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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Compelled By Substitution

01/20_2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Constrained By Substitution ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190120_2cor5_14-15.mp3

The Governing Influence

What moves you? What motivates you to action? What gets you up in the morning and propels you forward? What is the driving force in your life that moves you to do what you do? And what keeps you on course, what prevents you from veering off in an unwise direction? In 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, Paul gives us his motive for ministry, and I submit to you, this would be a great passage to paint in large letters on the ceiling above your bed [or you could write it on a 3×5 card and keep it on your nightstand or on your mirror or on the dash of your car].

2 Corinthians 5:14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

[Pray]

The love of Christ controls or constrains us; this is why we do everything we do. In the past verses Paul pointed to the fact that he lives to God and in service to others. Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others (v.11). In light of the coming judgment, where every person will stand before Christ to receive what is due for what he has done in the body, good or evil (v.10), we make it our aim to please him (v.9). The love of Christ and the fear of Christ are the twin motives that propel Paul to do everything he does. He aims above all else to please his Master. Fear and love. We could put them together this way; because of the great love with which Christ has so loved him, he fears displeasing him in anything.

Doctrine Drives Desires and Decisions

The love of Christ controls us, having concluded this. Paul concluded, judged, decided or determined; this is a logical conclusion or determination drawn from doctrine. And this shows us that doctrine is not merely scholastic; doctrine is practical. Understanding the truths of scripture motivates our passions, our desires, our decisions. Many people say ‘I’m not into all that doctrine or theology stuff; I just want to follow Jesus’ – as if there was a choice between the two! Following Jesus means believing things about God – that’s the essence of theology. Everyone is a theologian – everyone believes stuff about God and life and the world. The question is not if you will do theology; the question is will you do it well, biblically, or poorly?

Paul gives us a dense theological statement that expresses the love of Christ for him, and he uses it as the motivating force for how he lives.

One Died For [ὑπέρ] All

Today we are going to attempt to unpack this statement, to treasure it, to see how it works as power to propel a life pleasing to the Lord.

One on behalf of all died

so the all died

and on behalf of all he died

in order that the living

no longer to themselves live

but to the one who on behalf of them died and was raised

This is the great love of Christ; Christ died for the ungodly (Rom.5:6). While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom.5:8). The Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal.2:20).

1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for [περὶ] sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, …

Jesus said:

John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

Jesus died for; one died instead of, in the place of, in the name of or in the interest of, as a substitute. I deserved death. He stood in my place; he took my punishment; he died my death, for me. Jesus died for my benefit, but more than that; he died as my substitute. He took my name. Think of it this way; I was guilty of a capital crime. I stood before the judge and was condemned. I waited in my cell. The day of execution arrived, the guard came to lead me away, he called my name, and Jesus stepped forward. He answered to my name. He took my place. He died for me. That’s what 1 Peter 3:18 said; ‘Christ suffered… the righteous for the unrighteous.’

So The All Died – Romans 6 & 7

And if that happened, I had better disappear. I better never use my name again. According to the law, I am dead, so I must not show up again. That points to the other half of this:

One on behalf of all died

so the all died

Paul concludes that if Jesus died for all, then whoever the ‘all’ is, they all are dead. If he took my identity, and died as me, then my identity is now dead. In Galatians 2, where ‘the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me’, it says

Galatians 2:19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live…

Jesus gave himself for me. He died as my substitute, and as a result, I was crucified with Christ. I was condemned with him under the law, and I died. His death was my death.

About a year after writing this letter of 2 Corinthians, while Paul was in Corinth, he wrote another letter, to the church in Rome. In Romans 6 and 7 he unpacks and fleshes out this dense doctrinal statement; ‘one on behalf of all died; so the all died.’ The best commentary on Scripture is Scriture.

In Romans 6, Paul is arguing that we who have experienced God’s grace must not continue in sin.

Romans 6:2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Baptism is a picture of being plunged into the death of Jesus. We have been united to Jesus in his death. We were buried with him into death. We were immersed into his death. Therefore we have died to sin. When he took our name, he died for us, and we died with him. We have been united to him in death.

He goes on.

Romans 6:6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

My old sinful identity was crucified with Christ. If that person who was enslaved to sin is now dead, then the power of sin over him has been broken.

In Romans 7, Paul shows us ‘that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives’ (v.1). He uses the illustration of marriage, ’till death do us part; if the husband dies, his wife ‘ is released from the law of marriage’

Romans 7:4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. …6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, …

The law is binding only as long as I live. And in Christ’s death, I died to the law.

When Christ took my name and died for me, my identity died with him. So now I am set free from that old identity – it is dead. I am now free to assume a new identity; ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.’ (Gal.2:20). I now belong to him.

The Purpose of The Doctrine

One on behalf of all died

so the all died

and on behalf of all he died

in order that the living

no longer to themselves live

but to the one who on behalf of them died and was raised

Here we get to the purpose of the doctrine, the conclusion he draws from the truth of our death with Christ who died for us. Christ died in my place, so I died with him. He died in my place in order that I no longer live my life to myself but to him who died in my place and was raised.

If I get this, if I really understand what Jesus did for me, that he died my death, that he paid my price, that he took my name, and that my old identity died with him, then it should change the way I live. I am not my own. I was bought with a price (1Cor.6:20; 7:23). I am alive, spiritually alive, eternally alive because he died for me. I want to live my life for him, to please him. I must not live my life for me, to please me. Christ’s love constrains me, compels me. I want to live for his glory. I want to use my body, my energy, my gifts, my abilities not to please me, but him.

This is powerful. The truth – doctrine, theology is powerful! ‘You will know the truth,’ Jesus said, ‘and the truth will set you free’ (Jn.8:32). Am I tempted to lust, to look at pornography? Jesus died because of that sin; he died for me, and I died with him. I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. Jesus does not want to look with lust on another person for whom he died. His love constrains me. Do you see how powerful this truth is?

Romans 6:11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.

This is transformational truth!

I have been hurt, I have been wronged, and I want to respond, to react in the flesh. But that flesh that I want to respond in is dead. It was crucified with Christ. Anger, animosity, bitterness, grudge-holding, gossip, revenge; that was my old identity, and it is dead. Jesus forgives those who wrong him, he does not open his mouth in his own defense, he is patient and kind. Jesus loves his enemies. He loved me!

Things haven’t gone my way. Circumstances are out of my control. I am struggling with feelings of depression or anxiety. I want to respond with my old coping mechanisms, with my old patterns of behavior. I am inclined to eat too much or drink too much or spend too much or harm myself in other ways. I am inclined to withdraw, to put up walls, to close myself in, or to snap back, to react, to lash out, to hurt others because I am hurt. But it’s not all about me. I am no longer to live to myself but for him, and for others. I am set free from the slavery of a heart turned in on itself. Jesus said ‘not my will but yours be done’.

Romans 7:4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

We have died to that which held us captive. We now belong to another, to Jesus, who was raised from the dead, and his resurrection power is at work in us. We are set free to bear fruit for God by the work of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

2 Corinthians 5:14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

So in all things we make it our aim to please him.

***

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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January 22, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Cross Before The Crown

12/23 The Cross Before The Crown; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20181223_cross-before-crown.mp3

Christmas is a time to focus our attention on Jesus, who Jesus is, what he came to do. We looked at his eternal identity, the Son before the manger, we looked at his aim, to overcome the darkness in us with the light of his presence, that this was his plan before creation, to enter in to our mess and rescue us, that it was his eternal purpose to put on display the glory of his grace. Today I want to look again at who Jesus is, what he is really like, and how his rescue of us must happen.

The Image of Jesus

Who is Jesus? What is the mental image you have of Jesus? When you think of Jesus, how do you picture him? How do you imagine him?

Do you think of the baby in the manger? Do you think of a 30 something Caucasian with a slight build, long blond hair and piercing blue eyes? An olive skinned Hebrew with a robe and tassels? Some composite of the artwork and movies you’ve seen?

Did you know we have a visual description of what Jesus looks like in the bible? Let me read this description of one who saw the risen and glorified Lord Jesus. If you like, you can close your eyes and imagine.

Revelation 1:10 …I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet …12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.

I dare say if we were to meet the risen Lord today, we too would fall at his feet as though dead. That description is from Revelation 1. There is another description in Revelation 19.

Revelation 19:11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Why don’t we think of Jesus this way? Except for one or two brief episodes (his transfiguration, and possibly at his arrest, when the armed mob drew back at his word and fell to the ground – Jn.18:3-6), Jesus did not look like this during his time here on earth. Of course these visions are highly symbolic, not necessarily meant to be taken as literal physical descriptions.

But even more important than what he looked like, he didn’t act like that during his time on earth. He didn’t come with sword and scepter, striking down his enemies, trampling them underfoot. But he will, when he comes again. Advent means coming. And advent is a time to look back at his coming, as well as forward to his second coming.

The Cross Before The Crown

We see both of these aspects of who Jesus is in Philippians 2. Philippians 2 is a call to love and unity, to put aside selfishness and pride, in humility to count others as more significant than yourselves.

Philippians 2:5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus, being himself fully God, did not cling to his divine privileges. Remaining what he was, he became what he was not. God humbled himself. He took the form of a servant; he was born into humanity. The Creator of all things became a part of his creation. He humbled himself even to the extreme of a humiliating death.

Verses 9-11 give us the rest of the story. God intended, as a result of his humiliation, to highly exalt Jesus.

Philippians 2:9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Humility and then glory. In that order. You see the ‘therefore’ at the beginning of verse 9? The Father exalted the Son as a result of his humiliation, his obedience even to the extreme of the cross.

We have to be careful not to misunderstand. It is not as if Jesus earned something that he did not before possess. He always was exalted; he did not need to be exalted. Verse 6 excludes the possibility of understanding this in a way that Jesus was somehow less and became great. It says that he existed in the very form or nature of God. His equality with God was not something he had to chase after. But having humbled himself, there was room for him to be exalted, lifted up to where he had come down from, restored to his rightful place.

What he has now that he did not before, is a human nature. At the incarnation, ‘remaining what he was,’ God from all eternity, ‘he became what he was not,’ truly human. He took a human nature, and he retains that nature for eternity. Jesus will be God incarnate forever. He now is seated at the right hand of his Father, a man; the God-man. Our advocate. Our brother.

And he now bears the title ‘Savior.’ From before time, before creation, he planned to rescue his fallen creation. But he had not yet carried it out in time. He was always full of mercy and grace, eager to forgive; that is his heart. But that is now seen, put on display because of his humiliation and crucifixion. The riches of his grace toward his enemies are now put on public display in the humiliation and crucifixion of Jesus.

The cross came before the crown. Humiliation before exaltation. “Therefore God has highly exalted him.”

Temptation to Reverse

We see in the temptation of Jesus, Satan’s attempt to reverse that order.

Matthew 4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

Use your power as the Creator to provide for your own needs. Put your own needs above the needs of others.

Matthew 4:4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Jesus would live in dependence on God, putting the needs of others above his own.

Matthew 4:5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Use your privileged position and promise of divine protection to demonstrate to all who you are. Gain followers by a spectacular show of glory.

Matthew 4:7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Jesus would wait for the perfect timing of the Father. He would not step out on his own, seek his own glory, or force his hand.

Matthew 4:8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

Here is an opportunity to avoid the horrors of the cross. Just a simple act of worship and I will freely sign over what you know will cost your own blood to secure. Every knee will bow to you, if you will only bow your knee to me, do it my way. Does your Father really know best? Does he really love you if he sent you here to die?

Matthew 4:10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

Jesus was sure of his Father’s love and his Father’s wisdom. He would not be fooled as Adam was, questioning the Father’s goodness, questioning his wisdom or his ways. Jesus knew that humility was the only true path to glory.

The Annunciation

The angel Gabriel announced to Mary

Luke 1:31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

But it was Simeon at the temple who said

Luke 2:34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

Jesus will reign. He will sit on the throne of David forever. But he must suffer first. He will be opposed. The cross before the crown.

Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh

We see this foreshadowed in the gifts of the Magi. Gold and frankincense and myrrh. All three were very valuable and used in trade. Gold is associated with wealth, royalty, and most notably the presence of God. Idols were often made of gold, and the most holy place, the place where God made his presence known, was entirely covered with gold. Frankincense is associated with the temple, used in the holy incense, burned with the grain offerings to create a pleasing aroma, and placed with the bread of the presence. Myrrh was also used in the temple service, in the holy anointing oil. It was also associated with passion and intimacy. Wine mixed with myrrh was offered to Jesus on the cross, but he refused it. Nicodemus used about 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes to prepare Jesus’ body for burial (Jn.19:39).

