Friday, November 7, 2008

Faith, Works, and The Stone of Stumbling

"Israel, although pursuing a law of righteousness, did not attain to the law. For what reason? Because he pursued it, not by faith, but as works. They stumbled on the 'stone of stumbling*.'"-Romans 9:31-32

All throughout the book of Judges, the Israelites would do what was right as long as someone was there leading them in the right direction. During the reigns of the Kings of Judah from Jerusalem, the same thing happened. Israel just could not follow the law, no matter what happened. At some point, they would fail. The is why God brought the destruction of Judah to the Babylonians. It was punishment for their constant rebellion.

After the return from the exile, the Jews never committed idolatry again. However, they had other problems. They were lax in completing the temple, "the house of Jehovah", and then they were lacking in giving the best of their possessions to God. They would only give him the poorest of their things for their sacrifice, their "polluted bread", "blind animal", "lame animal or a sick one". (Haggai 1:2, 4; Malachi 1:7-8, 13) Their actions showed that their hearts were not complete towards their God.-1 Kings 8:61

Going along with that thought, if the Israelites hearts had been complete towards God, God would have helped them. But it wasn't just their heart that needed to be changed, but their thought pattern. The Israelites would tell themselves, "This and this and this is allowed, but that and that and that is forbidden." Can you see the problem in that? They looked at the Law of Moses as a list of prohibitions and when it became to difficult for them, they stopped following it. They were relying on their own strength. What they should have done is walk by faith. (2 Corinthians 5:7) If they had walked by faith they would have realized that they could not do it on their own, they would have seen that they needed God's guidance, and prayed for help accordingly. Their Almighty God, Jehovah, wanted to help them.-Isaiah 41:13

Christians today are in the same boat. We cannot stay on The Way without the help of God's spirit. (Galatians 5:16) What we need to do so that we will not stumble on the "stone of stumbling" is pray for this spirit and also pray for wisdom. God will give us both. (Luke 11:13; James 1:5) So, may we never fall into the same trap as the Israelites, thinking that we can accomplish our walk with God without His help.

*The "stone of stumbling" is a reference to Isaiah 28:16, which is prophetic of Christ Jesus.-Isaiah 8:14; Matthew 21:42; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:6-7

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Atonement Day and Jesus Christ

Perhaps the most important day in ancient Israel was Atonement Day. On Atonement Day, the High Priest was to sacrifice animals for himself and all Israel. Then he was supposed to take two goats and stand before the Tent of Meeting. By lots, he was to choose one goat to be slaughtered and then the other goat would be sent off into the wilderness to carry the sins of the Israelites away. He was then to sacrifice a bull to cleanse himself. After this, he was supposed to take a fire holder full of burning coals along with handfuls of fine, perfumed incense and bring them inside the curtain. Thus, the High Priest entered into the Holy Place.-Leviticus 16:2-12

From there, the High Priest was to put the fire holder before Jehovah and put the incense upon the Ark of the Covenant. He would then take some of the blood of the bull and spatter it with his finger on the cover a specific number of times. Then he would do the same with the goat which he slaughtered. In this way, he must make atonement for the sins of the entire Israelite nation.-Leviticus 16:13-16

The High Priest was to then come out and spatter some of the blood of the bull and goat on the altar seven times, then put his hands on the other live goat and confess the sins of Israel over it. That is when the goat was to be sent away into the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:18-22) Although the ritual continues, this is about the gist of it. One question that may arise is why the need for so much blood? Because the power of atonement was in the blood for the reason that the life was in the blood. If there was no blood, there would be no life.-Levitucs 17:11

What did all this mean? All of this pointed to Jesus Christ and his sacrifice. In Hebrews 5:10 Jesus is said to be a High Priest. In Hebrews 9:11-28, Paul gives us an in depth description of the meaning of the Atonement Day. Atonement Day happened once a year, ever year, again and again because the effect of the blood of the bulls and goats could only cleanse temporarily. That is why Christ had to appear. His sacrifice was everlasting.

"However, when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come to pass, through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, he entered, no, not with the blood of goats and of young bulls, but with his own blood, once for all time into the holy place and obtained an everlasting deliverance for us. For if the blood of goats and of bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who have been defiled sanctifies to the extent of cleanness of the flesh, how much more will the blood of the Christ, who through an everlasting spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works that we may render sacred service to the living God?"-Hebrews 9:11-14

Christ, being a High Priest, did not have to enter into the literal tabernacle or temple to atone for us. He did that when he was resurrected. Even more, his own blood was sufficient to obtain an everlasting deliverance for us. Since the blood of bulls and goats had atoning properties, the blood of a perfect man do much more for us. Yes, only because Christ was "without blemish" could we obtain deliverance through him.

