Thursday, October 10, 2019

Nehemiah: "The New Covenant."

Nehemiah


In his prayer, Nehemiah refers to the Lord as one keeps covenant (Nehemiah 1: 5.) What was Nehemiah referring to? The following insight may answer that question. It was initially published on March 6, 2003, for that week's quarterly, entitled: "The New Covenant."  


This week's Sabbath School lesson's topic for discussion is the new covenant. Much confusion exists regarding the old and new covenants. The objective of this quarter's lessons is to clarify the confusion and bring us to a greater understanding of God's plan of salvation. To accomplish this, we need to come to grips with some basic concepts.


* When did the old covenant end?

* When did the new covenant begin?

* Another valid question that we often overlook is: When did the old covenant begin?

* Is there a difference between a "covenant" and a "contract"?


Contract and Covenant Contrasted

Many confuse the meaning of the word "covenant," thinking that it is the same as a "contract." When a man enters into a contract with someone, it is for the mutual benefit of both parties. "I will do thus and such if you will do so and so." A contract is negotiated and is "thing" oriented. We want something that the other party has, and we feel that we have something to offer in return. A contract is self-centered--what can "I" get out of the deal?

Once both parties agree to the terms, the contract is signed and made legally binding on both of them. Each participant must keep his side of the bargain, or some a penalty or forfeiture will occur as a result. A contract is, therefore, a mutual affair, but are we on equal terms with God? Can we make bilateral agreements with God based on equal terms? "The carnal mind is enmity against God." "There is none righteous, no, not one" (Rom. 8:7; 3:10). God is righteous; we are unrighteous. God is holy, divine; we are unholy, carnal.

Where is there any basis of equality for us to begin our bargaining with God? What have we to negotiate with when we come to God to make a contract? Only our "filthy rags," our sins, our "works of the flesh." Of ourselves, we cannot offer obedience to a single commandment because the carnal mind will not let us obey God's law (Rom. 8:7). We cannot make a contract with God because we have nothing to bring to the bargaining table except our sinful selves--which is worthless.

In contrast to this idea, a covenant would adequately be defined as a promise or a pledge. It is "person" oriented, made TO someone BY someone. The stronger individual always makes it to a weaker individual. A covenant involves loyalty, care, and concern from the individual who made it to the other person. Genesis 15 clearly illustrates the concept stated above. The covenant God made to Abraham was intended to be one-sided. God promised to give Abraham a child that would be born of his wife Sarah when both Abraham and Sarah were well past child-bearing age. There was nothing Abraham or Sarah could do to make this promise a reality in their lives, except believe that God was able to fulfill what He had told them. Abraham's faith in God's promise (he could only say "amen"--verse 6, Hebrew) was as "new covenant" as it gets!


A Biblical Illustration

Perhaps starting the lesson off with a cartoon illustration has set our feet headed down the wrong path. We must investigate Bible truth through an inspired lens. Paul gives us an excellent illustration of the two covenants.

"For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh, but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants" (Gal. 4:22-24).

Paul explains what the two covenants are, using the illustration of the two women, Sarah and Hagar. Hagar was an Egyptian slave woman, servant to Sarah. The children of a slave woman are slaves, even though their father is free. Hagar could only bring forth children that were under bondage. Scripture tells us that, "They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed" (Rom. 9:8).

These two covenants exist today. "The two covenants are not a matter of time, but the condition of the heart. Let no man flatter himself that he cannot be under the old covenant, thinking that its time has passed." So long as we try of ourselves, in our own strength to keep those promises which God Himself has made to us, then we are under the old covenant. (E. J. Waggoner, Glad Tidings, pp. 99-100). It is only when we wholeheartedly believe God, that we are set free to live under the new covenant.


Where Does the "Old" End and "New" Begin?

If the new covenant is not tied to the New Testament, where does it begin? The "new" covenant has been with us since Eden. God promised the fallen pair that He would place enmity between them and the serpent who had led them into sin (Gen. 3:15). The "new" covenant and the "everlasting" covenant are one and the same thing. It has always been God's promise to save us without any works of our own. The new or everlasting covenant was put in place first--before the old.

Then where does the old covenant first come into view? At the very gates of Eden. The "old covenant" has been in existence in the heart of humanity since sin entered. It existed long before God gave the ceremonial laws at Mount Sinai. It has nothing to do with "time" and everything to do with the condition of our hearts as we strive to save ourselves.

When God instructed Adam to bring the sin offering, it was to be a lamb without blemish from his flock. God instructed Adam that this animal symbolized the Messiah that was to come (see Rev. 13:8; 1 Peter: 18-20). Through faith in the promise of God, Adam taught his sons to do the same.


"And in the process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock . . . And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: but unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect" (Gen. 4:3-5).

Why did the Lord "not respect" Cain's offering? Because "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin." (Heb. 9:22). Cain was trying to save himself by his own methods. He thought that his offering of fruits should be just as good as the required offering. Had he not worked to produce them? Was this work of his hands not sufficient for the Lord? Cain would not believe God's promise and took the burden of his life upon himself. His subsequent history is the lesson of the results of the old covenant way of doing things.


What is the "Better" Covenant?

This week's lesson also discusses the "better covenant." While persisting in its misunderstanding of the old and new covenants, it rightly states that the "problem" was the people's failure to "grasp" God's promise by faith. There has never been a failure or deficiency in God's promise to humanity.

The "better" covenant Paul tells us about in Hebrews 8:6 is God's everlasting covenant made from the foundation of the world. This covenant is "better" than man's promises to obey God. Why? Because it is "established upon better promises"--the promises of the Godhead to save humanity from sin. "The salvation of human beings is a vast enterprise, that calls into action every attribute of the divine nature. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have pledged themselves [promised] to make God's children more than conquerors through Him that loved them." Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, January 27, 1903 (emphasis supplied).

The Gospel is called the "good news of God's salvation." It is God's promise to us that He will save us "from our sins," not in them (Matt. 1:21). He has told us through the Word that He will "provide a way of escape" from every temptation (1 Cor. 10:13). When we believe that this is so, then it becomes a reality in our lives. "The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (Rom. 1:16).

What is the "new covenant" God wishes to "make" with us, of which Jeremiah speaks in 31:31? God has always had only one objective for His creatures--that we would believe His "better" promise to save us from our sin. He longs for the day when His people will heed His loving call to turn around, leave their folly, and believe wholeheartedly in His power to save "to the uttermost" all who will believe His promise. Instead of relying on our sadly deficient promises to obey, when we believe God's word to us and by faith allow Christ to live in us, we will be living under the better promise of the new and everlasting covenant (see Glad Tidings, pp.57-60).


It is Indeed a Work of the Heart

Sadly, as we stand at the "foot of the mount" we are prone like the children of Israel to say, "All the Lord has spoken, we will do" (see Ex. 19:7, 8). We promise the Lord when the Lord has not asked us to promise anything. He knows that our promises are as insubstantial as ropes of sand. All He asks is that we believe His promises to us. "If ye will [hear] My voice indeed, and [cherish] My covenant (previously made with their father Abraham), then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people" (Ex. 19:5--literal translation of Hebrew words in brackets).

When we believe that we are the adopted children of God, then we will respond appropriately. Instead of behaving like rebellious heathens, we'll respond as if we were the children of the King of the universe. Not as a servant, will we obey, out of duty or debt, but from the heart will come the desire to follow God everywhere He leads us. Obedience to all the commandments of God is the natural result of this understanding.

What God promises He produces through the power of His Holy Spirit and faith in His word. When we believe God's promises, we are enabled to do those things which we were unable to do previously by our own strength (see Gal. 5:16, 17; and Christ's Object Lessons, p. 333). Faith brings us under the new covenant of God's better promise.

When we truly appreciate all that He has done to save us, we will respond as God wants us to respond. We will see the Ten Commandments as ten glorious promises, not ten fetters that bind us as we toil and struggle to keep them. Commandment keeping will become a heart response to the love of God revealed on Calvary. As adopted sons and daughters of God, we will go forth with rejoicing, gladly willing to obey our gracious Father.

We do not need to live under the old covenant. God's promises are sure. Faith makes all the promises of God a reality in our lives. We need not wait one moment longer. "Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2).

Saturday, September 07, 2019

What is the Gospel?

What is the Gospel?

"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, (1 Peter 3:18)."

John was a garbage truck driver in a large suburban city. John's city used the garbage truck as a snowplow during winter.  After every snowfall, John plowed snow in the town roads. Since John's employer added snow removal to John's garbage collection duties, John's company paid him overtime wages. Naturally, John welcomed the extra money. With extra pay in mind, unlike many people who dread the forecast of snow, snowfall to John was good news. Most school children agreed with John that snow was good news but for different reasons. After all, it usually meant outdoor fun and the likelihood that the school officials cancel classes. As expected, parents, however, may not be so happy. Thus, it can be said, snow is only good news to some, not all.

The Greek word translated as Gospel means good news or glad tidings. In Luke 2:10, the angels said unto the shepherds, "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." Unlike snowfall which is good news for some people, the Gospel - here referring to the birth of Christ - is good news for all individuals. In contrast, Christ's second return cannot be the Gospel, because it is only good news to those who believe - and expect it - not those who do not believe. Why is this so? Why is the birth of Christ good news to all, while His second advent is not? Does the Bible shed any light on this? Ellen White says that "The Bible is its own expositor. Scripture is to be compared with scripture. The student should learn to view the word as a whole, and to see the relation of its parts" (Ed.190). In that light, let us go to the Scripture to see how the Gospel is defined.

First, we should note that the Apostle Mark introduced his book as the Gospel of Christ; while (Apostle) Paul declared in the first few verses of Romans chapter one that "… the Gospel of Christ: … is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Vs. 16). In Greek, The word power in this text is dunamis, from which we get dynamite.  The Gospel is the explosive power or energy of God.  The energy that God used to create the world in six days.

Now, no less than approximately a dozen times, Apostle Paul relates the Gospel with God or Christ. Therefore, according to these texts, we can ascertain that the Gospel refers to Christ. Paul is not saying here that salvation is only for believers, but that it is only useful to believers. So, it is the power of God that saves. And, this power of God refers to Jesus and his birth. In 1 Corinthians 1:17, 18, Paul goes a step further. Let us read,

"For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God."

This text associates the preaching of the Gospel with the preaching of the cross, on which Christ died. Furthermore, it equates them by calling them both: the power of God. Therefore, the Gospel is also the preaching of the cross. So, now, we incorporate in this definition of the Gospel the death of Christ on the Cross. Why is the cross so important? We read in Philippians 2:8 concerning Christ,

"And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."

The Jews considered the death of the cross as hanging from a tree, of which Paul says in Gal 3:13, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:"

Christ's death was the final death: complete annihilation. But, it is through this death that we were reconciled to God. We read in Romans 5:10,

For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

Notice in this verse, that Christ's life is now part of the equation, as opposed to only His birth and death. The Gospel refers to Jesus. It entails His incarnation, birth, life, and death. And, in it is the power of God to save every man. Christ did this for the whole world. We read in 1 John 2:2; and 4:14,

"And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world."

What about the resurrection? Paul addresses that also in 1 Corinthians 5:12 -14. Let us read,

"Now if Christ is preached that he hath been raised from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither hath Christ been raised: and if Christ hath not been raised, then is our preaching vain, your faith also is vain."

The resurrection of Christ gives the Gospel certainty and makes the Gospel effectual. It guarantees our freedom from Sin. And how exactly are we implicated? We read in Romans 6:3-5,

"Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:"

Christ took us - the whole world - unto Himself and lived a life of perfect obedience. His life of perfect obedience is ours. His victory is ours. What our Saviour would like for us to do, is, to receive His gift wholeheartedly. In summation, this is the good news to all people: salvation for all men "in Christ."

Friday, August 30, 2019

Faith's Thermometer

Faith's Thermometer
 
The way we typically measure temperature is not a direct measure of heat.  Your typical mercury or alcohol thermometer measures the amount of space displaced by the liquid in the vacuum-sealed cylinder.   Someone figured out that liquids expand when placed under heat.  You can see this every time you boil water in a pot over a stove range.  The hotter the flame, the higher the water will rise in the pan.   The same amount of liquid now occupies more space.
 
That is how a thermometer works.  The hotter it is the liquid inside the cylinder expands, the colder it gets the liquid contracts.  This phenomenon is predictable and reproducible; therefore, we can use these principles they can build thermometers.
 
Faith is also measured indirectly.  Christ told his disciples that a little faith could accomplish great things, we read in Matthew 17:20, "And Jesus said… If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove; Faith's Thermometer
 
The way we typically measure temperature is not a direct measure of heat.  Your typical mercury or alcohol thermometer measures the amount of space displaced by the liquid in the vacuum-sealed cylinder.   Someone figured out that liquids expand when placed under heat.  You can see this every time you boil water in a pot over a stove range.  The hotter the flame, the higher the water will rise in the pan.   The same amount of liquid now occupies more space.
 
That is how a thermometer works.  The hotter it is the liquid inside the cylinder expands, the colder it gets the liquid contracts.  This phenomenon is predictable and reproducible; therefore, we can use these principles they can build thermometers.
 
Faith is also measured indirectly.  Christ told his disciples that a little faith could accomplish great things, we read in Matthew 17:20, "And Jesus said… If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you."  Christ established that our faith would be evident to others.  Many quote James famous discourse on faith and works,
 
James 2:14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
James 2:17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
James 2:18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
 
So, to many "works" is the proof of faith.  Paul says works do not save us.  In other instances, Christ seems to agree.  In Matthew 7, Christ tells the disciples,
 
Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Matthew 7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
Matthew 7:23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
 
The works of the people mentioned here did not show faith.  However, Christ still insists, "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them" (Matthew 7:20); a concept that seems reiterated in John 15 in connection with a display of Love or agape.  Christ tells the disciples in John 13,
 
John 13:35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
 
So, it seems to me that how we measure someone's faith is by His Love in us toward others. In 1 John, we find a connection between faith and Love.  By studying the passage from 1 John 4:12 through 1 John 5: 5 we can arrive at this statement: "By faith we overcome when we are born of God, Who is love, and we cannot see, but He dwells in us (and us in Him) and casts away our fear."  So, we can conclude that where there is faith, there is no fear for Love casts it away.   So, in the presence of self-less, self-denying, unconditional, perfect Love, there is no fear and only faith.    How do we know when this Love is in us?  When 1 John 3: 16 is right about us: "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."  It takes faith to do this.  nothing shall be impossible unto you."  Christ established that our faith would be evident to others.  Many quote James famous discourse on faith and works,
 
James 2:14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
James 2:17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
James 2:18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
 
So, to many "works" is the proof of faith.  Paul says works do not save us.  In other instances, Christ seems to agree.  In Matthew 7, Christ tells the disciples,
 
Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Matthew 7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
Matthew 7:23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
 
The works of the people mentioned here did not show faith.  However, Christ still insists, "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them" (Matthew 7:20); a concept that seems reiterated in John 15 in connection with a display of Love or agape.  Christ tells the disciples in John 13,
 
John 13:35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
 
So, it seems to me that how we measure someone's faith is by His Love in us toward others. In 1 John, we find a connection between faith and Love.  By studying the passage from 1 John 4:12 through 1 John 5: 5 we can arrive at this statement: "By faith we overcome when we are born of God, Who is love, and we cannot see, but He dwells in us (and us in Him) and casts away our fear."  So, we can conclude that where there is faith, there is no fear for Love casts it away.   So, in the presence of self-less, self-denying, unconditional, perfect Love, there is no fear and only faith.    How do we know when this Love is in us?  When 1 John 3: 16 is right about us: "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."  It takes faith to do this. 

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Correlation

Correlation


The definition of correlation, according to one dictionary, is "the degree to which two or more attributes or measurements on the same group of elements show a tendency to vary together." In other words, where there is a correlation, there is a mutual relationship or parallelism. Despite this, one attribute, measurement, or element does not cause the other, instead, they vary together. A simple example would be, developmentally as our hands grow, our feet grow as well.  Our hands do not make our feet grow; neither do our feet make our hands grow.  The cause of simultaneous growth is the same for each.

 

Let's look at another example. In most large cities, crime increases in the summer as does the number of ice-cream sales. One could erroneously deduce that ice-cream causes crime to increase, or vice versa. However, we know that is not true. In simplistic terms what happens instead, is that hot weather, along with other activities and inclinations encourages people to go outside. Among those that go out, many will buy ice cream, as it's considered refreshing in the summer heat.  And among those that go out, are would-be perpetrators, assailants, and their victims.  This makes it easier to find a target and or become one.  

 

Upon a cursory reading of the Bible, we see God rebuking the Israelites for idolatry, immorality and unethical behavior. We could easily assume that either idolatry caused these ungodly behaviors or vice versa.  But that would be incorrect. These practices are correlated not causal. Therefore, you can predict that when you see the one behavior, you will also see the other. The common factor which originates both is the turning of our hearts from God.  We see this in Micah 6:6-8.

 

"Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"

 

The Lord had told the people what pleased him—what was in line with his character of love, which was to walk humbly in communion with him. This and this alone would bring about the living justly and loving mercy he desired. However, the people had yet to comprehend this even by the time of the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. In his mercy, the Lord gave them a similar diagnosis and prescription as can be viewed in both in Isaiah 1: 11 – 17; 58: 4-7 and in Jeremiah 7: 3-- 10.  As we can see in these texts, where there was idol worship, there was oppression and abuse of their fellow countrymen. Clearly, where the one was visible, the other was present. These attributes are correlated because the same factor caused both. Per Ellen White,

 

"In Isaiah's day the spiritual understanding of mankind was dark through misapprehension of God. Long had Satan sought to lead men to look upon their Creator as the author of sin and suffering and death. Those, whom he had thus deceived, imagined that God was hard and exacting. They regarded Him as watching to denounce and condemn, unwilling to receive the sinner so long as there was a legal excuse for not helping him. The law of love by which heaven is ruled had been misrepresented by the archdeceiver as a restriction upon men's happiness, a burdensome yoke from which they should be glad to escape. He declared that its precepts could not be obeyed and that the penalties of transgression were bestowed arbitrarily.

 

In losing sight of the true character of Jehovah, the Israelites were without excuse. Often had God revealed Himself to them as one "full of compassion, and gracious, long-suffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth." Psalm 86:15. "When Israel was a child," He testified, "then I loved him, and called My son out of Egypt." Hosea 11:1. (PK 311 – 312)

 

Now, if the same factor caused both, then the cure was the same: turning of hearts and minds toward God--repenting. God not only wanted his people to believe that He was indeed a loving God who had their best interests at heart, but that he also desired their fellowship. Through the prophet Isaiah he told them,

 

"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isaiah 1:18).

 

God's intention with them was for good, not evil.  He wanted to take all selfishness, uncleanliness of mind, and impurity of heart motive from them.  He said through Ezekiel,

 

"Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them" (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

 

Just as it was with the Israelites, so it is with us. When oppression and abuse are present among us, there is also idolatry. When there is immorality and unethical behavior among us, there is also idolatry. Many believe that as long as you are "nice," it does not matter how you "worship." Others think that if you "worship" God in the right way, it does not matter how you "behave" (worship in this context is seen as a task). Yet, God is saying that both issues are a problem. And, where one is evidenced, the other will also be visible. Both issues co-exist and arise from the same cause. Therefore, both have the same cure. What was prescribed for the Israelites has been prescribed for us. The question is, will we respond positively by receiving the cure of a clean heart and a new mind from Him?