Economically these gifts would have provided the resources necessary for this poor couple to flee to Egypt and live there to escape the wrath of Herod ignited by the visit of the Magi, but it would be hard to miss the significance of the royal gift of gold that reminded of God’s presence with us, the priestly gift of frankincense that pointed to a sacrifice as a pleasing aroma to the Lord, and the myrrh as a preparation for burial. Jesus will reign, but he must offer himself, suffer and die first.

The Testimony of John

John understood both aspects of who Jesus was.

John 1:29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’

Jesus came into the world after his cousin John (he was younger), but John said ‘I am not worthy to untie even his sandal strap.’ He has come to be before me because he existed first. He is is the eternal one who has come into the world, and he is worthy of all worship. But he is also the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Everyone in Israel knew how a lamb took away sin. It was slaughtered. It became a sacrifice. It received the death penalty as an innocent stand-in for a guilty person. It gave its life as a substitute. Jesus was the eternal one who entered our world, and he is worthy of all worship, but he came to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus would be worshiped as the king coming on the clouds in glory, but he must pay for our sins with his own blood first. The cross before the crown. This is why he came.

Worship and Imitation

What does all this have to do with us? First, it is reason to worship. Jesus, being God from all eternity is worthy of our worship. But Jesus came to die for your sins to rescue you and put on display the riches of God’s glorious grace. He would be worthy of our worship if he never stooped to save us. Every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth. But what a treasure we have! That he did come! For us! To rescue us! What amazing undeserved grace! We can worship him not only at the worthy king, but as our savior, rescuer, friend. We have a man standing on our behalf in heaven. God took on our nature to be with us, to suffer for us, to advocate for us. What a savior! Worthy of worship!

Philippians invites us to have our affections stirred for Jesus, to take encouragement and comfort in his love for us, but also to learn from him. To be like him. To follow him. We will reign with him. We are promised his inheritance. We are welcomed in. The cross before the crown.

Philippians 2:1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

The cross before the crown. We don’t have to grasp at power and position and possessions. God has promised us “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1Pet.1:4). God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing” (Eph.1:3). It is ours in Christ Jesus. We have been given it. We don’t need to compete for it. Our interests are looked after by none other than our Lord Jesus Christ himself! We are freed now to look after the interests of others. We can count others more significant than ourselves. Jesus has freed us to love, sacrificially love, because we have been perfectly loved. So church, love boldly!

***

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

December 24, 2018 Posted by | advent, occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 3:17; Freedom in The Lord The Spirit

07/01_2 Corinthians 3:17; Freedom in the LORD the Spirit ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180701_2cor3_17.mp3

Paul is talking about boldness and confidence in ministry; where does his competency come from? Who is sufficient to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus everywhere, which among those being saved is the aroma of life to life, but among the perishing is the aroma of death to death? ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ (2:16)

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Paul is competent, not in himself, but God has made him sufficient to be a minister of the New Covenant, a minister of the Spirit. He contrasts his ministry with the glorious ministry of Moses

2 Corinthians 3:7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

Paul has in mind Exodus 34, where Moses came down from the mountain from talking with God, his face shining or glorious.

2 Corinthians 3:12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.

Paul’s apostolic ministry is not like Moses’ ministry; it is an unveiled ministry; he is bold, open, plain-speaking. The Old Testament still today remains veiled to those who do not turn to Jesus. Their minds are hardened. A veil lies over their hearts.

Only in Christ is that veil rendered ineffective, abolished, brought to nothing. When one turns to the Lord, the veil is lifted.

Exodus 34 and the New Covenant

Paul takes Exodus 34:34 and applies it to his New Covenant ministry. Exodus 34:34 reads:

Exodus 34:34 Whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would remove the veil, …

Paul continues to contrast the Old Covenant ministry of Moses with Apostolic New Covenant ministry. Notice how he adapts the Exodus wording in 2 Corinthians 3:16 and applies it to the New Covenant:

2 Corinthians 3:16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.

Where Exodus 34 has ‘Moses,’ 2 Corinthians has ‘one’ The reference to Moses is generalized and left open. Under the Old Covenant, only Moses had access to the presence of the Lord. Now anyone. Anyone can turn and enter the presence of the Lord.

The verb ‘went in’ is changed to ‘turns’ The implication is that one turns away from something else and turns toward the Lord. This word is used for the conversion of the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 1:9

1 Thessalonians 1:9 … how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,

In the New Covenant there is a turning; a turning away from something, and a turning toward the Lord. What are we to turn away from? We will come back to this question in a minute.

The voice of the verb ‘remove’ is changed from middle; something Moses did to himself, to passive; something that is done to the one turning by someone else. Moses removed his own veil. The unbeliever is not able to remove the veil that lies over his own heart and mind. It must be removed for him by another. Only through Christ is it taken away.

And a conditional element is added; ‘if’. If or when one turns, the veil is removed.

If; Our Righteousness and God’s

Why ‘if’? And if anyone can now turn to the Lord, why don’t more turn? Why is the New Covenant access rejected by so many, especially so many of God’s chosen people? After he came to the city of Corinth:

Acts 18:5 …Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 6 And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

Why do so many of the Jews refuse to believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah? This may have been one of the questions raised by those who were critical of Paul’s ministry. If he is really a genuine apostle, why isn’t he more effective, especially among his own people?

Paul’s own testimony gives us a personal illustration of what he is talking about and helps us understand why so many reject the message.

He says in Philippians 3 that he has reason for confidence in the flesh, and he catalogs his resume.

Philippians 3:4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Paul had a righteousness that was under the law. He claimed to be blameless. He had reason for confidence in the flesh. Yet he traded it all in.

Philippians 3:7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish,

Rubbish? A blameless righteousness under the law? A total loss? Why?

Philippians 3:8 …in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—

He traded in his own righteousness, law righteousness, for the righteousness of God that comes through faith in Christ. He traded his self-righteousness in for a relationship with Jesus. This is why so many who have the law fail to receive the gift of God. They have confidence in the flesh. They have a righteousness under the law, and are unwilling to let go of what they have worked so hard to attain to receive freely what someone else has earned. In Romans 10 Paul talks about his fellow Israelites:

Romans 10:3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

So in turning to the Lord, what must we turn away from? From confidence in the flesh; from our own self-righteousness. One must turn away from self, from self-confidence, from self-reliance and turn to the Lord. Paul claimed to be blameless according to righteousness under the law, yet he considered that rubbish compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord!

Paul calls it ignorance in Romans 10. He calls it blindness in 2 Corinthians. There is a veil that lies over their hearts. So many are blind and don’t even know it. The veil must be removed. They can’t remove their own blindness; they don’t even know it is there. The veil must be removed through Christ.

The Lord The Spirit Is

He says ‘if one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.’ In Exodus 34, ‘Lord’ is the translation of the Hebrew YHWH, God’s covenant name. In the Septuagint (LXX) this is translated into the Greek as Kurios. In Philippians 3:8, a verse we already looked at, Paul refers to ‘ Christ Jesus my Lord,’ connecting Jesus with YHWH of the Old Testament. In Romans 10 this is even more clear. He says in

Romans 10:9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

…12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

The Christian confession is ‘Jesus is Lord’ or Jesus is YHWH. He backs this up from a quotation of Joel 2:32 that whoever calls on the name of YHWH will be saved. John the Baptist, preparing the way for Jesus, when asked who he was (Jn.1:23) cited Isaiah 40:3 ‘Make straight the way of YHWH, the Lord’. Clearly in the New Testament Jesus is identified as YHWH of the Old Testament.

But in all of Paul’s quotations of the Old Testament, ‘Lord’ refers to God generally, not specifically to any one member of the Trinity. Here in verse 17 he clarifies. YHWH, Lord, in Exodus 34:34 is the Spirit.

Paul has been talking about the ministry of the Spirit in contrast to the ministry of death, of condemnation, of the letter, that which is being done away with. When Moses took off the veil and entered the presence of YHWH, he was in the presence of the Lord, the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who makes alive, who justifies and makes righteous, who remains. It is the Spirit who writes Christ on the tablets of human hearts, hearts that have been made flesh by the regenerating New Covenant work of the Spirit. Spirit in the Hebrew is breath or wind. It is the voice of God that makes God known.

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2

1 Corinthians 2:9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

The Spirit is the one who reveals the things of God to us. The Spirit is the Spirit who is God, and he is the Spirit of God. There is identification with distinction. Jesus is YHWH; the Father is YHWH; the Spirit is YHWH. But the Spirit is the Spirit of (indicating possession) God. He is God’s Spirit, the Spirit who belongs to God. The Spirit is YHWH, and he is also the Spirit of YHWH; the Spirit is not the Father or the Son.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is… Freedom!

2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Freedom! This is an exclamation! Where the Spirit of the Lord is …Freedom! What is the freedom he is talking about? This implies there is no freedom outside the Spirit of the Lord. Humankind not free; we need to be set free by his Spirit. We are naturally in bondage. Oh, we do have freedom; we can do whatever we want, and we do, and it does not go well for us. We are in a hole, with a shovel, and we can do whatever we want with our shovel. And that gets us deeper and deeper in the hole.

What is the freedom Paul is talking about here? The context in verse 18 is freedom to enter the presence of the Lord unveiled. In verse 14-15 it is freedom from hardened minds and veiled hearts. It is freedom to see Jesus in the Old Testament. In verse 3 it is the freedom that comes from having stony hearts turned to flesh. In verse 6 it is freedom from death, the freedom of being made alive. In verse 9 it is freedom from condemnation; the freedom of righteousness. In verse 11 it is the freedom of that which is permanent; freedom from that which is doomed to pass away. Freedom is parallel to the confidence of verse 4 and the open-faced boldness of verse 12.

The Spirit of the Lord brings freedom. But not the freedom you might think This is freedom from blindness, the freedom of an imputed righteousness, freedom of access to enter the presence of the Lord, freedom of unhindered boldness, freedom from false pretense, transparency to be who you have been called to be, freedom of integrity. One author writes this freedom is ‘a liberation from a heart turned in on itself’ [Seifrid, p.177 PNTC]

Paul is referring back to Exodus. In that context freedom was freedom from bondage to an oppressive and cruel taskmaster. It was freedom from slavery. But it was also freedom for something. It was freedom to serve the Lord, freedom to obey and follow the Lord; freedom be in the presence of the Lord as the people of the Lord. It was freedom from, but it was also freedom for.

Paul says in Galatians 5

Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

…13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The freedom we are called to is freedom of access, freedom to be in the presence of the Lord, freedom of relationship. We are set free to respond to God’s goodness. We are set free to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength, and that will naturally spill over into love and service to others, love for neighbor, even love for enemy.

2 Corinthians 3:16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Freedom! Enjoy your blood-bought freedom. You have been set free by the Holy Spirit to see Jesus for who he is and receive from him life and righteousness, access to the Father. Enjoy freedom of relationship with God. Enjoy your freedom to love God, freedom to love and serve others, openly and plainly share truth with others, freedom to minister to others.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

July 4, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Works vs Fruit; Galatians 5

05/21 The Work of the Spirit and the War Against the Flesh [Galatians 5:13-21; 24-26]; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170521_works-vs-fruit.mp3

Today we begin a series on the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5. I believe this will be very practical and helpful, and I would invite you to be praying with me that God the Holy Spirit would be at work through his word to produce his fruit in the lives of his people for his glory.

~prayer~

Paul is in anguish over the Galatians. He is astonished that they are deserting Jesus and turning to a different gospel. These Gentiles are being pressured to submit to the Jewish law. Paul is fighting to preserve the truth of the gospel, the good news that we are declared right before God not by keeping the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ. The Christian life is not me attempting to live up to some standard, but Christ living in me, a life lived “by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal.2:20). Paul is eager to embrace the freely given grace of God, and he understands that if righteousness could come through the law then Christ was crucified in vain.

Justification by Grace through Faith in Christ

He says in chapter 3

Galatians 3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—

The Christian life is begun by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone. I hear with desperate dependence the good news proclaimed that Christ was crucified for me. The Holy Spirit is at work in me so that as I hear the gospel I trust not my abilities but Christ alone. The Spirit works this in me. Having freely received the Spirit through faith, is it now up to my flesh to finish the work he began in me? Of course not! If the beginning of the Christian life is a work of the Spirit, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, so the continuance and completion of the Christian life is all a work of the Holy Spirit, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Sanctification by Grace through Faith in Christ

Paul says in Galatians 4

Galatians 4:19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!

Paul’s longing is that Christ would be formed in them. Christ – himself – formed in you. Christ – who lives in me. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. This is no human effort. Paul’s heart is that they would live in complete daily dependence on the Spirit in them to produce the character of Christ in them.