Now, all of this was a fulfillment of a very important prophecy in Isaiah 53. "Surely he has borne our sickness, and carried our suffering; yet we considered him plagued, struck by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought our peace was on him; and by his wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:4-5) The healing by his wounds is a spiritual healing. You see, we are all captives of sin. It rules over us as a king, making us unwilling slaves.-Romans 5:12, 21; 6:6; 7:21-25

Sin is a very powerful enemy. There is nothing that we can do about it. Sin can be likened to a disease that all men that have ever lived (besides Jesus Christ) have caught. The death rate is 100%. If anyone tries to convince us that they are sinless, then they are liars. (1 John 1:8-10) As said above, the only man to ever be sinless was the Lord Jesus. (1 Peter 2:22) Again, because of this and his sacrifice, Jesus is the only name on which we can be forgiven of our sins. (Acts 4:12) Why is this of such importance?

In the beginning, God created Adam a perfect man. There was only one thing that Adam could not do and that was eat from a certain tree in the center of the Garden of Eden. Unfortunately, Adam chose to disobey and became a sinner. After this, mankind needed a redeemer. Since Adam was a perfect man then there had to be a perfect man who could gain back what Adam lost. That man was Jesus. The Bible tells us, "For just as in Adam all are dying, so also in the Christ all will be made alive."-1 Corinthians 15:22

As we know, one Atonement Day was not enough for humans. Without Christ, the same ritual would have had to be repeated for all eternity. However, that changed upon his death and resurrection. Before discussing that, though, it is important to mention that in Israel, the slaughtering of the Atonement Day bull and goat was not enough. The blood had to be offered by the High Priest. Likewise, the same was true of Christ. "For Christ entered, not into a holy place made with hands, which is a copy of the reality, but into heaven itself, now to appear before the person of God for us."-Hebrews 9:24

If the blood of Christ had not had to be offered to God, he would have not had to be resurrected. His death would have been sufficient. However, someone--the High Priest--had to offer the blood to God. Since the High Priest was Jesus, he would have to be resurrected to approach God and offer his own blood. That is why Christ's resurrection was so important. His death alone was not enough. And, since he was the High Priest, only he could offer the shed blood.

When the Messiah offered the blood, another physical prophecy was fulfilled. When the human High Priest in Israel went to offer the blood, he would have to enter the Holy Place. This place was so holy that the priest could only enter once a year and then only when he had performed special rituals and when he was wearing special clothing. The place that Christ entered into was much better. The holy place made with hands on earth was only a copy of the real thing. Christ had to literally enter in front of God to offer his blood. The human priest only stood before the Ark of the Covenant, which was a symbol of God with Israel.

"Neither is it in order that he should offer himself often, as indeed the high priest enters into the holy place from year to year with blood not his own. Otherwise, he would have to suffer often from the founding of the world."-Hebrews 9:25-26

This Atonement Day occurred once a year, every year. As noted above, once was not enough because the blood offered was not perfect, human blood. But Christ, a perfect man, was able to enter only once. If not, as Paul says, Jesus would have had to suffer often from the founding of the world.

That was the first time Christ came. Next time he comes, none of this will be necessary. What will happen then? For some, his return will be a joyous time, for others, a grievous time. To be in the former group, we have to follow the command of the Apostle Peter who said, "Repent, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the free gift of the holy spirit." (Acts 2:38) It is paramount that we put our trust in this sacrifice. Only by accepting this sacrifice can we be forgiven. (Ephesians 2:8-9) Even more, and this is the part that people seem to forget, more is required then just accepting this sacrifice. We have to have good works and follow Jesus. (John 3:36; James 2:26) After that, we have to stop sinning. We cannot continue to sin after learning the truth.-Romans 6:1-2; 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8; Hebrews 10:26-31

Christ is coming back one more time. "The second time that [Christ] appears it will be apart from sin and to those earnestly looking for him for their salvation." (Hebrews 9:28) Christ is returning to save those of us who have put our faith in him. May all who the Father is drawing be part of that group.-John 6:44

Christ in the Law and the Prophets

"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve."-1 Corinthians 15:3-5

Everyone is aware of the prophecies that are directly associated with the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. However, there is more then just such as "He is guarding all the bones of that one; not one of them has been broken" (Psalm 34:20) and "Look! Your king is coming to you. He is righteous, and he is victorious. Yet he is humble--riding on a donkey, yes, on a lowly donkey's colt."-Zechariah 9:9

Prophecies like these are easily identified by their New Testament fulfillments. However, there are other prophecies in the Bible that are more obscure in that people don't realize they are prophecies. What are they?

