Running with the footmen (Jeremiah 12:5)

The prophet Jeremiah was writing to a people who were disobedient to the Lord and were heading toward judgment. He was given the daunting task of declaring the coming judgment to the nation of Judah with full knowledge that his words would not be heeded. Jeremiah had been told by the LORD that he was to preach to Judah even though they would never listen. But the language of the Scripture in Jeremiah’s prophecy evokes powerful images.

“If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out,
Then how can you compete with horses?
If you fall down in a land of peace,
How will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?” – Jeremiah 12:5

Judah had been living in luxury and peace (“running with the footmen”) and had steadily decayed in their service to the LORD and in their giving glory to the LORD among the nations. Instead of holiness, Judah was marked by wickedness and idolatry, and the halcyon days of running with the footmen were about to be replaced by competing with horses.

WE HAVE BEEN RUNNING WITH FOOTMEN

As I read these words of Jeremiah, I can’t help but think that, in different a sense, the American church has been “running with the footmen” for a long time. By “running with the footmen,” I mean that the American church has had a long season of great material wealth, of protection from the government, and of tolerance from the prevailing society. The church militant in America has had decades of a favorable climate for declaring the gospel to the nations with very few hindrances. The American church has had a long comfortable period of peace and material prosperity. That is what I mean by “running with the footmen.” And yet, despite the wealth to fund far-reaching gospel ventures and the freedom to pursue our faith out in the open, the church has made scant progress in the gospel. While there have been some focused efforts to move the message of the gospel forward, there has also been the squandering of immense amounts of money, time, and focus on building opulent church campuses that serve only the people in the church. In my opinion, the excesses have far outnumbered the useful projects, the church in America has become inwardly focused through pampering, and the cause of the gospel has languished. We have been running with the footmen, and we have wearied ourselves in the most favorable of circumstances.

COMPETING WITH HORSES AND ENTERING THE THICKET OF THE JORDAN

But something else has been occurring as the church has been entertaining ourselves and improving our “church experience.” The material wealth of the church has slowly eroded, religious protection from the government has all but disappeared and has been replaced with restrictions, and the attitude of the American culture has gradually turned hostile to Christianity. I sense that the pleasant days of leisurely “running with the footmen” are fast coming to a close (if they have not already) and that we are beginning a time of “competing with horses.” To quote Jeremiah, we are entering “the thicket of the Jordan,” and in that place the obstacles to the gospel will be many and further progress will be hard-won.

How, then, are we who wage war (2 Cor. 10:3-5) under the banner of Jesus to respond to this increasingly hostile culture? Here are some thoughts that I employ that help me to persevere:

  • Be careful and thoughtful with my doctrine so that I am not blown here and there by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14) and thus end up in apostasy.
  • Be more intentionally encouraging to other believers since the sources of discouragement will continue to grow in number and in magnitude (Ephesians 4:29).
  • With a sense of urgency, be more vocal with my evangelistic efforts (2 Cor. 5:11a).
  • Strive to be more useful and productive in whatever area of Kingdom activity or ministry the Lord has given us (Colossians 3:23; Romans 12:6-8).
  • Expect and embrace persecution from the world. Bear it with joy and continue to proclaim Christ in the midst of persecution (Matt. 5:10-12, 44; Romans 12:14).
  • Stand firm against the schemes of the devil (2 Cor. 2:11; Ephesians 6:11ff).
  • Close ranks within the local church, and make sure that I am doing the “one anothers” for my fellow church members. These are the people the Lord has called me to encourage toward heaven.

As we must more and more compete with horses and run through thickets, let’s lean into the Lord and be steadfast (1 Cor. 15:58).

SDG                 rmb                 10/4/2021                   #438

Once to die and after this comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27)

PREFACE: Another of a series of posts offering my own perspective on the issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. NOTE: I have edited the post from yesterday, “Some trust in chariots (Psalm 20:6-9)” because some of the wording needed to be changed. rmb

An interesting phenomenon has occurred in the last year and a half. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the threat of sudden, random death onto the screens of people all over the globe. When it first appeared in March of last year, the reports were that COVID only affected the aged and the infirm, but as the pandemic has raged and morphed, the threat of getting a severe case has gradually trickled down the age ranges until now everyone of any age is a potential victim. And death may result, whether you are nineteen or ninety. COVID is no respecter of age. Nor does COVID seem to discriminate on the basis of physical health. There is growing evidence that physical fitness poses no barrier to COVID. And death may result, whether you are a physical specimen or a couch potato.

A few days ago, it was announced that the COVID pandemic is now officially the deadliest pandemic in US history, surpassing the so-called Spanish flu of 1918. To date 676,000 Americans have entered eternity as a result of COVID-19. Yes, there is no question about it: death may result from COVID.

So, how should we, as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, respond to these realities? I suggest that we address these realities with the truths of the gospel.

THE TRUTH ABOUT DEATH

COVID has brought to many people an awareness of death, and an awareness of their own possible death, which has previously been absent. Of course, death is not new. Ever since Adam ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, death has been a reality on this planet. Every person who has ever been born either has already experienced death or will experience death. Death hangs over the head of every person living, and death may come at any moment. There is no negotiation. There is never a redo. There is no reversal. Death comes with stunning finality, and we humans are helpless before it. And death is a universal problem.

Human beings are unique among all the animals on earth in two ways related to death: First, humans are the only animals who know they are going to die; and second, humans are the only animals who will be judged by God because of their sin. Hebrews 9:27 puts it well:

And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment

It is appointed for men to die. God told Adam, “The day you eat of it (forbidden fruit) you shall surely die.” Thus, death entered the world (Romans 5:12), and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). So, it is appointed by God for men to die. There is a day appointed for me and for you when we will die.

But the most terrifying thing about death is not the experience of death itself, but the truth that after death comes judgment. All of us must stand before the judgment seat of God (Romans 14:10). All unbelievers will stand before the blazing holiness of God Almighty and will be condemned for their sins (Revelation 20:15). This is why the unbeliever, whether they admit it or not, is frightened of death. They are frightened because, in their soul, they know that God’s judgment awaits.