In chapter 5 he warns not to fall away from grace, to turn from the freely given gift of God who is at work in us by his Spirit, in order to attempt to obtain righteousness by our own effort.

Galatians 5:5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.

We do not work, we eagerly wait. We wait for the hope of righteousness; a confident assurance of a righteousness that God will bring about in us. We trust. We depend. We believe. Through the Spirit. By faith. We wait. It is not our effort. Not what we do or don’t do that “counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” It is not me working, but faith working. Dependence on God is at work, and it expresses itself in love.

Freedom to Want

In verse 13, Paul warns against misusing this freedom we have in Christ, our freedom from the law, in a way that allows the flesh to gain traction.

Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

We are set free in Christ to fulfill the law by serving one another through love. So many misunderstand freedom as a freedom from any authority. Rather freedom in Christ is freedom from the tyranny of a cruel slave-master to be back under the good and right authority of the God who is love. It is a freedom at the heart level. We are no longer under debt and an obligation to live up to the standards of the law. Instead we are freed to do what we want. We are set free at the level of our desires. We are set free from the suicidal desires that compelled us to pursue things that destroy; we are set free at the heart level to hunger and thirst after the things that truly satisfy.

War of Desires

Paul warns:

Galatians 5:15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Life by the Spirit is war. There is war outside and war within. Paul warns; if you bite and devour one another, watch out; our fleshly desires stir us up against one another. If we follow the flesh (and often we do) we will be biting and devouring each other.

But as believers in Jesus, we have been given the Holy Spirit of God. We still have the old nature, the flesh. And our sinful flesh will not just roll over and admit defeat. It will not go down without a fight. So we have a war on our hands; a war within. It will be long – lifelong. It will be messy – there will be casualties. But we are assured of victory – the outcome is certain. We battle a decisively defeated foe. The flesh was defeated at the cross. If we are in Christ, if we have identified with him in his death and resurrection, the victory has already been won. Jesus conquered sin and death and hell on the cross. And my flesh was crucified with him on that cross.

By flesh the Bible doesn’t mean physical bodies. Our bodies are not inherently evil. Our physical bodies will be resurrected glorified. We will enjoy a sinless existence in our physical bodies in the presence of God for eternity. God created Adam and Eve with physical bodies in the garden and he said it was all very good. Our bodies are not the problem. The flesh is the problem. By the flesh, the Bible means that fallen part of us that desires other things more than God. It is that part of us that wants to be our own master, determine our own destiny, live for our own glory, be our own god. As believers, we now have the Holy Spirit living within, and we now have competing desires. The flesh has its desires, and the Holy Spirit brings with him his desires, and these two are in conflict. The Holy Spirit desires to magnify Jesus above all.

These competing desires ‘keep you from doing the things you want to do.’ We are in a battle. But who is the you? You are either giving in to the flesh, biting and devouring one another, or you are led by the Holy Spirit, free from the law, through love serving one another. So who is the you? What is your identity? Do you embrace the flesh, with its passions and desires, or do you embrace the Spirit, and allow him to transform you? This is a big deal.

Works of the Flesh

In verse 19, he moves from talking about the desires of the flesh to the works of the flesh.

Galatians 5:19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

The flesh manifests itself. There are fifteen words that divide into four categories here. The first three words have to do with sexual sin; sexual immorality, sexual impurity, uncontrolled lust. Then there are two words dealing with religious pursuits; idolatry and sorcery. The flesh makes an idol out of just about anything; family, relationships, work, success, kids, power, reputation. Sorcery is an attempt to gain control by manipulating the spiritual realm. The next 8 are relationship words. And most of these are in the plural; they have multiple manifestations, they may take multiple forms. Enmity – hostile feelings and actions; strife- contention and discord; jealousy – an envious rivalry; fits of anger – bursts of temper; rivalries – selfish ambitions; dissensions – uprisings or controversies; divisions – creating factions; envy – ill will or spite. Most of these are inward attitudes and feelings, attitudes of the heart. The last two, drunkenness and orgies, have to do with excess; excessive drinking, excessive feasting or partying. The desires of the flesh display themselves in works of deviant and destructive sexuality, dark religious practices, self-centered and damaging relational dynamics, and excessive overindulgence.

Recognize, this is a big deal. This is a warning. Paul says ‘I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.’ So this is a salvation issue. If you have embraced the desires of the flesh, if your life is characterized by the works of the flesh, if there is no battle between flesh and Spirit, then you may not know Jesus. But don’t be discouraged; if you are not winning the battle all the time, if you are still struggling against the same sins. The fact that there is a battle going on and you are convicted over your sins is a good sign.

We could look at Jesus’ story of the prodigal and see these fleshly desires manifesting themselves in the works of the flesh. The prodigal idolized money and freedom from all authority and sinful pleasure. He indulged in sexual immorality, excessive drinking and partying.

We could look at his unforgiving older brother and see enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy.

These are the normal outworkings of the flesh. But when the Spirit comes in, then there is war.

Of course we could look at the father in the story and see the fruit of the Spirit on display; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. We will look at these characteristics in the coming weeks.

How is the Fruit of the Spirit not a list of moral virtues? (070218)

We need to understand how the lifestyle of the morally upright around us fits in to this overall picture. We acknowledge that many that don’t know Christ personally live lives that we would describe as ‘good’; they are kind, patient, faithful, gentle, self-controlled, they exercise patience, they are peace loving, they show love to others, and they seem happy. Does this mean that the Spirit is at work in their lives? Is this evidence of the Holy Spirit, and should we conclude that people who live this way must be justified believers, because Jesus says ‘by their fruits you shall know them’? In fact we probably can think of people we know that do not follow Jesus that we would say have more of the fruit of the Spirit in their lives than we do. Do we have biblical categories in our minds to fit these facts into? Or does this confuse us and cause us to question and doubt?

Let’s look at what Jesus said:

Matthew 7:16-20 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

Now that sounds pretty clear-cut. If you can see the fruit of the Spirit in a person’s life, then they must be O.K. with God, right? If they are loving, kind, good, gentle, patient and self-controlled, then they must be on the right track. Be careful not to jump to conclusions before you’ve read the whole passage. Let’s keep reading and see what Jesus says next:

Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

So, apparently there will be people who on the surface appear to have it all together; even people who sincerely feel that they have it all together, who will be very surprised on judgment day. They will say things like ‘but Jesus, we acknowledge you as Lord; we believe in you’. And Jesus says, ‘no, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven’. They will say ‘but we did that; we prophesied, we even cast out demons in your name; we did many mighty works in your name’. So they were doing good works. They were performing great acts of love. And not just that; there were supernatural things going on. Prophecies were being given; people were being delivered from evil spirits. Obviously the Spirit was at work in their lives. But on this ground they were not welcome in heaven. What was it that they lacked? Jesus says the critical thing is not what you do; it’s who you know. Jesus says ‘I never knew you. You may have done some amazing things. You may be the most loving, kind, generous person around, you might have even done these things in the name of Jesus, but we had no relationship. I never knew you.’ And Jesus sends them away and calls them ‘workers of lawlessness’. How can he say that when they were doing good works? In God’s eyes all their love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control were filthy rags in his sight. Their good works were valueless because they didn’t stem from a relationship with Jesus.

Isaiah 64:6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

Contrast Works and Fruit

Notice the flesh is always working, striving, exerting effort to attain its unwholesome desires. The Spirit grows fruit. It is an organic thing. It is not manufactured. If the right seed is planted, the right plant sprouts up. Whatever kind of tree it is, that is the kind of fruit that will be produced. There are ways to encourage and enhance fruitfulness; preparing the soil, watering, fertilizing, pruning. But ultimately the fruit is determined by the nature of the tree. The Holy Spirit produces fruit in keeping with his nature.

Notice also, the fruit of the Spirit is singular, where the works of the flesh are plural. There are various and disjointed manifestations of the fleshly desires. But the Spirit produces wholeness, integration, integrity. This is one fruit. It has different sides, different aspects; but it is one. It is one multifaceted fruit.

And take encouragement here. If you belong to Christ, you have the Spirit of the living God living within you.

Romans 8 tells us

Romans 8:9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

And he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1Jn.4:4). And he who is in you is greater than your flesh. God wins! He will be victorious in your life. If the Spirit is there, he will produce his fruit in your life. He will not fail. If God could take the one who was crushed down under the weight of the sin of the world and raise him up to life again, he is fully able to overcome your fleshly desires and produce the satisfying fruit of the Spirit. Christ will be formed in you!

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

May 22, 2017 Posted by | Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leviticus 25:39-55; Jubilee – Redemption of Slaves

04/09 Leviticus 25:39-55; Jubilee; Redemption of Slaves; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170409_leviticus-25_39-55.mp3

The chapter, as we have seen, divides into three sections, each concluding with the phrase “I am YHWH your God.”

1-22 rest for land; Sabbath year and Jubilee

23-38 redemption or release of land

39-55 redemption or release of people

The first section of Leviticus 25 deals with the Sabbath year and the year of jubilee. Every seventh year, the land was to keep a Sabbath rest to the LORD. After seven weeks of years the fiftieth year was a year of Jubilee. Liberty was proclaimed and a return to property and to families. Rest was required. God’s provision was promised.

The second section, verses 23-38, begins with God’s claim that the land belongs to him, and concludes with “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.” The focus of that section is land, its sale and redemption or release in the year of Jubilee.

Verses 39-55 address the situation where a person would sell himself to pay off a debt. In verse 42, God asserts his ownership over the people whom he brought out of the land of Egypt be his servants. This section concludes with “For it is to me that the people of Israel are servants. They are my servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” The focus of this final section is God’s people, their sale, and their redemption or release in the year of Jubilee. This last section is our focus today; redemption and release of slaves.

Jubilee: Redemption of Slaves

Leviticus 25:39 “If your brother becomes poor beside you and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave: 40 he shall be with you as a hired worker and as a sojourner. He shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. 41 Then he shall go out from you, he and his children with him, and go back to his own clan and return to the possession of his fathers. 42 For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. 43 You shall not rule over him ruthlessly but shall fear your God.

The slavery introduced here was never meant to be. God promises in Deuteronomy 15 that:

Deuteronomy 15:4 But there will be no poor among you; for the LORD will bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess— 5 if only you will strictly obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today. 6 For the LORD your God will bless you, as he promised you, and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow, and you shall rule over many nations, but they shall not rule over you. 7 “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, 8 but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.

The situation of poverty and slavery here is a result of disobedience and sin. God’s people did not keep God’s rules as they lived in God’s land. They hardened their hearts and closed their hands to their brothers in need. And so they missed out on God’s ideal for them. The verses immediately preceding these in Leviticus 25 require:

Leviticus 25:35 “If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. 36 Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. 37 You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. 38 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.

God promised to provide for the needs of his people. He intended that his people would be generous toward one another and toward the foreigners dwelling with them. But God understands our selfish, sinful inclination, and made provision to protect and care for those in desperate circumstances, and through this he also gave us a picture that points ultimately to the liberty proclaimed in Christ Jesus.

Limited Type of Service

In this worst case scenario, where one of God’s people becomes so poor that he must sell himself to simply survive, God limits the type of service he could be required to perform. They are to be treated as if they were hired workers, not as slaves. They are not to be treated ruthlessly.

God had rescued his people out of hard slavery in Egypt.

Exodus 1:13 So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.

Exodus 2:23 …the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God.

Exodus 6:9 …they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.

They were to remember their slavery in Egypt, and they were not to treat others the way they had been mistreated. They would also be reminded of the plagues on Egypt, that God comes to the rescue of those who cry out to him for help. If they now became the oppressors, they could expect a similar judgment from God. Verse 43 says “You shall not rule over him ruthlessly but shall fear your God.”

Limited Time of Service

God limits the type of their service; God also limits the time of their service. Their hope was not to be removed. In Exodus 21 and Deuteronomy 15, we see that the time of service of a Hebrew slave was limited to 6 years. On the seventh year he was to go free.

Deuteronomy 15:12 “If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. 13 And when you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty-handed. 14 You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the LORD your God has blessed you, you shall give to him. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.

This service was to end with generosity. This was a way to care for those who became poor without simply being a handout. They retained their dignity, were to work in exchange for room and board, and were to be treated with respect. This was a temporary arrangement with a time limit. When they were released, they were to be sent off with all that they needed to keep them from immediately spiraling back into poverty.

We see this arrangement could be so desirable, that a servant on the seventh year could choose to stay. Both Exodus 21 and Deuteronomy 15 make provision for this.