The Sign of Jonah

When some Scribes and Pharisees wanted to test Jesus once again, they approached him and said, "Teacher, we want to see a sign from you." Jesus, knowing that they had seen many signs already, was not about to give another one to them, so he said, "A wicked and adulterous generation keeps on seeking for a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights."-Matthew 12:38-40

Going back to the Old Testament book of Jonah, we read Jonah's small, autobiographical account. "Then they lifted up Jonah and hurled him into the sea; and the sea began to halt from its raging. At that the men bgan to fear Jehovah greatly, and so they offered a sacrifice to Jehovah and made vows. Now Jehovah appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah so that Jonah came to be in the inward parts of the fish three days and three nights...In time, Jehovah commanded the fish, so that it vomited out Jonah onto the dry land."-Jonah 1:16-17; 2:10

Jonah's being in the fish has an exact parallel to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Without it being an explicit prophecy, Jonah's being in the fish for three days and nights was prophetically pointing to the Lord Jesus.

The Mosaic Law

At another time, Jesus Christ was speaking to the crowds in his great Sermon on the Mount. At one point near the beginning of his Sermon he said, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the prophets. I came, not to destroy, but to fulfill." (Matthew 5:17) Unknown to most is that many aspects of the Mosaic Law were prophectic of the Christ. Let us look at a few of them but first let us see what is said of these in the New Testament.

In his letter to the congregation in Colossae, Paul said, "Let no man judge you in eating and drinking or in respect of a festival or an observance of the new moon or of a sabbath; for these things are a shadow of the things to come but the reality belongs to the Christ." (Colossians 2:16-17) Further he said in Hebrews, "For since the Law has a shadow of the good things to come, but not the very substance of the things..." (Hebrews 10:1) While the commands and regulations in the Law were not all prophectic to Christ, we will look at a few things that were.

The Passover Festival

Jesus Christ died on Nisan 14, 33 C.E. (or A.D.) in Israel. Was this any regular day? No. This was the anniversary of the Passover festival, one of the most important festivals in Israel. Was his death on this day coincidence? Again, we have a no.

Nisan 14, or Passover, was a celebration of the day that the angel flew over Egypt, killing the firstborn. So important was this event that God told the nation of Israel: "This is the statute of the passover...In one house it is to be eaten. You must not take any of the flesh out of the house to some place outside. And you must not break a bone in it [prophetic of none of Christ's bones being broken]. All the assembly of Israel are to celebrate it." (Exodus 12:43, 46-47) How does all of this point to Jesus Christ?

Well, it is known that Christ is constantly referred to as a lamb. (John 1:29; Revelation 7:9) Moreover, his death, being on Nisan 14, the exact day of the Passover, was fitting in that he is the passover lamb. Paul wrote, "For Christ our passover has been sacrificed."-1 Corinthians 5:7

The Festival of Unfermented Cakes

Another festival celebrated by the Israelites was the Festival of Unfermented Cakes. This festival had a special significance in that it was prophetic of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. What was this festival?

On Nisan 16 (the day Jesus was resurrected) Israelites brought a sheaf of firstfruits of the barley harvest for the priest to wave before Yahweh. (Leviticus 23:6-14) What was special about the barley harvest?

The barley harvest was the first type of crop to grow each year in Israel. This is prophetic in that Jesus Christ was the "firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep in death." (1 Corinthians 15:20) The question arises: How can Jesus be the firstfruits of those who have died if billions of people lived and died before him? In that he is the first person to be resurrected, never to die again. The fact that this festival and the resurrection of Christ happened on the same day was not coincidence.

There is one other aspect of the Mosaic Law that is perhaps the most important prophetic parallel with the death of Christ. The Atonement Day, which will be discussed further in this two part discussion.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Top 10 Most Popular Bible Verses

10. John 11:35-"Jesus Wept" (KJV)

9. Proverbs 3:5, 6-"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." (NIV)

8. Genesis 1:1-"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (NIV)

7. Isaiah 53:5-"But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." (NIV)

6. James 2:26-"For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." (KJV)

5. Ephesians 2:8, 9-"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast." (NIV)

4. Jeremiah 29:11-"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (NIV)

3. Psalm 23:1-"The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want." (KJV)

2. Joshua 24:15-"But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." (KJV)

1. John 3:16-"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (KJV)