Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Repentance and the Book of Life

Today is Yom Kippur, year 5779, on the Jewish calendar, a day of repentance and fasting which culminates the 10 days of introspection and reflection ushered in by Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  Jews believe that there is a Book of Life, and that on Yom Kippur they are judged by their actions done during the year just ended.  And, if their prior actions merit it, their name is written into the Book of Life for another year.  There is a saying, "and on Yom Kippur it is sealed".  You'd better make sure your name is there before Yom Kippur ends, before the book is closed.1  We'll return to this thread of thought momentarily.

Meanwhile, let's return to our Genesis study.

1Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gottena a man with the help of the LORD.” 2And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. 3In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORDhad regard for Abel and his offering, 5but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. 6The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7If you do well, will you not be accepted?b And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary toc you, but you must rule over it.”
8Cain spoke to Abel his brother.d And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. 9Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. 
 Genesis 4:1-10 (ESV)

Adam and Eve had many children, according to Genesis 5:4, but it appears Cain and Abel were the first.  When Eve gave birth to Cain, she thought (according to many commentators) that she had birthed the Messianic "seed" who would crush the power of the serpent, of sin.  This is reflected in Cain's name (Hebrew: "Kayin"), which means "my lance" or "my strong weapon".  Interestingly, Abel's name means "vanity" or "insignificant".  It appears Cain was viewed by Eve as the favored son, of the two, if you judge only by the name.
Speaking of names, Eve uses the name Jehovah (Yahweh) for the LORD in verse 2.  If ever a woman had reason to fear the act of childbirth, it was Eve.  She had been foretold it would be painful.  Any woman who has given birth the first time can attest to being tempted by fear as the time of delivery approaches.  Eve, you remember, had no midwife or role model to help her.  Therefore, the LORD Himself helped her.  Whether the Angel of the Lord appeared in the form of pre-incarnate Christ or not is unknown.  But, here, in verse 2, she credits Jehovah with His help, which was surely significant help, at that.  
This is the first time the name Jehovah is applied to God.  In her conversation with the serpent in Genesis 2, Eve used the name Elohim for God.  Barnes, in his commentary, notes:
She also employs a new and near name to designate her maker. In the dialogue with the tempter she had used the word God אלהים 'ĕlohı̂ym. But now she adopts Yahweh. In this one word she hides a treasure of comfort. "He is true to his promise. He has not forgotten me. He is with me now again. He will never leave me nor forsake me. He will give me the victory." And who can blame her if she verily expected that this would be the promised deliverer who should bruise the serpent's head? 2

Needless to say, Eve was sorely disappointed.  Cain did not become the promised Deliver, nor even the progenitor of Messiah, who came through the line of Seth.  Eve was the first woman to try to jump ahead of God's perfect timing, but she certainly was not the last.  Nor was she the last mother to grieve over contention between her children.

Why did Cain kill Abel, in one of the darkest biblical stories?3  Why was his offering not acceptable to the Lord?  Let's explore that, now...the first recorded act of worship.

It can be inferred from Scripture that God had previously instructed the two sons of Adam and Eve as to how to make acceptable worship.  God is imminently fair and would not "pull a gotcha" on anyone.  Even after Cain made his unacceptable offering, he was given a Mulligan (that is, a chance to "do over").  Because he harbored evil in his heart, however, Cain rejected that second chance.  God stated that evil was "crouching at the door" of Cain's heart, waiting to have him.  Sadly, Cain gave in to that evil, instead of repenting and fighting that evil through the power of Jehovah God, as evidenced by his cold-blooded, premeditated murder of his brother.

God had previously prescribed that the sacrifice be a blood sacrifice.  This is why Abel's burnt offering of one of his flock was acceptable to God, while Cain's offering of plant-life was not.  There is no worship, no sacrificial offering apart from blood.  Even today, while we no longer offer burnt offerings or even blood offerings, Christians come to worship God under the scrim of the holy, redemptive blood of Jesus Christ.  Jesus Himself declared that He is "the way, the truth, the life" - - and that "no man comes unto the Father except through me"  (John 14:6).

Cain was merely the first, but in the intervening millennia people have continued to construct their own forms of repentance, their own ways of redemption, their own false ways of worship, their own views of the Book of Life.  I think with sorrow today, of all the observant Jews around the world who are fasting and praying to "earn" a spot for their name in this very real book, now seated in Heaven with God.  How futile their own misguided efforts, even though sincerely offered!  (For the sake of time, I won't delve more deeply into the Book of Life in this post.  See Source #4 below to learn more.)

Let me tell you what happened on Yom Kippur, in the days when Temple sacrifices were still ongoing.  The name "Yom Kippur" comes from Leviticus 16, where God commands this holy convocation.  The name means Day of Atonement.  On this most holy day, the high priest would select a goat (the "scapegoat") and, in a special ceremony, place his hands on the goat's head, thereby transferring all the collective sins of the people of Israel onto this one animal.  Then, the goat would be sent outside the community's boundaries, outside the "city walls", you might say, carrying the sins of the people into the wilderness, never again to be seen.  Through this ceremony, God covered the sins of His repentant people. (Remember, "atonement" means "covering".)  The acceptable sacrifice of Abel, all the OT animal sacrifices, foreshadow the ultimate blood sacrifice made for believers by the one and only Savior.

In the marvelous New Testament book of Hebrews, the gifted writer draws parallels between Yom Kippur and the death of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:6-28 and 13:11-13).   As the "scapegoat" bore the sins of the people, so did Christ.  As the scapegoat was "sent outside the camp", so was Christ crucified outside the city walls.  "He bore our sins in His body on the tree...." (Isaiah 53:5-6, 1 Peter 2:24), and in so doing, He made unnecessary forever the Old Testament sacrificial system.

He IS our scapegoat.  
Repentance and forgiveness of sins are only possible through Jesus Christ, Yeshua HaMashiach, whose one sacrifice is sufficient to not only cover the sins of those who believe in Him, but to render believers thoroughly "justified" - - fully restored, just as if we had never sinned.  What glory!  What miraculous grace!

As Christians, we should always be mindfully repentant of the sins we commit, in the spirit of Yom Kippur, and eternally grateful for our Savior, our merciful God, who has taken all our sins forever away.





Friday, September 14, 2018

The Tree of Life

There is a school of thought that says any illness of the body can be healed with what God has provided in the earth.  In other words, God has given us everything we need to foster and maintain our health.  Proper nutrition, for example, is key to creating and maintaining excellent health.  When something begins to go awry in the body, search for a food or a mineral to heal it.
To a certain extent, I agree with that philosophy although, if it were to be perfectly practiced, we could all live in these physical bodies forever, right?

It appears from Scripture, however, that a marvelous example of this existed in the Garden of Eden.  Today's text is Genesis 3:22-24 (ESV).

22Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

In order to better understand these verses, we need to remind ourselves that God had told Adam and Eve that they were permitted to eat of all the trees of the Garden, except for the fateful Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  This would include the Tree of Life.

15The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eatd of it you shall surely die.”
Genesis 2:15-17 (ESV)

My earlier memories of sermons/teaching on Genesis 2 and 3 tell me that Adam and Eve never ate of the Tree of Life.  However, this would not seem to be the case, after careful examination of these verses.  Prior to the Fall, Adam and Eve were permitted to eat of all the plants and trees in the Garden, but for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Some commentators have postulated that they did indeed eat from the Tree of Life and that this nourishment is what gave them such excellent health that they could have lived forever in that perfect, sinless state.  What an amazing, efficacious tree it must be!  (This legendary tree still exists today, but we'll get to that later.)

Who is speaking in Genesis 3:22?  The Triune God are speaking with each other, but it appears that the second Person of the Trinity is speaking, that being Jesus Christ.  Jesus existed as a Person of the Trinity as long as God has been God, which is forever.  So has the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, existed.  You cannot have "God" without having all three Persons, eternally existing, no beginning and no end.
So, likely Jesus is speaking, because anytime God reveals Himself to men on earth, it is through the Person of Jesus Christ, whether in His pre-incarnate state or during His time in a human body on earth (during His earthly ministry) or afterwards when He appeared to John on Patmos, for example.

Now, it appears that, for all of the wonders of Eden, and despite Man's sinless state, Adam and Eve did not know the full extent of good and evil until they ate from the one forbidden tree.  All they knew was that they were to obey God's command to avoid that tree.  After they ate, sin and death entered into them and the separation from God began.

Prior to this act, Adam and Eve lived in Heaven on Earth.  God had made His dwelling place with Man, on Earth.  Eden was "heaven come down".  God, in the person of pre-incarnate Christ, frequently spent time with Adam and Eve in that place.

The prohibition concerning the Tree of Life was for some very good reasons.
1.  Had they continued to eat of that fruit, they would have continued forever in their sinful state, unredeemed, separated from God.  Yes, their bodies and souls would have continued to live forever, but they also would have been forever condemned.
2.  Continuing to eat from the Tree of Life would have been a way contrary to God's way of redemption.  Man has long wanted to experience redemption, but only on his own terms.  Whether through making idols of his own imagining, doing good works to obtain holiness, self-abasement or physical injury in the name of religion (walking across hot coals, etc.) - - the list could go on. 

“He who seeks for righteousness and life by his own doings, runs upon the flaming sword of justice; and whilst endeavoring to insure his own salvation, he is pulling ruin upon himself.”
John Gill

Accordingly, because the Tree of Life had been useful to Adam for sustaining physical life prior to the Fall, it would have naturally occurred to him to look to the Tree to sustain his physical life after.
However, . . .
God's way was different.  God decreed that His way to redemption would be the only way, and in mercy, therefore, God prevented Adam from seeking redemption through any created (even a previously acceptable) means.  The Fall changed everything.  To keep Adam and Eve from committing that evil, He mercifully blocked the way to the Tree and even to the entire Garden itself.  The Garden of Eden could no longer be what it had formerly been - - a place for man and God to commune face-to-face.

Where is the Garden of Eden now, you may ask?  Where is the Tree of Life now?  Does it yet exist?

Consider for a moment that Jesus Christ was crucified on a tree, a cross made of wooden beams.  This was no accident or mere coincidence.  He is our Tree of Life, God's only way of redemption and salvation, provided to mankind (John 14:6).  So, spiritually, HE is our Tree of Life.  However, the Tree of Life itself is mentioned other places in scripture.

We find it mentioned again in the Book of Revelation.  It seems that, when Eden became closed to mankind, God removed that place to Heaven, for it is there we again find the Tree of Life.

7He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
Revelation 2:7 (ESV)

14Blessed are those who wash their robes,c so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.
Revelation 22:14 (ESV)

Those who have entered into eternal Life through Jesus Christ, God's only "Way, Truth and Life" (John 14:6), have had their sins forever crucified on the cross with Jesus, crucified on that "tree" (Galatians 2:20).  Putting our faith in Jesus Christ as our only hope of salvation is the act of "washing our robes".  Only He can impart grace, the eternal banishment of sin, complete imputation of God's righteousness.  As the apostles Peter and John said, in the days of the early Church, as they were being examined by the Sanhedrin - - - 

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved. 
Acts 4:12 (NET)

And, as such, as His Beloved, we will see that primeval Tree of Life again, on that day when we see our Savior face-to-face, in Heaven.  

Well, I know we have spent a lot of time in the first three chapters of Genesis (19 posts!).  I've become more and more convinced of the power and necessity of this book.  It is a book on which hinges the remainder of the Bible.  Discredit and disregard this book, and you have gutted the rest of God's holy Word.  Thanks for taking this journey through Genesis with me.  Next post: we begin chapter 4.


Friday, September 7, 2018

Choosing the Right Clothes

Tootling around online this morning while drinking coffee and trying to wake up, I noticed that certain cretins out in the anonymous world of www. were #momshaming Tori Spelling for the way her kids look.  Girl had posted an Instagram pic of them on their first day of school - - a rite literally thousands of other moms did over the past few weeks.  These are beautiful children, wearing school clothes, and yet the buzzards of www. began to pick Tori apart.....

We are pretty much obsessed with clothes and physical appearance, aren't we?  While admitting we can certainly go overboard with that, clothes do say a lot about a person.  I've heard it said that, in the job world, you ought to dress for the next position you desire.  So, for example, if you are a mid-level manager, you should dress like a manager, in anticipation of that promotion coming to pass.  

Let's take a look at the role clothing plays in the life of God's children.  Our text for today is Genesis 3:21. 

The LORD God made garments from skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.

Nakedness, even from the beginning, symbolized incompleteness.  
Who first clothed mankind in the Garden of Eden? Adam and Eve did (Genesis 3:7), when they fashioned (pardon the pun) fig leaves together in a misguided attempt to hide their nakedness.  The first "successful" clothing of mankind, however, was done by God Himself, when He killed an animal, skinned it and made clothes for Adam and Eve to wear.   This is the first animal killing seen in Scripture, and blood was shed for the express purpose of atoning for (covering) man's nakedness, symbolic of his newly sinful, fallen state of being.  The animal's sacrifice was vicarious, a big theological word meaning "substitutionary".  Thus, the first animal slain was a sacrifice, was the launching point for the Old Testament sacrificial system and prefigured that once-for-all sacrifice which would take place millennia in the future, the everlasting, all-justifying, totally-redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Now, let's skip forward through the centuries to look more deeply at how God clothes His own.

Paul uses the analogy of clothes often to describe the Christian life, or what I call "the resplendent walk".  He uses this analogy briefly in 2 Cor. 5, but I want to also show you other places he talks about "being dressed right". Before we do that, though, look at what Isaiah said in 61:10 ---
I greatly rejoice in the LORD, I exult in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation and wrapped me in a robe of righteousness, as a groom wears a turban and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (HCSB)

This is an interesting verse.  Some theologians want to distinguish between these two "spiritual garments" - - - the garment of salvation being one, the robe of righteousness being another.  It is an interesting distinction.  The theological point made is that God gives us salvation through Jesus Christ, and this is symbolized by the salvation garment.  But, the robe of righteousness is an additional piece that He dresses us in.
Now, to Paul:

26 For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
Galatians 3:26-27 (NET)

Paul emphasizes here, as he does elsewhere, that salvation comes by faith, not by good works.  By accepting Christ, through faith, we become sons of God.  This act has "clothed us with Christ". Beyond that transformational decision, we are also commanded by Paul to adorn ourselves with the characteristics of Jesus, to imitate Him in our daily lives.  This does not secure our salvation; it is a manifestation of what has already been done in our hearts.  In this way, we "reflect" Christ. 
14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to arouse its desires.  
Romans 13:14 (NET)

12 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,
Colossians 3:12 (NET)

So, our righteousness comes from God the Father, through Christ the Son.  That is indisputable. However, we are responsible for making spiritually healthy choices as we live the Christian life.  This is how we "clothe ourselves".  It is a conscious act on our part, analogous to "taking up one's cross daily and following Jesus" (Matt. 16:24).  Now, look at the following passage:

Therefore we are always full of courage, and we know that as long as we are alive here on earth we are absent from the Lord— for we live by faith, not by sight. Thus we are full of courage and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So then whether we are alive or away, we make it our ambition to please him.10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.
2 Cor. 5:6-10 (NET)

Notice the phrase "make it our ambition to please Him". This is the conscious act of "putting on Christ" daily.  Paul goes on to say that we will have to give an account of all that the Lord Jesus has blessed us with in this life, in this body.  Our salvation is secure.  Our eternal destiny is fixed.  "There is therefore now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).  But, and I've blogged about this in previous posts - - - I'll try to find which one and post it under "Sources:" - - - all of us Believers will be given rewards at this "judgment" seat...or not.  Some of us may stand there nearly naked, clothed only in our salvation garment!  About 3 years ago, in our study of 1 Corinthians, we examined 1 Cor. 3:12-13 and saw that our actions after salvation will be tested by fire, and that some of them will be "burned up" like wood or hay or kindling.  Not cool!

Well, I want to be dressed right on that great judgment day, clad not only in my salvation garment, but also adorned with the beautiful jewelry of Christ-likeness.  I'm dressing for the next position I desire!

Good morning, Father.  Thank you for securing my salvation and clothing me in salvation.  I also realize that my righteousness comes from Your Holy Spirit living within me, bestowed on me through Your mercy.  In light of that truth, and because of how grateful I am for it, I choose to imitate my Savior.  Well, at least I try to most of the time, because I want to please You.  I confess I'm nowhere near 100% in that effort.  Help me be more like Him as I look more like Him.  In Jesus' name I pray, amen.


Resplendent Daughter blog: Honor's Day;postID=1129579313904961451;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=44;src=postname

Matthew Harmon's post at

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Eve, Mother of All the Living

This weekend I was privileged to spend some quality time with my older son and his girlfriend, just talking and enjoying each other's company.  He likes to debate with me on both theological and political topics.  Coincidentally, he brought up the topic of evolution on this occasion.  I thought that odd, since here in the blog, I'm in Genesis.  A key point I made was this:  if Genesis is discredited as mere allegory or fanciful tale, then the gospel of Jesus Christ, especially His death, burial and glorious resurrection, are at risk for similar treatment.  As case in point, I shared with Son1 that the first appearance of, the first allusion to, the gospel is found in Genesis 3:15 (see previous post).

This morning, we are going to look at the immediate aftermath of the Fall and will specifically focus on one word.  The text is Genesis 3:16-20, particularly verse 20.

The effects of sin began to be immediately apparent.  The word "sin" is synonymous with "death".  As soon as Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they became spiritually dead in the bondage of sin.  Also, their bodies began to die physically.  It was not the "forbidden fruit" that brought death; there was nothing intrinsically harmful in that appealing food.  It was the disobedience, the lack of faith in God's spoken word to them, which separated them from God.

The first effect of the sin curse mentioned by God pertained to Eve, since she was the first to sin (vs. 16).  It concerned the act of childbirth, which was not originally meant to be a painful experience apparently.

He said to the woman: I will intensify your labor pains; you will bear children in anguish. Your desire will be for your husband, yet he will rule over you. 
Genesis 3:16 (HCSB)

This is such an interesting verse.  The first part is not mysterious at all, at least not to any woman who has given birth.  Further, God here established the order of godly marriage, giving the husband the dominion, the leadership, of the home. The second part of the verse, though, concerning "your desire will be for your husband" . . . various translations either translate "desire" to be either sexual desire, or a general desire for a husband, or a desire to control one's husband.  The actual Hebrew תְּשׁ֣וּקָתֵ֔ךְ  (tə-šū-qā-ṯêḵ), only appears once in Scripture.1  That tells me it is a complex concept of desire, and thus the variances in translations.

Then, He turned to Adam and pronounced a curse over the whole earth, as a result of his disobedience.  This is why the entire creation is "groaning", as described in Romans 8:18-22.2  Genesis 3:19 highlights the fact that man was created by God, Who assimilated and transformed elements found in the newly-created and pristine Earth to form our physical bodies.  Mankind was not originally intended to die physically; but, since that inevitable conclusion is the result of The Fall, our bodies after physical death return to the "dust" from which they were formed.

And now, perhaps the most fascinating verse in this passage, verse 20.

Critics of Genesis claim the impossibility of one couple, The First Couple, producing enough offspring to populate the Earth.  I blogged about this a few weeks ago, earlier in this Genesis study, and am not going to "plow the row over" (as my mother would say) here.  You can find the link3 in Sources, below.

But, I want you to notice one word particularly in verse 20, and that is the word "all":

The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.
Genesis 3:20 (NET)

The "Mother of ALL the Living".... not the mother of some, or not some "representative, allegorical mother", but the "Mother of ALL Living".  Do you think it is an accident the word "all" was used here?  I do not.  There are no "accidents" in the Word of God.  Every word is divinely inspired and supernaturally appointed.  The Hebrew word here, כָּל־ ,is clear.  It is variously translated, "the whole", "every" and "all".  The name, Eve, means in Hebrew "Life".  

Here's how beautiful the redemptive plan of our all-wise God is:
Eve received her name, Life, before The Fall.  Yet, God used the one who first caused The Fall to also be the vessel from whom Life, even in the generations of her descendants, Life Everlasting, the Messiah, would spring.  Matthew Henry comments, "Adam bears the name of the dying body, Eve of the living soul."4  






Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Covered or Gone?

It's funny, the things we remember, isn't it?

I have a younger brother, three years younger.  One of our favorite things to do as children was to jump on the bed, trampoline-style.  It's a wonder we did not break an arm or leg.  The light fixtures were not so fortunate, I will add....
At any rate, one day when he was about 3 years old, he was jumping on the bed in my room.  I took the opportunity to tattle to my father about it.  (Brother knew I was running to rat him out.)  When Daddy and I returned to "the scene of the crime", we could not see my brother, although there was a suspicious lump under the bed covers.  Brent, my brother, thought that since he had covered himself, he was "gone".  In fact, when my father winked at me and called, "Brent....Brent, where are you?", Brent replied, "Brent gone!"
 6So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,b she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
8And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the coolc of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.9But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”d 10And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
Genesis 3:6-11 (ESV)

In both these scenarios the response to a transgression was to hide it.  This is the direct result of sin's deleterious effect: not only does a sin or the general sin condition separate us from a holy God, the situation is usually compounded by our running/hiding from Him.

In both these scenarios the covering was insufficient to take care of the sin.  My earthly father laughingly revealed my brother and dealt with his comparatively minor transgression.  My Heavenly Father dealt with Adam and Eve's transgression as well.  I now want to skip over some verses here and focus on Genesis 3:21 (ESV) - -

21And the LORDGod made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

This act of God involved Him killing animals and making for Adam and Eve clothing from the animals' skins.  Blood from the animals was spilled in order to cover them.  The lives of the animals were required in order to do this.  This is the first Bible mention of blood being shed to address sins.

The word "atonement" means "to cover".  It is a word used throughout the Old Testament to refer to the sacrificial system instituted by God for the covering of mankind's sins.  In the book of Leviticus alone the word appears 40 times.  However, it never appears in the New Testament in connection with the finished work of Jesus Christ.1

Interestingly, the first time the actual word "atone" appears in the Bible is in connection with the building of Noah's ark.2  In Genesis 6:14, Noah was instructed by God to cover the inside and outside of the wood structure with "a covering".  The word translated "pitch", actually means "to atone", or "to cover".  The pitch on the ark protected the structure by covering the wood, so that the waters of judgment could not seep in or overwhelm, during the months-long journey to safety. Similarly, the Old Testament animal sacrifices protected sinners from the wrath of holy God.  The sins were not removed; they were covered.  Best example in Scripture of this is Psalm 32:1-2, where David exclaimed:
  1Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,

whose sin is covered.

The finished work of Jesus Christ, to whom the Old Testament sacrifices pointed, is radically different.  His spilled blood does not merely COVER sin; it goes beyond to obliterate the sins as if they had never been committed.  Once again, as foreshadowed in Genesis 3:21, God spilled blood to address sin.  This time, spilling the blood of His Son, this once-for-all time, He dealt sin a death blow.  He provided complete eradication, complete justification to the sinner who, by faith, accepts Jesus' perfect sacrifice.  My pastor explains the meaning of "justification" as "just as if I had never sinned".  So beautiful!

You see...atonement was temporary, fleeting and (ultimately) ineffective at reconciling man to God.  Although it was God's idea, atonement was something man did to approach God, an act to temporarily appease God's anger at sin.  It was "as good as it gets" for that epoch of time.  But, in the end and even back then in the OT, it was still faith that reconciled men and women to God.  Even then (see Hebrews 11), it was impossible to please God through any other method than by faith.

God gave His first hint of the true gospel of Messiah Jesus Christ in Genesis 3:15, a verse commonly referred to as "the protoevangelium"3, or "the first gospel".

15I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspringe and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”

This is no mere "covering" described here.  A more accurate rendering of "bruise" in "he shall bruise your head" is a decisive crushing.  The perfectly-delivered work of Jesus Christ has decisively crushed the rule of sin and satan forever.  The eternal, spiritual death that is the legacy of unrepentant, uncured sin no longer is merely "covered" from God's anger.  Through Christ, that sin is GONE.

The verbiage used in the New Testament is radically different from the Old in this regard.  Atonement is nowhere near propitiation, a word used in the New Testament to describe the final appeasement of God's anger over our sin, appeasement provided through Jesus' death, burial and resurrection. The New speaks of Christ's eternal sacrifice - - the emphasis is on its completeness and permanence.  Read through the book of Hebrews, for instance, and you will see this language used throughout.  I love Hebrews 10:1-18, where the writer states that the Old Testament sacrificial system was a "shadow" of the perfect work of Messiah, which was, under the pre-Christ system of animal sacrifices, a future promise, still to come.  Read it and rejoice in your salvation, Christian!

1The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. 4It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
5Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
6with burnt offerings and sin offerings
you were not pleased.
7Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
I have come to do your will, my God.’ ”a
8First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. 9Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
11Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
15The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
16“This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.”b
17Then he adds:
“Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more.”c
18And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

Hebrews 10:1-18 (NIV)

Hallelujah!  All praise to the Ever-Loving One, who immediately provided a remedy for man's sin condition in Genesis, Who did not leave man to languish in separation from Him.  He is The WayMaker!  And, then, through Jesus Christ His Son, He provided a perfect, eternal path to Him!  Behold, how GOOD God is!

Notes and Sources:

1    Some would argue Romans 3:25 uses "atonement", but other translations use "propitiation". When you view the original Greek, "hilasterion"{"propitiation"}, is the more accurate rendering. There are a handful of other NT scriptures where the authors quote the OT uses of atonement to prove the insufficiency of that man-initiated act.  Examples: Romans 4:7, 1 Peter 4:8, James 5:20.



Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Did God Say That?

This morning I was reading in the book of Judges, Y'all, and that is some sad stuff.  One of these days I may be led to exegete that book; but, if/when God leads in that direction I'd better "gird my loins", because those were some tragic chapters in Israel's history.  People hacking up other people into bits and sending those bits all over the country and such....monstrously sad.

However horrific those and other certain portions of the Holy Bible be, they have their purpose - - to turn our hearts toward The One and Only.

This morning we are going to begin to deconstruct one of the two most heartbreaking stories of the Bible.  (Can you guess the other?  Comment your thoughts in the comments section of this post!)

The Fall of Man

Now, why Satan wanted to destroy God's perfect creation is anybody's guess.  Mine is that he just hates everything God represents and does; therefore, the chief aim of his existence is to destroy all righteousness, all that is "of God".  This is why one of his scriptural names is "The Destroyer" (Revelation 9:11).  Did you know there are more names for Satan in scripture than for anyone else, other than Jesus?  That would make an interesting blog post...

At any rate, Satan in the beginning of today's sad, sordid tale, takes on the form of a "serpent", which some take to mean something like a snake because of the curse God pronounced upon that creature in Genesis 3:14 "on your belly you shall go...".  Satan is called a serpent in both Genesis 3 (the first book of the Bible) and in Revelation 12:9 (the last book).
Others believe the serpent was more of a glorious creature before The Fall.  This fits with Satan's arrogant, prideful nature. He would have chosen the most glorious, beautiful creature to inhabit, not a slithering snake as we know them today.
The Hebrew word that is translated "serpent" describes a creature that, in its own nature, was crafty, subtle and discerning.  God created all creatures with general tendencies, didn't He?  Dogs are frequently loyal companions.  Sheep are generally clueless, and must be led.  Serpents . . . wily.

So, it would not have surprised Eve to hear such words from the serpent, because of the serpent's general nature.  Was telepathy common before The Fall?  Did creatures "speak"?  We do not know.  But, it appears in this passage the serpent, possessed by Satan, spoke audibly; and, Eve was not surprised.  We really have very little information about the wonders of the Garden of Eden before tragedy struck in Genesis 3.

More importantly . . .
We need to carefully consider Satan's malevolent strategy in Genesis 3:1 - - "Did God really say. . . "
This was and is the foundational "first step" down the path to sin.  It was the first temptation recorded in the Bible.  It worked so successfully for Satan there in the Garden, he still uses it today!

The most foundational source of God's word to us in modern times is . . . God's Word, the Bible.  It's not the only source, but is by far the most reliable.  This book, a compilation of 66 divinely inspired books, is often called the Holy Bible, because Scripture is (according to 1 Timothy 3:16) God-breathed.  The "Good Book", another moniker, is full of wisdom, cautionary tales (such as those in Judges, for example), rules, promises, declarations, warnings.  Overall, it shows us how to be reconciled to God, and then, after that relationship is established, to live for His glory.

As such, the Bible is constantly attacked by Satan and his diabolical servants, both human and demonic.  The argument is the same one used so long ago in Eden.  "Is the Bible more than just a book?"  "Is it really the Word of God?"  "Is it full of errors?"  "Is there a God at all?"

When we come face-to-face with the Bible, we come face-to-face with our own sin and resulting separation from this holy God, who has decreed that the consequences of unrepentant sin is eternal death, manifested as being forever separated from God in a place of horrific torment, called Hell.
Not a pleasant message on its own, is it?  Bad news.

But, that's not the end of the story.  God also went about providing reconciliation to mankind, through faith in God, beginning in the Old Testament and culminating in Jesus, revealed in the New Testament as "the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6).  That's why the gospel message of Jesus Christ is called The Good News.

For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
1 Corinthians 15:22 (NET)

Of course, when Satan was tempting Eve in the Garden, there was no Bible, no Savior.  There was only God's spoken word.  Back then, God (the pre-incarnate Jesus?) communed with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening, according to Genesis 3:8.  (Can you even imagine that?!)  And, as such, He continued to share with them about life in that perfect place.  We read in Genesis 2:15-17 about God giving them the command about not eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Eve, and later Adam, chose to willingly reject God's word, because it did not jive with what they wanted to do. will...

Eve should have basically shut the serpent down.  But, instead, when confronted with the question, "Did God really say that?", she added to what God had said.  Take a look at Genesis 2:

15The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

And now, compare Eve's words in Genesis 3:

2The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ”

Did God say in Genesis 2 that the First Couple could not touch the fateful tree?  No, He did not (although staying far away from it would have been a great idea...).

Instead of believing God, Who said eating the fruit would cause death, Eve believed Satan, who promised that she would become more wise by eating it.  She believed whom she wanted to believe.

4“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

After believing what she wanted to believe, she did what she wanted to do. 

...doubted God's Word
...listened to God's enemy
...lusted with her eyes
...exerted her own will
...touched the fruit
...beguiled her husband, Adam,
and ate the fruit.

Sin by inches.

Then, Adam, who could have influenced Eve to leave that tree alone, went along willingly and later blamed Eve for the disastrous escapade. A case of "passing the ... fruit (buck)", as it were!

With those actions of Adam and Eve, all of creation immediately began to deteriorate, to die.  This is because, as God had warned and as Paul states in Romans 6:23 (NET) "the payoff of sin is death".  Not just physical death, but eternal, spiritual death.

The philosophy of this world, so heavily influenced by Satan and his servants, has not changed.  The Enemy of Our Souls' opening salvo, the essential question posed is:  "Did God really say that?"