Deuteronomy 15:16 But if he says to you, ‘I will not go out from you,’ because he loves you and your household, since he is well-off with you, 17 then you shall take an awl, and put it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your slave forever. And to your female slave you shall do the same.

Here in Leviticus, the time of service is limited to 49 years. It seems Hebrew slaves were to be offered their freedom each Sabbath year. But if they chose to stay, even this was not a completely permanent arrangement. On the Jubilee, even these slaves were to go free. They were to be released with their whole families.

Ultimate Ownership

Leviticus 25:40 …He shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. 41 Then he shall go out from you, he and his children with him, and go back to his own clan and return to the possession of his fathers. 42 For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. 43 You shall not rule over him ruthlessly but shall fear your God.

God asserts his ownership over his people. Like the land, God is their owner, and what can be sold is not the person, but his productivity. Like the land, their sale is the sale of years of service until the Jubilee. God is the ultimate owner and he is to be feared. The Israelites belong to him. They are his servants. As we see in Jesus’ parable, it is not wise to mistreat a fellow-servant.

Allowance for Non-Israelite Slaves

God makes a distinction between his people and the nations around them.

Leviticus 25:44 As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you. 45 You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that are with you, who have been born in your land, and they may be your property. 46 You may bequeath them to your sons after you to inherit as a possession forever. You may make slaves of them, but over your brothers the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another ruthlessly.

At first read, we tend to recoil at the implication that God condones slavery. But we need to understand what this does and does not mean, and we need to understand it in its context.

God had given clear instructions to his people to drive out and completely destroy the inhabitants of the land he was giving them, because of their sin, their abominable practices, and to prevent Israel from being led astray by them to worship other gods. In Joshua 9, the Gibeonites understood this and deceived Israel into making a covenant with them, claiming to be from far away. When asked why they did this,

Joshua 9:24 They answered Joshua, “Because it was told to your servants for a certainty that the LORD your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you—so we feared greatly for our lives because of you and did this thing. 25 And now, behold, we are in your hand. Whatever seems good and right in your sight to do to us, do it.” 26 So he did this to them and delivered them out of the hand of the people of Israel, and they did not kill them. 27 But Joshua made them that day cutters of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the LORD, to this day, in the place that he should choose.

The Gibeonites chose service rather than death They did this to ally themselves with Israel. Notice, they chose this. All the slavery in this chapter is voluntary slavery. The poor Israelite sells himself. The foreigner sells himself. In Exodus 21 and in Deuteronomy 24 the penalty for capturing a person to sell as a slave is death.

Exodus 21:16 “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.

Exodus 21:16 is sandwiched between two verses requiring the death penalty for dishonoring parents. Jesus teaches us that some the commands were given to regulate sinful practices ‘because of your hardness of heart’ (Mt.19:8). God is clear that he is against the slave trade as we understand it. 1 Timothy 1:10 lists enslavers together with other sins that are contrary to sound doctrine and to the gospel.

God makes it clear that he values all life he created, but he also makes a distinction between those who choose to remain his enemies and those who turn and seek to align with him and his people.

Rights of Redemption

Verse 47 introduces the upside down possibility that a native Israelite would sell himself to a foreigner living among Israel. This should not be. God promised to bless his people. But he also promised that if his people turned from him and were disobedient to him, turned to other gods and rejected him, he would send them into captivity. He even says:

Deuteronomy 28:68 And the LORD will bring you back in ships to Egypt, a journey that I promised that you should never make again; and there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.”

This is not what God intended for his people. But this is the consequences for refusing God’s good authority.

Leviticus 25:47 “If a stranger or sojourner with you becomes rich, and your brother beside him becomes poor and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner with you or to a member of the stranger’s clan, 48 then after he is sold he may be redeemed. One of his brothers may redeem him, 49 or his uncle or his cousin may redeem him, or a close relative from his clan may redeem him. Or if he grows rich he may redeem himself.

This section demands that in the regrettable circumstance that this should happen, the right of redemption is retained. The sale is not final. Redemption is possible. In the section we covered last week, we looked at the role of a kinsman redeemer, a close relative who had the responsibility and right to come to the rescue of one who was in trouble. Here it is clarified who can act as a kinsman-redeemer; a brother, an uncle, a cousin, or another close relative may redeem.

Price of Redemption

Verses 50-54 stipulate the terms of the sale and the fair price of redemption. Again, the sale is technically the number of years of service until the Jubilee release.

Leviticus 25:50 He shall calculate with his buyer from the year when he sold himself to him until the year of jubilee, and the price of his sale shall vary with the number of years. The time he was with his owner shall be rated as the time of a hired worker. 51 If there are still many years left, he shall pay proportionately for his redemption some of his sale price. 52 If there remain but a few years until the year of jubilee, he shall calculate and pay for his redemption in proportion to his years of service. 53 He shall treat him as a worker hired year by year. He shall not rule ruthlessly over him in your sight. 54 And if he is not redeemed by these means, then he and his children with him shall be released in the year of jubilee.

The price of sale and the price of redemption is to be fair. God’s people are to be just in their business dealings. They are not to take advantage of others.

God’s Possession

In the closing verse of this chapter, God again reminds us of his rights over his people.

Leviticus 25:55 For it is to me that the people of Israel are servants. They are my servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

God’s people belong to him. He redeemed them from slavery in Egypt. He purchased them to belong to him. He is the I AM. As their Creator, all people belong to him. As their Kinsman-Redeemer, the people he purchased out of slavery doubly belong to him.

Application

What does all this mean for us? We are not Israel entering the promised land to dispossess the Canaanites. We do not have these social structures of debt and slavery and redemption or release at the Sabbath Year or the Year of Jubilee. Is this nothing more than a bit of interesting ancient trivia? Far from it! This is the language and the context of our treasured redemption. This is our hope and our joy. This is Jesus!

Jesus in his parable in Matthew 18 describes us as having a debt we could never hope to pay.

Matthew 18:23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.

One talent was about 20 years wages for a laborer. Jesus describes us as owing our King 200,000 years worth of wages. Our offense is against an infinite God. Our debt is incalculable, yet justice demands that the debt be paid back equitably.

Jesus describes us as slaves to sin,

John 8:34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.

Galatians 4 tells us that we were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world; enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. Titus 3 tells us that we were slaves to various passions and pleasures. Romans 6 tells us that we were slaves of sin, which leads to death, because the wages of sin is death. Our slavery was not 6 years or 49 years; it was eternal. We were created to enjoy God and glorify God. But we sold ourselves as slaves to sin.

Our taskmaster Satan is cruel. He has no concern for our dignity or our well-being. He comes to steal and kill and destroy (Jn.10:10).

But in Luke 4, Jesus stood up to read in the synagogue in Nazareth, and he was given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and he read:

Luke 4:18

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives

and recovering of sight to the blind,

to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” [cf. Isaiah 61:1-2]

Jesus proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor. He claimed to bring the long awaited Jubilee. He proclaimed good news, liberty to the captives. By announcing the Jubilee, he was declaring that his day was the Day of Atonement.

In Colossians 1 we read that God,

Colossians 1:13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

In Colossians 2,

Colossians 2:13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

From the cross, before he gave up his spirit Jesus declared ‘It is finished’; [τετελεσται] ‘the debt has been paid in full’ (Jn.19:30).

The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation. Now we wait…

Titus 2:13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

April 10, 2017 Posted by | Leviticus, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leviticus 25:23-38; Jubilee – Redemption of the Land

04/02 Leviticus 25:23-38; Jubilee; Redemption of Land; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170402_leviticus-25_23-38.mp3

The chapter divides into three sections, each concluding with the phrase “I am YHWH your God.”

The first section of Leviticus 25 extends the calendar begun in chapter 23 and deals with the Sabbath year and the year of jubilee. Every seventh day, people and animals were to rest from their labors. There were certain holy times each year that were set apart for specific purposes, days in which no work was to be done, days of rest and worship. Every seventh year, the land was to keep a Sabbath rest. This was the Sabbath year. After seven weeks of years, after 49 years, the fiftieth year was a year of Jubilee. Liberty was proclaimed and a return to property and to families. Rest was required. God’s provision was promised. There was a warning not to wrong a neighbor. The focus of the first section is the cycle of work and rest, even rest for the land, and the promise of God’s provision.

The second section, verses 23-38, begins with God’s claim that the land belongs to him, and concludes with “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.” The focus of this section is land, its sale and redemption or release in the year of Jubilee.

Verses 39-55 address the situation where a person would sell himself to pay off a debt. In verse 42, God asserts his ownership over the people whom he brought out of the land of Egypt be his servants. This section concludes with “For it is to me that the people of Israel are servants. They are my servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” The focus of the final section is God’s people, their sale, and their redemption or release in the year of Jubilee.

1-22 rest for land; Sabbath year and Jubilee

23-38 redemption or release of land

39-55 redemption or release of people

Our focus today will be the second section of this chapter.

God Owns the Land

God begins in verse 23 with his assertion of ownership over the land.

Leviticus 25:23 “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me.

This sets the parameters for the discussion of land ownership and sale and release. This speaks to the rest for the land every seventh year and every fiftieth year. God’s people would be tempted to argue ‘but I can’t stop working the land for a whole year! How could we survive?’ When we are entrusted with something, especially if it is for a long time, we begin to feel like we own it. We have had access to it for so long that we begin to think of it as belonging to us. God reminds his people ‘the land is mine.’ The land does not belong to you. I can tell you what you can and can’t do with the land, because the land belongs to me.

Tenant farming was a typical arrangement in the ancient world. We see this under Joseph in Egypt. The severity of the famine forced the Egyptians to sell their land to the Pharaoh in order to survive.

Genesis 47:18 …“We will not hide from my lord that our money is all spent. The herds of livestock are my lord’s. There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our land. 19 Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we with our land will be servants to Pharaoh. And give us seed that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate.” 20 So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe on them. The land became Pharaoh’s. 21 As for the people, he made servants of them from one end of Egypt to the other. …23 Then Joseph said to the people, “Behold, I have this day bought you and your land for Pharaoh. Now here is seed for you, and you shall sow the land. 24 And at the harvests you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and as food for yourselves and your households, and as food for your little ones.” 25 And they said, “You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh.”

So all the land in Egypt was owned by the Pharaoh, but he allowed the people to live on it and work his land in exchange for 20 percent of the produce.

Several of Jesus’ parables used the illustration of stewardship; money or a vineyard was entrusted to someone’s care, and at some point the owner returned and expected his portion of the harvest or a return on his investment.

God reminds his people “the land is mine.” I’m allowing you to squat on my land, to live on it, to farm it, to use it. But don’t forget, it belongs to me. “You are strangers and sojourners with me.” In Leviticus we have heard a lot about the strangers and sojourners in the land. This typically refers to non-Israelites, foreigners. Here God reminds his people, Israel ‘you are aliens, strangers in a land not belonging to you. It is my land. I am the King, the great landlord. I set the terms of your occupation and your tenancy. As the landowner, he reserves the right to evict any tenants who refuse to follow his rules. He has done this before. In Leviticus chapters 18 and 20, where God lays out the code of conduct he requires of his people, he reminds them

Leviticus 20:22 “You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. 23 And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them. 24 But I have said to you, ‘You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ I am the LORD your God, who has separated you from the peoples.

God is the landowner, and he is evicting the former tenants after excessively generous notification. But this is a warning to his own people. If they refuse to follow his rules, they too will be evicted. God’s people are always to keep in mind that they are sojourners and strangers living on God’s land.

As such, “the land shall not be sold in perpetuity.” God’s people living in God’s land are allowed to sub-lease the land to others. But no sales are final, because the land belongs to God. In the first section, introducing the year of Jubilee, God clarified that what is being sold is not the land itself, but the number of harvests until the year of Jubilee, when the land would return to the ones God allotted it to.

Redemption and the Kinsman Redeemer

Leviticus 25:24 And in all the country you possess, you shall allow a redemption of the land. 25 “If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold.

Here we are introduced to the idea of redemption. This noun shows up 9 times in this chapter, twice in Ruth 4, twice in Jeremiah 32, and once in Ezekiel. Leviticus 25 is key to understanding what redemption means. The verb form shows up 10 times in this chapter, and 12 times in Leviticus 27, a handful of times scattered through the rest of the Pentateuch and the other historical books; 21 times in Ruth, twice in Job, 10 times in Psalms, once in Proverbs, 24 times in Isaiah (x24); and several other occurrences in the prophets. The noun is gullah (gheh-ool-law’), from the verb ga’al (gaw-al’), kinsman redeemer. The same verb is translated ‘avenger’ in the phrase ‘avenger of blood’ about 12 times in Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, and 2 Samuel. As we learn from Leviticus and from Ruth, the kinsman redeemer was a near relative who had the ability to right what was wrong in the family. If a brother was in financial trouble, his nearest redeemer had the responsibility to keep the land in the family. In the next section we will see a brother who sells himself into slavery can be redeemed by his kinsman redeemer. In Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua, the kinsman redeemer had the responsibility to defend the rights of his kin and avenge his murder. In the poetic and prophetic books, God is the kinsman redeemer of his people. This is the foundation for the concept of the redemption we have in Jesus in the New Testament.

