The Key

Key Verse

“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” – John 6:27 

The key in our “Key Verse” is that Father God has set his seal upon Jesus. Here’s what Barnes’ Notes on the Bible says about this seal:

To seal is to confirm or approve as ours. This is done when we set our seal to a compact, or deed, or testament, by which we ratify it as our act. So God the Father, by the miracles which had been performed by Jesus, had shown that he had sent him, that he approved his doctrines, and ratified his works. The miracles were to his doctrine what a seal is to a written instrument. Barnes’ Notes on the Bible 

The Key is Jesus

The key in this new series, “Why So Many,” will always be Jesus. What we are searching for is how Jesus expressed Himself through individual Christians and, collectively, through His Church during the early days of Christianity that was so transformative.

For the sake of clarity, let me clearly state that our work as laborers for Christ (1 Corinthians 15:58) is far from over. The title of this series, Why So Many,” is not meant to imply that there are a sufficient number of Christians!

For “Why So Many”, we are again using the idea that we are on an expedition to learn what individual Christians as well as the Church did during the first few hundred years after Christ’s ascension that set Christianity on its course to change the whole world. However, instead of archaeologists, this time we will be anthropologists. BTW – archaeology is a subset of anthropology.

Anthropology: the study of human beings and their ancestors through time and space and in relation to physical character, environmental and social relations, and culture – Merriam Webster Dictionary 

Learning from our Ancient Brothers and Sisters

For our study, we will consider why the whole world has been changed by Christianity. There are some fascinating discoveries that we will make on our journey as we learn why so many people abandoned their ancestral religions as well as wealth, families, property, and familiar culture to be reborn and live for Jesus.

The impetus of this series is for us to learn from our ancient Christian brothers and sisters. How did they live? What did they value? What can they teach us? Why would a hedonist reject their life, receive Jesus, and refuse to deny his Savior even when commanded to deny Jesus upon pain of death? Yet, in our modern world, Christians often refrain from sharing Jesus at work because it is against company policy. Our modern justification appears lacking when compared to execution.

What is the difference between then and now? It appears reasonable that there may be much that we can learn from the first Christians. As the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 (NLT):

Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?

This fragrance does not discriminate between friends or family. Do you remember when Christ’s half-brothers didn’t believe in Him? We find this in John 7:5, “For not even his brothers believed in him.” God had prophesied this in Psalms 69:8 (ESV), “I have become a stranger to my brothers.” We shall see this derision and doubt repeated against Christ’s regenerated followers from the 1st century all the way to today, and most certainly tomorrow.

Wrap-Up

So now we know our mission. In the next installment of this series we will look into something that Coptic Christians did from their conviction that life is valuable. It is shocking.

Photo by Jordon Conner on Unsplash

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Moral Impact

A New Adventure 

In this second installment of An Expedition Adventure in the Bible, we are investigatinwhy there are so many Christians in the world today. Our purported role is that of an anthropologist researching the early Church to understand why Christians were so disliked by so many leaders, yet through Christians God began a transformation of the whole world, upending the Roman empire and creating a cohesive, moral standard that launched universities, the scienceshospitals, and so much more.

The First Christians and the Birth of the Church 

As you may remember, the first Christians were the 11 apostles. We know exactly when they became born-again believers in Jesus. The event was recorded by the apostle John:

And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit…”  

John 20:22 (ESV)

The Holy Spirit had descended upon Jesus and remained. (John 1:32) But when Jesus breathed upon His apostles this was the first time that God lived in a child of “Adam,” other than Jesus (Colossians 2:9). Then, in the 2nd chapter of Acts, the Holy Spirit came upon everyone that was gathered together (Acts 2:1-4) in obedience to Christ’s command (Acts 1:4).

The Ministry of John the Baptist

Please allow me to take a moment to address the ministry of John the Baptist. Sometimes people think that the Jews baptized by John the Baptist were “saved.”

John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets. Jesus said of him, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11a) Still, the baptism that John the Baptist performed was under the Old Testament. Jesus had not yet died, buried, and risen from the grave. There wasn’t any “born-again salvation” available for the people baptized by John.

