower classes such as barbarians or slaves. We also see it in the laws of the Roman Empire in regards to those considered Roman citizens. For lesser people, the law was much less fair. For example, when Paul, who was born a Roman citizen, was about to be beaten, he objected to the soldiers.

But when they stretched him out with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?” When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and told him, saying, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman.” The commander came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman?” And he said, “Yes.” The commander answered, “I acquired this citizenship with a large sum of money.” And Paul said, “But I was actually born a citizen.” Therefore those who were about to examine him immediately let go of him; and the commander also was afraid when he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had put him in chains.

The soldiers understood fully the requirement of formal charges by an authorized person in the Roman Law for any Roman citizen to be deprived of freedom or to be punished in any way. To violate that law was to personally put themselves in danger of that same law. That is why they feared. The law, in regards to Roman citizens, was again, similar to other ancient law codes. They showed that a common law was written on the hearts of all mankind. But to those not Roman citizens, the soldiers were free to violate a person’s right to fair treatment. They were free to chain a person and then beat him until they decided to stop. They had obviously been educated on to whom the Law applied fairly and to whom it did not. Merely on Paul’s statement that he belonged to the favored class, they changed from treating him wrongfully to respecting his rights as a human being. The law, by fiat statement, divided up humanity into two divisions: the favored class and all others.

Which brings me back to Justin. Above we stopped in midsentence. Here is a fuller quotation.

For [God] sets before every race of mankind that which is always and universally just, as well as all righteousness; and every race knows that adultery, and fornication, and homicide, and such like, are sinful; and though they all commit such practices, yet they do not escape from the knowledge that they act unrighteously whenever they so do, with the exception of those who are possessed with an unclean spirit, and who have been debased by education, by wicked customs, and by sinful institutions, and who have lost, or rather quenched and put under, their natural ideas. For we may see that such persons are unwilling to submit to the same things which they inflict upon others, and reproach each other with hostile consciences for the acts which they perpetrate.

Justin pointed out that one loses that sense of a violation of the law by “debased … education, by wicked customs, and by sinful institutions.” Those Roman soldiers had been taught by education and by custom to hold to that sinful institution of the law’s division of mankind so that they were perfectly justified treating an innocent man as guilty simply on their own whim. Paul did not have the right to the same consideration as the commander even though Paul was obviously a thinking, breathing, human person just as was the commander. What the commander would not accept upon himself, due to purchasing membership in the favored class, he was perfectly willing to inflict upon Paul

In our western culture, this is exactly what has happened. Our culture has educated the people to ignore the obvious realities of the human body in favor of an artificially constructed division based solely on the fiat statement by a favored class. Where we would normally divide people by the obvious reality of their birth sex, now we are expected to ignore the obvious sexual identity of birth in favor of an artificially declared sexual identity, no matter how grievously this impacts those who hold to that reality of birth, which is the vast majority of humanity now and throughout history.

Justin continued with these comments.

And hence I think that our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ spoke well when He summed up all righteousness and piety in two commandments. They are these: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy strength, and thy neighbour as thyself.’ For the man who loves God with all the heart, and with all the strength, being filled with a God-fearing mind, will reverence no other god; and since God wishes it, he would reverence that angel who is beloved by the same Lord and God. And the man who loves his neighbour as himself will wish for him the same good things that he wishes for himself, and no man will wish evil things for himself. Accordingly, he who loves his neighbour would pray and labour that his neighbour may be possessed of the same benefits as himself.

The transgender movement, demanding the right to be included in the bathrooms, the changing rooms, the showers of the opposite sex, are wishing upon their neighbors the things from which they themselves are demanding escape. They are not granting to their neighbors the same benefits as themselves. In insisting on not being included with the sex they reject, they demand acceptance by those whose very use of separate facilities shows their desire to not be included with the sex they reject. By fiat statement, the transgender movement desires to treat others as a less favored class. They are not allowing their neighbor the same benefit they give themselves. They “ are unwilling to submit to the same things which they inflict upon others, and reproach each other with hostile consciences for the acts which they perpetrate.

As Justin wrote, God “sets before every race of mankind that which is always and universally just.” In violating this, the transgender movement aligns itself with every unjust division of law throughout history which created artificial divisions within humanity in order to treat people as divided between less favored and more favored, less rights and more rights.

Where God regards all men alike, it takes education which supports wicked customs and sinful institutions to so divide people up that not all are treated with equal consideration. Because this violates the natural law that God has built into all humanity, we, as followers of God, must reject the demands of the Transgender movement.