Leviticus 25:26 If a man has no one to redeem it and then himself becomes prosperous and finds sufficient means to redeem it, 27 let him calculate the years since he sold it and pay back the balance to the man to whom he sold it, and then return to his property. 28 But if he does not have sufficient means to recover it, then what he sold shall remain in the hand of the buyer until the year of jubilee. In the jubilee it shall be released, and he shall return to his property.

The one who sells his own land may redeem it himself if he becomes financially able. This would be highly unlikely, apart from receiving an inheritance. The redemption price is to be a fair price, the price for which the land was sold, less the amount of harvests that have benefited the buyer after the sale. So if there was 30 years until the Jubilee, and the land could generate 1,000 a year, it would be sold for 30,000. If ten years into the contract, a kinsman redeemer came forward to redeem the land, he would pay 20,000, in effect refunding the value of the 20 remaining years. The buyer should have gotten his 10,000 out of the land in the first ten years of his lease.

If there is no one able to redeem the land, it must remain in the possession of the buyer until the Jubilee. In the year of Jubilee, the land reverts to the one God had entrusted it to.

Exceptions

There are some exceptions to these general rules of redemption and release covered in the rest of this section.

Leviticus 25:29 “If a man sells a dwelling house in a walled city, he may redeem it within a year of its sale. For a full year he shall have the right of redemption. 30 If it is not redeemed within a full year, then the house in the walled city shall belong in perpetuity to the buyer, throughout his generations; it shall not be released in the jubilee. 31 But the houses of the villages that have no wall around them shall be classified with the fields of the land. They may be redeemed, and they shall be released in the jubilee.

Houses in walled cities were an exception to the rule. The seller retained the right to redeem it for one year, after which it became the permanent possession of the buyer. Houses in unwalled villages were counted as land, and were subject to the same redemption and release in the Jubilee.

Then there is an exception to the exception.

Leviticus 25:32 As for the cities of the Levites, the Levites may redeem at any time the houses in the cities they possess. 33 And if one of the Levites exercises his right of redemption, then the house that was sold in a city they possess shall be released in the jubilee. For the houses in the cities of the Levites are their possession among the people of Israel. 34 But the fields of pastureland belonging to their cities may not be sold, for that is their possession forever.

The Levites, remember, were not given any land inheritance, only cities scattered within the other tribes of Israel; cities of refuge. Dwellings given to the Levites in these cities could always be redeemed, and they would be released back to them in the Jubilee.

Hospitality to a Brother

Verses 35-38 conclude this section with an exhortation to take care of your brother, and a warning to fear God.

Leviticus 25:35 “If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. 36 Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. 37 You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. 38 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.

Leviticus 19 told us to love your neighbor as yourself, and to love the stranger as yourself. But we may not feel that this extends to a near relative. We know them. They knew better. ‘I’m willing to help my neighbor, and the guy I don’t know, but my brother, well, he got himself into this mess. I warned him and he didn’t listen. He needs to learn his lesson. I’m not going to bail him out; he’ll just do it again.’ God says, don’t harden your heart to your relative. Treat him at least as well as you would treat a stranger. Take him in. Help him out. Help him get back on his feet. Show hospitality. Don’t enable him, but don’t take advantage of his vulnerable situation either. We see a similar warning to what we saw in the first section of this chapter.

Redemption is to be a blessing to those in need. Don’t turn the blessing into a curse. Don’t hold it over his head. Don’t take interest from him. Don’t capitalize on his misfortune. Genuinely seek to help him get back on his feet. Do for him what you would want him to do for you if it was you who fell on hard times. Do not take advantage of him, but fear God. You were slaves in Egypt. God brought you out and gave you the land. The land you possess is a gift from God. Give a gift to your brother in need.

Application

How do we apply a passage like this? We must remember, this was written to Israel after God rescued them from Egypt and was preparing them to enter Canaan. The land promises were a big deal. But we are not Israel, this is not Canaan, we don’t have Levites or walled cities, our property was not apportioned by God, and we don’t release property back to its original owner in the year of Jubilee.

Care for your Brothers

But we can draw some principles that do apply to us today. We are not under the kinsman redeemer laws, but it is right to look out for our relatives.

1 Timothy 5:8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 John asks:

1 John 3:17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

Acknowledged God’s Sovereignty

We may not be in the promised land, but we should recognize God’s absolute ownership and right over all that he has made. Psalm 24, quoted in 1 Corinthians 10, says:

Psalm 24:1 The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein,

God is the Creator of all that is. He made it and he can do with it what he pleases. He retains the authority to make the rules and enforce them. Everything belongs to him and it exists to please him.

We need to be reminded that we have been entrusted with a stewardship, and that we will be called to account for what we have done with what we have been given. We are sojourners and strangers in a land that belongs to another.

1 Peter 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Look to the Redeemer

Most importantly, we understand from this passage a little more clearly what redemption is all about. It was the responsibility of a near relative to redeem the one in trouble. Jesus,

Philippians 2:6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus became related to us, became one of us, became human, so that he could be our Kinsman Redeemer. Hebrews says:

Hebrews 2:17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

He had to be made like his brothers, so that he could redeem us as brothers. Isaiah even goes so far as to say:

Isaiah 54:5 For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.

Our Creator became our husband to redeem us. Jesus is our Redeemer, our near kinsman, the one who comes to our rescue when we are poor and desperate and beyond all hope. Jesus is our rescue when all other hope is lost.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

April 4, 2017 Posted by | Leviticus, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leviticus 25:1-22; Jubilee and Rest for the Land

03/26 Leviticus 25:1-22; Jubilee and Rest for the Land; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170326_leviticus-25_1-22.mp3

Sabbath Structure; Outline

Leviticus 25 connects back to Leviticus 23 on the subject of holy time, and it connects the concepts of holy land and holy people. The chapter divides into three sections, each concluding with the phrase “I am YHWH your God.” The first section of this chapter deals with the holy times of a sabbath rest for the land, and the year of jubilee. This first section concludes at verse 17 with the phrase ‘I am the LORD your God,’ which is followed by a sort of appendix, answering an objection and encouraging faith in God. The second section, verses 23-38, deals with the possession, sale and redemption or release of land, and concludes with ‘I am the LORD your God.’ Verses 39-55 address the possession, sale, and redemption or release of people, and conclude with the phrase ‘I am the LORD your God.’

Leviticus 23 began:

Leviticus 23:1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, These are the appointed feasts of the LORD that you shall proclaim as holy convocations; they are my appointed feasts. 3 “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the LORD in all your dwelling places. 4 “These are the appointed feasts of the LORD, the holy convocations, which you shall proclaim at the time appointed for them.

The chapter began with weekly sabbaths, and continued to describe the feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread, the Firstfruits and Pentecost, the feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the feast of Booths. Chapter 25 picks up on the concept of a Sabbath rest and moves from a weekly Sabbath of rest for living creatures, to a seventh year Sabbath of rest for the land, to a great release year after a cycle of seven Sabbath years.

Jubilee: Sabbath for the Land

Leviticus 25:1 The LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the LORD. 3 For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, 4 but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. 5 You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. 6 The Sabbath of the land shall provide food for you, for yourself and for your male and female slaves and for your hired worker and the sojourner who lives with you, 7 and for your cattle and for the wild animals that are in your land: all its yield shall be for food.

This chapter begins with the phrase we have heard repeatedly in Leviticus ‘The LORD spoke to Moses’. This book is a collection of words from the LORD. This is God’s very word to his people; divine revelation. Living and active and powerful. This particular word of the LORD was spoken on Mount Sinai. This is the first mention of Sinai since the conclusion of the instructions for sacrifices at the end of chapter 7. The book begins with the LORD speaking to Moses from the tent of meeting. Here we have a reminder that Israel is still camped at Sinai, and God is authoritatively instructing his people.

In Chapter 23, he commanded that“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest.” Here in chapter 25, he declares “the land shall keep a Sabbath to the LORD, …in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD.” In 23, people and animals rested every seventh day. Here in 25, the land is to rest every seventh year. Like the weekly Sabbath, the Sabbath year was ‘a Sabbath of solemn rest.’ In the weekly Sabbath, “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work.” In the Sabbath year, the land was not to be worked.

Leviticus 25:3 For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, 4 but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. 5 You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land.

There was to be no sowing, no pruning, no mass harvesting. The land was to be allowed to rest. This is restorative to the soil. Allowing the earth to rest reduces the sodium content of the soil. Modern farming rotates crops in different years for the same reason.

God’s Detailed Care

God cares for every part of his creation. We saw in the Sabbath day that every person, slave and free was to rest. We also saw that this weekly rest even extended to work animals. They were to be cared for and given a weekly day off. Here we see God’s care for the land itself. Every seventh year the land was not to be worked.

We see creation personified in Romans 8

Romans 8:22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

We actually see a lot of personification of creation in the Psalms and the prophets, anticipating the coming of the King.

Psalm 96:11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; 12 let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy

We tend to skim over these kind of passages because of their familiarity, but pause to think about what this looks like. The earth is spoken of as rejoicing, fields exulting, language of emotion; language of worship. I don’t know if this is merely figurative language or something more, but what is clear is that everything the LORD made he made for himself, for his glory, to worship him. Creation was meant to bring him glory and praise. When the land is managed wisely, in obedience to him, it receives his blessing, it becomes more fruitful, it brings glory to the great Creator who cares for all of his creation.

Sabbath Provision

Leviticus 25:6 The Sabbath of the land shall provide food for you, for yourself and for your male and female slaves and for your hired worker and the sojourner who lives with you, 7 and for your cattle and for the wild animals that are in your land: all its yield shall be for food.

The people were not permitted to sow their fields and they were not allowed to engage in normal harvesting operations, but they were allowed to go into the fields an take what they needed for their families. They were allowed to glean as if they were all sojourners in the land. Leviticus 19 and 23 require the landowner to leave gleanings in the field to care for the poor and the sojourner. Every seventh year, every land owner was to act as if he had no land of his own, but was allowed to glean in the field of another. This would serve several purposes. This would help the landowners to identify and empathize with the poor and the foreigners living among them. Every seventh year they were required to live like them. It would also force them to relax. Farming and agriculture is hard, stressful work, as our farmers would attest. Rise early, plan wisely, watch the seasons, is it too early?, will it freeze?, will we get enough rain? or too much?, will the weather cooperate? and pray a lot. God says ‘relax! Take a year off. Rest. Stop worrying. Enjoy. Set aside the normal tasks of agriculture. Let the land do its thing. The Sabbath of the land shall provide food for you. God promises that it will be enough for yourself, for your servants, for your hired workers, for the sojourners who live among you, for your livestock, and even enough for the wild animals. God holds himself up as the abundant provider, the one who cares for all his creatures

Jubilee (Yobel)

Verse 8 begins a section on what is known as the year of Jubilee.

Leviticus 25:8 “You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years. 9 Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. 10 And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. 11 That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines. 12 For it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you. You may eat the produce of the field. 13 “In this year of jubilee each of you shall return to his property.

The pattern of sevens is extended here. Every seventh day is a holy Sabbath day Every seventh year is a Sabbath year. The seventh Sabbath year, or the 49th year, introduces the year of jubilee. God built a cycle of work and rest into his creation. Even in Eden, his perfect creation, there was a cycle of fruitful labor for six days and a day to enjoy God and his good gifts. He built into creation a sense of expectation, longing, anticipation, hope. The Jubilee was the fiftieth year. For most Israelites, this would be a once in a lifetime event.

The Jubilee was announced on the Day of Atonement, the day of national mourning over sin and its consequences.

Leviticus 16:29 “And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. 30 For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins. 31 It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever.

Think of this; on the day when the nation was grieving over their sin, on the one day when the great high priest brought the sacrificial blood in to the holiest place,the one day blood was splattered in front of the mercy seat, the day the nation saw what it took to be clean before the LORD from all their sins, a trumpet would sound throughout the land announcing liberty, release, restoration. Do you see this connection? This one day that the nation was acutely aware of its sin, and a trumpet would sound throughout all the land announcing liberty!

This may provide the background of the trumpet blast we see in a few passages in the New Testament.