AWARENESS OF DEATH

I mentioned before that COVID has brought many people to an awareness of the possibility of their own death. So, it is not death itself that is new, but it is the awareness of their own death that is new. Through the COVID pandemic, millions have seen men and women just like them dying of COVID and death has become part of everyday conversation. My awareness of my own possible death from COVID goes way up when I see a friend or a church member or a relative dying of the disease. What does the gospel have to say to those who are afraid of death and afraid of the coming judgment?

JESUS CHRIST HAS CONQUERED DEATH

So COVID threatens us with physical death, but the truth of the gospel declares that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. Jesus has conquered death by His glorious resurrection, and now the follower of Jesus has no need to fear death. Since Jesus Christ has risen from dead, all those who are in Christ will also rise from the dead in the final Resurrection. The Bible declares this over and over again:

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” – John 11:25-26

Jesus promises resurrection and eternal life to all who believe in Him. COVID cannot threaten me because Jesus has given me His promises.

53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

All believers must put on imperishable immortality. The Christian is promised a resurrection, so death has lost its victory and its sting.

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. – Philippians 1:21

The apostle Paul takes this idea into the most practical of places. Since faith in Jesus Christ has guaranteed a resurrection, the believer can live fully for Christ and then will gain heaven when they die. COVID has nothing to say to a life lived for Christ in that way.

So, the believer in Jesus can respond to the threat of death from COVID by simply declaring, “Because of my faith in Jesus Christ, I have no fear of death. My Savior has conquered the grave and risen from the dead, and in the end, I will also be glorified. So, I have no fear of COVID-19.” This, in my opinion, is the faithful response to the threat of this pandemic.

But I think there is still more that we can do with the threat of COVID.

AN OPPORTUNITY TO OFFER THE GOSPEL

As more and more become aware of their mortality and of the proximity of their own death, and as perhaps some we know or encounter even draw near to that awesome moment when life gives way to eternity, I am convinced that believers must warn the perishing of their peril and urge them to come to Christ before it is too late.

Is it possible that the Lord is using the deaths of this pandemic and the increased awareness of our own inevitable death to open a door for those who will tell the lost about the reality of the final Judgment so they will turn to Christ? In Ezekiel 33:1-10 we read the story of the watchman. The LORD tells the prophet that a watchman was appointed to send the alarm if he saw the sword of destruction coming upon the city so the city would be warned and get to safety. Then the LORD says, “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet and the people are not warned, and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require from the watchman’s hand” (Ezekiel 33:6). The LORD is saying that, because the watchman did not warn about the coming sword, he is responsible for the deaths in the city.

How does this apply to the believer during the COVID pandemic? We are the watchmen who have been appointed to warn of the coming Judgment. We are the ones who know that there is a sword coming, ultimately the double-edged sword coming out of the mouth of the Lord Jesus when He returns to judge the earth (Revelation 19:11-16). We have been appointed as the witnesses of the Lord Jesus (Acts 1:8), and if we do not warn about the coming judgment, the people will still perish in their sins, but we also will have to give an account for why we were silent. The point is that COVID-19 has made people, all people, much more aware about the possibility of death. That is an opportunity for us, for we know Him who has conquered death. We know Him who has removed our fear of death. “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11). We know that the Judgment will be terrifying, and we know how those who are now under judgment can be set free. Let’s be vocal and bold in proclaiming Jesus to the lost.

The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16)

Most of us have heard about Yom Kippur, even if we are not Jewish. The descriptions of Yom Kippur on the Internet are universally serious and sober. One site calls Yom Kippur “the most solemn of Jewish religious holidays, observed on the 10th day of the lunar month of Tishri (in the course of September and October), when Jews seek to expiate their sins and achieve reconciliation with God.” Many Christians are unaware that Yom Kippur, translated as the “day of atonement,” is part of every Bible. The fundamental teaching on the day of atonement is given in Leviticus 16, and that is where I will be focusing for this post. The New Testament book of “Hebrews” also spends a good bit of time explaining the significance of the day of atonement and teaches how Jesus the Messiah has fulfilled this foreshadow or “type” by His sacrificial death on the cross.

With this post, I want to carefully go through Leviticus 16 and show how this Jewish ceremony established by Moses 3,500 years ago points to the finished work of Jesus the Messiah that He accomplished in His death and resurrection.

(I will be using the New American Standard translation of the Bible.)

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THE CEREMONY

Before we get into the actual ceremony and what Aaron the priest was commanded to do on the day of atonement, there are several preliminary observations to make.

  • First, the LORD Himself spoke to Moses and gave him the requirements for this day. In fact, The LORD is the only person who speaks in Leviticus 16. The LORD speaks to Moses and describes the precise requirements for the day of atonement if the sins of the people were to be removed. Therefore, the ceremony was not invented by Moses, nor were the details of the ceremony made up by other people. Rather, “The LORD spoke to Moses (16:1, 2).”
  • Second, the day of atonement was observed on one day of every year, the tenth day of the seventh month, and it was a permanent statute for the children of Israel, meaning that they were required to perform this ceremony every year (Leviticus 16:29). Yom Kippur was not optional.
  • Third, the purpose of Yom Kippur was that “on this day, atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the LORD (16:30 – read 16:29-34).” The LORD God is a holy God and our sin creates a separation between us and God (Isaiah 59:1-2) and brings us under His righteous judgment and condemnation (Ezekiel 18:4). In the Law (Torah) of the Old Testament, the LORD, through Yom Kippur, provided a way for the sins of man to be cleansed and washed away, so that men and women would not be condemned before Him. Every year the Hebrew people were required to repeat the ceremony, as a reminder of their ongoing sinfulness.
  • Fourth, only the high priest could perform the ceremony of the day of atonement and, as we will see, he was required to perform his duties precisely according to the instructions the LORD gave. Every part of the priest’s duty was for a purpose and no part could be omitted. Acceptable atonement depended on the priest performing his duties exactly as prescribed. If he did not do everything according to the instructions, the priest would die before the LORD and the people’s sins would remain.

THE CEREMONY ITSELF

            As we have said, the ceremony for Yom Kippur is carefully explained in Leviticus chapter 16. There are many steps and actions described in this chapter which are necessary to atone for sin and trying to follow all these details can be confusing, especially to a reader who is relatively unfamiliar with Israel’s sacrificial system. To simplify matters, the whole ceremony can be described in three broad ideas, namely:

  • The forgiveness of any sin requires shedding the blood of an acceptable sacrifice. Therefore, the high priest must bring blood into the Most Holy Place to be sprinkled on the mercy seat (“the propitiatory”).
  • The central focus of the day of atonement is on the two goats, one goat that is sacrificed as a sin offering and another goat that remains alive and is sent away into the wilderness. To understand Yom Kippur and how Yom Kippur allowed for the atonement of the sins of the people, a person must understand the meaning of the two goats.
  • The ceremony is steeped in holiness and was a unique sacrifice among all the sacrifices of the Hebrew sacrificial system. This was the only sacrifice when the high priest was allowed into the Most Holy Place (“the Holy of holies”). This was the only sacrifice that required two animals. This was the only ceremony in the sacrificial system where a live animal survived. 

LEVITICUS 16, VERSES 1-10

            The first ten verses give an overview and preliminary instruction for what will happen during the whole ceremony. The LORD reminds Moses of how serious this day is and that even the high priest must not enter the Most Holy place (“Holy of holies”) unless he brings blood to atone for his own sin. We are also introduced to the two male goats, who are the focus of the ceremony. Aaron is to “cast lots for the two goats (16:8).” One goat will be sacrificed to the LORD as a sin offering and the other goat will be the scapegoat (or “the goat of removal”). “The scapegoat will be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as a scapegoat (16:10).”

LEVITICUS 16, VERSES 11-14 – The bull of the sin offering (inside the veil)

            Now the action of the sacrifices begins. Aaron, the high priest, must offer the bull of the sin offering (16:11); he must slaughter the bull of the sin offering (16:11); and he must take some of the blood of the bull into the Holy of holies (“inside the veil” – 16:12) to sprinkle it on the mercy seat (16:14).

All this is done to atone for the high priest’s own personal sins. He cannot come into the presence of the LORD unless his sins have been atoned for. Also, notice that, before he enters inside the veil and into the presence of the LORD, the high priest must prepare a cloud of incense (16:12-13) to cover the mercy seat, “otherwise he will die.”

LEVITICUS 16, VERSES 15-19 – The goat of the sin offering (inside the veil)

            After making atonement for his own sins, the high priest goes back out to the holy place inside the tent and slaughters the goat of the sin offering (the first goat). He then brings the blood of that goat inside the veil, into the Holy of holies, to sprinkle its blood on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat “to make atonement for all the assembly of Israel (16:17).” In this part of the ceremony, the blood of the sin offering atones for the sins of the people.

LEVITICUS 16, VERSES 20-22 – The goat of removal (outside the tent)

            But now the high priest goes outside the tent of meeting and offers the live goat (16:20). Then the priest “shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins (16:21).” By confessing the sins of all the people over the head of the live goat, the high priest has transferred those sins to the live goat. Then the goat, which is now bearing the sins of all the people, is sent away into the wilderness so that their sins will be remembered no more.

AN ODD CEREMONY – WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

            As we consider this ceremony of Yom Kippur that the LORD prescribed for taking away sins, a number of questions may arise, like:

  • How can animal sacrifices, even those commanded by the LORD, atone for human sins?
  • What sorts of sins did the children of Israel have to confess? I am pretty sure their sins were different than our sins.
  • This ceremony took place a long, long time ago. What does this have to do with me today? Things have changed since then. Surely God does not still require atonement for my sin and does not still require blood sacrifices.
  • Why would God create such an unusual ceremony to atone for sin? Doesn’t God just sort of wave His hand and forgive sin? Why this elaborate ceremony?
  • Why did this have to be repeated every year as a “perpetual statute?” It seems like it would be done once for all time and that would be that. Why the repetition?
  • This ceremony cannot be done now because neither the tabernacle nor the temple still exists, and because sacrificing animals is just not done in our culture. How, then, are God’s people supposed to atone for their sins now?

YOM KIPPUR IS A FORESHADOW OF SOMETHING ELSE

            These are all interesting questions, and they probably deserve answers, but these questions miss the main point. The main point, and the point that will answer most of the questions above, is that the LORD prescribed the ceremony of Yom Kippur not as an end in itself, but as a picture of something much greater that was to come. We refer to this picturing of something in the future as a “foreshadow.” The idea is that we see the shadow now, but we know that the greater reality is coming soon. Since we see the shadow now, the substance will be right behind it. So, Yom Kippur is a foreshadow of a greater reality to follow.

The day of atonement as described in Leviticus 16 shows us several things:

  • All people have sinned against the commandments of the LORD. Notice that the high priest needed to make atonement for all the people. That means that all had sinned.
  • The LORD God is holy and requires atonement for sin. That is the entire purpose of the ceremony. God is very serious about sin.
  • We cannot make ourselves righteous before God, but we need a sin offering to atone for our sins. The priest had to bring the blood of the prescribed sin offering inside the veil to sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat. Just so, we need the blood an acceptable sacrifice to atone for our sins.
  • We also need a “goat of removal” who will take our sins away “into the wilderness” so that we will no longer be under the judgment of God.
  • Leviticus 16 describes Yom Kippur, which was to berepeated every single year, but we need a permanent solution to our sin problem. We need a once-for-all time sacrifice to atone for our sin and we need some way to permanently take our sins away into the wilderness.

Yom Kippur foreshadows the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah as an atonement for the sins of His people. In His death on the cross, Jesus was “the goat of the sin offering.” He was the acceptable sacrifice who “gave His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). It is His blood that serves as atonement for the sins of His people. But Jesus is also “the goat of removal,” because by His resurrection “He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). That is, because He rose from the dead and lives forever, He is always able to take away the sins of His people into the wilderness.

HOW DO WE RECEIVE THE ATONEMENT JESUS OFFERS?

APPLICATION: Jesus grants atonement and forgiveness of sins to all His people. Who are “His people?” His people are all those who have placed their faith in Him as Lord and Savior. Regardless of ethnicity or past sins or social position or age or any other external differentiation, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart a person believes resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” – Romans 10:9-10.

When we place our faith in Jesus, we figuratively place both our hands on His head (Leviticus 16:21) and declare our faith in Him and we confess our sins to God. In that act of faith, Jesus dies for us as “the goat of the sin offering” (Lev. 16:15-19) to take away the penalty for our sin, and, by His resurrection, He also lives for us as “the live goat” (Leviticus 16:20-22) to continue to take our sins away into the wilderness, “to a solitary land” (16:22). If you have never done that, now would be a good time to receive that atonement and the forgiveness that Jesus has to offer.

Isaiah 12: Streams of salvation – Part 1

This post begins a series of blogs exploring and enjoying this short chapter from the prophet Isaiah.

In six verses, Isaiah 12 takes us on a journey all the way from a time of being an enemy of the LORD to being His joyful herald as an inhabitant of Zion. The chapter divides neatly in half, with the first half telling of the author’s journey from being under the LORD’s anger to his enjoying the LORD’s salvation, and the second half urging those who have received salvation to trumpet the LORD’s praises and declare His excellence throughout the earth.

Then you will say on that day,

“I will give thanks to You, O LORD,

For although You were angry with me,

Your anger is turned away

And You comfort me. – Isaiah 12:1

“THAT DAY”

The text tells of a certain day called “that day.” In this context, what is “that day?” In many Old Testament contexts, “that day” is referring to the day of the LORD, the Last Day, when the LORD finally pours out His wrath on all those who do not bow the knee in worship to the Lord Jesus Christ. But here in this context, “that day” is referring to the day of this man’s salvation. This is the day when any man or any woman passes from death to life (John 5:24). “That day” is the day when God’s wrath toward that sinner is quenched and is forever turned away, and God’s blessing and God’s favor forever replaces it. This is “that day.” (See Isaiah 49:8, quoted by Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:2.)

SOMETHING CHANGED

What has happened on “that day?” Something life-changing has happened that has prompted spontaneous and irrepressible thanks, something astonishing that has somehow resulted in God’s righteous anger being turned away from this person and being replaced with the LORD’s comfort. This man pours out thanks to the LORD because “although You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away.”

THE DOCTRINE OF THE LORD’S RIGHTEOUS ANGER AGAINST US

The Bible teaches that the LORD is holy, and because He is holy, He will not tolerate sin. His holiness requires Him to punish the sinner. When we sin, the LORD’s wrath rests upon us (John 3:18, 36). He is angry with the sinner (Ephesians 2:3), and He will punish the sinner for his sin. (Also Psalm 32:3-4; Romans 1:18)

And so, this truth answers one of our questions. “For although You were angry with me . . .” The author acknowledges that there was a time when the LORD’s anger rested upon him, but we wonder, “Why was the LORD angry with him? Isn’t it true that the LORD is a God of love? What horrible thing did this man do that warranted the LORD’s being angry with him?” Now it has become apparent that this man did nothing that you and I have not done. The LORD was angry with him because he was a sinner, and that his “ordinary” sin brought the LORD’s “ordinary” wrath and judgment. And if the LORD was angry with this man because of his “ordinary” sin, it follows that the LORD also must be angry with me for my “ordinary” sin.

BUT THERE IS “ALTHOUGH”

But we must read on, for the LORD’s wrath is not the end of the story. There is hope for the sinner (there is hope for me!) because there is this word “although.” O, what is the meaning of this “although?” We will explore that in our next post.

SDG                 rmb                 8/14/2021                   #429

Why are the warnings in Hebrews so severe?

There is no shortage of warnings in the Bible. God has sent His word to mankind to warn us that we are in peril because of our sin and to alert us that God, the Holy One of Israel, will surely judge and will condemn the unrighteous. And so, in each genre of the Bible and in many places in each genre, the Bible issues warnings so that men will turn from their sin and repent.

THE WARNINGS IN HEBREWS

But while there are many warnings in the Bible, there are some warnings that are particularly striking and daunting, that pierce like an arrow and slam into us like a cutlass. The warnings in the book of Hebrews are of this variety. There are multiple warnings in Hebrews and each succeeding warning seems to be more unsettling than the last. In chapter 2 we are warned not to drift away from so great a salvation (2:1, 3). Chapter 3 tells us about the dangers of an evil, unbelieving heart (3:12). Chapter 4 urges us not to come short of God’s rest (4:1). In the well-known passage in chapter 6 we read of the impossibility of renewing to repentance those who have heard the word of God and then have fallen away (6:4-8). Then in chapter 10 we have perhaps the most frightening, as we read that, if we sin willfully after we have claimed faith in Christ, “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment” (10:26-27). This passage (10:26-31) is punctuated with the warning, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:31).

WHY SO SEVERE?

Why does the author of Hebrews dramatically and repeatedly warn his readers in such alarming terms? What is it about the purpose of the epistle that warrants these strident warnings? As I have studied the book of Hebrews, I have reached the conclusion that the reason for these devastating warnings has to do with the particular people the author is trying to reach.

When you design an alarm system for a facility that stores explosive chemicals, politeness is not a design criterion. Rather, the alarms are designed to be as loud and irritating and irresistible as possible so that, if there ever appears any threat of an explosion, the people in the facility will be alerted and will evacuate and get away immediately.

If you were going on an African safari into lion country, your weapon of choice would not be a small caliber handgun. You are going after a target animal that requires potent weapons which assure a kill when they encounter the target. Best be sure that the first bullet does the job, for you may not get a second.

Likewise, the author of Hebrews has as his purpose to alarm and warn a specific type of person in the congregation, and he is determined to achieve his purpose. The last thing he wants to do is issue a so-called warning that falls short of arousing and that fails to alarm. There is nothing more pathetic than warning people who are in terrible danger with an alarm that is not capable of alerting or alarming. It is like a fire alarm that is mistaken for the music of an ice cream truck. People perish in the flames because of the incompetence of the one who issues the alarm. The author of Hebrews will not be accused of issuing such a warning.

WHO IS THE AUTHOR TRYING TO ALARM? THE MOST ELUSIVE

This epistle is intended to rouse to awareness that most elusive and stubborn of all unbelievers, the person who is comfortable with Christian words and Christian practices, who regularly attends church services, who writes checks to his church and who is generally a decent, polite fellow, but who has never been born again, who has never been personally delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. These startling warnings are for those who are merely going through the motions and who are simply doing the external works of Christianity, thinking that these are all that the Lord requires. The author’s warnings are severe and drastic because he is attempting to rouse the external “Christian.” The external, nominal “Christian” is not born again and so is not saved and has not been set free by Jesus, but they wrongly believe they are, based on their religious performance. He would, in fact, be insulted and offended if anyone were to suggest to him that his external, formal Christianity was somehow not good enough to get him into heaven. Even this person’s own pastor would be treading on thin ice if the pastor suggested to this “fine Christian man” that his walk needed to show the fruit of repentance and should display greater holiness in order to display genuine faith.

“If you were accused of being a biblical Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

The author of Hebrews must make these warnings severe and harsh and drastic so that the nominal church-goer, still dead in their sins, might be shaken from their slumber and stirred to consciousness, and might be frightened into genuine repentance. The alarm must be loud and piercing and prolonged because of the spiritual stupor of the religious once-born. The one who has been dutifully plodding through the external motions of Christianity for a long time has been lulled into a spiritual coma (confirm in Hebrews 6:4-6). A loud, piercing, prolonged alarm is needed to rouse them and, alas, even that alarm rarely rouses. The one in the coma assumes the alarm is for someone else and that their listless church experience is the real deal. So, the author of Hebrews makes his warnings harsh and direct because his intent is to rouse those who are still dead but think they are alive. (See the church in Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6.)

By these strident warnings, the author also does an immense service to the pastor who is duty-bound to preach these warning passages to those in his own congregation whom he suspects to have fallen short of salvation. These severe and stunning passages allow the pastor to preach with great boldness without stretching the text too far. The brave pastor can thus declare the warnings that lie plainly in the text and then apply the warnings to his flock without being accused of reading into the passage his own pleadings and opinions.

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

So, preach boldly, my friend, with the full sanctioning of the Scriptures.

SDG                 rmb                 8/7/2021                     #428

Ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:15-21)

In this passage, the apostle Paul teaches how it is that the “not many wise and not many noble (1 Corinthians 1:26)” who make up the majority of the people of God are transformed into ambassadors for Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:15-21

15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.

16 Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. 17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

5:15 – The apostle starts by telling us that we (believers in Jesus) are “no longer to live for ourselves.” That means that “I” have moved way down the list of priorities. I am no longer consumed with the question, “How can I benefit from this?” I am not obsessed with “what’s in this for me?” My desire now is to be useful to Jesus.

I have been bought by another. My life is not my own and, therefore, my life and its preservation and pleasure are not my concern. Another now holds the title deed to my life. I am no longer the master. Instead, I serve the Master, the Lord, and do what pleases Him.

I now “live for Him who died and rose again on my behalf.” Therefore, my new first question is, “What is my Master’s will?” What is His highest priority? What has He bought me to do for Him? What has He called me to do for Him, in general and specifically?

5:16 – Now we do not assess a person based on what they are “in the flesh.” In other words, we do not judge our fellow believers on the basis of outward appearance or worldly circumstance. It is immaterial if the brother is rich or poor. It is of no consequence whether the disciple is a man or a woman, young or old. Their ethnicity is only a feature of their personhood. “We recognize no one according to the flesh.” Why?

5:17 – Now we see every believer as a new creature in Christ. Whatever came before has passed away. Were you a drunk or a drug addict? It matters not. You are now a new creature in Christ, and new things have come. Were you a homosexual or were you a prostitute? Gone! Those things have passed away and you have now put on Jesus’ white robe of righteousness. You are a new creature in Christ. Were you a thief or a liar or a cheat? Did you have a foul mouth and a fouler mind? Were you angry and hateful and vengeful and cruel? For His people, Christ has vanquished all these things by His death on the cross. “If ANYONE is in Christ, he is a new creature!” The old is GONE. The new has come.

5:18 – So we have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and, having been reconciled and made new, we have been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. Having experienced the power of the ministry of reconciliation, we are now to be participants in proclaiming reconciliation to as many as we can.

5:18-19 – God has reconciled us to Himself so that our highest priority is to fulfill our ministry of reconciliation. We have been reconciled to be reconcilers.

Since we have been saved by the gospel, we are now obligated to proclaim the gospel. God has committed us to the word of reconciliation.

5:20 – THEREFORE! What is the reason that Paul has told us about this ministry of reconciliation? Why has he declared to us the glories of the new birth, that if ANYONE is in Christ, they are a new creature? Where has Paul been headed in this passage? Well, he has been headed here! This has been his intended destination. Because we now no longer live for ourselves but now all believers live to please Christ. Because, regardless of the wreckage of our past, we are new creatures in Christ, and the old has passed away. And because we have now received the ministry of reconciliation, THEREFORE, we are ambassadors for Christ. The living God makes His appeal to lost sinners through us. THEREFORE, the disciples of Christ beg the perishing to be reconciled to God through Christ. This is our mission.

5:21 – And what is it that we are to proclaim to those who are outside of Christ? What are we to tell those who are still hell-bound? Here is 2 Corinthians 5:21 we have a one verse summary of the gospel.

21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, has died an atoning death on the cross so that all who believe in Him will receive His righteousness imputed to them and will be reconciled to God.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us commit fully to our role as ambassadors for Christ and let us fulfill our ministry of reconciliation.

SDG                 rmb                 6/29/2021                   #419

Blessed are the persecuted (Matthew 5:10-12)

A few days ago, I wrote an article on the American disciple of Jesus and how he or she relates to persecution. The disadvantage for the American Christian is that their entire faith experience has encased them in a bubble that virtually excludes persecution as even a possibility. It is unconsciously accepted as a “fact” that real persecution for the follower of Jesus does not occur in America. “Yes, it certainly happens to believers in other countries, but it doesn’t happen to us here.” Such is the general mindset in the American church.

I do not share that confidence. It is my belief that real persecution is going to occur here in the not-too-distant future. There are simply too many warnings and teachings (and promises?) about persecution in the New Testament, and there is simply too much evil rising up on every side, for America to remain an island of refuge and safe from the heat. The Lord uses persecution as a way to test His saints, as a way to purify His church, and as a way to show His infinite worth when His saints choose to die rather than deny their Lord. The church in America and the saints in America are entitled to these benefits of persecution just as much as the believers in Nigeria or India. For these reasons, I am persuaded that the heat will soon rise.

So, as a result of this persuasion, I plan to post a series of articles on New Testament passages that address persecution so that believers in America can be prepared to stand firm rather than be surprised and shrink back.

But first, we need a definition for our topic so that we are talking about the same thing.

PERSECUTION – A DEFINITION: Significant suffering or loss intentionally inflicted on a follower of Jesus Christ by a person or group that opposes the Christian gospel and hates the person of Christ because the follower of Jesus has identified as a believer and/or has practiced their Christian faith.

OUR TEXT: MATTHEW 5:10-12

In this series of articles, we will discover that the New Testament is packed with verses that disclose the promised persecution that those who follow Jesus will experience, simply because they follow Him. In this post, we will begin near the beginning of the New Testament and cover two of the beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:10-12.

10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. – Matthew 5:10-12

THE BLESSINGS OF PERSECUTION

During His earthly ministry, Jesus made plain to all those who would follow Him that every disciple would need to pay a high cost. This cost was never in the small print, but always at the top of the contract, capitalized in bold type. Jesus is the King of kings, and anyone who would join themselves to His kingdom needs to be willing to surrender all for His name’s sake.

And so it is that after Jesus tells the listening crowd the characteristics of His disciples In Matthew 5:3-9, He tells that same crowd of the treatment that they will receive from those outside His kingdom.

The message of these verses is crystal clear: “Blessed are those who are persecuted.” What a strange message for the Son of God to proclaim! What a very unusual recruiting tool! Jesus has just begun His earthly ministry and, although there are large crowds of the curious, He has only a few real committed followers at this point. Then, with the crowd in the palm of His hand, on the edge of their seat, He delivers the thunderclap: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.”    

THE PARADOX OF PERSECUTION

Here is paradox! “Blessed are those who are persecuted.” Jesus Christ declares to His would-be followers a paradoxical truth. The very thing that causes our natural flesh to recoil in loathing is the source of the Lord’s blessing. How can this be? Persecution involves pain and loss as others vent their hatred on us simply because we follow Jesus. And yet Jesus promises us a blessing if we will be the recipient of persecution for His name’s sake.

THOUGHTS ON THIS PERSECUTION

You must boldly and intentionally raise the flag of Jesus if you will receive the blessing of persecution. Those who are timid and reluctant will go unnoticed by their would-be persecutors. These violent aggressors will overlook you or ignore you and thus you will miss out on the blessing. You must do a lot to be persecuted, especially in a relatively docile place like America. Let your reckless boldness for Jesus kindle the persecution.

In persecution, the believer is dependent on the hatred of others. Most of Christ’s promised blessings are dependent only on our activity, but the blessing of persecution is different. In persecution, the disciple of Jesus is passive and depends on the sinful behavior of Christ’s enemies to receive the promised blessing.

Persecution is received not for disobedient behavior but for boldly obedient behavior in a context that is known to be hostile to the gospel and hostile to Jesus. There is simply no other way to be persecuted. The disciple who would receive the blessing of persecution is the disciple who remains steadfast and immovable in the face of very real potential threats. This is the disciple who refuses to bow down even as they feel the heat of the fiery furnace. This is the disciple who prefers a context hostile to the gospel and has already decided that bold, visible obedience is not optional, but is just part of what it means to follow Jesus. This is the disciple who seeks the blessing of persecution.

Blessed are those who are persecuted.” Those who have been persecuted declare that, not after death, but in the very experience of persecution, there is a sense of the Lord’s blessing. The blessing is in the persecution. All true believers will be glorified and will spend eternity in heaven with the Lord, but what will we experience in this life? The blessings of persecution can only be experienced here during this mortal life. Why not receive this blessing of persecution, also?

SDG                 rmb                 6/29/2021                   #418

Yes, there were cities of refuge (Numbers 35:9-34)

In the book of Numbers, in chapter 35, we are told of the cities of refuge that were to be established in the Promised Land after the children of Israel crossed over the Jordan. This post is written to show how these point to Jesus and His sacrifice for sinners on the cross.

When we read this passage (Numbers 35:9-34), we can see that the Law prescribed six cities of refuge, places “that the manslayer who has killed any person unintentionally may flee there (35:11).”

THE VALUE OF THE CITIES OF REFUGE

Now, first, we should realize that these cities of refuge did not offer mercy to anyone who was guilty of murder, for there was no mercy under the Law.

“Anyone who has violated the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses (Hebrews 10:28).”

Instead, the cities of refuge simply prevented injustice by providing refuge in the extremely rare case of someone accidentally killing someone. In that case, the “manslayer,” the one who unintentionally killed someone, could flee to the city of refuge and would not be unjustly killed by the avenger of blood. The point is that this was not an act of mercy but was a provision in the Law that prevented injustice.

Second, we need to also consider how useful these cities of refuge were. I suppose if you and your friend went into the forest and the axe head slipped off your axe and struck your friend so that he died, and you knew about this obscure part of the Law that provided for cities of refuge for the manslayer, and you had the wherewithal to flee to the nearest city of refuge before the avenger of blood found you and killed you, then I suppose these cities of refuge would have been a very precious part of the Law to you. But as a practical matter, was any city of refuge ever used as a city of refuge? There is not one example of the use a city of refuge in the entire biblical record. Perhaps there was no use of this.

But think about it. How common is “unintentionally killing” someone? If you struck someone with an iron object, it was murder and you “shall surely be put to death (35:16).” If you struck him down with a stone, you are a murderer and “shall surely be put to death (35:17).” If you struck him with a wooden object, you are a murderer and “shall surely be put to death (35:18).” If you “pushed him of hatred, or threw something at him lying in wait, or struck him down with your hand, you are a murderer (35:20-21).” Guess what? “The blood avenger shall put the murderer to death (35:21).” So, I am having a hard time thinking of an occasion (other than the stray axe head) that could be classified as “unintentional killing.”

And then, even if you legitimately flee to the city of refuge because of unintentionally killing someone, you must stay there in that city of refuge “until the death of the high priest (35:25, 28).” If you do not stay within the city but wander beyond the border of that city before the death of the high priest, the blood avenger can kill you with impunity! So, these cities are of little practical use. But this was the best refuge that the Law had to offer, a provision of a place to flee when you were not deserving of punishment.

BUT WHAT REFUGE IS THERE FOR THE SINNER?

But what about the person who had committed a sin that was deserving of death? Where does this person flee? What provision is there in the Law for refuge for the sinner?

We have already seen that the one who was guilty of murder “shall surely be put to death” and, under the Law, there is no place of refuge for the murderer. But this was true for every sinner under the Law. For the one who sinned willfully, there was no sacrifice for sin,

“but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries (Hebrews 10:26-27).” “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).”

But this judgment is only just, for the Law requires obedience and threatens a just recompense for all disobedience.

“Every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense (Hebrews 2:2).”

What then is the sinner to do? If there is no city of refuge, is there also no hope? Where, then, does forgiveness lie? It is certainly not available under the Law, for when Paul is prosecuting the Jews, the legalists who embrace the Law and attempt to earn their righteousness by their obedience to the Law, he declares in Romans 2:2,

“And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things.”

God’s holiness evokes His wrath against all sin. God’s holy Law, therefore, demands justice and requires punishment. Sin surely requires, always requires a just recompense and the Law provides no refuge From God’s holy justice. So, again I ask, what is a sinner to do? Where is the place of refuge for the sinner?

REFUGE APART FROM THE LAW

This place of refuge is described in Romans 3:21-26, which begins

“But now, apart from the Law, a righteousness of God has been manifested (Romans 3:21).”

The old covenant, controlled by the Law, offered those who were not guilty of murder a city of refuge so that injustice would be prevented, but now, apart from the Law, the new covenant in Christ’s blood offers to every guilty sinner a Person of refuge “so that God would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26).”

The cities of refuge, which were carefully established under the Law, were never intended to offer any forgiveness to anyone, but only offered physical protection to those who were not guilty. But the good news of the gospel, which was gloriously established at the cross, declares that faith in Jesus will bring complete forgiveness of all sins to every guilty sinner who will trust Christ as Lord and Savior, and that faith will guarantee them eternal life.

So, the next time you are in the book of Numbers and are reading about the cities of refuge in chapter 35, remember that these point to the cross and the eternal refuge of Christ.

SDG                 rmb                 6/14/2021                   #415

Warnings of the watchman (Ezekiel 33:1-7)

BACKGROUND OF THE PASSAGE

The prophet Ezekiel had been appointed by the LORD to be a watchman for the house of Israel (Ezekiel 33:7). The word of the LORD had come to the prophet and had described for him the circumstances that demanded a watchman for the people and what the obligations were for this person.

The people needed a watchman because there was an imminent danger of destruction. There was a sword from the LORD coming upon the land and the watchman was appointed to blow the trumpet and warn the people so that they had an opportunity to escape. Sounds simple enough, right? But there was a catch. If for any reason the appointed watchman did not blow the trumpet and warn the people, the sword would certainly take a person away, “but his blood I (the LORD) will require from the watchman’s hand (33:6).”

Clearly, when the LORD appointed a watchman for the people, He expected the watchman to blow the trumpet at the appearance of the approaching sword. Things did not go well for the silent watchman.

PARALLELS BETWEEN THE WATCHMAN AND THE WITNESS

While at first glance this story of watchmen and trumpets and swords may seem far removed from our own experience, when seen through the lens of the gospel, the picture is strikingly relevant. Let’s make some word substitutions.

Sword = God’s Judgment                    Trumpet = Gospel

Blow the trumpet = Proclaim the gospel

Take warning = Believe the gospel     Delivers his life = Is saved

Ignores the warning + Does not respond to the gospel

Sword takes him away = Perishes forever in hell

THE KEY QUESTION: WHO IS THE WATCHMAN?

The critical question in this parallel is, “Who is the watchman?” Is the watchman every believer, or is the watchman one of a small subset of all believers? We need to explore this question to be sure that our blood is not being required because of our silence.

It is possible that “the watchman” is a special Christian who has been set apart by God for this special task of proclaiming the gospel. It is possible that the large majority of believers are not obligated to communicate the good news to the lost at all but are free to be silent about the terrifying peril facing the unsaved and to be silent about the salvation that is promised to all those who will believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is possible that the large majority can be silent while a small minority bears all the obligation to proclaim. I suppose it is possible that is the case, but there are several things that make me nervous about that.

One thing that bothers me about the idea that a special, select group of believers shoulders the responsibility for proclaiming the gospel to the lost is that I cannot find that in the New Testament. Jesus’ statement, “You shall be My witnesses,” is for all those who have received the Holy Spirit, not just for an elite subgroup. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is given to every member of the church, not to just a handful of specially gifted people. If I accept that I am a member of “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9),” then I must also perform the duty of proclaiming His excellencies. If there is a special group of people who serve as New Testament “watchmen,” I need to know who they are and how they are identified to be sure that I am not unknowingly among them.

But there are other things that cause me concern. Jesus said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of man (Matthew 4:19).” That sounds like if I do the one, I also do the other. If I follow, I also fish. It sounds like all followers, fish for men, not just a select few. Doesn’t it?

Paul wrote, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His appeal through us (2 Corinthians 5:20).” But aren’t all believers to be ambassadors to the lost?

In that same chapter, Paul also says, “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men (2 Cor. 5:11).” Surely all believers know the fear of the Lord’s judgment. So, all believers should be involved in persuading people that the sword of God’s judgment is poised above all those who have not fled for refuge to the Lord Jesus.

Bottom line is that the Bible teaches we are all the Lord’s watchmen and, therefore, we do not get a pass. In fact, we read that there is a consequence that flows from our silence. Notice that if Ezekiel had been silent, the blood of those who perished on his watch would have been required from Ezekiel’s hand. I am not sure what the phrase “blood required from your hand” means, but I do know that I do not want to find out.

Ezekiel was appointed a watchman to blow the trumpet and warn the people of the coming sword. In the same way, we, as followers of the Lord Jesus, have been called out of darkness to let our light shine (Matthew 5:16). The Lord has bought us at the price of His own blood, and He has given each of us a huge sack of seed. It is written, “The sower went out to sow (Matthew 13:3).” And what are we to sow? We are to scatter the seed of the gospel everywhere and everyday so that the world may know of Jesus and so “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).”

So, you and I are “the watchman.” We see that there is a judgment coming and that there is only one means of escape. “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).” So, we blow the trumpet of the gospel so that men and women may find refuge in Jesus.

SDG                 rmb                 6/7/2021         #413

Reprove them severely (Titus 1:12-13)

Clearly, Paul had given Titus a hopeless assignment, or at least it appeared that way.

For this reason, I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you. – Titus 1:5

In the best of circumstances this would have been a challenging task, to appoint qualified elders in every city as Paul instructed him, but Titus was not going to the best of circumstances. Far from it. Paul left Titus in Crete, and the Cretans had a well-deserved reputation for being an ornery and belligerent lot.

One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. – Titus 1:12-13

Even the Cretans themselves acknowledge that they are pretty incorrigible, almost as if their gross behavior is a badge of honor. Thus, Titus’ task appears hopeless. For how can “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” ever become “above reproach” (Titus 1:7) so that they can serve as elders? How can these Cretans, who are by nature vile sinners, become just, devout, self-controlled overseers of a local assembly of the church of the living God?

How, indeed! But this shows Paul’s and Titus’ confidence in the power of the gospel. “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).” The apostle believed in the power of the gospel not only to save from condemnation, but also to transform into righteousness. Through the power of the gospel, slaves of sin are changed into slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:18).

HOW DO YOU DISCIPLE A CRETAN?

But we now need to consider the practical challenges of discipling Cretans. Paul knew the nature of the men of Crete (Titus 1:12-13), and he also knew the qualifications of men who could serve as elders in the church (1:6-9), and, for most of the men on Crete, there was a large chasm between their character and the character of the biblical elder. How was Titus to help these men become elder material?

Paul’s instructions to Titus are direct and unambiguous:

For this reason, reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith. – Titus 1:13

Because “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons,” the training program for the Cretan who would grow in grace, who would walk in a manner worthy of the gospel, and who would be sound in the faith is simple. The disciple maker must reprove the Cretan severely. This sounds harsh to our American ears, but these are the divinely inspired instructions of an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith.” Sin is driven out of hardened sinners by severe reproof, not by gentle pleading or by appealing to reason. Before the gospel came, the Cretans had long indulged in degrading and disgraceful sin (Ephesians 5:12; 1 Peter 4:3), and now that they were in Christ, it was time for them to be reproved severely. If they would be sound in the faith, and if the church in Crete would display the holiness that the church is called to display (Ephesians 5:27; Hebrews 12:15; Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2; 1 Peter 1:15, 16), then their sin needed to be exposed and they needed to be reproved so that they would abandon their evil practices and would embrace obedience to the truth. The Cretan disciple repeated the sequence of reproof-confession-correction-repentance over and over again until holy obedience began to replace open rebellion. Prior to Christ, the life of the Cretan was like an open sewer, but through severe and loving reproof and the power of the Holy Spirit, the moral sewer slowly runs as a clear flowing stream.

But for the Cretan, the key to sanctification is severe reproof, loving reproof that calls sin, “sin,” and insists that the one who names the name of Jesus must walk as He Himself walked (2 Timothy 2:19; 1 John 2:6).

“For this reason, reprove them severely.”

MODERN DAY CRETANS

The reason that I spent so much time talking about Cretans is that these types of believers are near to my heart. You see, when I came to Christ at 31 years old, I had long indulged in sin and my life was a moral sewer. Essentially, I was a Cretan and the best thing that could have happened for my sanctification and for my growth in Christ would have been for a brave man to come alongside me and begin to reprove me severely so that I would be sound in the faith. In God’s providence, that did not happen and, as a result, my sanctification suffered.

Because of our increasingly wicked society, many of those who come to Christ, especially men who come to Christ, come to Christ as Cretans. The days are evil, the sins of the flesh are available at an alarmingly early age and, without the power of the Holy Spirit to restrain them, many give themselves over to the desires of the flesh. Without knowing it, they become Cretans, and when they come to Christ, they need to be reproved severely. Sin has firmly established its residency in their flesh and the way to drive sin out is through severe reproof. The discipler sees sinful habits and reproves severely, and the disciple actively repents, and those who were formerly demoniacs are found seated at Jesus’ feet and are useful to the Master. In all this, God is glorified.

For those who would make disciples in our Cretan-creating world, learn to reprove lovingly but severely the ones you are helping to grow.  

For those who realize they are Cretans and who need help in displaying the holiness which believers are called to display, seek out one who would be willing to reprove you severely so that you may drive the sin out.

SDG                 rmb                 6/2/2021                     #412