HOW CAN WE SING YAHWEH’S SONG IN A FOREIGN LAND?

(Psalm 137)

Psalm 137 relates to the experience of the Jewish captivity and exile to Babylon sometime between 588BC to 586BC. And if we can put ourselves back in a Jewish frame of mind, i think we can catch the pathos and empathy with which we can feel what these people must have felt as they were away from Zion by the rivers of Babylon. “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.” – perhaps if could go back in the history of the nation of Israel before the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, and remember some of the promises that God made to His covenant people, we could catch the confusion with which they experienced this exile. In 2 Samuel chapter 7 verses 10, 13, and 16 where God promises that He will bring Israel into the Land, and He will sustain them there, that He will always have a man on the Davidic throne, and that Jerusalem will stand as a monument to Himself throughout the ages. This of course was a promise to David before Solomon became king, and yet now the Davidic king has been taken in chains to Babylon. I think we can see some of the tension this caused when we look at the preaching of Jeremiah. Now, Jeremiah was confronted with false teachers who kept quoting passages from Isaiah chapters 36 and 37 where God promises to King Hezekiah through Isaiah that Jerusalem will not fall to the Assyrian invaders under Sennacherib who had already taken the northern 10 tribes on 722BC. And because Hezekiah prayed to God and trusted God, God told him He’d spare the city. That’s in Isaiah 37 where the Death Angel came and 185,000 troops of the Assyrian army died in one night, and Sennacherib went home where he met his death in the hands of his own two sons. In that context of the repentance and faith of Hezekiah and the people, in Jeremiah’s day which is about 150 years plus later they were saying, “God has promised He’ll never allow the city to be destroyed; He promised to David back in 2nd Samuel; He promised to Hezekiah back in the book of Isaiah”. And Jeremiah kept saying, “Yes that’s true, but you have forgotten the covenant responsibilities God said He would, if you would, but you you have broken the Covenant by the way you act. God’s mercy has been spurned. You have not repented, and God’s going to take you to exile”. And the people called Jeremiah a ‘false prophet’ because they said “thus saith the Lord” and they quoted the Scriptures in 2nd Samuel 7 and said, “You’re a heretic because you’re bringing a new message”. If you know the book of Isaiah, the authorities really were abusive to him, and the crowds tried to abuse him physically several times because he had a message of judgment instead of a message of deliverance. You see the Jews put so much trust in the temple. They had focused all of their covenant responsibilities to temple ritual that they were totally unprepared when God took the temple away. Now the problem has always been that even in the Old Testament, the faith of Israel had always been a heartfelt faith that was represented through the sacrifice, through the liturgy, through the ritual. But somehow the Jews had trusted in the ‘form’ instead of the ‘Giver’ of the form; trusted in their actions instead of the grace of God. They had thought that ritualistic, literalistic acts of sacrifices would make them right with God when it was always the heart that made man right with God. And so God’s only option was to take them out of the land so they’d be forced to return to Him and Him alone as their only source of help and salvation. It is at this context, at the pathos of these early exiled Jews, they wondered, “Does God still love us, does God still care, are God’s promises still valid, is the Covenant still in effect”? I think we can understand something about this drama, if we woke up one morning, and all the churches had been shut down and were in the process of being burned, and all the Bibles had been confiscated and were in the process of being burned, and all the religious leaders had been executed during the night in secret raids, something of the wonderment and bewilderment that would overcome Christians of our country may have been something that these Jews experienced; when all they hoped for and trusted in, and all they looked to for guidance, and hope, and instruction were gone.

Now, the “By the rivers of…” – ‘canals’ would have been a more appropriate translation because we learn from Ezekiel that one of those was a canal named Chebar, and there were many canals that derived from the Euphrates used for irrigation purposes. So, “By one of these canals” was where they sat down and wept. Now why would they come to a river to worship or to pray? Well, the only Biblical precedent we have is in the New Testament in Acts 16:13, where Paul and his co-workers came to Philippi, and went down to the river nearby which was the common place of prayer during that time. And he knew that, so maybe that’s an ancient tradition when there was no synagogue. they went down by the river. Someone said, it may be a place where they could perform their ablutions; that could be true. Perhaps it’s just the quiet serenity of the riverbank where they sat down. Now, of course for the Jews to sit on the floor was a sign of mourning; maybe it’s the idea here because the next verse is they “wept” when they remembered Zion. Wept is a word that means to weep loudly; to cry out in agony. This whole Psalm is almost a funeral lament in its rhythmic form. And here they wailed as they sit by the river. Zion of course is a hill in Jerusalem and it’s the idea of the whole city. The temple is not built on Mount Zion, it’s built on Mount Moriah, but Zion came to be a name to describe Jerusalem, and Jerusalem came to be synonymous with the temple or the place where God chose His Name to dwell, and that’s the idea here.

Now notice as it mentions, “There on the poplars we hung our harps,” – the verbs from verse one through verse three are in a past tense and in Hebrew. And so it seems like someone writing later was looking back on this period, and remembering how bad it was. Other translations use “willows”, however willows do not grow in the Tigiris Euphrates valley. Modern horticulturists would tell us that this is a type of poplar that looked similar to a willow that grew not only in Babylon but on the Jordan riverbanks. It is possible these very same trees are the branches that were used in the feast of tabenacles which would even intensify the grief even more. Now, the ‘harps’ here the Revised Standard Version has the word ‘lyres’, but both are similar in form and shape. This was a musical instrument either used by the Levites to sing the praises of God in the temple, or possibly also by the people to sing their religious folk songs. But whatever it is, the attitude and the atmosphere was not conducive to worship of Yahweh’s goodness because they were so dejected and confused at this point.

Now notice in verse three as it says, “For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” – It would seem that their Babylonian captors asked them to sing a religious song to kind of mock them. We must remember that during this time, all of the nations were connected to national god. The fact that Israel as a nation was in captivity showed that her God had been defeated by Marduk, the chief god of the Babylonian pantheon. And so to force them to sing a religious song was in a way to show that Yahweh had been defeated, and maybe they wanted to do that to mock the Jews. Others are of the view that they weren’t so much trying to mock them religiously as they like this new form of singing. If you ever heard a Jewish religious hymn, it has a unique beat, a unique rhythm; maybe they just wanted to hear this new kind of music and this new kind of song. And i’m not sure we can know which it is. The fact the word ‘captors’ and ‘tormentors’ are mentioned, seems to support the idea of ‘mock’ but the verb ‘ask’ seems to support the idea of just “let us hear this new different kind of music”. In verse 4, “How shall we sing the LORD’S song in a strange land?” – now here the ‘the LORD’s song’ is identified with the ‘songs of Zion’ which means a religious song. We must remember in the ancient world, deities were connected with geographic locations. Maybe, this is aln allusion of that, that they couldn’t sing Yahweh’s song away from the Promised Land because Yahweh’ primary land was the Promised Land. Now, i think that goes back to a false understanding that God was one among many, and we know that Judaism is a development to a pure blown monotheism which says He is the only God and the rest are simply demonic or false gods. Now, the second possibility is: these songs were religious songs, and it was simply a mockery to sing them out of the context of the temple and its faith.