When Jesus’ disciples asked him “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus responded:

Matthew 24:30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Paul taught on the resurrection:

1 Corinthians 15:50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

The Jubilee was a time of liberty to slaves, a restoration of the inheritance. It was a time of return and of rest. The jubilee was another year like the Sabbath year with no sowing or reaping.

Jubilee and Sin Nature

Because the Jubilee was a year of release, it would create a unique opportunity to abuse the system. God understands our inclination to greed and self advancement, and so he gave rules for the protection of his people.

Leviticus 25:14 And if you make a sale to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor, you shall not wrong one another. 15 You shall pay your neighbor according to the number of years after the jubilee, and he shall sell to you according to the number of years for crops. 16 If the years are many, you shall increase the price, and if the years are few, you shall reduce the price, for it is the number of the crops that he is selling to you. 17 You shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God, for I am the LORD your God. 18 “Therefore you shall do my statutes and keep my rules and perform them, and then you will dwell in the land securely.

It is sad that something so glorious as the Jubilee, liberty and restoration, has to be guarded against misuse to wrong another. But such is the sobering reality of our fallen condition. Left to ourselves, we will take a great blessing, given by God for our good, and twist it around and use it to injure another person. The promised release must be taken into account for fair business dealings. What is being bought or sold is not the land itself, because the land belongs to the LORD, but the produce of the land for a given number of years.

The reasons given here for not wronging one another is fear and promise. Do not take advantage of others, because God is to be feared. Remember what the LORD did to Egypt when they took advantage of you. Do not think that God will not stand up against you if you take advantage of his people. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. Fear of the LORD is a motive for obedience.

Promise is also a motive for obedience. God promised that if they would do his statutes and keep his rules and perform them, “then you will dwell in the land securely.” Safety, security, peace is promised as a reward for obedience. It is amazing that God gives us rules that are for our good and for our happiness, and then he promises to heap up reward on us when we obey!

Jubilee and Unbelief

Leviticus 25:19 The land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and dwell in it securely. 20 And if you say, ‘What shall we eat in the seventh year, if we may not sow or gather in our crop?’ 21 I will command my blessing on you in the sixth year, so that it will produce a crop sufficient for three years. 22 When you sow in the eighth year, you will be eating some of the old crop; you shall eat the old until the ninth year, when its crop arrives.

This appendix to the Jubilee instruction alerts us to another tendency of our nature. We are inclined toward unbelief. We have a tendency toward worry and doubt and fear. God proclaims liberty and we say ‘but how is this going to work?’ The Jubilee would be a second year of no sowing and no reaping, following the seventh Sabbath year. If we don’t sow or reap for two years, how will we survive? What will we eat? One year of no sowing or reaping is enough to cause doubt and anxiety and fear. God meets us where we are, in our unbelief at his promises. If we say ‘What shall we eat?’ God answers ‘I will send my blessing.’ And God meets us where we are in our doubt and fear and tells us how he will provide. He will bless the produce of the sixth year such that it will sustain you for three years. God promises to provide not just the bare minimum necessary, but he provides abundantly. He says “you will eat your fill.” Our abundant God promises to satisfy us abundantly. Our happiness does not come from what we can store up for ourselves in bigger barns.

Jesus warned:

Luke 12:15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

He continues:

Luke 12:21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” 22 And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.

Jesus addressed those with little faith.

Luke 12:28 …O you of little faith! 29 And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30 For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. 32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Jesus invites us to treasure God above all this world has to offer. He invites us to rest, to trust, to obey, to depend.

As we will see more clearly in the coming weeks, Jesus is our Jubilee. Jesus is our Sabbath rest. Jesus is our sufficiency. Jesus is liberty to the slave. Jesus is freedom from anxiety.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

March 27, 2017 Posted by | Leviticus, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leviticus 1; The Whole Burnt Offering

04/17 Leviticus 1; The Whole Burnt Offering; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160417_leviticus-1.mp3

Context of Leviticus

Leviticus 1:1 The LORD called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock.

To understand Leviticus, we need to understand the context. In the Hebrew text, Leviticus begins with a conjunction, ‘and’, linking it with Exodus. God’s people were slaves in Egypt. God rescued his people from Egypt with an awesome display of his character and power. He set them free and blessed them and brought them out. In spite of their grumbling, he brought them to the foot of Mount Sinai, where he entered into a covenant agreement with them, he would be God to them, and they would be his people. But in the middle of his instructions to them, they committed spiritual adultery and went after other gods. They forfeited any claim to a relationship with him. But Moses prayed for them and God graciously forgave them. He took them to be his own people, and they built him a tent as he instructed so that he would live with them in the middle of their camp.

The Tabernacle

In John 1 we are told

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The word ‘dwelt’ could literally be translated ‘tabernacled’ or ‘pitched his tent among us’. Jesus is the greater tabernacle, God’s presence with us. The Tabernacle was the place of divine revelation and divine worship. It was the place where God spoke to man, and where man approached God in acceptable worship. In Exodus, God had spoken to the people of Israel from the top of Mount Sinai out of thunder and lightning and thick cloud and smoke and trumpet blast, and the people were terrified (Ex.19:16-19; 20:18-21). Here in Leviticus, God’s glory cloud has filled the Tabernacle and his glory cloud was on the Tabernacle by day and fire by night, and God spoke to Moses from the tent of meeting.

The tabernacle was a tent structure. At its heart was the most holy place, a room inside of the tent that housed the ark of the covenant, a gold plated box containing the covenant documents, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God, God’s commandments. This box had an elaborate gold cover called the atonement cover or mercy seat. A heavy curtain separated this inner room from the rest of the tent, the holy place, where the altar for burning incense, the table with the bread of the presence, and the branched lamp stand with 7 oil lamps stood. Surrounding this tent structure was a courtyard surrounded by 7.5 foot high tent walls with an entrance on the east side. In the courtyard between the entrance to the courtyard and the entrance to the tent stood the bronze altar of burnt offering and a bronze basin for washing. The altar was about 7.5 feet square and about 4.5 feet high, with a bronze grate and the associated pots and shovels and forks and firepans.

Leviticus 1:1 The LORD called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock.

Outline of Offerings

Chapters 1-7 of Leviticus describe 5 different kinds of offerings. Chapters 1-5 focus on the offerings from the perspective of the worshiper who brings an offering to the Lord’s tent. Chapters 6 and 7 focus primarily on the responsibilities of the priests in these offerings.

The first three offerings, the burnt offering, the grain offering, and the peace offering, are all said to be ‘a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD” (1:9, 13, 17; 2:2, 9; 3:5, 16). These three offerings are voluntary. Leviticus 1-3 do not give occasions for when a burnt, grain or peace offering must be given. It merely says ‘when anyone brings…’, where in chapters 4-6, dealing with the sin and guilt offerings it says ‘if anyone sins …he shall offer…’. Those offerings have specific occasions and are obligatory, and they are not said to be ‘a pleasing aroma’; they are a way to deal with specific offenses.

The bronze altar in the tabernacle courtyard was called ‘the altar of burnt offering’ because this was the primary type of offering. The peace offering was to be offered on top of the burnt offering (Lev.3:5), so a burnt offering was a prerequisite to a peace offering. A burnt offering and a peace offering were to be offered to the Lord by the priests every morning (Lev.6). Burnt offerings were offered in combination with sin offerings, peace offerings, and grain offerings for the ordination of the priests (Lev.9). Burnt offerings combined with sin or guilt offerings were offered for certain types of purification, and a burnt offering was to be offered on some of the feast days along with other offerings.

The Burnt Offering in Genesis

The burnt offering or whole burnt offering was not something new to the people of the Exodus. All the way back in Genesis 6 God destroyed all mankind with a flood because “the earth …was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth” (Gen.6:12), but he showed grace to Noah and preserved him and his family through the flood. When they disembarked,

Genesis 8:20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.

Noah offered a burnt offering to the Lord. The offering didn’t change mankind; before the flood ‘all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth’ and after the flood ‘the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth’. But the pleasing aroma of the burnt offering changed God’s attitude toward man’s sin, and he promised never again to destroy the earth with a flood.

Back in Genesis 22, God said to Abraham:

Genesis 22:2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

God did not intend for Abraham to sacrifice his son. This was a test of Abraham’s obedience, of his love for the Lord.

Genesis 22:9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”

God provided himself a lamb for the burnt offering. But Abraham demonstrated that he loved the Lord more than anything. He was willing to give to the Lord that which was most precious to him.

So when God gave instructions for the burnt offering, this was something that would have been familiar to the Israelites.

Costly Offerings

This chapter breaks down into three sections, based on what kind of animal is being offered as a burnt offering. Verses 3-9 give instruction for offering an animal from the herd, verses 10-13 are for animals from the flock, and verses 14-17 are for birds. With this breakdown, God was making provision for everyone to approach him. If you were of average means, you could bring a lamb. Even the very poor could afford a bird. But if you were wealthy, you could offer a bull. It was not the offering that mattered, it was the heart of the worshiper. And the offering was to be costly. In the ancient world, you couldn’t go through the drive thru and order a ¼ pounder completely detached from where it came from. You couldn’t swing by the local supermarket and pick up a pound of hamburger neatly wrapped in plastic. Meat was a luxury item, and it was costly. Even for a farmer, to offer his best bull or best sheep was truly a sacrifice. As David said “I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.” (2Sam. 24:24). For any but the very very poor to offer a bird would communicate that their relationship with the Lord was not important to them.

Leviticus 1:3 “If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish.

10 “If his gift for a burnt offering is from the flock, from the sheep or goats, he shall bring a male without blemish,

Offerings from either the herd or the flock were to be males without blemish. This was to be the best, the most valuable animal. For Abraham to offer his only son was the most costly gift he could give.

1 Peter 1:18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

Peter contrasts the inestimable worth of the blood of Christ with the temporary triviality of silver and gold. Romans echoes Abraham in pointing to the value the Father places on his own Son.

Romans 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

God the Father gave Jesus up for us all. This is the greatest of all offerings, and it is the offering God made for us!

The Purpose of the Offering

The purpose of this offering is clearly stated in these verses:

Leviticus 1:3 …He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. 4 He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.

The goal is to be accepted before the LORD, to experience God’s favor. This happens through making atonement. The sacrifice removes the effects of sin or uncleanness. This is clearly an instance of substitution. The goal is to be accepted, and he lays his hands on the head of the animal, and the animal is accepted for him. In Leviticus 16:21, the laying hands on is accompanied by confession of sin and the sins are put on the head of the animal. The act of laying hands on the live animal’s head is a symbolic act of identification. This is not something you can have someone do for you. You must personally lay your hands on the head of your animal, so that before God it is identified with you, and it gets what you deserve. And this is an act of faith, believing what God said that ‘it shall be accepted for him’.

Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

We come to be in Christ Jesus through faith, depending on his word and sacrifice for us. To lay hands on the animal literally means to press into, to lean on, or to put weight on. We must lean into Christ, to place our full weight on him, trusting that he is able to bear up under the weight of our sin.

Our Sin Nature

Notice that the burnt offering makes atonement, but it does not make atonement for specific sins. It is a preliminary offering, and it is more general. Specific instances of sin are dealt with by the sin offering and the guilt offering. Each offering pictures a specific aspect of Christ’s sacrifice. None of them is complete without the others. To gain a full understanding of the cross, we must look at all of the offerings. Often we feel guilty for a specific sin we have committed. I did something I know does not please the Lord, or I failed to do something I know the Lord asked me to do, and my conscience is troubled. The burnt offering shows me that this bad fruit grows up out of a corrupt root. Jesus said:

Matthew 15:18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.

My sinful actions are symptoms of a deeper problem. They are evidence of a corrupt heart.

Matthew 23:25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

Jeremiah tells me:

Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

It is a precious truth that Jesus “bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1Pet.2:24); specific sins, individual sins. And this we will see in the guilt and sin offerings. But it is an equal treasure that “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin” (2Cor.5:21). Jesus did not just take our individual sins. He became sin for us. He attacks the root of our sinfulness and gives us a new heart. When we lean into Jesus, we confess that we are sinful by nature, that our sin runs deeper than mere outward actions, that it comes from the core of our very being. And yet there is hope! It shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.

Participant or Spectator?

Notice the part of the worshiper in the sacrifice. There are specific roles assigned to the worshiper and to the priests. We are a spectator society. We pay good money to sit on uncomfortable seats and watch other people do things we wish we could do. The sacrificial system was not like that. The worshiper is actively involved. This is very hands-on. Notice the things the worshiper does in the sacrifice. The initiation of the sacrifice comes from the worshiper. No one came knocking on his tent door reminding him that he was due to make a sacrifice. It says “when any one of you brings an offering to the Lord”. Certainly the Holy Spirit stirs the conscience and convicts of sin, but the worshiper must choose the proper animal and bring it to the sanctuary. The worshiper lays his hand on the head of the live animal.