 

1 Justin Martyr, “Dialogue of Justin with Trypho, a Jew,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 246.

Jul

18

The Fear of Government

By Stephen Mitchell

HandcuffsWe here, in the United States, have entered a period of civil unrest. Those on one side see government and its agents as unjust and, as a consequence, have chosen to call for attacks upon the agents of government. The result has been many woundings and even killings of these representatives and enforcers of the law. Is a Christian’s response to be based on justice? Are we to decide who is in the right and who is in the wrong and respond accordingly? On what do we base our response to this civil unrest and perceived injustices?

For those who call themselves Christians, claiming to follow the teachings of Jesus, there are some extremely clear guidelines. Jesus told His followers,

You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)

The principle that Jesus has left us is to respond to those who attack us with kindness, with prayer, with the character of God Himself. The apostle Luke put it even clearer when he recorded Jesus’ words thus, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28)

Does this high standard of conduct extend even to those who are the legal earthly representatives of government? Does this command apply to those who wield the power of government?

Yes. Jesus explicitly commanded us to “render unto Caesar the things that belong to Caesar.” The Apostle Paul expanded on this in his letter to the church that dwelt in the heart of the Roman government’s power. In Romans 13:7, writing of the need to submit to government, he wrote “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” We are to give honor and obedience to our governing authorities and to their authorized representatives, our “Law Enforcement.”

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. (Romans 13:1-2)

Paul reminds us that to oppose the civil government is to oppose God Himself since God established the government. And notice that the government’s justice, or lack of it, is not an issue. The command is simply to “be in subjection.”

This applies equally to those who have the responsibility of enforcing the government’s laws. During the Roman Empire, this was, in Israel, the responsibility of the Roman soldiers. When John, known as the Baptist, was giving instructions on righteous behavior to groups of people in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 3, a group of soldiers asked him what they should do. John did not tell them to stop enforcing unjust laws or representing an unjust government, he simply told them not to be unjust themselves. “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.” And we are to willingly and intentionally submit ourselves to these representatives of government, whether or not we believe the laws they are enforcing are unjust. The Apostle Paul called them a “minister of God” to us. As God’s ministers, we are to submit to them in obedience.

Paul further expanded on this, writing about those who resist their authority.

But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.

Resistance to government’s authorized representatives can result in experiencing their right to kill or maim, their right to carry and use ‘the sword.’ So it is not unusual or evil for government’s representatives to use deadly force to enforce obedience to government and its representatives. They carry a ‘sword’ for the purpose of enforcement. What they carry they have the right to use. So it is up to us individually to so react to them that they know that they have nothing to fear from us, that they do not need to use that force on us because we fully and completely obey them.

The apostle Peter summed it all up this way,

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. (1Peter 2:13-17)

So, we who call ourselves followers of Christ must exemplify submission to government and its representatives, no matter whether we are treated justly or unjustly. It is not our right to choose what laws we will obey or what representatives of government we will submit to. We are commanded to obey and to submit. In this way we demonstrate our obedience to God and to His Son, Jesus. And if we are treated unjustly, we are to respond with kindness and love, praying for those who so mistreat us. In this way we truly show ourselves to be sons of our Father Who is in Heaven.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing;  so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world. (Philippians 2:14-15)

Jun

22

A Nation to Celebrate

By Stephen Mitchell

This month we celebrate the birth of our nation. As Christians, we obey Scripture by seeking the good of the place where we live. We are thankful for this nation into which we were born. But we also need to remember that we are sojourners in this land and, ultimately, our true citizenship is in another place. We serve the Great King, along with our brothers and sisters in the Lord in all countries of the world. Early in the history of our Church this was also recognized. In a letter from about A.D. 130, one such Believer named Mathetes wrote:

“For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life.”

    Even though we are citizens of this land, and we love our native land, yet we look further to our ultimate home with our Lord and our extended family, our fellow Believers in Christ. What we as Christians do that is peculiar to others is to gather together as a separate people to worship our Lord and to encourage each other. Less than 20 years before the above letter was written, a Roman governor noted about the Christians he persecuted that:

    “… they met on a stated day before it was light, and addressed a form of prayer to Christ, as to a divinity, binding themselves by a solemn oath, not for the purposes of any wicked design, but never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble, to eat in common a harmless meal.”

    They would meet early like this as many were most likely slaves and would have to be in attendance on their masters. Meeting before daylight provided a time to worship early enough to still make it back to their domestic duties before their masters rose. Sometime before A.D. 165, a prominent Christian, named Justin, described Christian worship in his day:

    “[O]n the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succors the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.”

    As we can see, they were very similar in their practices to our worship practices today, showing our common heritage with them. We read the same sacred texts. We worship the same Lord. We obey the same commands. So as we celebrate our nation’s independence, let us not forget to celebrate daily the greater nation and heritage of which we are all members and citizens, along with our brothers and sisters in every nation of the world.

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;  for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.  Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.  Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.  Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority,  or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.  For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.   Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.  Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.  [1 Peter 2:9-17]