Verse 5, “If I forget you, Jerusalem,…” – now, here is a series of verses, 5 and 6, that show intense faith amidst the dark time of exile and theological confusion. Though they weren’t sure God was still for them, they want everybody to know they were still for God, and so even in this darkness of this, they’re still saying, “O, we believe in Jerusalem”. “…Let my right hand forget its skill.” – this could well be translated as, …”May my right hand forget (or become numb) to play upon the harp”. So there again the thoughts to remember Zion and its happy memories continue to haunt them. Now in verse 6, “Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I don’t remember you; If I don’t prefer Jerusalem above my chief joy.” – the psalmist is saying, may his fitness to sing be disabled if again he sings any such festival songs, till that joyful day shall come, when they return to Jerusalem from exile. Now notice as it says in verse 7, “Remember, Yahweh, against the children of Edom, The day of Jerusalem; Who said, “Raze it! Raze it even to its foundation!” – it is interesting to note the word ‘forget’ is something negative for men; we want ment to ‘remember’ God’s goodness and kindness, but if we relate the word ‘remember’ to God, it connotes the idea of imprecation because God’s ‘remembering’ always refers to judgment. And verse 7 in context is a call on God to judge 2 different nations, Edom and Babylon, that were involved in the fall of Jerusalem. We see that God is a God who will repay heathen nations who have cruelly afflicted His elect (cf. Deut. 32:35). This really is a sign of hope for the Jews; they weren’t sure God was still in control of history, they weren’t sure God was still for them. But in the midst of this heaviness of being exiled as God’s judgment for their sins, yet this man believes God is in control. He says ‘God be just, mete to them the same kind of justice that you have held us accountable’. Now, why Edom? Why would the sons of Edom be called on here? Babylon is going to mentioned in verse 8. But why should Edom be judged? Well, from many passages, we know that Edom a relative of the Jews, participated in the fall and the attack of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. You might want to see EzeK 35:5; Amos 1:9-11; Obad. 11-16, that describe Edom’s participation in the invasion and attack of Jerusalem. And so it was a violation against brotherly love that was the problem. Now that quote in verse 7, “…Raze it! Raze it even to its foundation!” – has the idea of ‘uncover, or strip her naked to the ground bottom” (cf. Lamentation 4:21-22). So it’s the idea of stripping a woman publicly to shame her is what they were doing to Jerusalem (seen as a woman, we often call her the ‘virgin daughter of Zion’) in a sense of shaming a woman used here as a metaphor. That’s the idea here.

Now verse 8 describes the judgment on Babylon. Notice as it says, “Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, He will be happy who rewards you, As you have served us.” – Jeremiah prophesied Babylon’s punishment after 70 years of ravaging Jerusalem and throwing the Jews into exile (cf. Jer. 25:12). It sounds cruel to us but it’s the Old Testament ‘eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth’ justice of Deuteronomy 19:19 and Leviticus 34:20. Here’s one example of the horrors of war as an ultimate way of what they’re praying to God would do to them, because that’s what they did to the Jews, “Happy shall he be, Who takes and dashes your little ones against the rock.” – they would cut off the strength of the nation by killing the children by grabbing them by the heels and dash their heads against the walls. It’s unbelievable, but it was a common military practice in the ancient world (cf. Isaiah 13:16; Hos. 10:14; Hos. 13:16; Nahum 3:10) and this is a fulfillment of predictive prophecy against Babylon. I could almost quote Galatians 6:7 here and say, “Don’t be deceived. God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” and that seems to be a fulfillment here against Babylon. Divine judgment against Babylon is pronounced, and nothing can prevent its execution. Cyrus king of Persia when executing the counsels of God, he entered that doomed city, and meted to them the same cruelty they had shown their captives. And as Babylon of old fell, the eschatological Babylon mystical shall meet the same destruction from the righteous judgment of God, and all oppressors of God’s people will sink as a millstone cast into the deep, and never rise again.

BELIEVERS ARE ON A CONFLICT

(cf. Eph. 6:10-18)

Christians are on a spiritual conflict. We struggle against the evil one as much as we struggle against our own selves. Disunity, apathy, false teachers are the schemes satan employs to make the church look in a bad light to the unbelieving world. The apostle Paul says we’ve got to be prepared to recognize that our personal opinion, our personal happiness, our personal choice, our personal preference have to be sublimated to the health and growth of the body of Christ. We sing the song “it’s all about You Jesus” but we live the life “it’s all about me”. The spiritual battle is connected directly with the Genesis 3 fall of man; becoming independent of God, and wanting my way no matter what the cost. The conflict continues and that conflict is basically “me” in every situation; wanting my will instead of God’.

There’s a real conflict, and Paul teaches us 2 things to win this war against self and the evil one. Number one weapon against all the forces of wickedness is a knowledge of the Word of God. You cannot have this knowledge by having the Bible on your coffee table. It must be read. It must be pondered. It must be prayed over. It must be read again and again. In context, the “helmet of salvation” is the Christian’s greatest need, and the “sword of the Spirit” which is the Word of God are theologically parallel – It’s the Gospel understanding. Keep the Word of God in your heart that you might not sin against Him (cf. Ps. 119:11). The second weapon in the Christian’s arsenal is prayer. “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (i.e. Eph. 6:18). We should see our life as Christians as somehow affecting the world by prayer. It is true we have not because we’ve asked not. It is true that things don’t happen because we haven’t prayed. Prayer is that theological truth that human intellect, human knowledge, human organization, human resources is never enough in the spiritual realm – PRAYER IS!

ABRAHAM JUSTIFIED BY FAITH

(Romans 5:1-25)

The book of Romans is a wonderful book, and it does for me what no other book in the Bible does for me. It’s the book where the Apostle Paul laid out his systematic theology, and it’s built precept upon precept to clearly reveal to us how Christianity is structured. Chapter 3 verses 21 through 31 is his presentation of the concept of ‘Justification by Faith’; that marvelous doctrine that we’re right with God because of who He is and what He has done that is offered to us as a free gift with no strings attached through faith. As a Jew, Paul knew that if he really wanted to fortify his argument about ‘Justification by Faith’, the place that he would go to would be the Pentateuch, which is the Jews considered the most holy part of Scripture. And so chapter 4 is really an amplification of the theme ‘Justification by Faith’ put on Old Testament basis. I think it’s important to know that this doctrine of ‘Justification by Faith’ is not a New Testament doctrine. This has always been how God has dealt with men from the Old Testament past. That’s how He worked with Abraham who lived 400 years before the Law. Abraham was made ‘right’ or ‘justified’ by God even before Circumcision. The ‘Law and ‘Circumcision’ are the two main pillars of Jewish pride which Paul is going to eliminate as far as a way of being ‘right’ with God. Paul, here in chapter 4 is going to spell out to us how is a man right with God, or how is a man saved, or how do you know you’re going to heaven, or how is a man brought into a right relationship with God?

First of all, we’re going to define four major Biblical words that are used over and over in this passage. The first word is ‘right standing’, other translation has ‘righteousness’, or justification – all the same word, same root. The second one is the word ‘credited’; you might have the word ‘imputed’. The third one is the word ‘faith’ (which we can find on an Old Testament basis). The fourth word is found in verse 13, – ‘the promise’. Now let’s look at the beginning of verse 1, “What then shall we say that…” – this is a diatribe which Paul so skillfully employs in Romans as well in Galatians; Paul is supposing someone is going to be an objector, and so he answers the supposed objections all the way his letter. So here’s the first objector: “What then shall we say that Abraham,…” – you see the Jews said “I’m right with God because I’m a Jew; I’m right with God because my ancient forefather was Abraham”. Now if you’ll look at Luke 3:8, John the Baptist reprimanded the self-seeking Jews as he said, “Don’t tell me you’re born from Abraham, because that’s not what’s going to get you into kingdom of God. So the Jews were depending on being in the racial line of Abraham. There are some people today think they’re saved because their names are written on some church roll some place, or think they’re saved because their parents were Christians, or think they’re saved because they read the Bible. This is a good analogy; these Jews thought they are right with God based on their racial lineage, based on who they are, but in reality they are lost. I believe this chapter is the cutting edge of the Gospel that cuts us under every excuse why man can save himself. If you will read Genesis 11:27 through Genesis 25:11 where the Bible talks about the life Abraham, and where God changed his original name Abram to Abraham. God the meaning of his name from ‘the exalted father’ to something very significant, ‘father of many nations’, or ‘the father of a multitude’. That’s so significant in the life of Abraham because if you will read Galatians 3:16, you will find out that the true seed of Abraham is by faith and not by racial descent. And his descendants are as innumerable as the stars in heaven, and as countless as the sands of the sea. That’s how many children Abraham has. It has nothing to do with racial descent, it has everything to do with faith descent. That’s what we’re talking about here.

Notice in verse 2, “If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about–but not before God.” – this is a first class conditional statement (assumed to be true), which the New Living Translation renders quite succinctly, “If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way.” Paul was saying in a roundabout way that Abraham was justified not because of who he is. You know, we often have the mistaken notion that Bible characters are super saints. There are no super saints, there are just turkeys saved by grace. We have built these people up in our mind to bigger than life. I submit to you God’s people are just human beings warts and all. Let’s look at Abraham; Abraham is called the father of the faith, and yet he is just a fool at times like most of us. And why is that? Well, God said, “leave your kinsmen and follow Me” (cf. Gen. 12:1-2), and he took his father and his family with him. He disobeyed a direct order from God. And when in Egypt to escape the famine in Canaan, his faith in God gave way to fear; lying to the Egyptians and Pharaoh about his true relationship with Sarai his wife lest he would be killed by them. He failed to trust fully in God’s promise that he would be a father of many nations. Well, that’s not all about the flaws in Abraham’s character. First of all, he was a polytheist; there was no goodness in him. He was not an unusually righteous man, he was a polytheist just like his father. When God called him and finally told him he’s going to have a son, you know what Sarah did? She giggled, and Abraham laughed, and then he said ‘I’m going to help God out, so I’ll just take my wife’s handmaiden”, and consequently that started all the trouble and enmity in Abraham’s family. Abraham is a not a giant of faith. Abraham is a man whom God picked to bless the world through.

Notice as it says in verse 3, “What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” – right standing, righteousness, justification – all these terms have one root; it means a measuring reed, a standard. It means a standard by which to compare everything else. And the standard in the Bible is not that you’re better than your next-door neighbor, or you know your Bible better than someone else. The standard in the Bible is that God is the standard by which everything will be judged. He is the standard and none of us measure up to that kind of standard. That’s when the Bible can say unequivocally, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (i.e. Rom. 3:23). All of us don’t make up to His character. Now, that’s why every Hebrew word for sin means deviation from a standard; missing the mark; falling short; being crooked; being perverse, all mean deviation from the standard. I believe does teach that if you keep all the Law from birth till death, and your character’s like God, you can go to heaven. The problem is, nobody can stand up to that righteousness. Now notice if you would, the word ‘credited’ is an accounting word in Greek. What it means is that they have two lines of figures: you have a balance of what people owe you, and then you have you owe people. Two different accounts, and it’s like someone taking an account book and on the side that says balance, do they write ‘the righteousness of God in Him’. That’s not something you owe, it’s something that’s been given to you, it’s something ‘due’ you. Not ‘due’ in the sense of your worth, but ‘due’ because it’s been written on the side of the ledger that means this has been credited to your account. This is an asset. Now, it doesn’t mean we are like God in our actions. It means we are positionally in Christ, the Righteousness of God. Think of 2 Corinthians 5:21, “and God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God”. Do you catch that? This is based on who we are in Christ and what He is, and not we are. Now to be Biblical, i want to say to you, hopefully we’re going to move from ‘positional’ to ‘possessional’; we’re going to move from faith to lifestyle, and that’s very important (to combine those two). Now, “…credited to him as righteousness” (aorist passive, once and for all by an outside agent) means righteousness has been imputed to him. That means, even when i played the fool, my salvation is not dependent on how big a fool i am, my salvation is dependent on who Jesus Christ is and what He has already done. What i have accepted by faith what has been given to me by God and is secure in Him, not in me.

Notice as it continues in verse 4, “Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation.” – the Jews would say, “Well we’ve been circumcised, we’ve kept the Old Testament Law, we read the Torah, we attend the synagogue (does that sound strangely familiar?); they’re going to start telling God what a wonderful person they are, and why God should love them, and how much they deserve from God. And Paul’s going to start, when a workman gets his pay, he is not considered to be from the point of view of favor, but it’s an obligation. But a man who does no work but simply puts his faith in Him who brings the ungodly into right standing with Himself receives the righteousness of God as a gift from God. It may surprise you but the word ‘faith’ is a word that we use all the time, as when we say “Amen” as the end of our prayer. It is a Hebrew term that comes into Greek as ‘Amen’ and transliterated into English as Amen. The word ‘amen’ in Hebrew is from the root,’to be firm’, ‘to be secure’. So it meant something secure, stable, permanent. Now as we use the term today, it came to mean ‘I agree’ or ‘I affirm’, but the Biblical usage is ‘to be sure’, ‘to be trustworthy, ‘to be loyal’, to be permanent’, ‘to be stable’, and ‘to be immovable’. Now do these adjectives of immovability refer to us, or to God? You see, we tend to put faith in us. I hear preachers say all the time, “if you have enough faith God will do this”. Have you ever wondered why Jesus said, “if you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can move mountains?” Well, because we don’t really need more faith. It’s not how much faith we have, it is the object of our faith – Jesus Christ. Faith in the Old Testament is the trustworthiness of God. We trust God’s trustworthiness. That’s what faith is. Faith in respect to man is always a response to. Faith is not morality, faith is not theology, faith is not emotions. Faith is primarily relationship – relational. A good analogy is our marriage vows; we pick someone whom we think is God’s will for our life. I made some real promises to my bride to love, honor, trust, obey till death do us part, period. I didn’t know everything about her but i looked that woman in the presence of God and said, “I love you until i die” period. That promise i made to her will stand no matter what her character flaws may be revealed in time (well that goes vice versa) because that promise was a relationship. You see, i’m not married because i have a piece of paper that says i’m married. I’m married because i’m in a faith relationship with my wife through Christ. Now, that’s how i’m saved through Christ. I’m not saved because i have a baptismal certificate. I’m not saved because my name is on the church roll. I’m not saved because i do certain things. I’m not saved because i pray and read the Bible. I’m saved because i have a faith relationship with Jesus, a carpenter of Nazareth who i believe is God Incarnate. Faith is trusting in the trustworthiness of God. It is not an act. It is a response – that’s very, very, very important!

And then in verse 5, Paul comes back to these words again – trusts, justifies, faith, righteousness, “However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness”. Do you know where this quote comes? From back up there in verse three; when God told Abraham he’ll have a son, Abraham tried every way in the world to get that son. But through a promise, through a miracle Sarah balked and griped, but Abraham did believe God even though he couldn’t explain it, and even though he thought he’d have to help God out. That’s not powerful faith, but it’s saving faith because of the promise God made, Abraham believed. You see, faith is really trusting in the statements that God makes. If God is not true, if God has overstated His case, if God has told us an error, none of us are saved. O, but when what God’s told us is accurate, we can depend on it, we can die on it, and come to life again.

Now, the rest of this chapter is just the same old thing over and over again; not with works, without things Abraham has done. And then he quotes David in verse 6 and following; what about David? David is called ‘a man after God’s own heart’. But David was initially a robber, he has committed treason against his own country, and then when he finally became king, he lusted after another man’s wife, got her pregnant, then tried to trick her husband into coming home so he’d get off the hook. The husband was more loyal than David, so David premeditated Uriah’s death with his own army, then he covered it up for over a year until Nathan put his finger on David’s nose. That’s the man God says is ‘a man after my own’ heart’. You might want to read Psalm 32 and Psalm 51, and see David in the exact same light or the exact same sins we ordinary sinners find ourselves in. I’m so glad David is saved because if a jerk like David can be saved, there’s hope for us. O, ‘a man after God’s own heart’ acting like that, that is the proof of faith and righteousness, the promise of God. Now it continues, as you look at the words down through here, “…Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness”. Then notice it goes into the idea of ‘circumcision’ which is the Jew’s big proof, and it says, “No! it’s faith”. And looking at verse 13, “…that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.” – there’s that fourth term, ‘the promise’. How do i know i’m saved? Because i got goosebumps running down my spine? But there are days when i don’t get goosebumps. There are days when i don’t feel saved. There are days when i have a fight with my wife, and on and on. So, how do i know i’m saved? It’s the Promise of God why i know i’m saved! “For whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13; Acts 2:21; Joel 2:32); “But whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:15); “for as many as received him to them He gave the right to become the children of God, even to those who believed on His Name” (John 1:12); “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28). If those are lies, i can never know i’m saved. God has made me some promises, and i’m going to stand right there come hell or high waters and till the Second Coming is cancelled! I’m right with God because of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done; not because of who i am, or what i have done, nor how much faith i can muster. I stand on the promises of God made to Abraham, and to his seed; “that he would be heir of the world (not the Jews alone), but through the righteousness that comes by faith”. Verse 14-15, “For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression” (cf. Romans 3:25; 5:13). That’s a very unusual concept, but very important. So, it is conditioned on faith, that it might be in accordance with God’s unmerited favor so that the promise would be enforced to all the descendants of Abraham, not only of those of the Law, but to all those who belong the faith group. If being a Jew is necessary to get to heaven, i’ll never make it. But praise be to God, the door of faith has been opened to the Gentiles. I’m glad Jesus came. Let’s look at it again, the promise is enforced “…in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not”. The God of creation, the God and only God is the One who allowed me to be a part of His family. Everything i have in Christ is by the agency of God. Now let us go down a bit further in verses 21-22. All those major words right there in verse 23, summed back up about being credited to him, and then we have a crystal logical statement in verse 24 and 25, “…who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death…” – this a legal term that means delivered over to punishment, or delivered over to justice. This is in fact the vicarious substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. It was our penalty; we deserve to be beaten for who we are, but Jesus took the beating. When God said, “the soul that sins, it shall surely die”, He was absolutely certain that His word is true. But wonderful and marvelous grace of God – He died in our place, and then He gave us His righteousness as a free gift by faith. Yes, Someone did die, and His Name was Jesus, and the means was the cross. Paul couldn’t believe it himself. ‘How can anybody who is cursed by God be the Messiah?’ That’s exactly what God’s plan is – the curse for our sins fell on Jesus. God gave Him up for death because of our shortcomings, and was raised to life to give us right standing with God. In 2 Corinthians chapter 5:21 we read the marvelous passage, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Thank God i’ve never heard better Good News in all the world, that Jesus died for me and you, and we can be right with God based on who He is and not on who we are. I know i’m going to make it to heaven not because of my goodness but because of Your goodness, O Lord! Thank You Lord!

ASSURED ACCESS, ASSURED FREEDOM

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus,”

(Heb. 10:19)

I believe so strongly in the security of the believer, and i base this belief on God’s promise that we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus. King James has the word ‘boldness’, and it’s used in numerous occasions in the book of Hebrews. It’s a Greek word that meant freedom of speech. It spoke about someone who could say what they wanted to when they wanted to. But it came to develop and multiply until it came to mean confidence, boldness, or assurance. Personally, i would like to translate this word as ‘assured freedom’ or ‘assured access’, or something like that. The verb is in the present tense, meaning we continue to have as a matter of our life free access to the holy place. Now, unless you know the Old Testament, that won’t mean anything to you.

In the Old Testament, the high priest once a year entered behind the inner veil of the holy place with the blood of a bullock to sprinkle on the top of the Ark of the Covenant to expiate for his sin and the sins of Israel. Once a year, only one man could enter in this very special place which symbolized the very presence of God. The high priest had on the bottom of his robes pomegranates interchained with golden bells all the way around. The people would be so worried for when a sinful man approached a holy God anything could happen, so they would put a rope around his leg and in case God appeared and he was struck dead, they could pull him out from under the curtain. Because nobody else could go in there either and lived, so they thought. The Ark of the Covenant was made of acacia wood, and it was overlaid with gold. On top of the gold covered lid was two cherubim whose wings met right across the middle, where it was believed that God symbolically dwelt with His people. Remember, inside the Ark was Aaron’s rod that budded, the tablets of the Ten Commandments that Moses had taken from God written by His hand, and also some old jar of manna as a remembrance for them. The high priest came in ther and sprinkled blood on top of the mercy seat, and the blood symbolically covered the sins of the people from the sight of God.

What a difference we have now, we who know Jesus Christ by faith. We don’t have to wait till once a year, and just one of us can go before the presence of God. We are the children of God (cf. Jn. 1:12) and we can come come into His presence anytime as God’s children. And every time we bow our heads in prayer or think about God, we are in a very real sense right into His throne room. We are the children of the King. Where others have to knock and ask for entrance, we bounce through the curtain always welcome because we’re God’s children. God is never too busy for us, He’s never got too much going, never says ‘No’; we come right into the Holy of Holies, right into the very presence of God anytime we want. And we have this assured access by virtue of the blood of the Lamb. We enter boldly into the presence of God by way of the blood of Jesus. O, what a contrast between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Hallelujah!

SPIRITUAL WARFARE IN THE HEAVENLIES

There is a spiritual battle raging in the heavenlies, and for some reason the vast majority of the people of God are unaware of it. The Bible says there is a spiritual conflict (cf. Eph. 6:12), and we just think there’s 4 Sundays in a month. That’s our view of Christianity; 4 Sundays, 4 hours at a certain building, and that’s what Christianity is all about. WRONG! I guess it is not so much that we know how to deal with the spiritual conflict as that we know that indeed there is a spiritual conflict. And a soldier who does not know that he is in a battle, has already lost the battle. That’s the tragedy

The book of Ephesians was written against the false teachers of Gnosticism that the early church struggled with for centuries. We still have in the modern world these false teachers, characterized as gnostics (e.g. scientologists, illuminati, and the da Vinci code kind of thing), from the Greek word for knowledge “to know”. These false teachers say there’s always been two co-eternal things: spirit or God, and matter or stuff. We know fully well that that is untrue because the Bible says, there was nothing, and out of nothing God spoke the material universe into existence. But Gnosticism is Greek philosophy and it says God is good, and matter is evil. And blame the problems of the world on matter, that’s why the Greeks would say, everybody has a divine spark, and at death that spark goes back to an impersonal God, and the body is the prison-house of the soul. So they’re saying that our real problem is flesh. Now wait a minute, because Jesus is said to come in the flesh, how can Jesus be fully God and fully man and flesh be evil? And yet Jesus is without sin. Remember 1 John 4:1-3 says if you do not believe that Jesus is fully God and fully man, you have the spirit of the anti-Christ. This is no minor doctrine. So here what looked innocently became a major attack on the person of Jesus Christ. We believe that the the cross is the key to our forgiveness. Well not for the gnostics; they would say the way for you to be saved is to join their group and get a secret knowledge, or a code that they claim Jesus gave them orally. This is one among many of the false teachings believers have to wage war against, and it will do us well if we know our Bible enough to defend ourselves. READ YOUR BIBLE AND PRAY EVERYDAY!

THE IMPORTANCE OF INTERCESSORY PRAYER

Intercessory prayer is a great mystery. I say that because we can bring to God concerns about others when in reality God has greater concerns for those people in those circumstances than we ever could. It’s a mystery how God has so structured His world that He acts on the prayers of His children. Think with me, do things happen when we pray and things don’t happen when we don’t? I think that is really true. Prayer actually changes God. Many people say, no, prayer only changes us. But i submit to you prayer actually affects the way God deals not only with us, for certainly prayer changes us, but prayer actually changes others and circumstances even around the world where we will never personally be present. Yes, i believe intercessory prayer is the mystery of God doing something different not because He didn’t always want to, but because His people beseeched Him in Jesus’ name and in the power of the Spirit.

There are many examples of great intercessory prayers in the Old Testament. I think of Abraham pleading for Sodom and Gomorrah with the LORD in Genesis 18:22ff. Moses pleaded to the LORD for Israel in Exodus 32:31ff where he says, “If You can’t forgive them, then blot me out of the book which Thou hast written”. There are other examples of Moses interceding for Israel’s behalf in Exodus 5:22-23; Deuteronomy 5:5; 9:18; and 9:25ff. where Moses holds them up to the LORD and just falls himself down on God’s throne of grace for the people of Israel. I think of Samuel as he prays for Israel (i.e. 1 Samuel 7:5-9; 1 Sam. 12:16-23; 1 Sam. 15:11), where Samuel says, “It would be a sin for me not to pray for you” even when they asked for a king and hurt God’s feelings, but he said, “I’m still going to pray for you, i won’t forget you”. Then we have David, in a very real sense praying for his love-child with Bathsheba. God said that child would die because of David’s sin. David beseeched the LORD for that child (cf. 2 Samuel 12:16-18); of course the child died. So there’s a real mystery there that we don’t understand, but we see David going to God with a concern for that baby. Isaiah 59:16 is a passage that really amazed me where it said that God is looking for intercessors, and He saw there was no man, and was astonished there was no one to intercede, therefore His own arm brought salvation to him, and His righteousness upheld him. That seems to tell me that God was surprised there were no intercessors. I think in the history of the church, we’ve seen men and women that God has raised up for the purpose of intercessory ministry. I believe intercession is a gift of the Spirit, and it certainly is. Do you realize that two-thirds of the Trinity intercedes for us, and the other third is not reluctant to do it? He’s the One that sent those two. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us (cf. Romans 8:26-27) in times where we don’t know how to pray either for our self or for others, the Holy Spirit who knows everything about us and everything about God prays to God for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. You mean the indwelling Holy Spirit prays for us on an ongoing basis? Yes, and not only that, but the Son prays for us. His ministry was not through at Calvary, He continues to have an intercessory ministry, where in Romans 8:34 it says, he intercedes for us always. Then I think of Hebrews 7:25 where it talks about that the Son continues to intercede for us. And then lo and behold, in 1 John 2:1, the very word that’s used for the Holy Spirit, ‘Paraclete’ as one called alongside to help, our comfort, is the very word used of Christ Jesus of Nazareth. He always intercedes for us. Hallelujah! So you mean to say it’s God the Father who is on our side, it’s an indwelling Holy Spirit whoever holds before the throne, and it’s a resurrected-glorified-friend-brother and Savior, who moment-by-moment intercedes for us? Wow! That ought to be the example of intercession for us. That the Triune God is interceding on our behalf, we ought to intercede on behalf of others as well!

IMMATURE WE ALL ARE, ONE TIME OR ANOTHER

We have used the word ‘backsliding’ loosely to define someone who has been active in the church and then gotten away, and we usually say he is a ‘backslider’. I think that’s a rather inappropriate use of the term; i think ‘immature’ is a more proper description. Because the truth of the matter is that all of us in areas of our life are immature. Even the most mature of Christians would have to admit that there are days and times that we lose the control in maturity of most aspects of our Christian life. The New Testament often calls it carnality, or often identifies it with the dichotomy of the ‘flesh’ and the ‘spirit’. The Apostle Paul speaks about this concept in many of his books – the ‘Old Man’ and the ‘New Man’ (cf. Rom. 6:6). He sometimes speaks of the ‘Outward Man’ and the ‘Inward Man’ (cf. 2 Cor. 4:16), or the ‘Old Creature’ and the ‘New Creature’ (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17), and many antitheses like these. Now usually when he talks about the ‘Old Man’ and the New Man’, he’s talking about the lost and the saved. He’s drawing a line through mankind, and saying, depending on whether you have ever met Jesus Christ by faith or have not met Him by faith, you are either the ‘Old Man’ or you are the ‘New Man’; better yet, the ‘Natural man’ or the ‘Spiritual Man’. So we’re talking about two different black and white kinds of things: those who know Him, and those who do not know Him. But what Paul also does is, he takes those that are indeed spiritual Man category; those who are redeemed and blood-bought people of God, the family of God, and then he breaks those into two halves, and he uses the same term that he used for the ‘lost’ and the ‘saved’, he’s now going to use inside the redeemed community. And the two terms he’s going to use now is ‘carnal’ and ‘spiritual’ again. I think that’s where the confusion comes.

In Romans 6:6, the dichotomy between the ‘lost’ and the ‘saved’ are well-defined; in that “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace”. It’s obvious that the mind set on the flesh (sarx) means death, and the mind set on the spirit is life. However in Romans chapter 6, Paul uses the very same term flesh (sarx) and spirit, but he is talking about the dichotomy or division within the Christian family. It is an admonition to Christians. The word flesh (sarx) is in the context of believers. Is it possible that there are Christians who walk after the flesh? Well, read 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:3 and you will agree with me that there were so-called ‘carnal’ Christians then as there are today. Paul calls them ‘babes in Christ’ which helps us get the idea that the word ‘carnal’, the word ‘fleshly’ in the sense of Christians is synonymous with immature Christianity. Paul says, “I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly (or carnal)”. A ‘baby Christian’ or an ‘immature Christian’ is someone who is dominated by the flesh, but every Christian starts as a ‘baby Christian’ – nothing wrong with that. We all were ‘baby Christians’ at some point in time, but if years, and years, and years have gone by and you’re still a ‘baby Christian’, something’s wrong with you! It’s not just you do not know any better, you have become truly dominated by the flesh. Your goals are self-centered, your dreams are world-oriented. You do not have the mind of Christ. You do not have the heart of Christ. You do not look at the world through the lens of God’s commission to us to go and make disciples of all nations. You look at the world with ‘what’s best for me and mine. What’s it going to do for me’ kind of attitude.

Christians who have been to church for years, and years and, years, and are characterized by an attitude of worldliness are called backslidden Christians, and they may be in church every Sunday. But you You see the truth of the matter is that every one of us in some areas of our lives are immature. All of us have cut off certain aspects of our personality, and have not allowed God to have complete control over all that we are. And the people we usually peg as ‘backsliders’ are simply those whose problem is more obvious to our eyes. But the trick is that every Christian at times in their lives are immature in many areas, and I do not believe it’s possible in our world to be fully controlled by the Spirit of God 24 hours a day/7 days a week. We move here and out of that kind of control of the Holy Spirit. Small wonder, Paul commands that we be ever filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18). The truth is, carnality is the problem of man. But when we became Christians we were indwelt of the Spirit of God, but the old nature was not removed from us. And therefore the Christian life is not reaching some plane of maturity; some level of sinlessness. But the Christian Life is a moment-by-moment struggle between what God wants and what we want, and when we win the battle we are carnal, we are fleshly, we are backslidden.

I believe that when we say we are ‘in Christ’, which means we have been bought with the blood of Christ, Christ cleanses us from all sin. And even immaturity does not make us inappropriate for the family of God., for we didn’t become Christians because of what we did and we all stay Christians for what we do (cf. Eph. 2:8-10). There is a thing known, as Positional Sanctification – we are right with God in Christ, totally apart from anything that we do except receiving Him, basically. But hopefully God wants to move us from Positional Sanctification in Christ to Experiential Sanctification in Christ, which means we’re moving from Grace as a gift to Grace as a way of life. We’re moving from forgiveness of sin to sinning less. We’re moving from knowing Him in salvation, and knowing Him day-to-day in our Christian life. So I think it’s very apropos to speak of ‘Sanctified in Christ’ and ‘be Sanctified in Christ’. God’s will for us is that we become more and more like His Son, which is Experiential or Progressive sanctification. The more we understand what God has done for us in Christ, the more should we allow Him to work in our lives. Seeing more clearly who Jesus is and the kind of no-strings-attached love God has for us, we then see that people are really lost and searching aimlessly in life, and that God can break our hearts to begin to serve Him out of gratitude and joy.

THE ESSENCE OF WORSHIP

The English word ‘worship’ comes from an Anglos-Saxon word that seems to mean ‘worthy ship’ or someone who is due honor and respect. I think in the church of England today you still call an ecclesiastical person or a civil person, “your worship’, which didn’t mean he was divine, it just meant he was worthy of respect; that’s the ancient use of the English term. Well in the Bible, there are primarily two Hebrew terms and two Greek terms that describe the concept of worship, and both of them follow along the two basic etymologies. One is ‘abodah’ which is from a Hebrew root that means “to serve” or “to labor.”  It is usually translated “the service of God”. The other is ‘Hishtahawah’, which is from a Hebrew root that means “to bow” or “to prostrate oneself”. The New Testament develops it into the Greek word “latreia”, which is the state of a hired laborer or slave. And the other Greek root ‘proskuneo’ which means “to prostrate oneself,” “to adore,” or “to worship.”

Worship in Scripture is both implied (not implicit) as to its origins, and it’s also a historical development from the time God instituted the Sabbath in Genesis 2:1-3, through the Patriarchal period to Moses, and up to rabbinical Judaism of Jesus’ day. There is no systematic theology about the concept of worship, but there are some incipient truths, there are some apparent beginnings, and there is a definite historical development through the Bible. First, let’s look at some of these incipient statements that are later developed, and the first one I want to look at is God instituting the Sabbath in Genesis 2:1-3. Now in the context, it said that God rested from His labor, and He sanctified or made holy that day. That doesn’t say anything about man following that practice, but obviously that is the background for the Mosaic development of the 10 commandments of honoring the Sabbath. And so obviously, Moses developed this theme into something that God always wanted for man, but was not revealed at first and yet the incipient form is very evident here in Genesis 2:1-3. It was a weekly time where man emulates God’s action. Of course, God didn’t need to rest, but He set the stage for man to recreate himself and worship and fellowship with God, with family, and with his fellow man. I think another shining passage that is not developed but we see from inference is very significant, in Genesis chapter 3 verse 21 where God, in executing justice kills the animals to clothe Adam and Eve. Now it is obvious that the environment outside the Garden of Eden was much more severe because of the curse than the setting where God was, God prepares man for this hostile environment, and yet by taking an animal’s life to provide man’s need, seems to be a beginning incipient form for animals used in the sense of God’s purpose to benefit man, and man using animals not only for food and clothing and implements using their bones or whatever. But it’s obvious this develops into sacrifice, for not long after this, we find man himself taking animal life to try to please God or bless God or honor God. In Genesis chapter verses 3 and following we see Cain and Abel offer sacrifice, and it’s always been interesting to me that God did not look with favor on Cain’s offering while He looked with favor on Abels’s offering; first of all, i do not think this passage is primarily a depreciation of vegetable or non-bloody sacrifice. This is not talking about the tension between farmers and ranchers, it’s nothing like that. These two men just happened to have two occupations, and they came to God with the produce of their labors. Apparently, it doesn’t seem to be something brand new. It seems to be something they did over and over. There is something of great significance here because of the truth embodied in their attitudes. Now, I think the real key to this passage is the attitude of Abel versus the attitude of Cain. Some see a key here, in the word ‘firstlings of the flock’ meaning, Abel brought his best, while Cain just brought some of his produce. That may be true, but we can’t read a whole lot in here. But this obviously sets the stage for sacrifice. It doesn’t say they built an altar; it doesn’t say where they met God. It’s simply a case where they came to God – well, I think at the Garden of Eden, the entrance to it was the last place they had met God and performed this. Another passage in the Old Testament which seems to imply the concept of worship is in Genesis chapter four verses 25 and 26, after delineating the rebellion of Cain and his descendants in the early part chapter 4, the godly line of Seth is brought back up, and in this passage it says, “At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord. That’s a very interesting statement. To call on the Name of the Lord basically means to worship Him. ‘To call on the name of’ is to pray to, and thus to indicate that you are worshiping a particular god or goddess, and calling on their name. You call on the the name of a false god, if you’re an idolater. The same terminology is used of false worship, as well as true worship. Subsequently, this practice of ‘calling on the name’ of the Lord was lost through the generations that followed until the time of Moses where we find worship in context of the Covenant God meeting His people in some ritual act that was accompanied by an attitude of respect, and awe, and faith. And so i think attitude is very important aspect in the ideal of worship. We find this attitude in Noah as well when he brought in clean animals into the ark for the purpose of sacrifice, thinking of God’s promises, he provides for a place of sacrifice immediately after coming out of the ark after the great flood; of course his family was also caught up in this idea of worship by offering a sacrifice. Now, another glowing passage about worship in the early parts of Genesis would be Abraham. Abraham is really the focus of Genesis Where God through Abraham establishes a kingdom of priests to bring all the world to Him. Now this Abraham, this progenitor of the family of God offers sacrifice in those places where God has met him, and that becomes a characteristic for much of Israel’s history. Altars were set up where they met God. And so this practice was carried on in the household of Isaac, later by Jacob, and on and on, it became a standard during the patriarchal period. The Biblical material seems to clarify that sacrifice is developed out of the express will of God in specific patterns. But the bible does not record that express will, nor does it record the specific patterns; but these allusions show that its present, but it is never stated in specific terms.

Now, what is the content of worship? Well it is obvious that man’s attitude as well as man’s actions not only on the day he offers sacrifice, but on the rest of his life is connected with the ideal of worship. So therefore, the ideal of worship has two aspects: one is our attitude toward God caught up in the physical gesture of bowing down or prostrating oneself, and the other is a lifestyle working out of an attitude where we serve God when we understand what His will is. Worship covers the entire man it deals with attitude and it deals with action. And if we miss either side of that, we’re going to get into dangerous areas that cause tremendous problems in the Bible. I think Deuteronomy 11:13 (one of many) somehow catches the essence of that balance between attitude and lifestyle, “It shall come about, if you listen obediently to my commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the Lord your God and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul,” – Obedience to its commands worked out in a lifestyle borne of attitude of love, and respect, and honor. I think both of those are crucial. I think Deuteronomy chapter 30 verse 6 is also a good passage to show you that attitude has always been the key to worship – “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live”. Of course that reflects the Hebrew prayer called the ‘Shema’ which goes back to Deuteronomy chapter 6 verses 4 through 6 where again attitude; a total dedication is connected with lifestyle. I think it’s important that we see that. Worship therefore is not something we do, it is something we are. For it is not confined to a place, and a time, and ritual. We worship God with the attitude of our lives. It is the embodiment of our life of faith. It is a response to who God is, and what He through Christ has done for us. We worship Him because of who He is and what He has done. Worship has an element of respect and awe because of who God is. Worship involves the whole person; it is an outgrowth of a personal relationship with the Triune God.

I think the crucial and central passage about worship in the New Testament comes in John 4, with Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. It’s not a planned theological discussion, but in her response to Jesus, to try to evade Him off of those penetrating questions He was asking her, she went back to different forms of worship between the Samaritans and the Jews. And Jesus cut to the heart of worship when He said, “Lady it’s not this mountain or that mountain. it’s not Samaria or Judea that’s central, it’s worshipping God in spirit and truth.” One’s attitude has always been the ideal of worship.

Why do we worship the One true God? Well, because He is worthy! We don’t worship a God made with human hands; a God that’s blind and dumb and incapable of locomotion. We don’t worship a God that we just bowed down to but nothing really happens in our lives. We worship a God who is present, and capable, and powerful – the Creator beside which there is no other. He is the God that is able to perform on our behalf and accomplishes with His own will anything He desires in His universe. This same God is the God who in the midst of our record of falling, in the midst of our record of sin, in the midst of our record of rebellion can establish His church – His people on a foundation that no one can move. Because of the grace we have received by faith, the Gospel is able to make us stand before God blameless, without wrinkle, without spot in Jesus. Sometimes in our lives, the reason we feel like we’re falling and that we’re unattached, and like no one cares, and our life is caught up in chance and circumstances is because we don’t understand who we are in Jesus Christ. O, if we could just see the picture of the spiritual truth and vitality of our salvation totally apart from our own merit; in our own works fully and completely established in the finished work of Jesus Christ we’d be able to stand victorious in all adversities in life. Do you know Him? Do you know Him?

BARNABAS – A CHARACTER SKETCH

Barnabas is a very interesting fellow, he comes across as a concerned, mature individual. In Acts chapter 4, we learn that he was one of these believers who sold their properties and put the proceeds to the disposal of the Apostles. His real name was Joses (Jewish name is Joseph), but he was nicknamed Barnabas. He was a Levite but he was not necessarily a priest. Things had changed in his day because in the Old Testament, Levites were not supposed to keep property, but he was not a priest. It’s possible to be a Levite and not be a priest, but it’s not possible to be a priest without being a Levite. He came from Cyprus, a large island off the coast of Northern Palestine, west of Syria. Barnabas was later named as an apostle, and his name means ‘son of encouragement’ because every time we find this man in the pages of the New Testament, he’s encouraging people. Eusebius, the early church historian says that Barnabas was one of the 70 that Jesus sent out in Luke chapter 10. I don’t know where and how Barnabas first came to know the Lord; none of his background tells anything about it, he just appears on the scene as someone who is willing to share of his material possessions with the others in the church. He gave all of the money out of the proceeds from the sale of his farm, all of it to the apostles (in contradistinction and in comparison to Ananias and Sapphira who tried to keep part of it back, and wanted the praise of the church). Barnabas appears again in Acts 9:27 where he really is an encouragement to the Apostle Paul. We find that the apostles in Jerusalem were a little nervous about Saul of Tarsus’ conversion. It was Barnabas and his influence in Jerusalem in the early church that introduced the new convert, Saul of Tarsus around and let him begin to give his testimony. It was the start of the close friendship of Paul and Barnabas. It’s surprising but Barnabas is often mentioned first, but later on Paul’s leadership and obvious gift from the Lord is acknowledged. But you know when they were in Asia Minor, the people there thought they were Greek Gods. They called Barnabas, Zeus and Paul, Hermes. So they still recognize Barnabas’ sense of leadership in that group, and that’s the kind of man he was.

In Acts 11 beginning in verse 19 and following, we learn that a persecution developed around the death of Stephen, and everybody was scattered except the apostles, and they went preaching the word, and some of these men who went were Greek speaking Jews. This is such an important aspect of Scripture because they’re going to break the barriers down to the pure pagans. And this is very significant for several reasons, It wasn’t the apostles that has the world vision of the church, it was these unnamed Greek speaking Jews who took the final step of preaching the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah to pure pagans. These men had such great faith and they’re not even mentioned by name. They proceeded to proclaim the Good News and the Hand of the Lord was with them. And a large number of these pagans with no background at all in the Old Testament turned to the Lord. They heard that simple message of faith in Christ and responded. Now, the news about them came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and Barnabas was sent all the way to Antioch to check up on this revival that was happening at Antioch. This is the final wedge that broke the tie between the synagogue and the church; between rabbinical Judaism and Christianity. The Jews could just not take these pure Greek pagans becoming believers. There’s still going to be a fight in the early church around a wide range of theologies. You have James (half-brother of Jesus) as the leader of the Jewish church; the Judaizers of which Peter is involved; and then as we move toward the left, there’s Barnabas; and then there’s Paul. And so we’re moving from the most radical Jewish, to the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul. The Jerusalem council in Acts 15 was later on convened because of this fight. Barnabas was the perfect one to send, although we find a little later he is still influenced by his Jewish background when in Galatians 3 Paul chides him for not eating with the Gentiles. Barnabas is not presented without warts in the New Testament, but he was a great guy to send, that’s what he does. When he reached there and saw the spiritual blessings God had given them, he was delighted and continuously encouraged them. Living up to his name as the ‘son of encouragement’ he blessed them even though it was so different these pagans coming into the church without becoming Jews first. And Barnabas continued to be devoted to the Lord which speaks of his continual maturity and excitement toward the Lord. He was good man and an upright man filled with the Holy Spirit and faith. Then Barnabas went over to Tarsus to search out Saul. We do not know what Paul was doing these years. We hear of him in Jerusalem and giving his testimony after he’d been in Arabia for 3 years. But then we lose him for a while and he’s back in his hometown in the Tarsus mountains; what he was doing, we really don’t know? But Barnabas knew him in Jerusalem and said, “This is the man i need to help me here in Antioch”. So he went to Tarsus which is up in Asia Minor to search Paul out, and brought him to Antioch to get him to help him with this new church. Paul was the perfect person, and this set the stage for Paul’s ministry. He came in contact with Barnabas and worked with him first in Antioch. It’s really amazing to see God’s miraculous hand in putting these people where they need to be with their spiritual gifts.

In Acts chapter 13, we pick up again with Paul and Barnabas and their ministry in Antioch Syria, a very large city near the Mediterrenean coast north of Palestine. It was infamous for immorality in the form of lustful sports and pleasures, and a center for the worship of Daphne. In the church of Antioch were prophets (proclaimers of the Gospel) and teachers (those who helped strengthen and mature the new believers). There are many Christian leaders in this church, not just Barnabas and Saul, but many other men, leaders who were not to do the work of the ministry, but were to train the members of the church in Antioch to do the work of ministry. They were player coaches, and that’s a concept i think we need to catch. There are gifted people whose focus is not necessarily the Christian ministry but as trainers for believers to do Christian ministry. As these men were fasting, the Holy Spirit told them to set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work for which they have been called. This is really important for us to realize that we don’t decide what we’re going to do to the church. God tells us what we’re going to do. He gives us the spiritual gifts. We don’t pick which one we want, God chooses our ministry for us, and all we can do is to yield ourselves to Him. And God sets holy men for a special purpose or task within the church.

In chapter 15 beginning about verse 36, we pick up Barnabas again, and we see Him and Paul had a real fight. Please don’t make these Biblical characters bigger than life. Although Barnabas was a Jew from Cyprus, his cousin John Mark lived in Jerusalem. And if you remember the story, Barnabas and Saul took John Mark with them to Cyprus, but something happened to John Mark and he did not go on to Asia Minor with them but went back home. When they started on the second journey, Barnabas wanted to take his cousin, and Paul would not let him, and the Bible says a sharp contention arose between them. As a result they’ve grown snotty to each other, split the mission team, and they never again went together. Paul took Silas and went back to Asia Minor. Barnabas took John Mark and went to Cyprus. So here, we have two mission teams instead of one, and God used this even though i’m sure He was real ticked off with these 2 men. The attitude of Barnabas seems to have been too lenient while Paul seems to have been too strict. But thanks be to God, John Mark, as we learn later became the author of the Gospel of Mark, and even later on in Paul’s ministry, sent for John and said he’s useful for the ministry. So they made up and got over it, and it is not for us to think that these New Testament characters are like super saints, they are just like us with ‘warts and all’. I hope you’ll remember that if God can use people like these, God can use you and me as well.

A PRACTICAL MODUS VIVENDI FOR THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST

There is no such thing as a “perfect church”. The church is simply a body of sinners saved by the grace of God; struggling to do the will of God. Problems happen in the church when some over-zealous brothers or sisters pick out things they do or don’t do to make themselves look more spiritual, and start pointing their judgmental fingers on their fellows who don’t necessarily agree with them. We all have biases. We all form opinions of our own on many things in the Bible. It’s what we do as humans; humans are rational beings after all. We think differently on many Biblical issues. We see things differently because of our cultural backgrounds, our education, our traditions among many other things. I guess what is crucial is for us to realize that we do not have the right to tear up the church of Christ over our own pre-suppositional biases; throwing a guilt trip on everyone who does not think and act like we do. I submit to you 2 things we can do to help realize the prayer of Jesus to the Father for the unity of His church (cf. Jn. 17:20-23). Firstly, we must clearly identify our biases. It is so painful, but we must. We all have them, and we must identify them. Secondly, we must personally discern the irreducible minimums of the Christian faith; the core of Biblical truths. Truths that we can all readily affirm, we can all rally behind, and even willingly die for. Truths about the infallibility of the Bible, deity of Jesus, His virgin birth, justification by grace through faith, the goodness and eternality of God, the imminence of Christ’s 2nd coming, etc. These are the common core that we need to cling to and go back to again and again. These are the major truths of historical Christianity that we need to be united about. When we have clearly juxtaposed our biases on the peripherals with the irreducible minimums of our faith, then we can discuss things and issues as brothers and sisters in the Lord over an atmosphere of love and acceptance. Maturity will make us all less dogmatic and less judgmental in our interpersonal relationship.
I subscribe to the dictum: IN ESSENTIALS, UNITY; IN PERIPHERALS, FREEDOM; IN ALL THINGS, LOVE.