Leviticus 1:5 Then he shall kill the bull before the LORD, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 6 Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces, 7 and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. 8 And Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; 9 but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD.

The instructions for animals from the flock are the same. Offerings of birds are simplified only because the bird is smaller. After pressing his had on the head of the animal, the worshiper slits the throat of the animal. The priests catch the blood in a container and splash it against the altar. The blood is given by God to make atonement, and the altar is holy, so the priests serve as a buffer between the worshiper and the holy things. The worshiper skins the offering, and cuts it into pieces. If you have ever done anything like this, you know it is a bloody, messy, labor intensive task. I don’t think it is possible to butcher, skin and quarter an animal without being virtually immersed in its blood. Here is real identification with the sacrifice. Here is a sober realization that the wages of sin is death. I selected this animal to be my substitute, I led it to the sanctuary, I placed my hand on its head, confessing my sin, I slit its throat, I peeled back its skin, exposing its flesh, and cut it up into pieces. I am now covered in its blood. Covered in its blood. It is this gory imagery that inspired some of the great hymns, like this one written by William Cowper in the late 1700’s:

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains…

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away…

E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die… (William Cowper, 1731-1800)

A Godward Offering

The unique thing about the whole burnt offering is that the whole animal went up in smoke. No part was held back. No part went to the priest, no part went to the worshiper. All was consumed in fire on the altar. All of it was for the Lord, a pleasing aroma. This first and foundational of all offerings is an entirely Godward offering. The attention is entirely on making a pleasing aroma to the Lord. Jesus’ sacrifice was first of all a sacrifice to God.

John 6:38 “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.”

John 8:29 “… I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”

John 18:11 “…shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

Jesus’ sacrifice was a sacrifice of obedience, an expression of love to his Father.

Ephesians 5:2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

As Jesus gave himself up as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God, so we too are to walk in love.

2 Corinthians 5:9 …we make it our aim to please him.

This is our example, full obedience, sacrificial love, holding nothing back. The picture is a whole burnt offering ascending in smoke to God.

Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

April 18, 2016 Posted by | Leviticus, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Good Good God

01/31 Good Good God; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160131_good-good-god.mp3

Review of Attributes

We are going to jump back into a study of who God is for the next weeks. We have been studying what God is like, what he says about himself in his word, not merely to satisfy our curiosity or to promote our own wisdom because we know more about him, but because we want to know him, to enjoy relationship with him, so that we can worship him in truth, as he is, not as we imagine him to be. We have seen that God is incomprehensible, yet knowable. He is infinitely far beyond our ability to know exhaustively, yet he is a God who desires to be known, and has made himself known. He is self-existent, not dependent on anything outside of himself for his own existence. He had no beginning and will have no end, he is eternal. He is unchangeable, consistent, he will not be different tomorrow than he is today, he is perfect and cannot improve. He is unlimited by time and space, fully present everywhere. He is spirit, not subject to the limitations of the material universe which he brought into existence with his word. He is unlimited in power; nothing is too hard for him. He is the absolute authority over all things, he is free to do what pleases him, he is unlimited in knowledge and wisdom. He is utterly unique, there is no other being like him, he is in a class by himself, yet he reveals that he eternally exists in the three distinct persons of Father, Son and Spirit, in satisfying relationship with one another.

These are some of the things God has revealed to us about himself. This is a terrifying being. He possesses all authority, all power, he is the uncaused cause of all things, he knows all, sees all, is invisible yet present everywhere, and answers to no one outside himself. If the maxim is true without exception that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then God would be the most unfathomably terrifying tyrannical despot, a sheer horror, a monster. But this is not how he reveals himself to us.

God is Good

The Bible tells us that God is good. In Exodus 33, Moses made a bold and startling request.

Exodus 33:18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”

Moses asked to see God’s glory. A full revelation of all that God is would undo any mortal man, but God offers to give him a glimpse of his name, his character, who he is. He says ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you’. God defines himself as good. In the next chapter we see God’s goodness declared:

Exodus 34:5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

God’s goodness, his very nature is described as the perfect blend of mercy, grace, patience, steadfast love, faithfulness, and justice. God is good. Psalm 25:8 says:

Psalm 25:8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

Psalm 100 says:

Psalm 100:4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! 5 For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

God’s goodness is worthy of praise. Psalm 106 says:

Psalm 106:1 Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! (cf. 107:1; 118:1, 29; 136:1)

God is good, and his goodness is cause for worship and thanksgiving.

Jesus, in Mark 10, was approached by a rich young man.

Mark 10:17 …a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. (cf. Luke 18:18-19)

Jesus claims that God is exclusively good. He is challenging this man to consider what goodness is and the true identity of Jesus.

Defining Good

But what does it mean that God is good? That might sound like a silly question at first. Of course, everyone knows what good means. Until you try to articulate a definition. What exactly do we mean when we say ‘God is good?’ Stephen Charnock, a puritan minister who died in 1680, citing an older work, defined God’s goodness this way “the goodness of God is his inclination to deal well and bountifully with his creatures” (Stephen Charnock 1628-1680, vol.2, p.219, cited from Coccei, sum. p.50)

God’s goodness is his inclination to deal well and bountifully with us. He deals well with us. He deals abundantly, bountifully with us. And he is inclined to do so. He prefers to be so with us.

Romans 5:7 helps clarify for us what good means. In this verse, a contrast is drawn between a good person and and a righteous person.

Romans 5:7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—

It is more likely that a person would voluntarily die for a good person than for a righteous person. A righteous person is just, keeps the law, does what is right. The righteous person is self-focused, making sure they do everything right and are perceived as righteous. A good person, on the other hand, may not be quite so conscientious about his own righteousness, but he is others focused. He is generous and kind, goes out of his way to bless others. Someone might dare to die for a good person. Of course the real contrast shows up in verse 8,

Romans 5:8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Our God is the kind of God who lays down his life for his enemies.

A. W. Tozer, in his ‘Knowledge of the Holy’, expands on Charnock’s definition. He writes: “The goodness of God is that which disposes Him to be kind, cordial, benevolent, and full of good will toward men. He is tenderhearted and of quick sympathy, and His unfailing attitude toward all moral beings is open, frank, and friendly. By His nature He is inclined to bestow blessedness and He takes holy pleasure in the happiness of His people.”

He goes on to say: “The whole outlook of mankind might be changed if we could all believe that we dwell under a friendly sky and that the God of heaven, though exalted in power and majesty is eager to be friends with us. But sin has made us timid and self-conscious, as well it might. Years of rebellion against God have bred in us, a fear that cannot be overcome in a day. The captured rebel does not enter willingly the presence of the king he has so long fought unsuccessfully to overthrow. But if he is truly penitent he may come, trusting only in the loving-kindness of his Lord, and the past will not be held against him.” (Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy, p.57-58)

Mark 10:17 … “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.

If God is truly inclined to deal well and bountifully with us, is it too much to imagine that God would be inclined to give us the free gift of eternal life, rather than require us to earn it? Is it even possible for us to earn it? Jesus, like the Psalmist in Psalm 14 and Psalm 53, encourages this man to re-evaluate his standard of goodness. “There is none who does good, not even one” (Ps.14:1, 3; cf. 53:1, 3) Could it be that Jesus might himself be God’s ultimate expression of his inclination to deal bountifully with us, paying a price we could never pay, in full?

God is Good to All

Psalm 145:9 The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.

God is good to all. There is no part of his creation that escapes his inclination to do good. The context of this statement in Psalm 145 spells this out.

Psalm 145:5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. 6 They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness. 7 They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. 8 The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9 The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made. 10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your saints shall bless you! …13 ​…[The LORD is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works.] 14 The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. 15 The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. 16 You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. 17 The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. 18 The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. 19 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. 20 The LORD preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy. 21 My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.

God is not obliged to extend the same level of goodness to each of his creatures. We tend to suffer from the disease of entitlement. We assume that God owes us all equal benefit and privilege. God is free.

Matthew 20:15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’

He is not obligated to extend his generosity to any. But he does give to each one better than they deserve. He could have sent Jesus to Sodom and Gomorrah, and they would have repented. But instead he sent righteous Lot. And it will be more tolerable in the day of judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah than for those to whom Jesus came. (Mt.11:24).

Jesus said in Matthew 5:

Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

God is good even to his enemies, to the evil and unjust. Listen to the abundant bounty of God poured out on his creation in Psalm 104.

Psalm 104:10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills; 11 they give drink to every beast of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. 12 Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches. 13 ​From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work. 14 You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth 15 and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.

God is indeed good to all.

God is the Source of All good

All good comes from God.

Genesis 1:31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

In the beginning, God made all that is, and all that he made was very good. His inclination to deal bountifully was expressed in his creative acts. He gave existence to that which did not exist. And he blessed everything he made.

James tells us that

James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

God is the source of all good. All good that we experience ultimately comes from God. Any goodness in us or in our fellow man does not originate within us. It is a reflection of his image in us. It is a gift.

God is the one who equips us for every good work. In 2 Corinthians 9:8, God makes all grace about to us, so that we may abound in every good work. In Ephesians 2:10, we are God’s workmanship, created to walk in the good works he prepared in advance for us. In Colossians 1:9-10, we are filled with the knowledge of his will so that we can bear fruit in every good work. In 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, we are given good hope through grace to establish us in every good work and word. In 2 Timothy 3:17, we are given God’s word so that we may be equipped for every good work. In Hebrews 13:20-21, we are equipped with everything good that we might do his will, and he works in us that which is pleasing in his sight. God’s goodness is the source of any goodness in us.

God is Good In and Of Himself

Psalm 119:68 says:

Psalm 119:68 You are good and do good; teach me your statutes.

We defined God’s goodness as his inclination to deal well and bountifully with his creatures. God does good because God is good. God is good in and of himself. God would be good if he had never expressed the overflow of his goodness in creation. God would remain good if he never demonstrated his goodness in redemption. Any goodness we experience from God is a free and unnecessary overflow of his goodness. Because God is inclined to deal bountifully, it does not necessarily follow that he must deal bountifully. For his own wise and good purposes, he is free to restrain his inclination to deal bountifully and instead give us what we have asked for. Hebrews 2:16 tells us that he chose not to rescue the angels who sinned. God makes it clear that his inclination is to forgive. Ezekiel 18:23 says:

Ezekiel 18:23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? (cf. Ez.18:32; 33:11)

2 Peter 3 says:

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

God’s inclination is that we turn and find forgiveness. Salvation belongs to the Lord, and our God is mighty to save. But we know that not all people will be saved. God is free to restrain his inclination to deal bountifully with us for his own good purposes.

The prodigal’s father was clearly inclined to deal bountifully with his son, and he could have pursued his son into the far country, but he restrained his inclination and waited for his son to come to his senses and return. He was inclined to deal bountifully with his older son, and could have given him a calf to kill and make merry with his friends in spite of his hardness of heart toward his younger brother, but this inclination was restrained by a greater purpose. The son must come in to experience his bounty.

God is the Ultimate Good we Seek

God does good to all, he is the source of all good, God is good in and of himself, and God is the supreme good of every creature.

Psalm 16:2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” …5 The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. …11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

The Psalmist cries out that there is no good apart from God. God is our supreme good. To be contented with God’s good gifts and not pursue him, a relationship with him, is to settle for something fleeting and temporary. At the end of Psalm 17, the psalmist prays for deliverance from the wicked men of the world.

Psalm 17:14 … from men of the world whose portion is in this life. You fill their womb with treasure; they are satisfied with children, and they leave their abundance to their infants. 15 As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.

Their portion is in this life. They, like the rich man in Jesus’ story, received their good things in this life. But far better to accept hardship and persecution in this life, with our eyes fixed on he alone who can eternally satisfy. Jesus said in Luke 9,

Luke 9:23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?

Psalm 73 says:

Psalms 73:25 ​Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. …28 But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

What is your greatest good? What is it that you are pursuing? Psalm 34 is an invitation … to you!

