Cultivating a Life of Faith:  A Man of Obedience – Genesis 21.22-34 (Pt 12)

It seems apparent that the Abimelech is very powerful.  He controls Gerar, and he has his own commander of his own army.  He acknowledges that the presence of God is with Abraham and that God is blessing him.  But he is also aware of Abraham’s penchant toward dishonesty, Abraham’s power rivaling his own, and the need for both of them to peacefully coexist.

Abraham promised that he would live at peace with Abimelech, but there remained a difficulty between them that needed to be cleared up.  A well of water had been seized from Abraham by the servants of Abimelech.  Abimelech claims he didn’t know about it until that very day when it was finally brought to his attention.

Then something very strange seems to happen.  It seems unusual for Abraham to give sheep and oxen to Abimelech before the covenant is made.  Clearly Abimelech was in the wrong.  Yet Abraham gives seven ewe lambs to Abimelech for a well that was already his in a land that was given to him by God.

It just seems Abraham would live as a nomad in a land that was rightfully his and never personally realize the promise of receiving it.  He would have it only through the eyes of faith.  Which appears to be enough for him.  He plants a tamarisk tree, and calls on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God.

Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive via his descendants and not receive personally.  “By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents …he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11.8-10).

Think back to the beginning of our study of Abraham’s life.  God found him in Ur of the Chaldees.  He commanded him to leave that country, his family, and all familiar to him for a land that God would show him but not give him personally (Genesis 12.1).  What makes this so amazing is that Abraham didn’t even know where he was going.  If Abraham was my brother, I’d tell him he was crazy.  I’d also be hurt and wonder why he’d forsake me and our family and all the while not even know where he was going.  But Abraham went; he obeyed.  No complaints.

Now God does not leave Abraham without hope.

“I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12.2-3)

Abraham believed in the Everlasting God…

[W]ho gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb.  He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform” (Romans 4.18-21).

Abraham traveled to a land of promise in a foreign country.  He had Sarah.  He had Lot for a little while.  He left his father and brother in Haran.  But he never found a permanent home in this promised land.  He was always the stranger in this land.  Buying wells that were his.  Coexisting with rulers that shouldn’t be ruling.  He looked for a city with foundations …a city whose builder and maker is God. “Here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come” (Hebrews 13.14).  The eternal hope and promise led to Abraham’s eternal rest.  Isaac and Jacob were heirs with him of the same promise.  The favor and blessing of God in this life and the next was the anchor of Abraham’s hope.

We tie Hebrews 11.8-10 to Genesis 21.22-34 very appropriately.  We are not asked to leave our family, our country, and all that is familiar to us in the way Abraham did.  However, there are two very clear parallels.  We serve the same Everlasting God and live the same everlasting life.

Everlasting God

God is the Everlasting God; therefore, He has all authority over me.  I don’t see Abraham arriving at his decision through some kind of consensus.  Once he knew the will of God, he obeyed the will of God.  So the real question for us is, “Why are we trying to explain away clear Scriptural commands?”  If we trust in the Everlasting God, we obey the Everlasting God.

We want the fulness of God; therefore, we must obey the will of God.  Jesus said that we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him.  We must do this daily.  We shouldn’t ask, “Well, Lord, how far do you expect us to go with this self-denial thing?”  We dare not complain about the weight of our crosses.  However heavy it is, God will strengthen us to carry it.  Our will is do His will.  The goal is that our love for our Lord is so deep that our relationships to family, and even our own lives, seem like hate in comparison.

Everlasting Life

Set your affections on above things.  Set your eyes on a continuing city.  Abraham never personally realized the promise concerning the land, but his seed will.  Abraham reached the heavenly city.  No earthly possession could compare to everlasting life.  Our hope is tied to the coming of Christ, who is our life.  It is not so much the destination as it is the quality of life He gives to us.  It is everlasting life.

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4.17-18)

It matters not what I have here in the material, temporal world.  As a matter of fact, God may ask me to give up what I have here.  We must be a people joyfully accepting the plundering of our goods, knowing that we have a better and an enduring possession for ourselves in heaven (Hebrews 10.34).  So we live as fellow-travelers here, and find rest only in eternity.  This is everlasting life from the Everlasting God.

Are you submitting to the Everlasting God?

Jewish Pharisees once proclaimed that Abraham was their father.  Jesus responded, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham” (John 8.39).  But the Pharisees were not cultivating a life of faith with God.  So, it is a fair question for all of us to confront:  “Are we cultivating a life of faith as Abraham did?”  Remember that Abraham is the father of many nations.  He is “the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised” (Romans 4.12).

What authority does the Everlasting God have when it comes to His words preserved for us in the Scriptures?  Do you seek to submit to His authority through the indwelling Holy Spirit?  Do you follow His leading?  Are walking in the steps of faith?  Is it your will to do His will?

Perhaps the world itself crowds into your life and steals away your allegiance to the Lord Jesus.  If you belong to Jesus Christ, you are in this world but not of it.  Jesus prayed to the Father, “They are not of this world, just as I am not of this world” (John 17.16).  “Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2.15-16).  We ought to despise that which enslaves and energizes our world.  We ought to find it wholly unsatisfying to live for the world.  Friendship with the world is committing spiritual adultery on God.  It makes us at enmity with the God who gave us peace.  “Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4.4).

We walk in the steps of faith by coming out from among those who are of the world and becoming separate from them (2 Corinthians 6.17).  If we fail to stand against the infiltration of the world in our lives, there is the great danger of conformity to it instead of the transformation to Christlikeness by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12.2).  “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6.14).

Are you really walking in the steps of faith?  What about your children?  Are you content when it comes to your example of cultivating a life of faith before them?  Do they see you submitting to the Everlasting God and living everlasting life?  Walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5.7).

But it is only children of our Heavenly Father who walk by faith.  If you are not sons and daughters of God …if you are not walking in the steps of Abraham’s faith, then perhaps you have another father, namely the devil.  This is what Jesus said of the religious Pharisees.  He declared to those who refused the authority of His word:  “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do” (John 8.44).  If you abide in Christ then you must “walk just as He walked” (1 John 2.6).  Are you submitting to the Everlasting God?

Are you living everlasting life?

Abraham’s faith led to Abraham’s justification before God.  It is the same for us.  We are justified before God by faith.  Our trust in the Father leads to the outworking of righteousness that we already have in the Son enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit.  These works of righteousness are Christ at work in and through us, but we are not passive.  We are working because He is first working.  So when Paul says that we are to work out our own salvation, he means that we ought to be producing fruit from righteousness that we already have.  We must live an eternal quality of life.  We are children of God by faith.  We live to glorify God by faith.

But we do not shelter ourselves from the world.  If we did, how would the world see the righteousness of Jesus Christ?  Our faith is in Christ’s precious blood as the propitiation for our sins, and not our sins only but also for the sins of the whole world.  Faith truly is the victory that overcomes the world.  Our obedience does not provide eternal life.  Eternal life is a free gift of God made available through the work of Jesus Christ.  It is His perfect redemptive work that saves.  By His death, our sins are gone.  Through His resurrection life, we have the righteousness of God.  Therefore, let us live righteous lives for the glory of God!

Cultivating a Life of Faith:  A Man of Promise – Genesis 21.1-21 (Pt 11)

We must read Abraham’s story with our own in mind.  What have we learned from his journey?  Those cultivating a life of faith must…

  1. …be set apart from the world, to God, and for His glory (Genesis 12.1-4).
  2. …begin with a proper perspective of God and upon godliness (Genesis 12.5-20).
  3. …deny self and choose the path of separation (Genesis 13.1-18).
  4. …be courageous enough to see beyond today and serve the King of Peace (Genesis 14.1-24).
  5. …persevere and imitate those who have already received the promises (Genesis 15.1-21).
  6. …refuse to compromise and live lives of conviction (Genesis 16.1-16).
  7. …be properly motivated for a daily commitment to God (Genesis 17.1-27).
  8. …develop intimacy with integrity in order to effectively intercede on the behalf of others (Genesis 18.1-33).
  9. …be intolerant of sin (Genesis 19.1-38).
  10. …acknowledge and confess carnality before our Heavenly Father (Genesis 20.1-18).

Genesis 21 brings us to the realization of a promise God had made to Abraham through the provision of a son, namely Isaac.  Yet Sarah’s solution through her handmaid Hagar and the subsequent birth of Ishmael continues to create problems.  Hagar and Ishmael are both driven away from the homestead and into the wilderness where God continues to provide for both.

Isaac:  The Promised Son (21.1-7)

God promised an heir all along.  He had asked, “Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son” (Genesis 18.14).  Now in clear, unmistakable terms God keeps His promise “as He had said”, “as He had spoken”, and at the set time “of which He had spoken.”

The Lord visited Sarah.  This marks a momentous event.  God will visit the children of Israel and look upon their affliction when they are in bondage in Egypt.  Luke 1.68 tells us that the Lord God of Israel “visited and redeemed His people.”  Later, after Jesus raises the widow’s son, great fear comes upon all, they glorify God and say, “…God has visited His people” (Luke 7.16).  The birth of Isaac points to an even greater birth:  “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given…” (Isaiah 9.6a).

This passage reveals that Sarah laughs a second time.  The first time she laughed, it was a nervous laughter years ago when God had revealed what He would do.  She laughs now out of sheer joy, and we laugh with her some four thousand years later.  When she asks the question, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children?”  She acknowledges that only God could be at work in her life.  And, indeed, only God could be at work in delivering the promised son.

Sarah desired to see God work in her life, but she hardly believed it possible.  Sometimes it is easy for us to ignore the fact that God is at work in and through us.  Other times, we take credit for what He has done and strut in arrogant opposition to Him.  Be careful with this.  As James Dixon wrote, “We seldom consider that a request to see God work in our lives may be a request for testing and trial.”  This is exactly what happened to Sarah, and God made her laugh!

Ishmael:  The Parting Son (21.8-21)

Ishmael scoffed.  You won’t settle what is meant by this by merely studying the lexical meaning of the word.  Was Ishmael cruel toward Isaac?  Was he arrogantly asserting his own position as the oldest son and, therefore, the rightful heir?  Was he simply being immature, showing a lack of respect?  Whatever the answer, Ishmael simply did not understand his place in the house of Abraham.  It was also some form of persecution because Galatians 4.29 makes that clear.  Isaac was the heir and Ishmael was not.  So Sarah has Abraham send Ishmael and his mother away into the wilderness.  But God meets them both in their distress.  He will not only care for Hagar and her son; he will make good on His promise to make a great nation from Ishmael.

Sarah sinned when she gave Hagar to Abraham back in Genesis 16.  Abraham sinned by not leading Sarah and fostering security in the promises of God.  Ishmael sinned in scoffing at the plan of God.  Sin brings judgment.  When Hagar realized she carried Ishmael, she despised Sarah.  Things were never the same.  Abraham gave Sarah the power and discretion to handle the situation with Hagar.  So in a spirit of vindictiveness and retaliation, Sarah treated her without mercy for her insolence.

Sarah sought for a solution to a problem.  But because she acted independently of God, an avalanche of consequences came crushing down on Abraham’s family.  Sarah sought for blessing and happiness but found only struggle and misery.  Hagar had to return to Sarah, which must have really been a humbling experience.  She must submit again to Sarah, but she must have struggled to maintain a good relationship with her.  Now in Genesis 21 Sarah casts out Hagar and Ishmael for good.

Abraham was very displeased.  This was his son that had been cast out.  God had told Abraham in Genesis 17.20:  “I have blessed [Ishmael], and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly.  He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.”  And God would do exactly what He had promised.  Only Abraham could not be a part of Ishmael’s life.  Ishmael would have to be entirely entrusted to God.  God will use this event in Galatians 4 as a portrait for the salvation He now offers:

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar—for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children—but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written: “Rejoice, O barren, You who do not bear! Break forth and shout, You who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children Than she who has a husband.” Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free (Galatians 4.21-31).

We are children of the freewoman.  Christians are similar to Isaac in that we experience supernatural birth.  We are a part of the fulfillment of God’s promise to mankind.  Unto us a Son is given!  We should not live as those enslaved.  As Ishmael persecuted Isaac, those according to the flesh persecute those according to the Spirit.  Those according to the flesh are true legalists.  They believe that what they do merits favor with God and will gain them an inheritance.  We should cast out the legalist from our assembly even as Abraham cast out Ishmael.  The legalist will not share in the inheritance with the legitimate sons and daughters of God.  Those who believe they can won’t!  But is it possible for a genuine Christian to revert to legalism?  Yes!  And when he or she does, they ought to be confronted.  They ought to repent and trust fully in Christ for sanctification as they did for justification.  We are children of faith not children of the flesh.

 1. Those born according to the flesh will persecute those born according to the Spirit.

We could not apply this text in Genesis 21 in this specific way if Paul did not do so under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 4.  Genesis 21 is instructive in showing us the heart of man.  Those born according to the flesh will persecute those born according to the Spirit.  It will always be this way.  As a matter of fact, a Christian walking in the flesh (condition) even though he is in the Spirit (position) will often persecute his own brother or sister in Christ.

Anyone born according to the flesh or walking in the flesh just cannot endure the fact that anyone could walk according to the Spirit and be blessed and favored by God.  Jesus says in John 15.19:  “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”  That we call ourselves saints or elect ones in Christ is enough to provoke the hatred of the world.  Ishmael mocked Isaac.  Israel mocked the Christ.  Those in the flesh mock the true sons and daughters of God.  “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (1 Timothy 3.12).

 2. Those born according to the Spirit are true children of the promise.

We are justified by faith; therefore, we are no longer bound under the tutor (Galatians 3.24-25).  We are all sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  If we are Christ’s, then we are truly heirs of the promise (Galatians 3.29).  As children of the promise, we must escape the corruption that is in the world through lust (2 Peter 1.4).  We must cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Corinthians 7.1).  As Christians we are empowered by the Holy Spirit of God to demonstrate the righteousness of the Son of God for the glory of God.  Anything short of this goal is not normal Christianity.  We must truly be Spirit-fed and Spirit-led Christians.  True Christians evidence the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  If they don’t, they will have no personal assurance that they are children.  We won’t be assured of that fact either.  There are always weeds among the stalks of wheat.

 3. Those who are sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father shall share together in the inheritance as saints of light.

Paul wrote:

For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light (Colossians 1.9-12).

Only the saints in the light are partakers of the Father’s inheritance.  He will cast out all others.  There is neither Jew nor Greek in God’s economy of grace.  All are one in Christ.  Anyone who refuses Christ will not participate in the inheritance which awaits us in Heaven above.  Those who stand on the promises will alone find a solid foundation for their hope, namely the confident expectation that Jesus is coming to take believers to be with Him forever!  What great assurance!  We will not be disinherited.  We cannot be.  We have so much in Christ!  There is so much yet in store for us.  It is simply unreasonable for us not to live for Him.

Parents must endeavor to keep their families together for the glory of God.

Every family is dysfunctional.  Dad acts like an imperial dictator.  Mom wallows in self-pity.  The children are lazy and rebellious.  Family members take one another for granted.  Children scoff and mock when it comes to their siblings.  Not much has changed in 4,000 years.  Our joy can turn to sorrow in a hurry.

As parents, we must endeavor to keep our families together in spite of all of this.  We must avoid rashness and unreasonable demands.  We must respond with the same compassion and mercy that governs our Heavenly Father when we sin against Him.  If we must correct our children, let us temper that correction with genuine prayer.  Let us not be extreme in our response.  We can be excessively permissive and excessively autocratic.  Both are hurtful.  Ask yourself, “What does the Scripture teach?”  Pray for discernment.

The most severe correction should be reserved for scoffing at the will of God in family life.  Meet children head-on when they don’t pay attention to and make fun of your Bible time together.  If they don’t take seriously the things of God, we cannot let it pass.  If they must pluck out an eye or cut off an arm to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, so be it.  What we must be careful of is to make sure we don’t correct our children for our pleasure and convenience.  We cannot discipline our children in anger for this very reason.  It is not for our profit, but for His (and theirs)!

All of us who are sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father are secure.

Jesus said of His true disciples, “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10.28-29).

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8.35-39).

It’s not the privileges in store.  It’s not the possessions we hold.  It’s the promises we have.  Rely on the promises of God.  Read the Bible not just for a list of duties before God and man; read it to receive the promises of your Heavenly Father.  Let this sink in as you read it:  The Son of God loved you and gave Himself for you (Galatians 2.20).

“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…” (Ephesians 2.19).

Cultivating a Life of Faith:  A Man of Carnality (Pt 10) – Genesis 20.1-18

Genesis 19 ends with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Lot barely escapes the destruction.  His wife is a pillar of salt, his two daughters get him drunk with wine, and his grandchildren are result of incestuous relationships with both of them.  The Bible leaves him in the mountains around the city of Zoar.  He is afraid to go back into any city after witnessing such destruction by God’s hand of judgment.  It is terrifying to witness how far down Lot went.

Yet Abraham is still cultivating a life of faith.  He built altars to God, gave the best land to Lot, and later rescued his nephew from wicked men who carried him away into captivity with his family and his servants.  The King of Salem, Melchizedek, blessed Abraham upon his return, and the man of faith gave a tithe of the spoils to the King.  Abraham believed the promise of God, and his faith was credited as righteousness.  Abraham was a man of great faith.

Abraham is a striking contrast to Lot.  However, the Bible realistically portrays the sin of this man of faith.  He lied to Pharaoh according to a previous arrangement he had made with Sarah.  Instead of protecting his wife with godly authority, he gave into her demand and committed fornication with Hagar.  The result was not the heir God promised but the child Ishmael, one who would bring strife instead of peace.  You would think that after everything Abraham went through, he would not sin in the same way again.  You would think that, but you would be wrong.

God does not hide the deficiency and carnality of Abraham.  This simply fortifies the fact that we are reading the very words of God.  Abraham is certainly a man who cultivated a life of great faith, but he did so amidst great personal failure.  There were times during which he proved he certainly had a sin nature.  The carnality came out.

The Deception and the Dream (20.1-7)

Genesis 20 contains two dialogues.  One is between God and Abimelech (vv. 3-7) and the other between Abimelech and Abraham (vv. 9-13).  Verses 1-2 tell us that Abraham lied to a foreign ruler once again.  First, the Pharaoh and now the Abimelech.  Abimelech is a title similar to that of Pharaoh.  It is not a proper name.  It means royal father or “the king is my father.”  Abimelech sent for and took Sarah.  A crisis now presents itself.

This section begins with God’s ominous proclamation to the Abimelech:  “You are a dead man.”  It ends with another somber warning:  “If you do not restore [Sarah], know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”  God came to Abimelech in a dream.  He leveled this death sentence because Abimelech was about to commit adultery.

Abimelech, however, had not come near Sarah (v. 4).  He also claimed to be king of a righteous, blameless nation.  He acted with integrity and was innocent of wrong doing.  The Lord God always does that which is right.  Would he destroy the righteous with the wicked?  Abraham has asked that same question in Genesis 18.

God acknowledged the integrity of Abimelech (v.6).  As a matter of record, God Himself withheld Abimelech from sinning against Him; He did not allow Abimelech to touch her.  God restrains evil in the world.  He restrains His children from committing destructive sin.  He restrains the wicked as well.  The only reason Abimelech had a clear conscience before the Lord is that God had graciously intervened.

Abimelech and his household would live once Abraham prayed.  Right now, they all lived under a certain death sentence.  Some physical disease was more than likely sent from God, because He healed Abimelech.  The women of the nation became barren at the hand of God as well.  God would eventually open their wombs once again.

But still:  If Abimelech did not restore Sarah to Abraham, he was a dead man.  Restoration and forgiveness were possible for Abimelech,  but he had to restore Sarah.  Later, we find out that Abraham would have to intercede on his behalf.  Here we see God’s sovereignty and human responsibility once again in the Scriptures.  Both are stated.  God was in complete control of the situation, but Abimelech must restore Sarah.  There is the real and potential outcome that he would not.  Otherwise, the warnings of God make little sense.  

Fear prompts deceit.

Abraham had experienced the love and mercy of God to a great extent during his life.  But he still lied.  Fear prompts deceit.  Fear narrows our focus so that we see no way out other than deceiving people.  If God is as powerful as we maintain, He is certainly able to protect us.  Isn’t it true that we are indestructible until God is finished with us on this earth? How has God failed you?  Why are you doubting His love, faithfulness, and power over your current circumstance?   Deceitful lives resemble the father of lies rather than reflect the glory of God!

Deceit becomes an avalanche.

Abraham’s deceit quickly became a problem not just for him but for the many around him.  It could have cost him his wife and the favor of God.  It could have cost Abimelech and his people their lives.  This is the consequence and nature of deceitfulness.  If God had not intervened, the promised Messiah would not have come.  Nothing can be left to us because of our unfaithfulness.  All is of grace.  And yet our deceitful avalanche will cause collateral damage.  While the promises of God remain unaffected, our lives take a turn for the worse.

The Disgrace and the Disapproval (20.8-13)

This is the second main section of dialogue in the chapter.  Abimelech is a Gentile king who, unlike Pharaoh, has a sensitive conscience.  He seems to know right from wrong.  He is open to the revelation of God.  This was not the case with Pharaoh.  Abimelech reacts to his dream by rising early in the morning, reporting to his people what had happened, and the men feared.

It’s a bit ironic.  Everyone is afraid here.  Abraham was prompted by fear to lie.  Abimelech and his people feared God because of the fact that Abraham lied.  God’s promises to Abraham did not stop him from fearing other men.  He resembles Lot more than a man who is cultivating a life of faith.  That means we are prone to the fear of men as well.  Your faith can and will fail at times.

This is really a catastrophic failure.  It’s one thing to fail within a small circle, but to fail in such a public way and be rebuked by a worldly leader is certainly disgraceful.  It must be remembered that he has failed like this twice in very public situations.

The question in v. 10 from Abimelech is quite penetrating.  What did Abraham have in view?  His answer reveals his problem:  He thought of Gerar in terms of Sodom and Gomorrah.  He assumed that the fear of God was not in this place.  Sarah was so beautiful; he believed they’d kill him for her.  After all, God caused him to wander in this strange land.  His focus was not on God but on the world around him.  He allowed experience and emotion to direct his steps.  When fear dictates our steps, we act as disgracefully as he did.

It is hard to imagine Sarah’s mindset.  Abraham should have protected his wife.  Instead, he led her down the paths of deceit and sin.  Abraham should have been willing to sacrifice himself for the honor of his wife; instead, he sacrificed his wife’s honor for fear of man.  He also brought Abimelech and his household under severe judgment.  Had Abimelech and his family died, Abraham would have been the cause of it.  Deep shame and sorrow now belonged to Abraham.  It’s hard to think of anything more disgraceful than allowing your wife to be taken by another man, no matter how powerful he is.  Still God dealt mercifully with Abraham.  The offended king did not treat Abraham the way he deserved to be treated.  He was more honorable than Abraham in this situation.  He was careful, fair, and even virtuous in his response.

The Deference and the Deliverance (20.14-18)

Abimelech’s fear of God prompted a quick response from him and from his people.  He gave much to Abraham in addition to restoring Sarah.  He goes above and beyond what God had commanded he do.  He gave Abraham the choice of the best land, which is quite haunting when compared to the early decision Lot had made regarding land.  He also gave Abraham 1,000 pieces of silver, and Sarah was vindicated and justified (not rebuked as in the NKJV).

I should like to hear Abimelech’s tone when he said to Sarah, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver…”  Perhaps a little sarcasm was present?  Abimelech could have been angry about the malady his household had suffered and about the barrenness in his house, but his rebuke is recorded in the penetrating question he asked Abraham:  “What have you done to us? How have I offended you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin?”

Abraham prays to God.  He would have to come face-to-face with his own unfaithfulness in the midst of God’s great faithfulness.  We make decisions that cause a great deal of pain in our lives, but these choices don’t impact that overarching plan of God.  “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2.13).

Conclusion:  

  1. Speak the truth.  It is rare to find people who speak the truth.  We often think we’re fine as long as we don’t tell unadulterated lies.  It’s okay to shade the truth for most of us.  We tell white lies because it’s not possible to tell evil, black ones.  We magnify sin in others, and this is a great deceit.  We lie to gain the praise of men or avoid being persecuted by them.  We exaggerate a temptation or conceal it.  We justify it by saying simple and foolish things like, “It’s only in this one little area.  Nobody’s perfect!”  We lie to one another and then come to church in great hypocrisy and claim to worship God.  Perhaps our meditation this week ought to be David’s in Psalm 119.29:  “Remove from me the way of lying, and grant me Your law graciously.”
  2. Keep yourself pure.  We turn from sin and forsake it because of the grace of God.  We forget that we are able to fall again to the same sin even as Abraham did.  What is your besetting sin.  You mourn over it.  You have victory in Christ.  God has chosen not to take away the temptation, but He has enabled you to stand against the temptation and experience victory and purity.  Walk in the Spirit, and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.  But still temptation will come.  Abraham was well along in his relationship with God.  He failed due to fear and unbelief.  Let his failure serve as a bracing warning to you this week. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest take heed lest he fall.  No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor 10.12-13).  Keep yourself pure!
  3. Be grateful for grace.  God protects and preserves us by grace.  If it were up to us, we would dishonor God and despise our privileges as sons and daughters of the Almighty.  Even when we were enemies of God, he kept us from all that we could have done.  There were snares and dangers from which He mercifully kept us.  Grace is truly amazing.  It kept us from certain death and enables a powerful life worth living!
  4. Mitigate the damage.  Once we sin, the only way out is genuine humility.  It is here where we begin to mitigate against the damage we’ve caused in our own lives and the lives of others we claim to love.  God hears the broken and contrite heart.  Our lives will become edifying and useful again.  We cannot cancel out the consequences of our sin; however, should an opportunity present itself to bring good to the situation, we ought to take it by the grace of God.  Pray for those you have hurt.  Ask God to take away the bitter memory someone has of you.  Pray that He would not be dishonored and disgraced by your foolishness.  Take opportunity to show the love of Christ through a gracious and forgiving spirit.

G. Campbell Morgan’s Method of Sermon Preparation

Notes from “The Seminary Review” (The Cincinnati Bible Seminary), Volume VII – Number 1, Fall, 1960 by Arthur F. Katt.

“Failure to convince comes from unfamiliarity with one’s subject.  One must be so familiar with an author as to see life from that author’s viewpoint.  Many fail because they pick lesser themes and inadequately prepare; infinity cannot be magnified by mediocrity.” – Dr. Horace M. Taylor, a student of G. Campbell Morgan

  1. Pray for help from God before you begin.
  2. Select a text to preach.
  3. Read the entire book in which the text is found 40-50 times from a variety of faithful translations.
  4. Sketch your own original outline of the general movements of the book without consulting commentaries.
  5. Keep your text in its proper context.  “A text without a context is a pretext” (attributed to Dr. John A. Hutton).  “Nothing is more to be deprecated than the habit of formulating systems upon disjointed Scripture phrases apart from their connection with the context” (Morgan, The Spirit of God).

Telescopic/Microscopic Process

  • Survey by reading the book and gathering an overall impression.
  • Condense the book with a thoughtful outline.
  • Expand your outline into an analysis of the book.
  • Dissect your work for the knowledge you need to adjust your final outline.

Once this process was carried out, Morgan went to the commentaries and other scholarly aids.  He said, “To turn to commentaries first is to create a second-hand mentality.”  Morgan read critics of the Scripture in order to strengthen his argumentation.

Preparing the Sermon Manuscript

  1. He rarely wrote out a verbatim manuscript, but he did write a very full outline.  This outline was termed a brief.  The brief was wrapped by another sheet of paper folded in half.  That half sheet contained the date the sermon was preached and where it was preached.  It also contained hymns that were suitable for the sermon.
  2. He kept his phrasing simple, clear, and brief by using alliteration, rhythm, and repetition.
  3. He used the expository method.  He read the text he would preach in its proper setting.  He stated the central message along with its application.  He concluded the message.  300 of Morgan’s sermons are preserved in The Westminster Pulpit.  Morgan preached from his most carefully prepared brief, but gave himself freedom of utterance.
  4. He underlined certain aspects of his briefs for emphasis while speaking.  He used a blue pencil and four colors of ink (black, violet, green, and red).  He underlined main divisions in black (A and B); large Roman numerals in violet; small Roman numerals in green; small letters (a and b) in red.

Preparation for Delivery

  • He practiced delivery as a younger man by preaching aloud as if the audience were before him.
  • Later, he walked in the country and preached the sermon.
  • He used hand gestures as he practiced.
  • He strengthened his vocabulary by looking for better, more descriptive ways to turn a phrase.  This occurred during these practice sessions.
  • He needed at least 30 minutes of meditation time before coming to the pulpit.  More was better.  Once before preaching at 10 am during a conference, he spent two straight hours meditating upon his text.

Christmas Candlelight

Throughout the history of our church, our annual Christmas Candlelight service is an opportunity to quiet our hearts and worship the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is the order and mediation that we use in church.  I thought it might be something that would help with family on Christmas Eve or perhaps in your own church.  We used to have a Christmas Eve Candlelight Service, but now we simply hold the service on the Sunday evening prior to Christmas Eve.

The service begins with quiet Christmas hymns played on the piano about 15 minutes before the opening prayer.  I ask for cleansing and that the worship and attitudes of our hearts be acceptable in the sight of God.  I simply state the theme of the meditation as the beginning of the program:  “Our victorious Christmas is our meditation on the Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown.”

Born (Luke 2.1-40)

I begin the meditation by reading the birth narrative with the Gospel of Luke (Luke 2.1-16).  This is followed by the congregational singing of “O Little Town of Bethlehem”.  The Scripture reading continues with Luke 2.17-40.  The congregation sings “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”.

To Die (John 19.1-30)

Scripture reading continues in the Gospel of John (John 19.1-13).  This is followed by the congregation singing “What Will You Do with Jesus?”  Two of our deacons come forward at the conclusion of the hymn in order to help with the distribution of the Lord’s Supper.

I announce to the congregation why we are distributing bread and how that element represents the body of Jesus Christ which was broken for us.  I make sure that the congregation knows that we will partake together and remind them that we practice close communion and closed communion.

This explanation is followed by prayer.  “Father, we ask that you would help us to remember your great sacrifice as Your Son stood before the place called the Pavement.  He paid an incomprehensible debt that we could not.  We are grateful for the death of Your Son and the mercy and grace that flowed so freely from His precious blood.”

The piano meditatively plays hymns concerning the death of Christ.  I simply say once the elements are distributed:  “Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.'”  I exhort the congregation to obey what the Lord instituted that evening during the Last Supper and ask, “Shall we partake and remember together?”  This is followed by silence for a few moments and this prayer:  “Father, we thank you for this memorial and what it represents.  May You be pleased with our inward thoughts this evening.  We come to You in sincerity and truth.  We love You and thank You for our Redeemer.  We pray to You in His wonderful, matchless Name, Amen.”

Scripture reading continues in John 19.14-22.  The congregation sings “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”.  The deacons distribute the grape juice which memorializes the blood of our Lord Jesus which was shed on the cross for us.  We all receive the juice and drink together.  In the quietness that follows my prayer, we express our love to the Lord in the stillness of our hearts.

This is followed by prayer:  “Father, we are grateful for the blood of Christ which cleanses us from all sin – past, present, and future.  Until our understanding of and belief on the finished work of Christ, He was no King to us.  We ruled at the thrones of our own hearts.  Our appropriation of the finished work of Christ makes us realize that Your Son must rule.  We commit our lives to You afresh.  We remember Your great sacrifice in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

I then state, “On the same evening, curing the Lord’s Super, Jesus ‘took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to [His disciples], saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you:  for this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.'” I then bid the congregation to drink remembering this covenant together.  This is followed by this prayer:  “Father, we claim by Your grace that our Lord Jesus Christ is our King.  Allow us to be useful vessels of His grace as we live out our lives in the years to come.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

We continue reading John 19.23-30.  This is followed by the congregational hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross”.

And Rise (John 20.11-17)

John’s account of the resurrection is then read (20.11-17) followed by the hymn, “Christ Arose!”

And Reign (Revelation 19.11-16)

Revelation 19.11-16 is a powerful reading.  It is about the beginning of the earthly rule of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is followed by a solo or choir arrangement of “O Holy Night!”  This is powerful combination of Scripture and musical text.  I exhort at the conclusion, “Our Lord will reign upon the earth on the throne of David.  He will reign 1,000 years over a Kingdom that was promised to David and will serve as the commencement of Christ’s eternal reign.  Joy belongs to those who know Christ as Savior.  Joy will about when the earth one day receives her King.  The Savior with reign, sin will be judged, sorrow will cease, and the wonder of His love will be manifest to all mankind.”

The congregation then sings “Joy to the World”.  The program concludes with prayer:  “Father, we are grateful for the fact that we have trusted in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ; therefore, we will not face the fierceness of Your wrath.  He, indeed, is our great KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.  May we glorify His name this evening, next year, and for all eternity.  We pray in the precious name of Your beloved and only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.”  We then dismiss.

This simple meditation has brought me to the brink of tears some years.  When heavily burdened, I’ve not been able to hold back the tears on certain years.  The key to any meditation that we practice together is that we prayerfully prepare our hearts ahead of time.  May God richly reward you as you meditate upon the cradle, the cross, and the crown.

A Child, a Son, and a King Forever

For unto us a Child is born,

Unto us a Son is given;

And the government will be upon His shoulder.

And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of His government and peace

There will be no end,

Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,

To order it and establish it with judgment and justice

From that time forward, even forever.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

Isaiah 9.6-7

The Child born In Isaiah 9.6 is the Son of the virgin mentioned in Isaiah 7.14.  The first two phrases tell us that a Child is born (birth of Christ) and a Son is given (admittedly Hebrew parallelism but I think alluding to the crucifixion of Christ).  Everything following in Isaiah’s prophecy points to His coming Millennial Kingdom.  The government will be upon the shoulder of the Christ when He reigns for 1,000 years (Revelation 20.1-6).  He will be the King reigning, and the saints will reign with Him.

There are now four descriptive phrases of the King (Wonderful should modify Counselor):  1) Wonderful Counselor; 2) Mighty God; 3) Everlasting Father; 4) Prince of Peace.  First, He has wisdom to govern the people of the world perfectly.  Second, He has the power to carry out His rule with an iron scepter.  Third, He is the everlasting Father in the sense that He is the Father of all those who are redeemed.  Adam is the father of all living beings.  Christ is the last Adam and became a life-giving spirit (1 Corinthians 15.45).  Finally, He is the Prince of Peace.  The 1,000 year reign of Christ will be marked by the absence of war and violence.  It will fulfill the Davidic Covenant and satisfy the promises of God.  It will be a time of great blessing.

“Of the increase of Christ’s government and peace there will be no end.”  The government of Christ does not increase through war but through peace.  His justice and judgment are characteristic of His reign.  His reign and rule is forever.  This will be a fulfillment of the promise God made to David in 2 Samuel 7.12-17:

“When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men. But My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.”

So our text is all about the Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is a Child born, a Son given, and King forever.

Jesus is a Child Born

Galatians 4.4-5 state, “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”

Paul wrote these words to Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians.  Gentile believers need not place themselves under the Law of Moses in order to gain acceptance with God.  Jewish believers need to understand that they are dead to the Law of Moses.  Believers need neither guardian or steward, because we are sons.  Paul asks and answers three questions when it comes to the incarnation of Jesus Christ:

When did the incarnation of Christ occur?

While everyone is preoccupied with the date December 25, God simply tells us that Jesus came as a Baby in a manger when the fullness of time had come.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us at just the right time in the history of mankind (John 1.14).  1 Timothy 3.16 states, “Great is the mystery of godliness:  God was manifested in the flesh.”  He was manifested in the flesh at the perfect time.

First, Jesus Christ came at a time when the Greco-Roman culture flourished, but the Gentiles professing themselves to be wise had become fools.  Second, Jesus Christ came at a time when the Jew made his boast in the Law of Moses, but dishonored God by continually breaking that Law.  Third, Jesus Christ came when the nation of Israel languished under the Roman Empire, but longed for a King of their own to rule over them.

The fullness of time had come.  it was the perfect time.  There wasn’t a better time than the time when God the Son came into the world as “a Child born.”

How did the incarnation of Christ occur?

Paul describes the incarnation with two phrases that are key:  Jesus was “born of a woman” and “born under the law”.  The physical birth of Jesus Christ in an animal stall is quite unremarkable.  He was born of a woman.  All of us are.  Yet the birth of Christ is remarkable in that He was born to a virgin named Mary.  The Baby was formed in the womb of a pure virgin through the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit.  This distinguishes His birth from all others.

If Jesus Christ had been born as you or I, then He could not have escaped the same curse we are now under.  All of us are born in Adam.  Through Adam’s disobedience, all of us have sin natures.  But Jesus did not have an earthly biological father.  His birth was miraculous.  All of us sin like our father Adam sinned.  Therefore, all of us die.  But Jesus Christ remains the Perfect Man, the Son of God.  He is fully God and fully Man.  He is the only begotten of the Father, the only one of His kind.  “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign:  behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel …which is translated, ‘God with us’” (Isaiah 7.14; Matthew 1.23).

Second, Jesus was “born under the law.”  He was not born under the curse of the Law but simply under the Law’s authority.  He did not fail in submitting to the Law of Moses.  Actually, He fulfilled it.  Thus, in fulfilling the Law, Jesus made available to us the righteousness of God the Father.

Jesus was born of a woman and born under the Law.  He carried the curse of the Law for us, a curse He did not deserve.  He fulfilled the righteous demands of the Law so that we might have everlasting life and righteousness.  “Now the righteousness of God apart from the Law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe (Romans 3.21-22)!”

Why did the incarnation of Christ occur?

Paul writes that Jesus was born of a woman and under the Law “to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoptions as sons.”  There is a two-step progression here that it vital.

First, we must be set free or loosed from the bondage of the Law.  Paul writes in another place:  ”Now we know that whatever the Law says, it says to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Romans 3.19).  Jesus frees us from that objective, forensic guilt before God.

The Law cannot condemn us, because Jesus Christ absorbed all the condemnation we deserve.  The Law cannot command us, because we are under grace and not Law.  We are dead to the Law through the body of Christ (Romans 7.1-4).  The incarnation and death of Jesus Christ redeems us from the condemnation we deserve because of our transgression of the Law of God, knowingly or unknowingly.  We are no longer obligated to stand or fall according to our works once we trust in the completed work of our Savior.  He has redeemed us!  God sent forth His Son to free us from sin.

The second step in the progression is our purpose in life.  We are set free from sin so “that we might receive the adoption as sons.”  Many believe that every member of the human race is a child of God.  But that is not true.  While all are created by God, once sin entered, we became children of the devil.  Jesus Christ came so that we might become children of God through supernatural rebirth.

Adoption is not so much a legal transaction by which we are declared righteous.  That belongs to the theological term justification.  We are adopted through supernatural rebirth.  We are now precious children of God with all the precious privileges and great inheritance that Christ has purchased for us with His precious blood.  “But as many as received Christ, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1.12).  God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”

All of this NT revelation illuminates truth which people in Isaiah’s day did not understand.  Unto us a child is born.  He is a child born of a virgin woman under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law.  The Child born would become the Son God gave to the world.

Jesus is a Son Given

“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3.16).  Jesus is the Son given (grace).  He is the gift of God and the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.  Propitiation means that Jesus Christ is the full and satisfying payment for our sins.  He is fully satisfying and pleasing to the Father.  ”By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us” (1 John 3.16a).  Jesus is the Son given.

2 Corinthians 5.21 tells us that the Father made the Son who knew no sin to be sin for us.  Jesus Christ stood in our place and absorbed the wrath of God we deserve.  He drained the dregs of judgment from the cup of God’s indignation.  He prayed that it would pass from Him, but nevertheless not what He will as a Man but what God willed.  He did this not for Himself but for you and for me.  He died and was buried in a tomb.  He arose the third day!  The Father raised up the Son, Jesus our Lord, from the dead.  Jesus was the Son given for our offenses and the Son raised with a view toward our justification (Romans 4.25).

Jesus is a King Forever

  1. He is the Wonderful Counselor – The Bible exhorts us as believers to be knit together in love, and attain to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2.6).  Jesus is wisdom personified.  He is the Word become flesh!  His ways and judgements are beyond our comprehension.  We look to Him for wisdom and guidance!  He is the King Forever, the Wonderful Counselor.
  2. He is the Mighty God – He is not only God with us; He is God over us.  If Jesus is not God, then He could not be the Son given.  If Jesus is not God, then He could not reign as King.  He shares in all the attributes of the Father.  He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and everywhere present.  The Mighty God was the Lord of glory crucified.  It is His blood that is the purchase price of our redemption – matchless blood, perfect blood.  He is King Forever, the Mighty God.
  3. He is the Everlasting Father – This text is not saying that Jesus the Son is actually God the Father.  We believe in the triune nature of God:  Father, Son, and Spirit – three persons and one God.  So how is Jesus the everlasting Father?   He has begotten us as children by His Word and His Spirit.  Jesus is the Second Adam.  He is the giver and source of everlasting life.  Through His blood, He has opened the new and better way to God.  We are adopted into the family of God through supernatural rebirth.  Jesus made this possible.  He is the Everlasting Father in this sense.  He is the King Forever, the Everlasting Father.
  4. He is the Prince of Peace – While Jesus will reign upon David’s throne and bring peace to the entire world, we as believers experience the benefit of peace today.  He redeemed us and reconciled us to the Father.  We are no longer enemies but children.  Not only that, we have peace garrisoning our hearts to this day.  Nobody is able to take this peace away from us.  He is the King Forever, the Prince of Peace.

Father, all we can do is meditate upon these verses and simply get lost in wonder and in praise for Jesus, the Child born, the Son given, and the King forever.  The more we think about this passage, the more devoted to Christ we become.

We are filled with wonder.  He is the Child born:  God in the flesh.  You have revealed that the angels themselves are lost in wonder and desire to consider this great truth.  Great is this mystery of godliness!  Thanks be to You for Your indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9.15)!

We are lost in praise.  Our gratitude is heightened when we consider the incarnation of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  That He would be a Child born in order to become a Son given as a sacrifice compels gratitude within us.  You put it there in our souls though the power of your Spirit.  What can we give in return?  We can never repay You for the Child born and the Son given, but we can give You our lives anew this morning.

Let us be filled with devotion and commitment.  Let Your will be done on earth as it is done in Heaven.  We submit ourselves to the King today and every day.  We accept the gift of His reign over us.

You have bid us come.  We have labored and we have been heavily burdened by our sin.  We receive the rest only You give.  We take Your yoke upon us.  We will learn from You for you are gentle and lowly in heart.  You will give us what we seek this Christmas:  Rest for our souls.  Lord Jesus, Your yoke is indeed easy; Your burden light.  You truly a Child born, a Son given, and a King forever.

Israel and the Church

A friend sent me the following graphic (not sure of the source or if you can read it):

Israel and the Church

The intent of the graphic is to strengthen the position of continuity between the testaments.  I think that some seek to unify the Word of God, while others have less than altruistic motives for posting a graphic like this.  However, I not only see the difference between Israel and the Church, I see as well the difference between Dispensational Theology and Covenant Theology.  And this chart represents a major difference.  Here is a good primer for those who do not understand or know the differences:  Showers, Renald E. There Really Is a Difference!: a Comparison of Covenant and Dispensational Theology. Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Inc., 1990. Print.

Covenant Theology essentially blurs the distinction between Israel and the Church.  Frankly, I’m not sure it is accurate to say that the CT equates the Church with Israel.  Maybe some do.  I believe the Bible teaches that they are essentially different entities.  Actually, I maintain that Israel, the Church, and the coming Millennial Kingdom are all separate entities.  Chapter 15 of Showers’ book lists seven lines of evidence which show that Israel and the Church are in fact different.

  1. Israel was a nation in the technical sense of that term, but the Church is not a nation in the technical sense of the term.  If the Church is a nation in the same way that Israel was and is currently a nation, what is the national language of the Church?  Who decides?  Actually, the Church consists of many different races and tongues and nations.  She is not bound by geography.  For instance, where is the capital city of the Church if it is a nation?  Who is the earthly political leader?  God established and regulated Israel under the Mosaic Law.  There is no earthly, political government for the Church.  Does the Church have a national army?
  2. Israel as a nation was the people of God through the Mosaic Covenant, but the nation rejected Jesus Christ.  The Church received and is receiving Christ until He receives her as His spotless Bride.
  3. Israel persecuted the Church.
  4. If a Gentile remained a Gentile, he was excluded from the nation of Israel.  He had to become an Israelite through the rite of circumcision and be placed under the Mosaic Law.  Gentiles today are full and equal memebers of the Church.  The Gentile doens’t have to become a part of the nation of Israel to be a member of the Church.
  5. Not all Israelites were beleivers in the OT.  So the nation of Israel consisted of unbelievers and believers alike.  The true Church consists only of regenerate believers.
  6. The Scriptures never refer to saved Jews of the OT nation of Israel as the Church of God.  But the Scriptures do call saved Jews and Gentiles of the NT the Church of God.  1 Corinthians 10.32 strengthens this distinction:  “Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God.”  The fact that the NT applies the phrase “Church of God” to saved NT Jews does not mean that it applied to OT Jews.  Thus there is a very clear distinction between the saved Jews of the NT Church and the saved Jews of OT nation of Israel.  But saved is saved.  It matters not:  OT saint and NT saint alike enjoy the presence of God in Heaven.
  7. Romans 11 teaches that OT Israel was in the place of God’s blessing.  Since OT Israel rejected Jesus Christ through unbelief, God temporarily removed Israel from the place of His blessing.  The Church is now the place of God’s blessing;  Israel is not.  However, God will restore Israel to the place of His blessing when all of Israel receives Christ at His Glorious Appearing at the end of the Great Tribulation.

Israel is out of the place of God’s blessing; the Church is in the place of God’s blessing.  Therefore, Israel and the Church are not the same.  But God has not cast Israel away (Romans 11.1-2).  All Israel will be saved (Romans 11.26).  Israel and the Church may have been founded by God for different reasons and purposes, but God will not abandon either.  He will keep His promises to both.

So, I do see differences.  Frankly, I do not understand how anyone cannot see that Israel is not the Church and the Church is not Israel.  The Lord Jesus will sit upon the earthly throne in Jerusalem to fulfill the covenant made with David (see 2 Samuel 7.12-16).

It must be remembered that the Church is not present in Old Testament teaching.  The Church began at Pentecost and is comprised only of those who are trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ.  The Church’s “citizenship is in Heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3.20).  The Church will reign with Jesus Christ in His Millennial Kingdom.  David Olander in his book, The Greatness of the Rapture:  The Pre-Day of the Lord Rapture wrote (emphasis mine):

…[T]he church is biblically based on covenants with Israel. But these covenants cannot be fulfilled by the church in any manner, for the eternal biblical covenants are not made with the church, Gentiles, or any Gentile nation.  Only the Jews, national Israel, have this eternal distinction. In the church age, Gentiles are brought near because of the Jew-Gentile relationship in union with Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:11–13).

1. The church’s program on earth will end with the rapture. The rapture is exclusively part of the program for the church and the church only. While there are areas of comparison between Israel and the church, God has a separate program for the church, and a separate program for Israel. The church, which began the day of Pentecost, will end at the rapture. Scripture is completely clear with this whole matter.

2. Israel’s program on the earth will end at the end of the millennial kingdom. Jesus Christ must rule as David’s Son, the King of Israel, and all things will be subjected unto Him. However, not all things are subjected to the Son of Man during the church age, but they will be in the Messianic kingdom (Heb. 2:8–9). At the end of the kingdom age, Jesus Christ as the King of Israel will then turn the kingdom back to the Father when He has subdued His last enemy (1 Cor. 15:24–25).

There will never be agreement between Covenant Theology and Dispensational Theology.  There are underlying presuppositions that drive both.  However, we must be careful to treat one another respectfully and honorably.  The author of this graphic might want to consider that there are reasonable men who do see a difference.