The Birth of the Church

The event recorded in the 2nd chapter of Acts is the birth of the Church. Now they were Christians and they were the first church community. However, they had no “statement of faith”, no catechism, no Church ordinances, no lay ministry. Still, they were disciples of Jesus and they had the Holy Spirit within them, so they were “equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:17)

The Jewishness of Christianity 

What we see after the birth of the Church is what I call God’s baby bubble for the Church. God gave His children some time to jell. Let’s remember that Christianity is undeniably Jewish. Jesus was born a Jew, raised a Jew, and fulfilled the prophecy of Moses and other Jewish prophets regarding the “Seed” of Abraham and the Messiah. As the apostle Paul wrote:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 

Romans 1:16 (ESV)

Gentiles are grafted into the True Vine. Therefore, the early Church was not without the Scriptures (Old Testament) or a large body of work that provided cultural norms that helped them begin the process of becoming the Bride of Christ “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.” (Ephesians 5:25) However, when Stephen was martyred then the “baby bubble” was popped and the 1st century Christians were dispersed by rapid persecution from the Jewish leadership (Acts 8:1) because the Jewish Leaders saw the Gospel of Jesus as a Jewish heresy.  

The Dispersion 

This dispersion was God’s will for Christians to carry the good news of Jesus with them wherever they went. One of the very first locations that received the Good News was Egypt and North Africa. We will come back to North Africa on a future blog.

As Christianity began to take root, their (our) morality that came from the Truth that abided within them (and us) often collided with the reprobate Roman empire. We need to remember that we are not just looking at the clash of cultures. We are viewing the collision of a moving object (the Roman society) with an immovable force (Christ’s Truth).

The 1st Century Church’s Moral Impact 

We may think that the first century Christians were so distracted by persecution that they did not have a public message about social ills within society. In fact, it is just the opposite. It was morality built from the substance of Christ’s commands that caused a moral impact which put a spotlight on Christians. As an example, let’s consider the 1st century Church’s stand against abortion. Yep, the Church has been wrestling with the world over this issue for 2,000 years.

The following are a few excerpts from “ABC Religion & Ethics“:  

Exposure should be understood as “the rejection of a neonate (new born baby) in the first week of life, before it was accepted into the family and undergone rituals of purification and naming.” 

While the New Testament is silent on the issues of infanticide and exposure, the writings of the early church are replete with condemnations of Graeco-Roman practices that they felt ran counter to the commitments of the early Christians. These included gladiatorial battles, public executions and abortion, as well as infanticide and exposure. Indeed, their opposition was so vehement that they labeled not only infanticide but also exposure and even abortion as “parricide.”

Parricide was a term that was known and used in the Graeco-Roman world to refer to the killing of a close relative, but it was not a term usually used in connection with the death of an infant. The early Christians, however, considered “conception, gestation, birth, and nurture as a continuous process” and therefore considered the termination of life at any point through this process as an act of murder. As a result, many of the early Christian texts openly condemned infanticide, exposure and abortion. The Didache, for example, which is a Christian treatise dated from the late first to the early second century, states:

There are two ways — the way of life and the way of death, and the difference between these two ways is great. Therefore, do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant. 

In a chilling and astonishingly callous statement, some modern bioethicists suggest, “Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life.” So, just as it was for the 1st century Church, so it is today; we are at moral loggerheads with the society within which we live.

With this moral chasm being the case, how did the early Church, by 340 AD, persuade the Roman Emperor  Valentinian I, to enact the first law requiring parents to rear their children? Valentinian I also decreed that the killing of an infant was a capital offense.

Wrap-Up 

We will begin to dig into the details of the early Church next time!

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

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Why Are There So Many Christians?

a large crowd of people

Why So Many? 

 Key Verse 

 “And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”  

Romans 10:15

Why so many? My question probably appears ludicrous to you. You and I here in America are seeing local churches and whole denominations implode. However, that is not what I want to focus on. If we look beyond our country, the Church is bigger and healthier than we may think.

America is no longer the epicenter of Christianity that it once held for so many years – that’s okay, but it’s not okay. This may surprise you but the place where there are the most Christians is the continent of Africa[1]. As of 2017, Africa had 631 million Christians, Latin America had 601 million, and Europe had 571 million. 

How Many? 

Worldwide, there are an estimated 2.3 billion Christians, followed closely behind by Islam with 1.9 billion, and Hinduism with 1.2 billion. Of course, we know that God works with remnants. Many people claim to be Christian because their family has “always been Christian” or their “country” is Christian. Also, there are many sincere Christians that have never received any cohesive, consistent Christian education – missionaries are needed!

Okay, I have provided the numbers, but how did Christianity become the largest religion in the world? That is what I want us to look at over the next few blogs.

One Reason for “Why So Many”

Why so many? Since Africa has the most Christians, let’s first look for the answer there. There is a fascinating website titled, “The Gospel Coalition Africa” that is an African outreach ministry, by Africans. One ministry on the site is titled, “Ask an African Pastor.” It is fascinating and clearly ministers to many people. To provide some context, here’s a quote from their “About” page:

 The Council of the Gospel Coalition Africa is a collection of pastors and qualified elders who provide direction and leadership to TGC Africa. They meet annually for fellowship, discussion, planning, accountability, and prayer around the gospel of our Lord Jesus. Aiming to bring biblical conviction and pastoral sensitivity to bear on a range of pressing contemporary issues, the Council is committed to shepherding the next generation of church leaders in line with TGC Africa’s foundation documents. 

A Powerful Example of Why

And here are a few excerpts from a great testimony by “Proud Mpofu” titled, Learning to Love those I Hated.

 “I grew up in Zim. I am one of a minority tribe which is called the BaKalanga. So, as I grew up I felt like my tribe was oppressed, so to say… I grew angry because of that. Because I felt ‘we need to fight back!’  

“When I came to South Africa I came to Christ Church Midrand and started to read the Bible and I came to understand how God loved us to the extent that he sent His only son to die for us.” 

“The Christian message, I mean it humbled me to understand that I’m a sinner who was saved by grace…You can’t go and take revenge because revenge will never pay you anything. But we need to understand, those people, we think they hate us, but God loves them! And they also deserve love from us. And so the Bible is just clear – we need to love each other. No one is better. We are all sinners. And we will never address any social issue without loving those people who are around us. And that message is just amazing” 

 It Just Takes 3

  1. A spiritually lost person
  2. A person that will tell the Good News of Jesus
  3. A church that is committed to correctly teaching the Whole Bible

That is how so many people in the world have been saved and have grown to be fruitful, loving Christians. It just takes 3. That is what we need to remind ourselves of.

Jesus expects each of us to give all of our life to Him, but He has not made it complicated for us to be “fishers of men (Matthew 4:19).” Here’s how it works: A person in need hears the Gospel of Jesus and a local church comes along side them. The result is growth. The lost are saved, the fishers of men become more effective, the local church becomes healthier, also the regional and national conference or denomination is edified. It is not difficult. It just takes 3.

Next Time

Next time, in this new series, we travel back to the primitive Church, to the first years of the Bride of Christ, to see how an empire was upended and the whole world changed by God working through Christians to deliver the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


[1]

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Truthful lips endure forever

sign post with Truth and Lie

Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.

Proverbs 12:19 ESV

The fruit of a lie is always bitter. Marriages can be destroyed by a single lie. Friendship can be shipwrecked by a single act of deception. Relationships built with lies are like houses built upon sand, they never survive hard times.

Truth Has Been Redefined

The odd thing about truth is that it appears to be so simple, so unassuming, so innocuous. Still, Jesus told us to boil the truth down to even less than what we know. He said, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matthew 5:37 ESV)

I’ve discovered that within my lifetime the meaning of “truth” has been redefined. Several lengthy conversations with people from younger generations have confirmed to me that “truth” is no longer recognized as a “factual thing”. Rather, truth is now believed to be subjective, situational, and malleable. However, I’ve also discovered that there is a hunger within most people for unambiguous, unaltered truth. That’s good news.

Truth Is A Liberator

The personification of truth is Jesus. He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 ESV) Truth is the device by which holiness is attained. Jesus prayed to His Father, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17) Holiness should be the material from which our moral character is built “since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16)

Truth is a liberator. So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32) As we just read in John 17:17, God’s word is truth, and we see the Divine power of God’s Word in Hebrews 4:12For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Ten things we learned about Truth

  1. Truth appears unassuming
  2. When answering binary questions (yes/no, true/false, etc.) we should answer simply. We should not try to bolster or expand upon the truth.
  3. When we talk with other people we need to understand that our definition of truth may not be the same as their definition.
  4. Truth finds its genesis within Jesus Christ.
  5. It is God’s requirement for us to be holy. The only means by which we can become holy is through truth.
  6. Truth sanctifies us (sets us apart), and this truth is found in the living Word of God which includes the Old Testament.
  7. Speaking to Father God, Jesus said, “Your word is truth.”
  8. If we live in God’s Word then we are truly disciples of Jesus.
  9. If we do remain in Jesus then the Holy Spirit (i.e., the Spirit of Truth) will reveal truths to us that are in God’s word which will set us free from “the sin that so easily entangles.” (Hebrews 12:1)
  10. We learned that the Word of God is living and active, discerning the thoughts and intentions of our hearts.

Prayer 

Father, thank you for sending the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, John 14:26), who leads us into all truth. Thank you Jesus for communicating Your will and intent to us through the Holy Spirit (John 16:13), and making Your Word alive, active, and powerful. Spirit, thank you for abiding in us, teaching us the truths of the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 2:13) as well as coming along side us (John 14:16-17) to guide and provide for us. And, Holy Spirit, thank you for filling believers who ask you for more. Oh, my God, how marvelous you are.

Father, I ask that you keep us, Your children, aware of the danger that lives inside every lie. Remind us continually that even though truth may appear inadequate, Your power is contained in truth, and Your power is released by Jesus when we ask within your will. Guide us into holy lives I ask. In all of these requests, I pray in the name of Your beloved Son, Jesus. Amen.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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Brave New World

a man holding an open Bible in a crowd

Acts 4:32-37 (ESV) 32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

This passage of Scripture is, perhaps, the most threatening in the whole of the New Testament. Over the years, I have heard innumerable Pastors and Evangelists manipulate or even desecrate God’s message contained in these few verses. And I understand why. They appear to fly in the face of Capitalism and they most certainly cut the legs out from under any leader in God’s kingdom that has set their heart upon constructing a magnificent edifice (building).

I’ve been praying to understand what God is doing in the world today and I think I see three things. I’ll save the best for last.

One

Christians were first, and horribly, targeted for persecution as a group by the emperor Nero in 64 AD. A colossal fire broke out at Rome, and destroyed much of the city. Rumours abounded that Nero himself was responsible. He certainly took advantage of the resulting devastation of the city, building a lavish private palace on part of the site of the fire.

Perhaps to divert attention from the rumours, Nero ordered that Christians should be rounded up and killed. Some were torn apart by dogs, others burnt alive as human torches. Over the next hundred years or so, Christians were sporadically persecuted. It was not until the mid-third century that emperors initiated intensive persecutions.

From a BBC article by Dr Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe titled Christianity and the Roman Empire

Note that the date is 64 AD. This persecution occurred after Acts, chapter four. What God did for the early Church, He has repeatedly done for the Church down through the ages. He gives times of rest and refreshing and then He leads the Church into battles where many die a martyr’s death – the greatest growth is during the battles.

Therefore, my first point is that God gave the Western Church a respite but we turned it into a lifestyle.

Two

No doubt, for the early Church, it was from the wealth of the members selling their possessions that funding for the great dispersement provided. This dispersement was triggered by the stoning of Stephen. We find this in Acts 8:1, And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 

There are no times when we can be cruise-control Christians. If God is building the Church’s wealth then a battle is just around the corner.

Three

Throughout all of the history of Adam, God has used peculiarity (i.e. set-apart) to draw the attention of God’s elect to Himself. God’s people have prepared for a flood when none was visible, prepared for a baby when age cried “Impossible!”, birthed a nation from a baby floating in the Nile, trusted God when surrounded and vastly outnumbered by their enemy. Yes, I have Scripture for this and it’s best seen in the KJV, 1 Peter 2:9, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;” (emphasis added)

God’s people don’t try to be peculiar, it’s just what happens when we follow God. Peculiar doesn’t mean crazy. As I wrote, it means “set-apart” but being set-apart often makes a person seem peculiar. A good example of peculiar was “Mr. Rogers” on PBS. As an ordained Presbyterian minister, he was certainly peculiar within the staff of PBS. Fred Rogers is quoted as saying,

“I went into television because I hated it so, and I thought there was some way of using this fabulous instrument to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen.” My guess is that we have rarely, if ever, taken a job because we thought we could turn the employer from bad to good.

We, as true believers, are peculiar people. That is God’s way. People living in the world must notice us, and notice that there is something different, a good difference, between the children of God and the children of the world. As true believers, we quickly surrender our possessions, surrender our rights, surrender our lives, to demonstrate the character of Jesus to people who remain under God’s curse.

A missionary once told me that every missionary had to able to do any one of five things at a moment’s notice: 1) preach 2) pray 3) teach 4) sing 5) die. We all should hold our lives as a gift of service to Jesus our Savior.

However, for decades now, while we’ve been living the lifestyle of Christianity, we have continually moved the Church closer and closer to the world. We justified these actions as attempts to remain relevant in a changing world. 

It is Christ Jesus who makes His Church relevant; it’s never within our ability to accomplish this.

God Stopped the Whole World

Never in my lifetime has the whole world stopped. Until now, the closest it came was in 1969 when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon. If you are old enough to remember that then you remember how TV networks cut to locations all across the globe, showing people gathered around TV sets, all gobsmacked. 

Well, this pandemic is more profound than Neil’s history-making step. Trust me on this, God did this out of His great love. You may ask, “How could God allow this to happen to good people?” The answer is simple and painful; there are no good people. And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18)

God stopped the world so we all would consider what life is about. For His Church, we face profound changes, not in the Gospel but in our lifestyle. Comfortable Christianity is not God’s intent. Jesus said, “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:38)

Yes, we are told by the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:11, “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before.” We are to have this goal but we are also told to “take up our cross” and told by the Apostle Peter that we are a peculiar people. These messages are from the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit. These messages do not conflict. We are not faced with a dichotomy. So, what does God want from us? 

What does Obedience Look Like?

What Jesus said to His disciples is that He wants us to be obedient, and if we are, then our joy will be full. (John 15:9-11) So, obedience is not something we can choose. Our decision is to either be a Christian, or not. Choosing not to obey is choosing not to love Jesus. (John 14:15)

The Point

I’ve written a lot of words to lead us to the following thoughts, and they are: 

  1. God has prospered the members of Western churches for one hundred years. And countless churches own behemoth buildings that, overnight, have been rendered useless. This is not a mistake, rather it is God’s “bank account.”
  2. God’s blessing of an accumulation of wealth has not been for “us” to look like the world. That wealth is not ours.
  3. God’s people do not overcome the world by being a twin of the world. “And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die.” (Revelation 12:11)

No revival, no world movement by God, can start or continue without the Holy Spirit moving and igniting souls. When we are full to overflowing of the Spirit within us then the oil of God’s anointing splashes into the fire of the Holy Spirit and we burst forth with power, testifying to the world the things of God.

What will the Church look like, now that we’re in a post mega-church building era? Perhaps, in cities, we will be those peculiar people that sold our cars and gave the money to churches in Syria and Egypt.

Perhaps we will now flood mass transit systems – and the world will take notice. Perhaps, in the new world, the Church will unwaveringly speak what we know as true even if our testimony costs us our homes, our liberty, or even our lives. Perhaps, we, as God’s children, will choose Truth over political correctness, and not allow God’s Truth to be bridled by godless people.

Brave New World

I don’t know what this new world holds of us. I don’t know if we have the will to rise to the occasion of becoming peculiar to our family, our friends, our workmates, our employers, our community, our country. Will we be a “Fred Rogers?” Will we carry Jesus into places we hate? I just don’t know. However, I do know that God is watching to see how we respond to this brave new world.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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How to live in isolation

Long before I met my wife, she was, as now, winsome, being attractive and appealing in appearance and character. During her pre-Hubbs days, she attended a meeting held by Brother Wurmbrand, a Jewish Christian from Romania. I think she met him. I do know that God profoundly impacted her through Brother Wurmbrand.

If you’re not familiar with the life of Richard Wurmbrand, he is the author of “Voice of the Martyrs” and the founder of the Voice of the Martyrs ministry. He was a pastor, Evanglist, and author in Romania during the years that the country was part of the Soviet Union. He suffered much persecution but the thing that he could relate to now was isolation.

In 1948, having become a Christian ten years before, he [Brother Wurmbrand] publicly said Communism and Christianity were incompatible. As a result, he experienced imprisonment and torture by the then Communist regime of Romania, for his beliefs. After serving a total of fourteen years, he was ransomed for $10,000. During his imprisonment no communication was allowed between he and his wife, Sabina. 

Quoting Wikipedia

Right now, Brother Wurmbrand would feel right at home in Seattle or New York City. If you read his book he made a statement that should help every quarantined Christian today. He wrote that during his long periods of isolation he would still prepare and preach his sermons, though not a soul was in his cell. Why? Because that was the ministry which Jesus called him to do. Jesus didn’t say, “except when you’re in prison.” 

So, whatever calling you have, do it! Do it as until the Lord, for your gift comes from the Lord. It’s not your responsibility to make sure others see you, read your work, or hear your speeches. What is your job is to do what Jesus said “do.”
Now you may say, I work on an assembly line. What about me? Easy, make your home chores formal processes and do them as such. We use our gifts because they come from God, therefore we are accountable to Him for what we do with His blessings.

If you’re interested in Brother Wurmbrand, there’s an old but interesting interview of Brother Wurmbrand here on YouTube: Brother Wurmbrand

I pray that God prospers you, even as your soul prospers. (3 John 1:2)

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Photo by Daniel Monteiro on Unsplash

A Trinket

A silver turtle trinket

I never noticed this until today. In the account of the “rich young ruler,” Mark considered it important enough to include it in his narrative. The Scripture reads, “And as he (Jesus) was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?(Mark 10:17)

Running to Jesus

The young man RAN to Jesus. This man had intent. He had determination. He had identified the source of what he had been seeking. We know this because he didn’t just run to Jesus but he caused Jesus to stop His journey. This is significant. Abraham did a similar thing, for we find in Genesis 18:2, “Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.” Many theologians consider this encounter to be a Christophany, a visible manifestation of the Son of God before He became flesh (John 1:14).

How similar these two accounts are. Both men spotted Jesus walking. Both men ran to meet Him. Both men stopped Jesus and entreated Him for His attention. Both men bowed or knelt before the Son of God. Both men made a request of Christ. But here the similarity stops.

God Called

God called Abram (Abraham) while he was still an idolator, living in the city of Ur. God called him to leave family, friends, and the familiar to go into the wilderness, to a land that God would show him. Abram took God up on His offer, the rich young ruler did not.

Jesus, in whom the Godhead dwells bodily (Colossians 2:9), asked the young man to get rid of the things that tied him to his family, his world, his life, and to come and join Jesus has a disciple; what a privilege Jesus extended to the rich young ruler, but the young man declined.

It’s not enough to run to Jesus, to interrupt Christ’s journey, to fall on our knees before the King of kings and the Lord of lords, to seek the favor of Jesus. For the first thing Jesus requires of us is to surrender all, to let go of the dead corpse of the world which we continually drag around with us. There can be no life as long as we remain in death.

Christ calls us out, but the decision rests solely upon us. Just as Abram was renamed Abraham, Simon was renamed Peter, Saul was renamed Paul, James and John were renamed the sons of thunder, someday, when we arrive in heaven God will give us a new name, but not the rich young ruler; not on that day, for he cared too much for this world to let go. Like a monkey who’s hand is trapped in a jar, this young man grasped his riches so tightly that he could not escape.

A Trinket of Death

Abraham and the rich young ruler: Two men that our Lord offered unimaginable joy and a place in the foundation of God’s kingdom. One man chose correctly, and one did not. What will we do when Jesus asks us to let go of the thing that is most precious to us, for He knows us better than we ourselves. Will we, by God’s grace, place our faith in Jesus? Will we let go of death and be reborn into eternal life? Or, will we try to hold on to a trinket of death and bargain with Jesus so that we may possess both death and life, a bargain that cannot be made.

Choose life. Choose love. Choose Jesus.

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Jesus in Deuteronomy, Conclusion

jigsaw puzzle

Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. 

Luke 24:27

We’ve got one more excavation site in our quest to discover Jesus in the first five books of the Bible (Pentateuch). So far, we’ve found Jesus everywhere we’ve looked. So grab your trowels and brushes and let’s do this!

As we found last time, during Christ’s earthly ministry, He often quoted from Deuteronomy and He carefully fulfilled this book that He had preordained to reveal Himself to the children of Israel and all the world. For example, Jesus answered all three of his temptations in the wilderness with quotations from the book of Deuteronomy (Luke 4:1–13).

Shields

The Holy Spirit often uses a shield symbolically to communicate His protection. We saw this with Abraham, “After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great. (Genesis 15:1)” and we find this same message from the Holy Spirit to the Israelites. There are several places in Deuteronomy where God uses the idea of a shield such as Deuteronomy 33:29:

Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you,
    a people saved by the Lord,
the shield of your help,
    and the sword of your triumph!
Your enemies shall come fawning to you,
    and you shall tread upon their backs.

We find this same symbolic message from the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 6:16, “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;” 

Let’s take a rabbit trail and consider what God was communicating to the Israelites and to the Ephesians. For the Ephesians, this was during the time of the Roman Empire so:

roman shield

The Roman shield of the time was called a scutum. This type of shield was as large as a door and would cover the warrior entirely. Such a shield was not just defensive but could also be used to push opponents. When fighting as a group, a phalanx of soldiers could position their shields so as to form an enclosure around themselves, called a testudo (“tortoise”). This was especially helpful to protect against arrows launched from the walls of cities they were attacking. Shields, often made of wood and then covered in hide when wet, could extinguish flaming arrows. – https://www.gotquestions.org/shield-of-faith.html

This same shield of faith is available to every believer. Jesus has also promised us, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. (Matthew 18:20)” Therefore, when we gather together in the name of Jesus, we can join our shields of faith and, within the will of God, create a “tortoise” shell of protection for whomever we agree in prayer for.

Back to Jesus in Deuteronomy

Moses spoke of a deliverer that was to come in the future. Tucked into the summary of the Law, in the eighteenth chapter of Deuteronomy, while referring to the punishment of false prophets, Moses gave a remarkable prophecy:

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:15-19)

Moses was a mediator between the Israelites and God (Deuteronomy 5:5), yet Moses was not perfect (Deuteronomy 32:51-52). He, too, failed God. Still, Moses is perhaps the largest, strongest “type” for Jesus. Yet Jesus is perfect and He perfectly performs this mediation between His believers and the Father.

Now, as we successfully wrap up our quest to find Jesus in the Pentateuch, we leave Moses, the great “type” of Jesus, the great Law giver, buried in the plains of Moab (Deuteronomy 34:5). We leave the Old Testament land of types, foreshadows, symbols, metaphors, and analogies and enter back to the fulfillment of all of those; that fulfillment is only found in the person of Jesus, who perfectly fulfilled the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17).

Jesus in the Structure of the Book

Deuteronomy is beautifully crafted. Using the Hebrew’s style of writing, the center of the book is the center of its message. Its preface and its epilog provide the context for the central message of the book. This style is consistent with the other books of the Pentateuch. For Deuteronomy, Jesus, in His roles as the Word of God (John 1:1), skillfully constructed this book as He has done for the yokes He has made for each of His own (Matthew 11:29).

When we read Deuteronomy, we find that chapters one through four are a general accounting of the goodness God has extended to the Israelites in the past. Likewise, chapters thirty-one through thirty-four are God’s assurance of the goodness that He will extend to His chosen people in the future.

The Law comfortably rests in the cradle of this book, nestled within the message of Grace which is found in the prelude and epilog. We need go no further to see Jesus in Deuteronomy than to see Jesus in the structure of this book.

Obedience

Christ said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) Our life as a child of God requires obedience. We do not run down our own paths and do our own thing. As believers, we go where our Savior leads and do the work that He assigns. Yet, the yoke we wear is hand crafted and His burden is light. The peace that abides in us is nothing like the lie that the world calls peace (John 14:27).

We are born by grace, through faith, by no work of our own (Ephesians 2:8-9). We are fed with food that the world cannot see (John 4:32). We glory in our weakness for in that Jesus is magnified (2 Corinthians 12:9). There is no place in this world, be it the finest palace or the most productive farm, that is seen as worthy of a child of God (Hebrews 11:38). God’s love is so great that He has hand crafted homes for each of His own (John 14:2). Commands? Yes. Rules? Yes. But these are wrapped in God’s wonderful grace, mercy, and love. That is the God we serve and that is the structure of Deuteronomy, this book Christ loves.

Carefully

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.(Ephesians 5:15-17)

Four times the Holy Spirit led Moses to write the word “carefully” in the book of Deuteronomy. Strong’s Concordance tells us that the Hebrew word for “carefully” is  וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם֮ (ū·šə·mar·tem – Strong’s Hebrew 8104), meaning: “to keep, guard, observe, give heed, to be on one’s guard, take heed, take care, beware”

We find this admonition in:

·      Deuteronomy 4:6,  Observe them carefully
·      Deuteronomy 4:9, Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget…
·      Deuteronomy 4:15, …Therefore watch yourselves very carefully
·      Deuteronomy 4:23, Be careful not to forget the covenant of the Lord your God that he made with you

Grace

This council from God is grace. The Law contained in Deuteronomy came from God for the good of His chosen people. God knows the nature of humanity – “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:14) Therefore, in God’s grace, repeatedly, He said, “guard, observe, give heed, be on guard, take heed, take care, beware.”

Beware of what? Beware of yourself! You know God’s will. You know that it is the opposite of your nature – the Law was given before God lived within His children. Christ had not yet provided the perfect sacrifice. Therefore, God says, be watchful of yourself so you do what is right instead of what your nature wants.

The gift we now have is this: “Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4) Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross was “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:4).

Do you see Jesus in the “carefully” of Deuteronomy? Do you see Him in His “carefully” of Ephesians? Jesus is “in” the “carefully” of Deuteronomy. As Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.(John 14:15) Jesus is the Word of God (John 1:1). Truly, Deuteronomy contains the fingerprints of Jesus.

Wrap Up

Now, as we successfully wrap up our quest to find Jesus in the Pentateuch, we leave Moses, the great “type” of Jesus, the great Law giver, buried in the plains of Moab (Deuteronomy 34:5). We leave the Old Testament land of types, foreshadows, symbols, metaphors, and analogies and enter back to the fulfillment of all of those; that fulfillment is only found in the person of Jesus, who perfectly fulfilled the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17).

My hope and prayer is that your appetite has been stimulated. Remember, “A worker’s appetite works for him; his mouth urges him on.” (Proverbs 16:26)  I hope and pray that you go back and discover even more places in the Scriptures where Jesus can be seen.

Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

Deuteronomy: Hear, O Israel

Torah

Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. 

Luke 24:27

Get your archaeology tools ready for today’s excavation. We are continuing our search for Jesus in the first five books of the Bible (Pentateuch). Before we begin today’s quest to find more sightings of Jesus in the book of Deuteronomy we first need to view the book through the eyes of our Lord.

Jesus in the Shields

The Holy Spirit often uses a shield symbolically to communicate His protection; our protection has its root in our faith; “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8), “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one…” (Ephesians 6:16)

We saw this protection for Abraham: After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” (Genesis 15:1) We also find this same message from the Holy Spirit to the Israelites. There are several places in Deuteronomy where God uses the idea of a shield such as Deuteronomy 33:29

“Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, 
    a people saved by the Lord, 
the shield of your help, 
    and the sword of your triumph! 
Your enemies shall come fawning to you, 
    and you shall tread upon their backs.” 

We also find this symbolic message from the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 6:16, “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;

Let’s take a rabbit trail and consider what God was communicating. We have the most information about Roman shields, shields that were familiar to the Ephesians.

The Roman shield of the time was called a scutum. This type of shield was as large as a door and would cover the warrior entirely. Such a shield was not just defensive but could also be used to push opponents. When fighting as a group, a phalanx of soldiers could position their shields to form an enclosure around themselves, called a testudo (“tortoise”). This was especially helpful to protect against arrows launched from the walls of cities they were attacking. Shields, often made of wood and then covered in hide when wet, could extinguish flaming arrows.

https://www.gotquestions.org/shield-of-faith.html

God’s shield of faith is available to every believer. Jesus has also promised us, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. (Matthew 18:20)” Therefore, when we gather together in the name of Jesus, we can join our shields of faith and, within the will of God, create a “tortoise” shell (testudo ) of protection for whomever we agree for in prayer. 

Wrap Up

We will return to Deuteronomy next time because Jesus shows Himself in many more places in this amazing book of the Bible.

Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

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Jesus in Deuteronomy

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For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.

John 4:46

Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. 

Luke 24:27

Perceiving God’s Scriptural Tapestry

Before we can see Jesus in Deuteronomy, we need to know who we’re looking for – I guess it’s a little late to point this out. Anyway, we need to understand 1 Timothy 3:16, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He [Jesus] was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” That’s Jesus. An excellent analysis of this verse can be found in “Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers” 

Now, we know the “who”, but we also need to know where to look. Many of our sightings of Jesus will come into focus only as we become familiar with this tapestry of Scriptures that the Holy Spirit wove in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy teaches us about Moses’ farewell to the generation of Israelites that would enter the Promised Land. We are taught of the handoff of leadership from Moses to Joshua. And are taught of Moses’ reminder to the Israelites regarding God’s blessings and God’s judgments.

During Christ’s earthly ministry, He often quoted from Deuteronomy. For example, Jesus answered all three of his temptations in the wilderness with quotations from the book of Deuteronomy (Luke 4:1–13). Jesus carefully fulfilled the Law and the Prophets, yet He was not subject to the Law for He was before Abraham. (John 8:58) Jesus was not a Levitical priest. He was not from lineage of Aaron. Instead. it is said of Him, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 7:17) There are several places in the Gospels where Jesus exercised His law-making authority while still fulfilling all the Law and the prophets.

As for this book of Deuteronomy, we find it bursting through, into the New Testament, in such places as the prohibition of personal revenge (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19), and Deuteronomy 30:14, “But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.”, Romans 10:8, “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim) …

Jesus in Monotheism 

Perhaps the most famous verse is Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” This proclamation firmly establishes the Israelites and Christians as monotheistic. This message is at the very heart of God’s message to Israel, and all who have been grafted into the “true vine” (John 15:1). So, surely, Jesus is in this verse. How could He not be, if it is only one of the most salient verses in the whole of Scripture, but where is He?

Deuteronomy 6:4 is so foundational that Jesus quoted it to the Pharisees when asked what the greatest commandment was (Matthew 22:36-40). So this seems to be a good spot to dig in to discover Jesus. 

Hear, O Israel.” The obvious intent of this passage is to be spoken. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)  

The second part of this passage is, “The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Historic, orthodox Christian monotheism says that the one divine essence equally belongs to three distinct divine persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We clearly see this in the passage, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:14) Therefore, Jesus in firmly seen in Deuteronomy 6:4. 

Wrap-Up

Well, we’ve certainly seen Jesus in Deuteronomy. In the second part of Jesus in Deuteronomy, we will see Jesus in shields. I hope to see you then!

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