Psalm 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

January 31, 2016 Posted by | Knowing God, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

For Freedom; Galatians 5:1-6; Matthew 11:28-30

1/24 For Freedom! ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160124_freedom.mp3

The last two messages I gave were on two of the most important spiritual disciplines; meditation on the Word of God and prayer. If we want to be fruitful, effective in the ministry God has called us to (and we are all called to minister), then we must be listening to God and enjoying our relationship with him. This is what Jesus was talking about when he said in John 15 that we must abide in him. Apart from him we can do nothing. If we abide in him, he promises that we will bear much fruit. It is vital that we as followers of Jesus evaluate and re-evaluate what we are doing to grow in our walk with the Lord, and discipline ourselves to reinforce good habits and form new ones that will enrich our relationship with God. Daily Bible study and constant prayer are essential to the health of the believer, and consequently to the health of the church body.

I want to balance this teaching on the spiritual disciplines with some teaching on Christian freedom, because it is possible to misunderstand Bible meditation and prayer in such a way as to view them as a duty by which we earn favor with God. This would be a terrible misuse of good gifts God has given.

Two Extremes

There are two dangerous extremes to avoid. I’ll tell you my own experience to help illustrate what I mean. When I was very young, I had a well meaning Bible camp counselor give me a little tract on having daily devotions. I think it was titled ‘7 minutes with God’ and I was told how important it was to read my Bible and pray every day. I can still remember what the tract looked like, the big ominous red number 7, and the picture of the hourglass with the sand slipping away. There was probably nothing wrong with the tract itself. I’m sure had some helpful suggestions on how to get started in the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer. But I felt the weight of the obligation. I needed to pick a special place to have my quiet time. It was strongly suggested, if not explicitly mandated that this be the first thing you do each and every day. It had clear instructions on how to structure and spend your 7 minutes. I acknowledged how important this was to do, and I committed myself to doing it. I did great… for a day or two. Then I would wake up late and have to cut the 7 minutes down to 1 or 2 or skip it altogether so I wouldn’t be late for school, and I would feel like a failure. Sometimes I would try to make it up in the evening, but I wasn’t sure if that really counted, because really spiritual people do it in the morning. Guilt. Shame. You can’t even faithfully give God 7 minutes of your day? God gave his only Son for you! Surely you can afford to give him 7 measly minutes? Did you know that there are 1,440 minutes in each day? 7 minutes is less than half a percent of your day. I just can’t measure up. This thing called the Christian life, I can’t do it. I’m not good enough. Even when I worked really hard and disciplined myself to sit down and dig in, often my 4 minutes of Bible reading landed me in some endless genealogy of the Old Testament, and somehow I’m supposed to feel closer to God by trudging through a long list of names I can’t even pronounce? Or reading about skin diseases and what to do if the hair in a wound turned white or black? I’m clearly not very spiritual, because as I read, I just wasn’t sensing God’s presence (it actually kind of grossed me out). And then, in the 2 ½ minutes of prayer, my mind would wander incessantly. What am I supposed to say? Did you know that you can see little floating specks on the insides of your eyelids when you have your eyes closed for 2 ½ minutes? Do you know how disheartening it is when you open your eyes after what seems an eternity to peek at the clock and only 45 seconds have elapsed? After dutifully plodding along checking off the boxes for a short while, I gave up. I just couldn’t do what was expected of me.

When God got a hold on my heart, I wanted to spend time with him. I began to see things in the Bible I had never seen before. I set my alarm early so I would have time to spend with God, and I enjoyed sweet communion with him, listening to his voice in his Word, pouring out my heart to him in worship and thanksgiving. I was hungry for truth. I would meet with other believers my age and we would sing worship songs together, and we would go out on the streets of the city to tell people about Jesus, just out of a natural overflow of joy in Jesus. Those were some of the sweetest moments of my life.

Then a well-meaning college professor told our first year Bible class that we didn’t need to have quiet times. Nowhere in the Bible are we told to ‘do our devotions’ or to ‘have a quiet time each day with God’. After all, most believers throughout history didn’t even have daily access to a Bible. And I was in Bible college, so all my studies were in the Bible. My reading load for classes was heavy enough. And we are under grace. Some daily religious ritual doesn’t earn you any points with God. So I ditched my habit. Looking back, although I got a lot out of Bible college, my spiritual life suffered. I got distracted. I began to justify sin.

Galatians 5 – For Freedom!

Galatians is a letter written to believers who were in danger of abandoning the gospel by heading back to a form of law-righteousness. Paul warns that by doing this they are deserting Christ. Justification, our right standing before God is not earned by us. That is what it means to believe – we depend on Jesus who substituted himself for us, kept perfectly the law that we could not keep, and died the death that we deserved to die.

Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

The issues today are different, but the principle is the same. I don’t know of anyone today pushing circumcision as a means of gaining a right standing before God. But there are a lot of people pushing a lot of different things, even good things, as a means of gaining favor with God. Today’s issues range from whether you smoke or drink to how you vote or where you stand on particular issues, or what you wear or don’t wear or what movies you watch or what kind of music you listen to or what you do on Saturdays or Sundays or with your spare time or how often and how long you read your Bible and pray.

I’m not saying that none of these are important questions. A lot depends on how they are asked. If we are investigating to see if someone makes the grade, passes the test, lives up to a standard, there is a problem. Paul contrasts freedom in Christ and a yoke of slavery; the advantage of Christ and obligation to the law. Like oil and water, these two cannot be mixed. The danger of the Galatians, and the danger for us, is that we understand justification by faith alone through the finished work of Christ alone. We understand that we cannot pay the price for our sins, and that Christ alone paid our debt in full. Where we go awry is when we begin look at the Christian life as the obligations of slavery rather than the freedom of sons. He says back in:

Galatians 3:3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

Here is another contrast, between the Holy Spirit and our flesh, between how we began and how we finish. How do we live the Christian life? It is clear that we ‘must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Mt.5:48) and there is ‘holiness without which no one will see the Lord’ (Heb.12:14). The question is how do we come to be righteous? There is the imputed righteousness of Christ which is credited to our account when we believe. But there is also the practical righteousness of a a daily walk of sinning less and loving God more. Of course, we are counted righteous in Christ when we let go of our own efforts toward righteousness and depend on the perfect righteousness of Christ alone. But how do we daily fight the battle with sin and deepen in our affection for God? This is where discipline and structure and clear boundaries and focused effort will help, right? Be careful, you who received the Spirit by hearing with faith, lest you now seek to be perfected by the flesh. To begin by the Spirit and then seek to be perfected by the flesh means submitting to a yoke of slavery, where you are obligated to keep the whole law, where Christ is of no advantage to you, it means falling from grace, being severed from Christ. This is serious stuff! In 4:9, he warns against turning back to weak and worthless elementary principles of the world. He lists the observation of religious rituals – the observation of days and months and seasons and years. He calls this slavery! Knowing God, being known by God, relationship with God, this is freedom! In Colossians 2 Paul uses this same word ‘the elementary principles of the world’ and draws a contrast between captivity to human tradition, to human regulations and self-made religion and asceticism, and on the other hand, walking in Christ.

Colossians 2:6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

…20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 ( referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

Man-made religious laws like ‘do not handle, do not taste, do not touch’ sound good. They have the ‘appearance of wisdom’, but they are slavery. As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him. Having begun by the Spirit, having received the Spirit by hearing with faith, do not seek to be perfected in the flesh, by observing law.

Paul says in Galatians 5:1 “For freedom Christ has set us free” and he exhorts us to stand firm and not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Christ set us free to be free, to live in freedom.

Yoked Together with Christ

You understand what a yoke is. If you have two oxen and you are going to plow your field, you connect the two oxen together with a wooden beam, a yoke, so that together they can pull the plow. A yoke in the Old Testament was an image of slavery. When God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt, he said:

Leviticus 26:13 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.

In Numbers 25, when God’s people indulged in immorality and idolatry, God describes it this way:

Numbers 25:1 … the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. 2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.

In the early church, in Acts 15, there was debate over the relation of the Old Testament law to non Jewish believers in Jesus. Must they subject themselves to the laws in order to follow Jesus?

Acts 15:7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

[James concluded] …19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.

Notice the argument? God cleanses the hearts of Jew and Gentile alike by faith. The law is a yoke that neither Jew nor Gentile could bear. Both Jew and Gentile alike are saved through the grace of our Lord Jesus. The decision was not to trouble the believers with unnecessary rules or regulations. Simply recognize that following Jesus is inconsistent with idolatry, immorality, or giving unnecessary offense to Jewish brothers. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Jesus says something very interesting about a yoke in Matthew 11.

Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus invites us to come to him if we are weary of work, not to work, but to receive rest. And then he invites us to take his yoke on us in order to find that rest! This seems contradictory. Find rest from labor by being yoked with Jesus. How can this be? This picture is powerful. Think of the yoke that has made us weary, labored and heavy ladened? The law was ‘a yoke that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear’. We have been yoked to tablets of stone, and we have been attempting unsuccessfully to drag them around. Jesus invites us to leave the yoke of the law, and join him in his yoke. If I am in a yoke with Jesus, guess who is pulling the weight? Not me! I’m along for the ride, so to speak. Jesus is saying the same thing when he commands us to abide in him.

John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

We can’t pull any weight on our own. But when we are yoked together with Jesus, he pulls all the weight, and we get to walk beside him. In fact the yoke keeps us close to him, in step with him. He works, we rest, we walk by his side, we enjoy his company. And at the end of the day, we receive the reward that he earned, simply because we were in the yoke with him!

Jesus says this at the end of Matthew 11. Halfway through Matthew 11, Jesus says that he came eating and drinking and he is being accused of being a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners (11:19). Right after this teaching, in chapter 12, Jesus’ disciples are plucking heads of grain and eating them, something the religious people said was not lawful to do on the Sabbath. Jesus declares himself Lord of the Sabbath. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Application to Spiritual Disciplines

Let’s bring this back around to where we started and make some application to the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer. We started with the two extremes of being crushed under the obligation of performing religious duties, and on the other end of neglecting good things that are beneficial to our growth in grace.

Let’s look at the issue of prayer. We are commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Colossians 4:2 and Romans 12:12 to pray without ceasing, to continue steadfastly in prayer, to be constant in prayer. What does this mean? Does this mean conscious articulate prayer 24/7? Does this mean that we are incessantly verbalizing either audibly or at least mentally our prayers to God? Do you know anyone who is always talking and never shuts up? That is annoying. By saying we should pray without ceasing, does it really mean that we need to run our mouths to God non-stop? Aside from being annoying, it would be difficult to ever read the Bible and really pay attention and listen to what God is saying if we are talking over him the whole time. It would be virtually impossible to do anything at all. I don’t believe this is what it means, and I don’t believe we need to live under the weight of bondage to some religious performance. As believers, we are yoked together with Jesus. He will never leave us or forsake us. Live with a constant awareness of his nearness, of his intimate involvement in all things, knowing that the line of communication is always open. I think that is what it means to pray without ceasing. Live in his presence.

Think of it this way. God is the giver of all good gifts. If I buy my son a bicycle and give it to him as a gift, how should he respond? I hope he would express his gratitude. But do I expect that he stand in front of me saying ‘thank you thank you thank you, you’re the best dad ever. Let me sing you a song – you are the best dad, you gave me a bike, you are so awesome, I’m going to tell all my friends about you, you must be really rich and really smart and really strong, you are the greatest dad ever! I just want to sit in your lap and stare into your awesome face forever and ever and ever’ and all the while, his new bicycle sits in the corner, untouched? Go! Ride the bike! Enjoy the gift! The giver finds pleasure when you take pleasure in his gift. Don’t use the bike to hurt yourself or others or use it to ride off into evil. Later in Galatians 5 Paul says ‘do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh (5:13). But enjoy the good gifts that he gives. Know that he is with you always, enjoy his presence, and enjoy his gifts in his presence.

We could compare prayer and Bible intake to breathing and eating – stop breathing and you will die. Stop eating and you will die. Eat poorly and your health will suffer. Breathing and eating are necessities for life; not obligations. Breathing we often don’t even consciously think about – we just naturally do it. We don’t view it as a duty. If you focus too much attention on your breathing, you will probably hyperventilate. But if we are deprived of air, if we are underwater, we quickly become aware of the urgent necessity of breathing; we become desperate for air. Eating is different. Sometimes we skip a meal. Often we don’t eat as healthy as we should. Sometimes we pay more careful attention to what we eat. But we still don’t view eating as a chore. Normally, we take pleasure in eating. We enjoy a good meal. We get hungry and crave certain things.

We wouldn’t think of being underwater without access to air as freedom. We wouldn’t view being out in the desert without water or food as freedom. Develop good habits where you eat and drink and enjoy God’s presence with you always. Don’t get ritualistic or legalistic about it. Live in freedom! If you are a work weary pilgrim, come to Jesus, abide in Jesus, be yoked together with Jesus, allow him to pull your weight, and enjoy waking side by side in constant fellowship with him.

Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

January 26, 2016 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment